Evangelicals to send petitions against hate crimes bill

Christian Today reports:

The petitions collected by Coral Ridge Ministries are a response to the hate crimes amendment that Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) attached to the defence spending bill under consideration in the Senate this week.

“This is the single most dangerous piece of legislation we have seen in the recent past, because of its threat to silence the Church on the subject of homosexual behaviour,” said Jerry Newcombe, senior producer of The Coral Ridge Hour, CRM’S TV broadcast. “I shudder to think what the impact on free speech will be if this law is enacted.”

Many Christian and pro-family groups have been protesting the hate crimes bill for months, arguing that the federal bill is repetitive of existing state laws and threatens the free speech of those who speak on the biblical view of homosexuality.

Other groups speaking out against the legislation:

- Family Research Council: Targetting Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, "the Family Research Council is placing automated calls (sometimes known as "robo-calls") to Nashville households about legislation that would include attacks motivated by the victim's sexual orientation among the offenses covered by federal hate-crime laws."

- Focus on the Family: "Democrats have attached an amendment to a Defense spending bill that would create federally protected “class status” for homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites, “transgender” and “transsexual” people. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has pulled the bill off the floor.... Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said hate crimes legislation likely will return to the Senate floor [in September]."

The Episcopal Public Policy Network has issued an appeal to supporters of hate crimes legislation to contact their representatives. Here is an extract of a letter sent to Congress by our Presiding Bishop:

As the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I am pleased to add our endorsement of hate crimes legislation and urge your strong support for the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 S. 1105. As Christians, in Eastertide we celebrate the new life that comes out of death. One of the important transforming steps our nation can take toward the new life that Christ personified is the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons and the valuing of their lives and gifts equally to all other persons. All are children of God. Even though it may be difficult to find God in the face of the other, God is there. And we must hope that others see the face of God in us as well.
The Presiding Bishop also recalls the words of her predecessor:
The fact that Matthew was an Episcopalian makes our grief no more sharp, but it does give us a particular responsibility to stand with gays and lesbians, to decry all forms of violence against them - from verbal to physical, and to encourage the dialogue that can, with God's help, lead to new appreciation for their presence in the life of our church, and the broader community.
An email policy alert from EPPN points out this is bi-partisan legislation with 42 co-sponsors. The email continues, hate crimes "contradict our Baptismal Covenant pledge to "respect the dignity of every human being." "

Vatican plays politics with Romero's canonization

The Associated Press reports:

VATICAN CITY -- Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, the outspoken church leader who was killed in 1980 as he celebrated Mass, has become as polarizing in death as he was in life.

The campaign to make him a Roman Catholic saint appears to be languishing, as Vatican officials privately debate whether Romero was a martyr for the faith or for the political left.

The sensitivity of the issue was clear in remarks last May by Pope Benedict XVI, as he was flying to Brazil -- his first visit to Latin America as pontiff.

Benedict told reporters that "Romero as a person merits beatification," but Vatican officials removed that quote in an official transcript, keeping only the pope's general praise of the slain prelate as a "great witness to the faith."

Read it all.

Evangelicals unimpressed

Shirley Ragsdale, religion editor of the Des Moines Register, writes:

When it comes to the Republican presidential campaign, some conservative Christian voters say they ain't seen nothing yet.

That is, none of the top-tier GOP candidates is addressing the issues that these Iowans care passionately about, and few exhibit the moral values they want to see in the leader of the free world.

"Morality is the No. 1 issue with me," said Ken Rogers, 62, of Altoona, a member of Central Assembly of God Church in Des Moines. "If a person can't live by the Ten Commandments, how can he lead the nation?"

Evangelical Christians have traditionally been a strong factor in Iowa Republican politics. They were credited with helping to push President Bush to victory in Iowa in 2004.

Read it all.

Remembering Jonathan Daniels

The violent death of Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Daniels' was remembered Saturday by 200 people who braved in 103-degree heat to honor the white seminary student who gave up his life to save a black teenage girl 42 years ago, according to a report in the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. A student of the Episcopal Divinity School, Daniels answered the call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders for the church to become more involved in the struggle for civil rights. Daniels was killed on August 20, 1965 by a shotgun blast fired by an Lowndes County special sheriffs deputy at a small convenience store where Daniels and several other civil rights activists had gone following their release from the Lowndes County Jail, where they spent a week behind bars on charges related to a protest in Fort Deposit.

Episcopalians were joined Saturday by adherents of other faiths from throughout Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi, who paid their respect to Daniels and the civil rights cause under a blistering sun.

Jerry McGee of Destin, Fla., recited a Biblical passage about "giving your life for another," something Daniels did without question when he stepped in front of 16-year-old Ruby Sales to protect her and take the fatal shotgun blast.

"That's why I wanted to come here and honor him," said McGee. "He gave the greatest gift he could possible give -- his life."

The Rev. Polk Van Zandt of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Selma said Daniels has been given a "Black Letter Day," which sets aside a day each year to honor his memory.

Van Zandt said others given "Black Letter Days" include nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale and author C.S. Lewis, but added that Saturday's commemoration was "more than just about him."

"This is also about all the martyrs of Alabama," said Van Zandt, who alluded to honors bestowed Saturday on several others who were killed during the civil rights era.

Also included in the commemoration were four girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and Viola Liuzzo, who was shot to death by Ku Klux Klansmen in Lowndes County a few months before Daniels was killed


Daniels was a native of Keene, New Hampshire, and a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. The VMI archives writes about Daniels in this way:

In August 1965 Daniels and 22 others were arrested for participating in a voter rights demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama, and transferred to the county jail in nearby Hayneville. Shortly after being released on August 20, Richard Morrisroe, a Catholic priest, and Daniels accompanied two black teenagers, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, to a Hayneville store to buy a soda. They were met on the steps by Tom Coleman, a construction worker and part-time deputy sheriff, who was carrying a shotgun. Coleman aimed his gun at sixteen year old Ruby Sales; Daniels pushed her to the ground in order to protect her, saving her life. The shotgun blast killed Daniels instantly; Morrisroe was seriously wounded. When he heard of the tragedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels."

In the years since his death, Daniels' selfless act has been recognized in many ways. Two books have been written about his life, and a documentary was produced in 1999. The Episcopal Church added the date of his death to its Calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and in England's Canterbury Cathedral, Daniels name is among the fifteen honored in the Chapel of Martyrs.

At VMI, the Board of Visitors voted in 1997 to establish the Jonathan M. Daniels '61 Humanitarian Award. The award emphasizes the virtue of humanitarian public service and recognizes individuals who have made significant personal sacrifices to protect or improve the lives of others. The inaugural presentation was made to President James Earl Carter in 2001; the second award was presented to Ambassador Andrew Young in 2006.

In addition, one of only four named archways in the VMI Barracks is dedicated to Daniels, as is a memorial courtyard.

The feast commemorating Jonathan Daniels is August 14

Here are two other remembrances: here and here.

Christian college fires professor for teaching contrary to free enterprise system

From the Rocky Mountain News

The dispute at the usually tranquil Lakewood campus pits Andrew Paquin, head of a religious charity that aids poor people in Africa, against former U.S. Sen. William Armstrong, R-Colo., president of Colorado Christian and a pillar of the religious right.

Armstrong fired Paquin from a position teaching global studies at the end of the spring semester amid concerns that his lessons were too radical and undermined the school's commitment to the free enterprise system. Paquin assigned works by Jim Wallis, who writes from the Christian left, and Peter Singer, an atheist and animal rights activist.

Armstrong won't discuss Paquin's case specifically, but he says free enterprise is fundamental to the school's philosophy. "I don't think there is another system that is more consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ," Armstrong said.

That doesn't mean socialists can't be good Christians, and a belief in free enterprise is not linked to salvation, Armstrong added. But free enterprise is the message of Colorado Christian, he said. "What the university stands for, among other things, is free markets."

Paquin, 36, says he supports capitalism, too. The Lafayette-based charity he founded gives "micro-loans" to poor Africans, allowing them to start simple businesses.

Read it here.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot. What if a professor at an Episcopal college or seminary deified the free enterprise system? Would she be fired? Would a economist who believed in markets be hired at some of our colleges in the first place?

Evangelicals who see capital punishment as commanded by God

Ed Stoddard of Reuters examines the enthusiasm of Evangelicals for the death penalty. His take:

"In Texas you have all the elements lined up. Public support, a governor that supports it and supportive courts," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Like his predecessor, Governor Perry is a devout Christian, highlighting one key factor in Texas' enthusiasm for the death penalty that many outsiders find puzzling -- the support it gets from conservative evangelical churches.

This is in line with their emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their own salvation, and they also find justification in scripture.

"A lot of evangelical Protestants not only believe that capital punishment is permissible but that it is demanded by God. And they see sanction for that in the Old Testament especially," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Texas also stands at an unusual geographical and cultural crossroads: part Old South, with its legacy of racism, and part Old West, with a cowboy sense of rough justice.

Some critics say the South can be seen in the racial bias of death sentences with blacks more likely than whites to be condemned -- though Texas is not alone on this score.

Over 41 percent of the inmates currently on death row in Texas are black, but they account for only about 12 percent of the state's population.

Meanwhile, for some in Texas the death penalty is about the victim.
"Demographics could change things as minority groups like Latinos are generally less enthusiastic about the death penalty," said Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Read it here.

Immigrant arrested as she leaves church

Churches have been providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants who want to stay in the United States to be with their US born children. Immigration sweeps have mounted since congressional measures to legalize the country's undocumented immigrants were defeated this summer. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who became a symbol in the nation's immigration wars after she took sanctuary in a Chicago church last year, was arrested Sunday by federal immigration agents outside Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles.

Arellano, 32, a single mother, moved into a Chicago church a year ago to prevent being separated from her 8-year-old U.S.-born son.

She was arrested Sunday afternoon as she was leaving the downtown Los Angeles church also known as La Placita with her son and a supporter.

Supporters said the car in which Arellano was riding was surrounded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who took her into custody.

The agency did not say where she was being held but did confirm that Arellano would be deported to Mexico.

For immigrant-rights groups she had become the human face of stepped-up enforcement efforts that frequently separate immigrant mothers and fathers from their American-born children.

Arellano came to Los Angeles on Friday to speak at four area churches over the weekend. She was pressing for immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million people in the U.S. illegally.

In Jackon Hole, Wyoming, near me, even legal immigrants fear visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks because of the hassle of being detained or arrested if they do not have enough i.d. with them. Latinos are especially targeted although there are many from Eastern Europe also working in the area. The resorts could not exist without labor from Mexico and other countries.

Click here for the Presiding Bishop's letter on immigration reform.

Read the rest of the article here

The Politics of God

Mark Lilla, professor of the humanities at Columbia University explores political theology in an essay in The New York Times adapted from his upcoming book The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West. He believes there is huge gap between those who believe that there is a one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once placed on that track, will inevitably follow; and those who see political institutions conceived in terms of divine authority and spiritual redemption.

The twilight of the idols has been postponed. For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.

Understanding this difference is the most urgent intellectual and political task of the present time. But where to begin? The case of contemporary Islam is on everyone’s mind, yet is so suffused with anger and ignorance as to be paralyzing. All we hear are alien sounds, motivating unspeakable acts. If we ever hope to crack the grammar and syntax of political theology, it seems we will have to begin with ourselves. The history of political theology in the West is an instructive story, and it did not end with the birth of modern science, or the Enlightenment, or the American and French Revolutions, or any other definitive historical moment. Political theology was a presence in Western intellectual life well into the 20th century, by which time it had shed the mind-set of the Middle Ages and found modern reasons for seeking political inspiration in the Bible. At first, this modern political theology expressed a seemingly enlightened outlook and was welcomed by those who wished liberal democracy well. But in the aftermath of the First World War it took an apocalyptic turn, and “new men” eager to embrace the future began generating theological justifications for the most repugnant — and godless — ideologies of the age, Nazism and Communism.

It is an unnerving tale, one that raises profound questions about the fragility of our modern outlook. Even the most stable and successful democracies, with the most high-minded and civilized believers, have proved vulnerable to political messianism and its theological justification. If we can understand how that was possible in the advanced West, if we can hear political theology speaking in a more recognizable tongue, represented by people in familiar dress with familiar names, perhaps then we can remind ourselves how the world looks from its perspective. This would be a small step toward measuring the challenge we face and deciding how to respond.

Read it all here

Religious right sets up shop in Colorado Springs church

Grace Church, Colorado Springs, member of the Anglican Church of Nigeria (CANA) is back in the news offering space to a religious right training institute.

Fr. Jake cites the Colorado Springs Independent

...All of the attention over Grace has been lavished on the Rev. Don Armstrong, found guilty this month by an ecclesiastical court of financial misconduct and tax fraud totaling nearly $1 million, and receiving more than $122,000 in illegal loans. Armstrong is now a "person of interest" in a Colorado Springs police investigation.

Meanwhile, the John Jay Institute, its organizing machine hard at work in the bowels of Grace's building, has somehow escaped scrutiny.

What is this John Jay Institute, you wonder? Let's start with its president, Alan R. Crippen II. You might recognize Crippen — he's the guy who's been pitching Armstrong's talking points in the press. Turns out he's much, much more than a mouthpiece. But more on that in a minute...

...So just what is Crippen's institute? For starters, it's named after founding father John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States and co-author of the Federalist Papers. According to its literature, the official mission is to "prepare Christians for principled leadership in public life."

Let's cut to the nuts-and-bolts translation: Essentially, the institute appears to be a sort of high-class, all-expenses-paid Christian boot camp for recent promising college grads (preferably white, if the academy's online testimonials are a clue).

Every semester, a dozen or so idealistic students will trek to Colorado Springs to learn how to be secularity-busting soldiers for Jesus. They will then, as hopes go, attain leadership roles in the highest levels of government, where they will presumably work to obliterate the separation of church and state.

Talk 2 Action covers the story in Breakaway Episcopal Church installs big budget religious right training academy in the basement.

Analyzing the Christian Right vs. progressive leadership David Korten says "...the only voices most people hear speaking about values and spirit in the public discourse are those of the Far Right. Virtually every progressive leader I know is working from a deeply spiritual place, but we rarely speak openly in our environmental, peace, and justice work of values or the sacred. The time has come for the nation's mainstream churches to come out of the closet and speak publicly of values and the spiritual foundations of the progressive agenda and to articulate spiritually grounded stories of human possibility and the world that the living Jesus called us to create."

Other stories on this subject here and here.

Thanks to epiScope for the lead.

Political pyschology and terror

The New Republic has a fascinating cover story on the pyschology of terror. It describes how several experimental pyschologists have shown that exposure to our own mortality will trigger a series of emotions--including distain for other cultures and races--and this can have political consequences:

There is, however, one group of scholars--members of the relatively new field of political psychology--who are trying to explain voter preferences that can't be easily quantified. The best general introduction to this field is Drew Westen's recent book, The Political Brain, but the research that is perhaps most relevant to the 2004 election has been conducted by psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski. In the early 1980s, they developed what they clumsily called "terror management theory." Their idea was not about how to clear the subways in the event of an attack, but about how people cope with the terrifying and potentially paralyzing realization that, as human beings, we are destined to die. Their experiments showed that the mere thought of one's mortality can trigger a range of emotions--from disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores.

. . .

Their first experiment was published in 1989. To test the hypothesis that recognition of mortality evokes "worldview defense"--their term for the range of emotions, from intolerance to religi- osity to a preference for law and order, that they believe thoughts of death can trigger--they assembled 22 Tucson municipal court judges. They told the judges they wanted to test the relationship between personality traits and bail decisions, but, for one group, they inserted in the middle of the personality questionnaire two exercises meant to evoke awareness of their mortality. One asked the judges to "briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you"; the other required them to "jot down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you physically as you die and once you are physically dead." They then asked the judges to set bail in the hypothetical case of a prostitute whom the prosecutor claimed was a flight risk. The judges who did the mortality exercises set an average bail of $455. The control group that did not do the exercises set it at an average of $50. The psychologists knew they were onto something.

Over the next decade, the three performed similar experiments to illustrate how awareness of death could provoke worldview defense. They showed that what they now called "mortality salience" affected people's view of other races, religions, and nations. When they had students at a Christian college evaluate essays by what they were told were a Christian and a Jewish author, the group that did the mortality exercises expressed a far more negative view of the essay by the Jew- ish author than the control group did. (German psychologists would find a similar reaction among German subjects toward Turks.) They also conducted numerous experiments to show that mortality exercises evoked patriotic responses. The subjects who did the exercises took a far more negative view of an essay critical of the United States than the control group did and also expressed greater veneration for cultural icons like the flag. The three even devised an experiment to show that, after doing the mortality exercises, conser- vatives took a much harsher view of liberals, and vice versa.

As the New Republic article explains, this theory can explain why there was a rise in "values" voting in the wake of September 11th:

Mortality reminders not only enhanced the appeal of Bush's political style but also deepened and broadened the appeal of the conservative social positions that Republicans had been running on.

For instance, because worldview defense increases hostility toward other races, religions, nations, and political systems, it helps explain the rage toward France and Germany that erupted prior to the Iraq war, as well as the recent spike in hostility toward illegal immigrants. Also central to worldview defense is the protection of tradition against social experimentation, of community values against individual prerogatives--as was evident in the Tucson experiment with the judges--and of religious dictates against secular norms. For many conservatives, this means opposition to abortion and gay marriage. This may well explain why family values became more salient in 2004--a year in which voters were supposed to be unusually focused on foreign policy--than it had been from 1992 through 2000. Indeed, from 2001 to 2004, polls show an increase in opposition to abortion and gay marriage, along with a growing religiosity. According to Gallup, the percentage of voters who believed abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances" rose from 17 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2002 and would still be at 19 percent in 2004. Even church attendance by atheists, according to one poll, increased from 3 to 10 percent from August to November 2001.

Read it all here.

Perhaps this is taking this theory one (or several steps!!) too far, but is it not possible that the current Anglican fascinatation (some would say obsession) with issues of homosexuality is a manifestation of the pyschology of terror? In other words, would we be where we are today had Bishop Robinson been approved by General Convention in 1999 rather than 2003?

A piece of his mind

Bishop Charles Jenkins, 10th Bishop of Louisiana, wrote in his blog what he wished he could have said to President Bush during his visit to New Orleans on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

He writes that he wishes he could share with the president the tremendous outpouring of material help and support by many in the faith community for this wounded region. And he also wonders why it is that our government has failed in so many ways the people of the Gulf Coast.

We already know who faith-based America has proven to be.

These volunteers have not sacrificed for the “safe” above-sea-level neighborhoods or the economically secure residents of this city. They have not given their time, talent, and hard-earned dollars to the recovery of communities that rest securely on higher ground.

The volunteers of this country are still coming in larger numbers than ever to help heal the lives of their fellow Americans – the same vulnerable Americans we saw trapped, suffering and dying on our televisions two years ago this week. And those “looters,” “those people down there” as the President has called us, are proving to be some of the most courageous and resilient citizens of this land. Mr. President, did you know that according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 98% of survivors interviewed in the Houston Astrodome following the federal flood said that their faith in God is what had enabled them to survive? I am proud to be one of “those people.”

Does the President realize what hundreds of thousands of Americans are saying when they come to gut and rebuild this city block by block with their own bare hands? Does he realize what it means that tens of thousands of volunteers sacrifice personally to finance the purchase of building materials for residents who have yet to receive their Road Home money from the government? Does he hear what young people are saying by the thousands when they come to serve the children of this city as teachers in our struggling second-tier public schools?

It means, Mr. President, that a huge number of Americans love their neighbor as themselves. Not in words alone but in actions. This segment of our society, a segment whose values you claim to represent and share, has already cast its vote in the referendum on New Orleans. We clearly do not believe any of New Orleans or its people are dispensable or undesirable. We stand together in our fight to recognize and cherish the dignity and worth of every citizen of this city, and we believe how the citizens of this city are treated says who we really are as a nation.

Read the rest here.

When you are in jail, watch what you can't read

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has directed the departments chaplains to purge their libraries of all religious books which are not on list approved developed by the Bureau. According to a New York Times report by Laurie Goodstein, the move is supposed to prevent inmates from getting relgiously-based terrorist ideas.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

The list, which has reduced religious libraries to a list of 150 approved books and 150 multi-media for each of 20 religions or religious categories, does not ban liturgical texts, prayer books or scriptures.

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

Chaplains already watch out for materials that promote violence or disparage groups or classes of people, so, they say, the effort is unnecessary. The department has not provided funds for Chaplains to purchase the approved materials. This means that many prison library have simply been cleared of materials.

This effort has managed to displease nearly everyone: evangelical Christian groups have found their materials banned as well as Jewish and Muslim groups. Already some prisoners have filed suit.

If bureaucrats are concerned about radical ideas that are infectious, they may want to have another look at those Gospels.

Read the rest here including a multi-media description of the banned materials.

Visas denied for Iranian religious delegation

A delegation of religious leaders from Iran was supposed to arrived in the US today to meet with Christian leaders from the United Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Quaker, and Mennonite traditions, but at the last minute their visas were denied. The visit reciprocates a visit last February by American Christian leaders to Iran for face-to-face dialouge, the first since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

According to a report in the blog Ekklesia, the visit was sponsored by these faith-groups plus the National Council of Churches and Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

The (Bush) administration denied visas to four of fourteen Iranians invited to the United States, including the two leaders of the delegation. The Iranians were invited to meet with their counterparts in the United States this September as the next step in an ongoing dialogue with a diverse group of Christian leaders from United Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Quaker, and Mennonite traditions. The U.S. group traveled to Iran in February 2007 at the invitation of Iranian religious leaders and the government. Members of the U.S. delegation hoped that by reciprocating the Iranians’ hospitality, they could further work to inspire the governments and people of both countries to commit to a diplomatic solution to the ongoing dispute between the United States and Iran. Words not war could answer the national interests of both peoples.

Read more....

Saving Zimbabwe is not colonialism, it's Britain's duty

That's the headline on the op-ed by John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, in the Observor. The archbishop writes,

The time has come for Mr Brown, who has already shown himself to be an African interventionist through his work at the UN in favour of the people of Darfur, finally to slay the ghosts of Britain's colonialist past by thoroughly revising foreign policy towards Zimbabwe and to lead the way in co-ordinating an international response.

The time for 'African solutions' alone is now over. Despite his best efforts, [South Africa's] President Mbeki has failed to help the people of Zimbabwe. At best, he has been ineffectual in his efforts to advise, cajole and persuade Robert Mugabe to reverse his unjust and brutal regime. At worst, Mbeki is complicit in his failing to lead the charge against a neighbour who is systematically raping the country he leads.

Britain needs to escape from its colonial guilt when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is the worst kind of racist dictator. Having targeted the whites for their apparent riches, Mugabe has enacted an awful Orwellian vision, with the once oppressed taking on the role of the oppressor and glorying in their totalitarian abilities.
The appalling poverty suffered by those who queue daily for bread in southern Harare is a world apart from the shops, boutiques and sprinkled lawns of northern Harare, where Mugabe's supporters live in palatial surroundings. Britain must lead the way in calling for targeted sanctions against those purveyors of misery whose luxury is bought at the cost of unbearable poverty.

Read the op-ed whole here.

The Observor reports:

Sentamu's intervention will be seen as highly significant, because Mugabe will struggle to depict him as a white colonialist. The archbishop was born in 1949 in a village near Kampala, the capital of Uganda. In a passage that is likely to resonate in Africa, Sentamu likens Mugabe to the late Ugandan dictator Amin. Sentamu, who was imprisoned for 90 days by Amin after he had showed his independence as a judge
The Foreign Office last night said that there would be no change in the government's policy towards Zimbabwe. Britain offers humanitarian help to Zimbabweans but is relying on Harare's neighbours to take political action so as to avoid accusations that it is throwing its weight around as a former colonial power.
Mugabe received a rapturous reception when he arrived at a meeting of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Zambia last month.
Mugabe is the man with whom the Anglican bishop of Harare consorts. Bishops in the province of Central Africa have struggled to support the Zambian people without being misrepresented by Zambian government press organs.

The BBC News also spoke to Sentamu. See its news and video here.

All Saints Pasadena cleared by IRS

All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena, California, will keep its non-profit status after a two year inquiry of a sermon given by a visiting speaker in 2004, but the IRS also found that the sermon was an improper intervention in electoral politics. The Los Angeles Times has the report:

The rector of a liberal Pasadena church today demanded an apology and a clarification from the Internal Revenue Service after being notified that the agency had closed a lengthy investigation of the church over a 2004 antiwar sermon -- but also found that the same sermon constituted illegal intervention in a political campaign.

The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr., rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, told congregants during morning services today that he and other officials were relieved that the church no longer faced the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, but were bewildered by the IRS' seemingly contradictory conclusions about the case.

All Saints has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process over two long years ago," Bacon said. He said the lack of clarity from the IRS in its recent letter to the church would have a continuing "chilling effect" on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about core moral values and such issues as war and poverty.

. . .

All Saints, one of Southern California's largest and most liberal congregations, came under IRS scrutiny after a sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election by a guest speaker, the Rev. George F. Regas. In the sermon, Regas, the church's former rector, depicted Jesus in a mock political debate with then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.

Regas did not instruct parishioners whom to support in the presidential race, but his suggestion that Jesus would have told Bush that his preemptive war strategy in Iraq "has led to disaster" prompted a letter from the IRS in June 2005 stating that the church's tax-exempt status was in question.

Federal law prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

In its latest letter to All Saints, dated Sept. 10, the IRS said the church continues to qualify for tax-exempt status but that Regas' sermon on Oct. 31, 2004, amounted to a one-time intervention in the 2004 presidential race. The letter offered no specifics or explanation for either conclusion, but noted that the church did have appropriate policies in place to ensure that it complied with prohibitions on political activity.

. . .

In addition to its requests for clarification and an apology, All Saints has asked a top Treasury Department official -- its inspector general for tax administration -- to investigate what the church described as a series of procedural and substantive errors in the case, including allegedly inappropriate conversations about it between IRS and Justice Department officials.

Those conversations, documented in e-mails obtained by the church through Freedom of Information Act requests, appear to show that Justice Department officials were involved in the All Saints case before the IRS made any formal referral of it for possible prosecution, an attorney for the church said. And they raise concerns that the IRS' investigation may have been politically motivated.

"In view of the fact that recent congressional inquiries have revealed extensive politicization of [the Department of Justice], my client is very concerned that the close coordination undertaken by the IRS allowed partisan political concerns to direct the course of the All Saints examination," attorney Marcus S. Owens wrote in a Sept. 21 letter requesting an investigation.

Read it all here.

For church leaders concerned about this issue, the most recent IRS guidance on political activity by churches and other nonprofits can be found here. A description of the IRS's enforcement actions against churches in 2006 can be found here. The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization affiliated with the Christian Right has a useful "Pastor Do's and Don'ts" here.

Karl Barth back in US Prisons

News came this week that the ban on religious books (other than primary texts like the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran, etc...) in US Prisons has been reconsidered:

The US Federal Bureau of Prisons is purging prison libraries of "non-approved" religious books and materials because of terrorism concerns, say a number of US religious groups amid warnings of possible violations of religious freedom.

Books not approved include works by respected 20th century theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth, and contemporary fare like Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life" and Harold Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".

"The idea of government bureaucrats drafting a list of approved books on religion seems like something out of Soviet-era Russia, not the United States of America, where freedom of religion, even for those behind prison walls, is something we treasure," said the Christian activist organization Sojourners in an e-mail this week to its supporters.

Traci Billingsley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, told The New York Times the policy was prompted by a 2004 justice department report. This warned of the need to prevent US prisons from becoming places where those advocating militant Islamic beliefs or other religious views deemed "extremist" could recruit followers.

Read the rest of the story here.

A nation full of Christians, but a Christian nation?

Does a nation full of Christians make for a Christian nation? Newsweek editor Jon Mecheam writes an op-ed in today's New York Times reminds us that while America may be full of Christians, that does not make America a Christian nation.

He shows us that Thomas Jefferson, an Anglican, said that his bill for religious liberty in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.”

Mecham also relates how fellow Anglican George Washington wrote to a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island said, “happily the government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. ... Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

But when Episcopally- (and Virginia-) -raised Baptist John McCain said to beliefnet.com that “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation” it was enough to make the former scourge of the religious right earn an 8 out of 10 on beliefnet's God-o-meter.

Mecheam writes in rebuttal to what he calls an article of faith among many evangelical Christians:

According to Scripture, however, believers are to be wary of all mortal powers. Their home is the kingdom of God, which transcends all earthly things, not any particular nation-state. The Psalmist advises believers to “put not your trust in princes.” The author of Job says that the Lord “shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And if, as Paul writes in Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then it is difficult to see how there could be a distinction in God’s eyes between, say, an American and an Australian. In fact, there is no distinction if you believe Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles: “I most certainly believe now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him.”

The kingdom Jesus preached was radical. Not only are nations irrelevant, but families are, too: he instructs those who would be his disciples to give up all they have and all those they know to follow him.

He goes on:

The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation — that all men are created equal — in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry.

Read:A Nation of Christians Is Not a Christian Nation

For more on how candidates make use of religious language to appeal to religious voters (and to get an idea of what politicians think religious people want to hear) see the God-o-meter on www.beliefnet.com, which is done in partnership with TIME.

Rock on

Graham Nash says "the world is in such peril. Most religions are being taken over by people who want to kill their neighbors. I find it so unreligious to kill people in the name of God. But we have to start by first taking care of things at home." And so, at the invitation of Bishop John Chane of of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Nash and David Crosby are going to round up as many musicians as they can for a concert on Pray for Peace Day on October 16th at the National Cathedral.

The concert is a short break from the tour that brings them to the Borgata in Atlantic City on Saturday. A good deal of the program will undoubtedly focus on music you've heard before - "Marrakesh Express," "Teach Your Children," "Military Madness," "Chicago"/"We Can Change the World," and "Immigration Man" - but Nash hints there will be some tracks from the CD he is working on.

When performing with Neil Young and Stephen Stills, the crew has been a supergroup since 1968 - a band known as much for its political activism as its distinctive harmonies. As charter members of Woodstock Nation, they helped globalize what folk-rockers had been singing about for years.

"We've never shied away from social issues," Nash insists.

Indeed, only a year ago CSN&Y mounted a Freedom of Speech tour that helped support Young's CD "Living With War," a blistering attack on the Bush administration. The tour drew more than its share of protests from people who preferred to hear them play, not preach.

Read: The New York Daily News-- David Crosby and Graham Nash 'Carry On'

Churches and children's health care

The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are urging US legislators to reconsider the vetoed legislation for funding the State's Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

The Episcopal Church October 14 bulletin insert reports:

There are 8.7 million uninsured children in the United States -- and a serious gap in serving children who do not qualify for Medicaid, but whose parents cannot afford private health insurance. For many families with children who fall into this category, the State's Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is their safety net. The importance of this program, together with wider issues of children's healthcare, is the focus of Episcopal Life's parish bulletin inserts for October 14 available here

Ekklesia reports that the United Methodist Church's chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the Rev R. Randy Day, began faxing letters to all US senators and representatives regarding the veto. He also e-mailed a last-minute appeal to the White House.

"We firmly believe that all children in the US deserve the opportunity for a healthy life and the people of The United Methodist Church strongly agree and have voiced their support for the SCHIP legislation," the letter to each member of Congress stated. "The substantial bipartisan support for SCHIP proves that this reauthorization is needed and worthy of your undivided support."

Harriett Olson, chief executive of the UMC board's Women's Division, added her support to Day's letter, calling SCHIP a "critical step" in protecting the nation's children.

She said: "One of the measures by which a society is judged is the quality of the care and support it offers to its most vulnerable," she said. "Children in this country are among the most vulnerable and it is our moral and ethical responsibility to support basic health care for them."

Read it all here


Resources are here

Ekklesia also reports that churches in the US are propping up the health care system with minstries to fill in the gaps in care.

The Congregational Health Ministry Survey, conducted by the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that a majority of churches are ministering to their communities by providing 'health care ministries'. As the number of uninsured Americans reaches 47 million people, congregations are supplying health education and direct health care services. Many are also advocating on behalf of public policy issues related to health care.

According to the survey, about 70 percent of responding churches provide direct health services, with 65 percent offering health education programs within their community. The survey defines direct services as provision of medical care to individuals by trained health care professionals.

Antichrist comes to dinner

Dana Milbank writes:

In the wildly popular "Left Behind" series of evangelical Christian novels, the Antichrist takes the form of the secretary general of the United Nations, sets up an abortion-promoting world government and becomes the Global Community Supreme Potentate.

Last night, the National Association of Evangelicals met for dinner at the Sheraton in Crystal City. The keynote speaker? Why, the Antichrist himself.

Read it all. New opportunites are emerging for progressive Christians to work with segments of the Evangelical community on issues of common concern.

The FundamentaList

The American Prospect, a liberal opinion magazine, now devotes a regular feature to chronicling the political machinations of the Religious Right. It's called The FundamentaList, and it asks savvy questions like this one:

Would James Dobson or Tony Perkins have had as many Google News hits this week had the press not fallen for the story that the dynamic duo was ready to dump the GOP in favor of certain failure and irrelevancy? Out of the circus that ensued after the Salt Lake City meeting last week, they got a massive, free get-out-the-vote drive.

Have a look.

Evangelicals in power

From Beliefnet:

When people say "America is being run by evangelical Christians," they usually mean that it only feels that way. But with George W. Bush in the White House, James Dobson on the airwaves, and evangelical books filling the best-seller lists, evangelicals have rarely been as prominent as they are today. And as a major new study by sociologist Michael Lindsay reveals, evangelical Christians now hold seats of influence in American government, business, culture, and higher education. This month, Beliefnet invited Lindsay, journalists Hanna Rosin and Jeff Sharlet, evangelical author Jerry Jenkins, and former Bush aide David Kuo to discuss American evangelicals and their rise to power.

Follow it here.

Religion and politics in America

CATO Unbound has an issue devoted to politics and religion. As the Editors explain:

Americans are among the most religious people in the wealthy, democratic West. Yet we are not only comfortable, but proud, of the independence of church and state. Are we bound to fumble in our foreign policy if we cannot understand why the politics of equality, liberty, toleration, and democracy fit so uneasily with the explicitly religious politics of the Middle East? Closer to home, evangelical Christians remain one of the most powerful forces in American politics, and perhaps a dominant force in the Republican Party. Will they bring down the "big tent" if the GOP nominates a cosmopolitan pro-choice New Yorker or a Mormon? Is there, perhaps, a place for religious ideas on the American left?

This month's Cato Unbound explores these questions and with a stellar lineup of deep thinkers about God and politics.

The issue includes a lead essay by Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, and responses by Penn State professor of history and religion Philip Jenkins; Damon Linker, author of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege; and The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, author of recent The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How To Get It Back.

Bridging the gap between Democrats and religious voters

The Democratic National Committee has hired its first religious outreach director and its “Faith in Action” team now counts seven staff members, including those directing Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim outreach according to The New York Times. Leah Daughtery heads up this effort to assist candidates to reach out to religious voters and she has prompted the party to convene a 60-person faith advisory board and to train its members to combat the religious right on television.

Ever since he cited the Book of Job as his favorite part of the New Testament (it is actually in the Old Testament) and explained during his 2004 presidential campaign that he had left his church over a bike-path dispute, Howard Dean has been seen by many religious Americans as the nation’s secularist in chief.

That is why Mr. Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, still gets surprised looks when he points out that his chief of staff is a Pentecostal minister.

Indeed, the raucous three-and-a-half-hour service that the chief of staff, Leah Daughtry, 44, presided over last Sunday from the pulpit of the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn seemed a world away not just from Mr. Dean, but also from the ways of official Washington.

Donning the yellow and white garments of that church’s clergy, Ms. Daughtry led a 25-member choir through the foot-stomping gospel number “I Can Go to God in Prayer.” She laid hands on parishioners and implored them to clear the way for Jesus.

“When I’m there in the pulpit, it really isn’t me,” the typically mild-mannered Ms. Daughtry said in an interview. “Sometimes I pray, ‘Decrease me and increase you, Lord.’”

Her duties at the Democratic National Committee are even more behind-the-scenes, with Ms. Daughtry preferring to stay out of the news. But for much of the last three years, she has worked to bridge the gap between the Brooklyn church in which she was raised — its pastor is her father, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry — and her Washington day job, becoming the quiet architect behind the committee’s religious outreach program.

Read it all here

Christian politicians

David Helm, executive editor of the Christian Century offers some interesting thoughts on the issue of the appropriate involvement of the faithful in politics on the Christian Century Theolog blog:

I have been hearing some significant voices on the right that are disillusioned about political engagement.

For example, at a Yale Divinity School conference on religion and politics in October, David Kuo, former aide in the Bush White House, talked about the need for Christians to “fast from politics” for a few years. Conservative Christians helped Republicans get control of Congress and the White House, he said, but they didn’t accomplish that much for the country and, with their focus on partisan politics, they ended up diluting or distorting their own spiritual life.

Also speaking was Gregory Boyd, a dynamic pastor in Minnesota, who doubts that anything good comes from aligning oneself with Caesar (his words to describe Christians engaging in politics). He spoke eloquently about how the church is called to embody Christ’s self-sacrificing love in the world, not to take up the levers of power.

Skepticism about politics is always healthy. But it strikes me that Kuo’s and Boyd’s comments reflect a broad, unhelpful tendency in American Christianity to oscillate between two poles: either a fervent engagement in politics for the sake of the gospel and the world, or an equally fervent detachment for the sake of the purity of the gospel and the health of the church. Isn’t there something between the two poles?

It might help the discussion of religion and politics if we thought not about the two poles of political engagement and detachment but about politics as a particular kind of vocation to which Christians are called in different ways depending on their gifts and their position in the church and society.

I’d be happy to stipulate, with Boyd, that the church as church is not called to be Caesar or even Caesar’s adviser. We don’t want bishops, pastors or church councils issuing statements on tax laws or free trade agreements or on which version of the SCHIP bill should be passed. Churches and church leaders have their particular vocation of proclamation, worship, prayer and sacramental ministry. Except in emergency situations, the church—here I mean the church as an official body—leaves the details of what public justice means to those who are called to the work of politics.

Meanwhile, however, individual Christians have their particular vocations. In a democracy, all people have the vocation of citizen and so are in some degree called to the work of politics. Beyond that, a certain number of individual Christians are called to a more specific vocation: to study, analyze or participate in the day-to-day workings of politics. They make arguments and pay attention to data. They look for affinities between the gospel and political philosophies and programs. They listen to what constituents say and arguments other people make. Their work is fallible, limited, pervaded by sin, always subject to revision—but so are lots of vocations.

Unless one takes a truly separatist view of the Christian life and wants to preclude anybody with political influence from being a member of the church, then one has to grant that some Christians have the specific vocation of working out the details of seeking justice in political life. This is not the only task of the Christian life, nor is it the primary task of the church. But it is a genuine vocation for Christians, one just as worthy as farming or schoolteaching. If we are clear about the distinct vocations to which Christians are called, there is no reason for Christians to fast from politics or apologize for their involvement in it.

Read it here. What do you think? Is politics part of our vocation? Or is it time for the faithful to fast from politics?

Did evolution lead to ouster of state official?

Chris Comer, the Texas director of science curriculum claims that she was forced to resign from her position because of she had expressed views contrary to Intelligent Design:

The Texas Education Agency put the director, Chris Comer, on 30 days’ paid administrative leave in late October, resulting in what Ms. Comer called a forced resignation.

The move came shortly after she forwarded an e-mail message announcing a presentation by Barbara Forrest, an author of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse.” The book argues that creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Ms. Comer sent the message to several people and a few online communities.

Ms. Comer, who held her position for nine years, said she believed evolution politics were behind her ousting. “None of the other reasons they gave are, in and of themselves, firing offenses,” she said.

Education agency officials declined to comment Wednesday on the matter. But they explained their recommendation to fire Ms. Comer in documents obtained by The Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act.

“Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that T.E.A. endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral,” the officials said.

Read it all here.

Here is the question for all of you: Is it really the case that the Texas Department of Education should remain neutral on whether Intelligent Design is science?

Apologies all around

"I would never denigrate any civilized response of anyone for harm he may have done or misbehavior he may have engaged in," writes Gorman Beauchamp in The American Scholar. "But apologies offered by people to their contemporaries for actions taken long before any of them were born strike me as vacuous and more than a little exhibitionistic."

He asks:

[W]ho are we to apologize? We assume, as I suggested, something like absolute validity for our current values, which gives us a sense of moral superiority to the benighted past. Is it justified? Charles Sanders Pierce, the American pragmatist philosopher, once defined a belief as a disposition to act. That is, you believe what you do. And what have we done, we apologizers? The 20th century, argued the poet Louise Bogan, was the worst century so far. Isaiah Berlin likewise regarded it as “the most terrible century in Western history.” Even if, like most of my students, we relegated the first half of the 20th century, with the mass carnage and destruction of its two world wars, to the realm of ancient history, the evils of the last half century, well within the lifetime of most of us, appear quite sufficient unto the day. “Never again!” became the resolve after the revelation of the Nazi genocide, but the world has since witnessed, more or less passively, appalling crimes against humanity again and again: in China’s Cultural Revolution, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the genocidal ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia, and today in Darfur.

Read it all. The section on reparations for slavery is probably the most controversial.

Religious freedom and 'pious cruelty'

Ethan Fishman in The American Scholar:

For much of its history, the United States has largely avoided the religious conflicts that have cost other nations countless lives. Our ability to escape such conflicts is grounded in the Constitution’s First Amendment, which requires government to maintain as neutral an attitude as possible toward religion. Fortunately for Americans, past presidents as a rule have sought to honor this neutrality. Today, however, the Bush administration, working with certain religious denominations, seeks to repudiate it.

Drawing on the thinking of Roger Williams, who was exiled from Puritan Massachusetts and founded the Rhode Island colony, he writes:

The Bush administration has ignored Roger Williams’s warning about the corrosive effects on both church and state of the lethal combination of national arrogance and religious self-righteousness. That contrasts with the reactions of Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison at the turn of the 19th century when North African Muslim pirates were seizing American ships and capturing their crews. The pirates were fond of using quotes from the Koran to justify their criminal activities, and the United States responded in a variety of ways to protect its political and commercial interests in the Mediterranean: they sent in the Navy and the Marines, paid protection money, and ransomed the crews. But these presidents never considered their war against the Muslim pirates to be religiously motivated or to have any religious significance at all.

Since the attacks of September 2001, Bush has insisted on calling America’s reaction a war on terror, and his statements have contained religious imagery comparable to that used by Osama bin Laden. University of Chicago religion professor Bruce Lincoln observes in Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11 that both Bush and bin Laden use language that refers to “a Manichean struggle, where Sons of Light confront Sons of Darkness, and all must enlist on one side or the other, without possibility of neutrality, hesitation or middle ground.” The implication of both leaders’ rhetoric is that God supports what may be called a war of “pious cruelty.”

Read it all.

David Brooks on Mitt Romney's speech on faith

While there has been a great deal of commentary about Mitt Romney's speech on faith in America, there is growing concern by some that the most disturbing aspect of the speech was that it expressly excludes the so-called faithless. David Brooks captured these concerns well in his New York Times column on Friday:

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.

The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?

Read it all here. Do you agree?

The original war on Christmas

Rabbi Rami Shapiro has a wonderful post on his blog that has been reposted at EthicsDaily.com that reminds us that the orignal "War on Christmas" was waged by our Puritan forefothers:

In 1645 Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan brethren took over jolly old England. Deciding that anything jolly was probably of the devil, they vowed to rid England of such decadent conceits as Christmas. Cromwell and Company banned Christmas and any festivities having to do with it.

Not to be bested by their colleagues across the pond, Massachusetts Puritans criminalized Christmas (take that, Bill O'Reilly!), and, in 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts passed the Five-Shilling Anti-Christmas Law:

"Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, or the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting, or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country."

. . .

Even though the Five-Shilling Anti-Christmas Law was repealed in 1681, our founders must have seen some value in banishing Christmas seeing as Congress was in session on Dec. 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution, and Christmas didn't become a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Anyway, I think a country whose original illegal aliens were Puritans who hated Christmas, and whose descendents believe that a return to Christian values would be a good thing, cannot but benefit from outlawing Christmas once again.

It will take us a while to get the country back on its Christian track, but in the meantime, if you insist upon celebrating Christmas and thus disrespecting this great country, you should fine yourself five shillings (which in today's fallen dollar is equal to about 89 cents).

Read it here. Hat Tip to EthicsDaily.com.

Here is an idea--next time you go shopping for Christmas, or put up lights, or say "Merry Christmas", fine yourself 89 cents and donate the fine to Episcopal Relief and Development or some similar charity of your choice. I, for one, already owe a large fine!

Faith on the campaign trail

Presidential candidates of both parties this year are talking much more about their faith than in previous years. Is this good for the country? And does it even help the candidates? The Christian Science Monitor talks to analysts who say that it is not doing much good for anybody:

Presidential candidates of both parties have talked more openly about their religious beliefs this year than in elections past, lifting a window on some of the values that could shape their decisions in the Oval Office. But the political benefits of such candor are not always clear in a country where most Republicans and Democrats believe in separation of church and state.

. . .

Republicans have shown off their spiritual side on the hustings in part to cement their standing with evangelical Christians, a potent voting bloc in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. The Democrats, particularly Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have also spoken of their journeys of faith, in part to win over Protestants and Catholics who have soured on President Bush.

Scott Keeter, survey director at the Pew Research Center, says Americans want their presidential candidates to be religious – but not necessarily too religious.

Recent surveys of voters have found that beyond a basic perception that a presidential candidate has faith, "there isn't necessarily any particular benefit," Mr. Keeter said in a phone interview. "Indeed, there could potentially be a downside, with more secular people reacting negatively to what they see as excessive displays of faith" calculated for political gain.

A Pew survey in August found that the national front-runners for both parties – former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York – were viewed by Americans as the least religious of their parties' candidates. But with Huckabee and Mr. Romney in a fierce fight in Iowa, the bid for evangelical voters has intensified – and at times, critics say, crossed a line.

Several commentators singled out Romney's remark, in his Dec. 6 "Faith in America Speech," that "freedom requires religion." A Suffolk University survey of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire, where Romney leads in most polls, found that just 34 percent agreed.

"The candidates are confusing two arguments," Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, wrote after Romney's speech. "The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life."

Read it all here.

What do you think?

Make peace for everyone

Thirteen senior Christian leaders in the region - representing the Eastern, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant traditions - have written a letter that calls on Christians and other faithful people to redirect their energies away from territory and towards compassion and respect.

The compassionate actions of human beings, not their claims against each other, reflect the will of God and the transforming power of Jesus the Prince of Peace, the leaders say. Their letter highlight the division brought about by violence, injustice and communal separation - including the Wall dividing Palestinians from Jews and from each other.

"If peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as political leaders", they write. "Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Druze."

Many Christians in the area say that talk of a Holy Land must give way to the quest for a Land of the Holy One, where the focus is on behaviour among the religions that truly reflects the life-giving of God, rather than the mystification of territory and its exclusive association with one kind of people.

They say it is vital to recognise biblical promises about land as a call for responsibility towards growing liberation not selfish expropriation.

The full letter says:

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

"He came to his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the [offspring] of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of human will, but of God." (St John 1.11-13)


1. Another Christmas is upon us and still we seek Peace for this Holy Land amidst continuing hardships. At the sane time it is important for us to reflect carefully on what the Evangelist is trying to put before us about God's gift to us of Jesus, born in Bethlehem's manger, together with the clear response God asks of each one of us.

Amidst our difficulties, we need to meditate upon what links us in the same time to God and this land. In this Land, we ask for our freedom, for the end of the Occupation. We mention the difficulties coming from "the Wall of Separation" that has transformed our cities into big prisons. With God, we are linked because our dignity comes from His dignity, and we are His children and the work of His hands. And we must keep in mind that it is not fleshly descent or human effort which makes us the children of God, and it is not human strength alone that makes us strong. Rather it is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. Christmas reminds us that our faith is not only a human belonging to a group, or to a community different from the others by its religion, We are called to make a personal commitment to Jesus. Such a commitment tells the world and particularly those around us that we are prepared to witness and live by our reliance on Jesus the Word of God, born in Bethlehem, and who brought to us durable and firm peace in our hearts.

2. So often human beings believe they are capable of making peace through their own efforts; demanding conditions of their own choosing. However, when God gave us His Son to be born of a human mother and to experience all aspects of human life He did so in order that we might discern the way to resolve our difficulties from His example and teaching. Therefore we pray for ourselves in order to understand the strength God gave us when He gave us His Eternal Word born in Bethlehem. So we pray for our political leaders that God may inspire them and make them examine their conduct and demands in the light of God's commandments always remembering their own accountability to Him, in this very life and in the process of the conflict itself..

So dear Sisters and Brothers whilst we are truly conscious of the many problems of unemployment, poverty and frustration which many of you continue to face each day, we would still urge you to remember the words of the Apostle:

May "the peace of God rule in your hearts ..." and "the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." (Colossians 3. 15,16)

We as Christians must continue to offer our prayers to God for all those around us who are struggling to care for their families, not least the young children and the elderly. We rejoice with those families now enjoying the company of those recently released from prison whilst persisting in our efforts to encourage the release of thousands more who have the same right to have back their freedom and return to the joy of their families and children.

Amidst our sufferings, we share the sufferings of the others. We have a particular thought for the countless thousands across the world who have endured great disasters as a result of the devastating cyclones and subsequent floods of recent months. We pray for them. And for all of us we repeat the verse of the Gospel:

"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (St John 3.16)

3. To our Sisters and Brothers across the world: we are greatly encouraged by your continuing pilgrimages to this Land: we thank you for your presence with us. During your pilgrimage as well you learn at first hand of the difficulties of your fellow Christians here as well as following in the footsteps of our Blessed Lord. Thank you for your prayers and the many expressions of your love and care for everyone here.

If Peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as Political leaders. Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Druze. He tells us that we are able to make peace and overcome all obstacles with the power which the Prince of peace, born in Bethlehem, brought us.

We wish everyone a truly Happy Christmas and God's richest blessings on their homes and families.

Jerusalem, December 2007, Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem


Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Roman Catholic Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr Pierbattista Pizziballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Mounib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian-Catholic
Bishop George Baker, Greek Catholic
Fr Rafael Minassian , Armenian Catholic

Read: Ekklesia: Make peace not division, say Jerusalem church heads

"Faith-fueled candidates" win in Iowa

Jeff Sharlett of The Revealter writes:

If tonight's Iowa results prove anything, it's that religion isn't leaving the public square when W. rides home to Texas. Huckabee's huge victory over robot Republican Mitt Romney is the most obvious sign that Holy Ghost power still matters in power politics. But Obama's victory should be read as almost as big an indicator that we are living in a deeply religious moment. Of course, other factors contributed to both men's victories -- Huck's faux-populism, Obama's pure charisma -- but there's no denying that both Republicans and Democrats in Iowa chose the two most faith-fueled candidates.

Imagine a Huck vs. Obama general election: the two candidates most comfortable at a pulpit fighting it out for the hearts and minds of American evangelicals. That's right -- Obama has almost as much of a shot at a big chunk of the evangelical vote as Huckabee. Huckabee may be a pastor, but Obama talks more like a prophetic preacher. Huckabee may come from an evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptists, but Obama's church, an Afrocentric UCC congregation, worships in a style more recognizable to the multitudes of a megachurch nation.

Read it all.

Preacher men

It is perhaps no surprise that the religious left is comfortable with Barack Obama. Just listen to this interview with the Concord (NH) Monitor:

"We know that 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power, we know that huge chunks of voters in swing states consider religion a really important part of their lives," Obama told the Monitor. "If we aren't speaking to those issues, then I think we're missing a huge part of the electorate that cares about family, poor people, a lot of issues I care about as a senator and a presidential candidate."

In his approach to religion, Obama has walked a fine line, emphasizing the importance of Christian faith to his own life while advocating a universal ideology that respects the separation of church and state.

"I've always said that my faith informs my values, and in that sense it helps shape my worldview, and I don't think anyone should be required to leave their religious sensibilities at the door," Obama said. "But we have to translate those concerns into a universal language that can be subject to argument and doesn't turn into a contest of any one of us thinking that God is somehow on our side."

Locally, Obama's message has garnered support from liberal religious leaders. "People talk about the Christian church and think right-wing fundamentalism," said the Rev. Leanne Tigert, a pastoral psychotherapist and United Church of Christ minister in Concord who supports Obama. "Obama has really opened up an avenue for many of us 'progressive people of faith' that says you don't speak for us. We are people of faith, we are pro-choice, pro-gay lesbian equality, civil rights. . . . He's giving us a voice."

(If you listen to the speech Obama gave after winning the Iowa caususes, it's easy to tell that he's heard a sermon or two in his time.)

But what's really intriguing is how uncomfortable some on the right are with how Mike Huckabee interprets the Bible's teaching on economic issues. The Wall Street Journal raises the alarm, saying that on pocketbook issues, Huckabee's values are those of the religious left:

Speaking to the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, in 1933, FDR explained that the "object of all our striving. . . should be to help citizens realize the abundant life Christ said he came to bring." According to Mr. Smith, "Roosevelt wanted to ensure that 'all elements of the community' had an equitable share of the nation's resources. The federal government's social planning, he contended, was 'wholly in accord with the social teachings of Christianity.' " It is not hard to imagine Mr. Huckabee -- standing at a podium in the Rose Garden to announce a raft of government programs -- talking in exactly this way.

Jacques Berlinerblau also offers a few thoughts on Huckabee:

Unlike Romney, Huckabee presently has no ecumenical game plan, no well crafted appeal to any group other than his own. Little as of yet suggests that he will carry Catholics, as Bush did in 2004. As for Mormons (who also voted overwhelmingly for the current president) Huckabee’s musings about Jesus and Satan’s fraternal bonds will never be forgotten or forgiven. ....

On the bright side, Huckabee has shown himself to be an extremely canny politician. Aware that 75% of the nation’s voters are not Evangelicals, he has been toning down his over-the-top religious rhetoric on the stump in the last few days. He is also a likable and refreshingly serene candidate. Most importantly, he just may have patched together an attractive quilt of liberal and conservative positions that could cover up some his aforementioned weaknesses.

On "Tres Reyes," a search for shelter

Latin Americans celebrate "Tres Reyes" by acting out a "La Posada" Mary and Joseph's journey to find shelter. A man and woman portray the couple as they knock on doors and are rebuffed before they finally find a place where Mary can have her baby.

The Boston Globe describes how 350 people gathered and followed two high school students around the city to demonstrate the plight of migrants in our country and to remind us that Jesus and his parents were themselves migrants and refuges in search of shelter.

Immigrants and advocates gathered on the Common amid holiday lights still twinkling on barren trees to re-create the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Reading from a script in English and Spanish, the two high school students acted out skits illustrating the hardships immigrants face.

With Mary about to give birth, a worried Joseph knocked on innkeepers' doors and was repeatedly turned away. Finally, the baby was born in a manger.

"That's why it's a good story for us," said the Rev. Robert Bowers of the Paulist Center, a Roman Catholic church and community in Boston. "The struggles they faced, people denying them shelter, welcome, healthcare - she was pregnant - and being turned away at the door, literally. That tiny little story is like the big story now."


When the two students stopped at the State House, they asked for work at an unnamed New Bedford factory - designed to remind people of the real immigration raid there last March that led to 361 immigrants being detained - but the fearful owner said no.

At the next stop, immigrants sought sanctuary at the Paulist Center, but the church wavered and turned them away.

Then, they asked an American, symbolizing the United States, for admission to the country, and were rejected.

In the end, as onlookers watched at St. Paul's Cathedral, an Episcopal church, a 7-year-old girl named Noelle let them in.

With immigration like to become the 'wedge issue' of this year's election cycle, the procession demonstrated the moral and ethical dimensions on the faith which is often lost in the sound bytes and slogans of an election year.

"It seems to have become very easy for people who call themselves Christians to forget this fundamental theme of our faith - that God directed us to love everyone without exception," said Jarrett Barrios, an organizer of the event and a former state senator who in 2006 sponsored a bill to allow illegal immigrant children to pay in-state tuition, which ultimately failed.

Read: The Boston Globe: Through Bible story, many others told

Immigration and the church

Episcopal Life Online features the immigration debate and the role of the church in welcoming the stranger.

As immigration reform eludes Congress and as resentment, hate speech and anger about the issue build across the United States, leaders of the Episcopal Church are calling church members to stand with the suffering.
Undocumented immigrants, disparaged as "illegal aliens" by some who want them out of this country -- and out of its schools, hospitals and jobs -- present a moral dilemma for dioceses and ministries in every state. Raids at workplaces, and the arrests, detentions and deportations that follow, devastate families and divide communities.

Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke out in September, after Congress failed again to pass an immigration reform bill. The Presiding Bishop wrote to the church:

"I call on all people of faith to vehemently insist that immigrants be protected from inhumane treatment."

She criticized the raids making news across the country. "Families have been separated, with breadwinners being placed in detention or a parent deported; families have been suddenly ruptured."

She deplored the "wrenching accounts" of such separations, the deportations, racial profiling and stepped-up enforcement measures along the country's borders.

"I would urge our government, in the strongest terms, to cease these incursions into workplaces, homes and other venues where migrants gather until we have comprehensive immigration reform. This one-sided approach to addressing our immigration problems neglects the tenets of justice and compassion which define us as Christians and as a church which embraces the marginalized and the defenseless."

Read what churches are doing and what can be done by the church here

Previous articles on immigration and the church in The Lead here and here.

What does "moral values" mean?

From Harris Interactive:

Political commentators and journalists often use the phrase "moral values" to mean the issues of importance to some conservatives and members of the "Christian Right", issues such as abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage and stem cell research. In fact, when the public uses the phrase, only a few people are referring to these issues.

Most people who say that moral values are very important to them in deciding how to vote (46% of all adults) say that what they mean are the characters of the candidates - such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and their likelihood of "doing the right thing".

Read it all.

Hat tip: Faith in Public Life

A new generation honors Dr. King

From Washington National Cathedral:

On January 21, Washington National Cathedral and young people throughout the area will honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by asking, “What would Dr. King’s platform be for the next U.S. president?”

Local poet, performer and educator Bomani Armah will lead the multi-sensory, musical and energized celebration along with middle and high school students as they call for peace and justice in their communities and consider what Dr. King’s passions would be now.

“I'm looking forward to ‘edutaining’ the young people during the program on MLK day. We are anxious to make the fight for social justice alive and personal to a generation that often feels that Dr. King's dream is a subject for history books and not a living idea that they are a part of,” said Armah. “I'm always amazed to see the sense of empowerment that young people feel when artists, activists and educators are able to break down the mythical fourth wall that separates them from our society’s most revered figures. Through music, poetry and hip-hop we hope to show them that the best qualities that they see in Martin Luther King Jr. lie within them.”

Radio and television personalities Anwan “Big G” Glover and Jeannie Jones will also guide the event. Performances by Urban Nation H.I.P.-H.O.P. Choir, Princess of Controversy, Lamont Carey, The Hueman Prophets and Tri-Flava are scheduled.

The celebration takes place in the Cathedral’s “crossing,” the same area where the Canterbury pulpit is located. Dr. King delivered the last Sunday sermon of his life from Canterbury pulpit on March 31, 1968. A memorial service was held in the Cathedral five days later.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.

The 2-4 pm event is free and open to the public.

Who is the faithiest of them all?

The Revealer, a daily review of religion and the press, posts a summary of where each candidate stands on faith-based initiatives. They ask:

Will the uneasy merger of church and state known as faith-based initiatives survive into the next administration? A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life examination of the candidates says yes. Every major candidate is in favor of some version of the program.

Here is a summary of each candidate's position on Faith Based Initiatives. The positions range from whole-hearted support to support with reservations about constitutional questions and equal employment opportunities.

The Revealer also links an article by The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy concerning the durability of the Faith-based Initiative.

As it approaches its seventh anniversary, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has put in place a series of administrative and structural changes that could have implications beyond the end of the Bush administration.

The big question is just how significant - or how permanent - the effort to encourage grassroots religious groups to provide more social services will be. The answer may depend, in part, on the ability of the Initiative's promoters to cement the effort's philosophy and practices in this final year of President Bush's term, observers say.

Some close watchers of the Initiative detect a steady decrease in the effort's visibility over the last several years, particularly from the White House itself. Others, however, see the past year as a time of expanded presence for the effort at the level of federal agencies, as well as with state and local government officials, with proponents emboldened by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in their favor and an affable White House faith-based director who has both a strong sense of conviction and a solid strategy.

Read all here.

One of the early partners in Faith-based work was Episcopal Migration Ministries.

Faith and the Supremes

Ruth Bader Ginsberg speaks about her faith and being a Supreme Court justice. The Washington Post reports on the latest justice to reveal the role of faith in her life.

It is a story told in many versions, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says near the beginning of the new PBS series "The Jewish Americans," "but mine is: What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York's garment district and a U.S. Supreme Court justice? One generation."

Ginsburg, 74, repeated the story last week at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington for an audience that watched clips of the series and then listened to Ginsburg speak of her heritage with filmmaker David Grubin.

"I am the beneficiary of being a Jewish American," she told Grubin, the child of a father who immigrated at age 13 and a mother "conceived in the Old World and born in the New World."

In her generation she faced obstacles of gender and religion.
As for her career, Ginsburg said, being a woman provided more obstacles than being a Jew. She graduated tied for first in her 1959 Columbia Law School class, she said, but did not receive a job offer from any New York law firm. That she was a woman hurt, she said, but that she was the mother of a young child was "the real killer."

Ginsburg spoke of the anti-Semitism that faced the first Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis, even from within the court. But when President Bill Clinton named Ginsburg to the court in 1993, and Stephen G. Breyer the next year, "our religion had nothing to do with our appointment. . . . It didn't come up at all."

If the five Jews who preceded her on the court were known collectively as the "Jewish justices," she said, she and Breyer "are justices who happen to be Jews.''

Read it all here.

A moral deficit

Barak Obama preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta yesterday. But he was doing more than appealing for votes in this symbolic and important congregation. His description of a national moral deficit is important because it the moral implications of policy decisions and reminds that morality is not limited to the narrow parameters that dominates so much Christian discussion.

He said:

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame – schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.

We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than some workers make in ten months; when families lose their homes so that lenders make a profit; when mothers can’t afford a doctor when their children get sick.

We have a deficit in this country when there is Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others; when our children see nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree today, in the present, in the twenty-first century.

We have a deficit when homeless veterans sleep on the streets of our cities; when innocents are slaughtered in the deserts of Darfur; when young Americans serve tour after tour of duty in a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged.

And we have a deficit when it takes a breach in our levees to reveal a breach in our compassion; when it takes a terrible storm to reveal the hungry that God calls on us to feed; the sick He calls on us to care for; the least of these He commands that we treat as our own.

So we have a deficit to close. We have walls – barriers to justice and equality – that must come down. And to do this, we know that unity is the great need of this hour.

Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We’ve come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily – that it’s just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.

All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.

But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

It’s not easy to stand in somebody else’s shoes. It’s not easy to see past our differences. We’ve all encountered this in our own lives. But what makes it even more difficult is that we have a politics in this country that seeks to drive us apart – that puts up walls between us.

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do. The welfare queen is taking our tax money. The immigrant is taking our jobs. The believer condemns the non-believer as immoral, and the non-believer chides the believer as intolerant.

Read the entirety of the sermon here.

Support urged for Native American health care

Episcopal Life Online reports that the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) is calling on Episcopalians to contact their United States Senators and urge them to support the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007 (Senate Bill 1200) when it comes to the floor this week.

"Indigenous people are suffering and we are your neighbors," Janine Tinsley-Roe, the Episcopal Church's national missioner for Native American Ministries, said in an EPPN alert, which is emailed to more than 21,000 Episcopalians and religious advocates. "We live and love every bit of this country but have been historically neglected by our 'caregivers' on the local, state and especially federal levels. We need our elected officials to advocate for us and to ensure Indigenous people the resources we need to thrive. The time for justice in our health-care crisis is now."

The EPPN alert noted that Native American infant mortality is 150% greater for Indians than for Caucasian infants. Indigenous people are 650% more likely to die from tuberculosis and 318% more likely to die from diabetes compared with other groups.

Read more and take action here.

Evangelicals represent "one out of 11 voters"

The religious pollsters, The Barna Group, have issued an analysis of their latest poll.

Barna Group surveys make a spiritual beliefs-based distinction between born again Christians and the subset of born agains who are Evangelical:

The survey explored two important slices of the Christian vote: born again Christians, a group of Americans who accounted for about half of all ballots cast in the 2004 election and the smaller, more socially conservative subset of born agains, labeled as evangelical voters. Evangelicals represent about one-fifth of all born again Christians [or about one out of every 11 voters]. Note that Barna surveys do not classify a person based upon a respondent’s use of the terms "born again" or "evangelical," instead basing the classification on what a person believes about spiritual matters.

According to Barna, of the 68 registered voters who are born again, 15 million (22%) of those are evangelicals. Further, "Faith affiliation does not neatly follow party lines: about two out of every five registered Democrats are born again voters, while roughly three out of every five Republicans is classified by the Barna team as a born again." As Revolution in Jesusland observed about the exit polls in Iowa - which did not ask Democrats about their religious affliliation:
The headlines after Iowa proclaimed, “Huckabee helped by Born Agains!” But should there also have been a headline, “Obama edges out Clinton thanks to Born Agains?” We’ll never know. And was Huckabee also helped by union voters? Again, no way to know.

And so the assumptions of the punditocracy go on fulfilling themselves. And we are presented with a picture of a more and more divided America.

David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, concludes:
One of the myths about the 2008 election is that the evangelical vote is splintering over issues such as abortion and homosexuality. In fact, when defined based upon a consistent set of theological perspectives, evangelicals remain very united on abortion and homosexuality.... However, concerns about same-sex relationships are less unifying and less troublesome to the broader born again constituency. Born agains are far less concerned about homosexuality than they are about abortion. Protestants and Catholics don’t agree on same-sex concerns. Evangelicals and non-evangelicals differ. Homosexuality remains important for 2008, but the debate is shifting and taking on new dimensions for many people.
Check out the evidence here.

Africa: a need for nuance

Harvard Divinity Bulletin offers a variety of articles on the intersection of faith and life: articles, reviews, and opinion pieces on religion and contemporary life, religion and the arts, religious history, and the study of religion. Two articles in this issue discuss religious life in Africa. One, From Periphery to Center, on how pentecostalism is transforming the secular state in Africa. The other, On Africa, a Need for Nuance is a response to the first article.

Simeon O. Ilesanmi contends that as mainline churches become more and more entwined with governmental and financial power, Pentecostalism is providing space for those who do not have power.

In Nigeria, for example, while all the public federal and state universities are becoming shadows of their former glories, private universities established by Pentecostal churches have become oases of relative stability and quality education. As the secular state retreats into irrelevance and reduces the possibilities of meaningful life for millions of Africans, signs of hope are emerging from unlikely quarters. While ordinary Pentecostal members rarely prosper (even if the brand of the gospel they preach promises prosperity), they stay in the movements because they find personal security there. That is the current tale of African Pentecostal Christianity. It is the tale of a movement that has progressively moved from the periphery of Africa's social and cultural life to a position where it now defines the soul, the very center, of African collective personality.

Jacob Olupona begins by agreeing with Ilesanmi but goes on to plead for nuance in looking at Africa and religion.

Simeon Ilesanmi begins, as will I, by pointing out the challenges produced by thinking of religious studies as an objective science. On the contrary, religious studies is innately subjective. The willingness of scholars to turn a blind eye to this fact has, in many cases, allowed—or rather encouraged—the blithe introduction of provincial, racist, and hierarchical attitudes into the study of so-called primal African religions. This must serve as a potent reminder that we must remain constantly vigilant, as scholars, to our own shortcomings as people. It is the easiest thing in the world to see without ever truly seeing. Learning to truly see another person—to see his or her world in the way he or she would have it be seen—is the work of a lifetime. Ilesanmi also makes a telling critique of globalization. The same process which has generated wealth, luxury, and expanded horizons for many of us has, in much of the world, simply created more tensions, conflicts, suffering, and competition for already limited resources. This surely cannot surprise anyone, for it is a truism that many must go without for a few to have so much. But, as I have already said, it is very easy not to see.

He continues to explore the role of traditional and newer religious expressions and concludes:
Until recently, African traditional religions existed under the watchful eyes of traditional rulers (chiefs, kings, lineage, and clan heads) who also doubled as patrons and custodians of tradition. These traditions held in trust the sacred knowledge and moral fabric of the people. These traditions provided a strong basis for the economic and political foundations of villages and towns. They held a legitimate space precisely because they were of and for the people, constituting a collective worldview and lifeway. For centuries, African traditional practices—such as ancestor veneration, taboos, and totems—served as the pivot of the moral universe and the root of indigenous knowledge. Now, traditional worldviews are increasingly being characterized as evil, premodern, and inimical to progress and economic development. Consequently, several of these institutions have been driven underground, transforming themselves into cults and occult practices which are contrary to the welfare of their own people. It seems that the rise of witchcraft and secret societies is partly a response to the displacement of traditional religion. As Pentecostalism and evangelicalism—aided and abetted by a dysfunctional and corrupt state—denounce the high moral authority of the king and promote forced conversion, the center is falling apart and traditional rulers are ceasing to be the custodians of tradition. They can no longer provide the sacred canopy under which robust African pluralism existed for centuries. I would argue that the Pentecostal and evangelical demand for a radical divorce of converts from traditional worldviews is doing violence to African people and societies.

But I prefer to see hope everywhere: In Africa and her diaspora, there are religious communities fed up with violence, illness, and poverty. They are taking it upon themselves to see the HIV/AIDS crisis as a problem that they must address with compassion and speed—before a tipping point is reached beyond which there will be only death and more death. There are communities that see famine and violence as the real enemies of a gospel of prosperity—and, rather than retreating into self-help mantras, they are engaging in food banks, peasant cooperatives, and neighborhood watches. These communities have recognized that peace is only possible with cooperation across barriers—that there is no good life to be gotten from anything less than hard work and engagement. We would do well to take their example.

Read these here. Also featured are models of peacemaking as well as other articles on religion and contemporary life.

Bush's visit to Jericho

President Bush followed his last State of the Union address with a visit to Jericho, a program in East Baltimore that helps former inmates find jobs and reenter society that is run by Episcopal Church Social Services. The president used the visit to highlight his program of faith-based social services. He also spoke bluntly about his own struggles with alcohol addiction.

From the Washington Post story:

President Bush plopped himself into a chair between two former prisoners, Thomas Boyd and Adolphus Moseley, and asked to hear how their lives had changed. But first, he wanted them to know something about him: "I understand addiction," he said, "and I understand how a changed heart can help you deal with addiction."

The scene inside a tiny room in an East Baltimore rowhouse Tuesday was part of an unusual day for the president, who referred repeatedly to his struggle with alcohol as a way of connecting with the participants in Jericho....

"Why were you in jail, if you don't mind me asking?" Bush asked Moseley, a gregarious 42-year-old who replied that he served time for cocaine possession. "It's just one of those things that you need to put behind you," he told the president.

Moseley told Bush they could use more such mentoring and counseling programs on the west side of Baltimore, and Bush replied: "There are programs like that all over the city; they are called churches."

"They are not sincere, like Jericho," Moseley replied, seeming to take Bush a bit aback.
The president tried to relate to Boyd and Moseley in other ways, too. Moseley talked about how he was worried "to death" about his daughters when he was in prison, and Bush interjected, "You can be worried when you are incarcerated, and you can be worried when you are not incarcerated," drawing laughter.
After Bush departed the facility, Jean Patterson Cushman, executive director of Episcopal Community Services, said the people who met Bush today found the president inspiring: "They were kind of amazed that the president would talk to them about his own problems," she said.

From the Baltimore Sun

Jericho has received more than a half-million dollars in grants yearly under the Bush program.

"It was the first large grant this organization had ever applied for," said Jean Cushman, executive director of Episcopal Community Services. "It would have been harder for us to get it" without the Bush faith-based initiative, she said.

The White House press release for the event is here.

Religious right not on the march

Writing in Prospect magazine, Michael Lind sets out to debunk "three ubiquitous myths" of American decline:

Anyone who reads the serious press about the condition of the US might be excused for believing that the country is headed towards a series of deep crises. This impression is exacerbated by economic slowdown and by the presidential primaries, in which candidates announce bold plans to rescue the country from disaster. But even in more normal times there are three ubiquitous myths about America that make the country seem weaker and more chaotic than it really is. The first myth, which is mainly a conservative one, is that racial and ethnic rivalries are tearing America apart. The second myth, which is mainly a liberal one, is that America will soon be overwhelmed by religious fundamentalists. The third myth, an economic one beloved of centrists, is that the retirement of the baby boomers will bankrupt the country because of runaway social security entitlement costs.

America does, of course, have many problems, such as spiralling healthcare costs and a decline in social mobility. Yet the truth is that apart from the temporary frictions caused by current immigration from Latin America, the US is more integrated than ever. Racial and cultural diversity is in long-term decline, as a result of the success of the melting pot in merging groups through assimilation and intermarriage—and many of the country's infamous social pathologies, from violent crime to teenage drug use, are also seeing improvements. Americans are far more religious than Europeans, but the "religious right" is concentrated among white southern Protestants. And there is no genuine long-term entitlement problem in the US. The US suffers from healthcare cost inflation, a problem that will be solved one way or another in the near future, long before it cripples the economy as a whole. And the long-term costs of social security, America's public pension programme, could be met by moderate benefit cuts or a moderate growth in the US government share of GDP. With a linguistically united, increasingly racially mixed supermajority and a solvent system of middle-class entitlements, the US will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multipolar world with several great powers.

Read it all.

A new Evangelical agenda?

Sarah Posner writes The Fundamentalist for The American Prospect's Web site. In her most recent dispatch, she tackled a hot recent topic: are the political goals of the evangelical movement in flux?

Last week, Beliefnet released the results of its new online poll which showed that although evangelical voters remain largely conservative, issues at the top of their agenda are increasingly aligned with those at the top of the progressive agenda. Although the poll was not scientific, its results reflect what many see as the changing face of the evangelical movement.

While a majority of self-described evangelicals said they remain committed to the Christian right leadership, they're recognizing the need to address issues like global warming, poverty, and torture. Most Christian right leaders have resisted this change, but they've yet to see a significant backlash from their constituents. The religious right leadership remains well-funded, well-organized, and committed to the same core issues from which they will not budge. And even evangelicals touted as "new" or "less conservative" remain committed to some of those core issues as well.

Read it all.

Why are Jews wary of Evangelicals?

James Q. Wilson writes:

In the United States, the two groups that most ardently support Israel are Jews and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Jewish support is easy to explain, but why should certain Christians, most of them politically quite conservative, be so devoted to Israel? There is a second puzzle: despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are disliked by many Jews. And a third: a large fraction of African-Americans are hostile to Israel and critical of Jews, yet Jewish voters regard blacks as their natural allies.

Wilson examines the differences that many American Jews have with Evangelicals over issues including abortion, school prayer, and gay marriage, but cites a deeper reason for what he characterizes as "Jewish dislike of Christian fundamentalists."

Though evangelical Protestants are supportive of Israel and tolerant of Jews, in the eyes of their liberal critics they are hostile to the essential elements of a democratic regime. They believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and worry about the decay of morality; they must wish, therefore, to impose a conservative moral code, alter the direction of the country so that it conforms to God’s will, require public schools to teach Christian beliefs, and crush the rights of minorities.

Read it all at City Journal. (Hat tip Arts and Letters Daily.)

God moves left

Giles Fraser writes in today's Guardian of his experience with some Episcopal Church leaders in England:

I had known and admired most of these Virgin Atlantic pilgrims by reputation for a while, but had been in denial about one basic fact: that they were Yanks. Yes, I admit it. I suffered from that chronic prejudice of the left, an instinctive distrust of Americans with Bibles. Theologically speaking, what could the home of McDonald's offer a culture that painted the Sistine chapel? How can anyone who thinks the word "Jesus" has three syllables lead a progressive movement in the church? I knew it: I had to take on the source of all this prejudice and make a pilgrimage of my own. I needed to find out for myself: was there really such a thing as the Christian left in America?

Read it all.

The New Sanctuary movement

Writing in The Nation, Sasha Abramsky reports on The New Sanctuary Movement:

While many admire the sense of moral purpose demonstrated by New Sanctuary Movement leaders, some progressive immigration reformers are skeptical of their modus operandi.

"It's a highly laudable cause in many ways, and you can appreciate why they're doing what they're doing," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University's School of Law. "But it touches such an incredibly minuscule part of the population. It's more symbolic than meaningful in the lives of immigrants."

Chishti believes, moreover, that it's problematic that New Sanctuary advocates fail to distinguish between civil and criminal immigration cases, embracing individuals who have willfully ignored final deportation orders and who have ended up with criminal cases against them. "There are people who have final notices, know they have final notices, and then they're taking refuge. It gets you in the harboring problem."

It also gets into what is in many ways an even thornier issue: progressives don't like faith-based infringements on the secular political and legal system when conducted by conservatives. How, therefore, does it make sense to claim sacred privilege from the left? "Our legal system," Chishti notes, "does not recognize a church-based sanctuary. We have a separation of church and state."

Yet for all the flaws in New Sanctuary philosophy, its practitioners are highlighting something important: America is a country of immigrants, but in recent years more and more of those immigrants have entered illegally. They have done so not out of a desire to live on the margins and at perpetual risk of deportation but because the current immigration process makes it extremely hard for large numbers of people to migrate legally from countries like Mexico and Guatemala--or, for that matter, from countries such as the one the San Diego sisters came from--while at the same time economic and political factors, such as the way NAFTA has played out, make it extremely hard not to embark on a migration journey.

Read it all. Hat Tip: The Revealer

And check out this essay on immigration reform at Episcopal Life Online.

Peer review for creationists

Bonnie Goldstein at Slate writes:

Scholars submit new discoveries to academic journals, which, in turn, solicit independent experts to assess the reliability of the work. Answers Research Journal, a new "professional, peer-reviewed technical" publication of "interdisciplinary scientific … research," has streamlined this process by inviting the submitting scholars to suggest who should review their work (Page 5). Here the goal is not to ensure that research meets academic standards of scientific inquiry, but rather to ensure that the scholar's conclusions conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The journal is published by Answers in Genesis, "an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry" that also runs the Creation Museum. The editor-in-chief of Answers Research Journal, geologist and creationist Andrew Snelling, wants "to ensure that the Creation and Flood model is given the best possible development."

Read it all.

Saving the world while staying at home

Allison Schrager writes:

Regardless of how you feel about why we are in Afghanistan, many of us would hope to improve the daily lives of those who live there. But how can we help the citizens of a country so far away? How do we even know what they might need? I could join the military or find work with an NGO there. But really, I am far too selfish to do either of these things. I have endless admiration for those who are willing to disrupt their lives and put them on the line. I, however, want to be able to offer help from the comfort of my own home.


But it is hard to deny that aid can do harm when given too enthusiastically to countries in need. However, putting the ever-sceptical economist in me aside, the fact remains that I do want to help people in Afghanistan. How can I do this effectively, and without offending my professional sensibilities?

The best way is to find an organisation that has local knowledge of the country and a thorough understanding of its economic needs. Also, target individuals and leave the big macro-development projects to the government and large aid organisations. I find the Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA) appealing. It is a New York-based charity, founded by Afghan-Americans and Americans, which offers micro-loans to Afghan land owners to plant fruit and nut orchards. It also provides agricultural training and support to the Afghan farmers, particularly women. The group's goal is to spur economic development by empowering individual farmers with a source of income and food.

I usually recoil at talk of agricultural subsidies. But in this case the farmers receive micro-loans, which require some discipline and accountability. Micro-loans, when administered properly, provide an institution that developing countries generally lack.

Read it all and More Intelligent Life.

The dawn of the Evangelical Democrat

Over at The Revealer, Jeff Sharlett writes:

Smart religion writers have been complaining for awhile that exit polls don't ask Democratic voters about their religious affiliations. Now "Faith in Public Life," a center-left outfit, has done something about it. Robert P. Jones reports at Religion Dispatches. The implications are huge: In Missouri and Tennessee, one-third of white evangelical voters voted in Democratic primaries. And, more surprising, in both states they favored Hillary over Obama by overwhelming margins: MO: 54% to 37%; TN: 78% to 12%. That blows a hole in the conventional wisdom that Obama represents a "third way" a lot of white evangelicals will follow, but it may confirm an argument about Hillary's long, slow outreach to Christian conservatives that Kathryn Joyce and I made in Mother Jones last fall.

The survey also finds that a majority of evangelicals want an agenda that goes beyond abortion and homosexuality. Faith in Public Life, and partners like center-leftist Jim Wallis and center-rightist Randy Brinson, announce that finding like it's news. Not to anyone who's spent time with ordinary evangelicals and knows that they care as much about poverty and suffering as anyone. The difference was never a matter of what people cared about; it's an issue of how you want to respond, and on that score, these new numbers may reveal a growing evangelical comfort with big government.

Read it all.

Clinton leads among highly religious white Democrats

The Gallup organization is reporting that Hillary Clinton enjoys a significant edge in support over Barack Obama among white Democrats who are highly religious. All in all, 57% of white, non-Hispanic Democratic voters who attend church support Clinton, while only 29% support Obama. Among those who attend church less frequently or never, Clinton's support drops while Obama's climbs.

Read it all.

Will evangelical centrists elect the next President?

David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, and author of The Future of Faith in American Politics argues that "evangelical centrists" will be the swing vote that will determine the next President.

According to Gushee, there is an evangelical center:

[B]esides the widely recognized evangelical right, symbolized by figures such as James Dobson and the late Jerry Falwell, and the evangelical left, symbolized by activists such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, today there is emerging a visible and increasingly powerful evangelical center, whose most influential figures are probably the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and the lobbyist Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. . . .

The evangelical center shares with the right its deep opposition to abortion, concern about the decline of marriage and the eroding well-being of children in our society, worries about the moral content of mass media, and rejection of the morality of sex outside of heterosexual marriage. It rejects, however, the right’s entanglement with and loyalty to the Republican Party, its relatively narrow focus on issues primarily related to sexuality, and its mood of angry nostalgia and aggrieved entitlement about the Christian role in American society.

The evangelical center, in turn, shares with the evangelical left a strong emphasis on the plight of the poor, attention to racism as a moral and policy issue, opposition to the routine resort to war by the United States, a high priority to creation care and acceptance of the seriousness of climate change, commitment to finding a humane solution to the immigration issue, and conviction that human-rights commitments require wholehearted opposition to torture in the U.S. war on terror. It tends to differ from the left in its more careful commitment to political independence, its stronger and more thorough attention to issues of abortion, family, and sexuality, and its willingness to support the moral legitimacy of some (though not all) U.S. military actions.

Gushee then argues that the evangelical centrist--which he estimates to be as high as a third of all evangelicals--could be attracted by the Democratic nominee:

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both offer policy stances rooted in moral commitments sometimes openly traced to Christian values. Their positions on such issues as torture, poverty, health care, immigration, war and climate reflect stances held by both the evangelical center and left. To the extent that either or both offer clear statements on the moral tragedy of abortion and concrete policies to reduce the number of abortions, they may well succeed in gaining the support of many centrist evangelical voters who are genuine independents and could consider supporting a candidate of either party. It is not clear whether the homosexuality issue will prove as salient to evangelicals, especially centrists, as it did in 2004.

It is quite possible that the votes of centrist evangelicals—perhaps representing as many as one-third of our nation’s massive evangelical community—will decide the election this fall.

I believe that the emerging evangelical center represents a maturing of the Christian public voice in American life. This is a more peaceable, forward-looking, holistic and independent approach to politics than what has come to carry the evangelical label. Its emergence is good for our nation and for evangelicals. Centrist evangelicals bear watching in this election and beyond.

Read it all here.

Risking one's soul in the voting booth

Journalist Joe Feuerherd says that according to many Roman Catholic Bishops, he may have put his soul at risk when he voted in a recent presidential primary.

Like most Maryland Democrats, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama in the recent Potomac Primary. By doing so, according to the leaders of my church, I put my soul at risk. That's right, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you're probably punching your ticket to Hell.

For a church that "thinks in centuries," things sure are moving quickly. Back in 2004, as Washington correspondent for the independent National Catholic Reporter, I covered what Comedy Central's Jon Stewart dubbed the "wafer wars." A handful of conservative bishops warned Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, a pro-abortion rights Catholic, that they would deny him Communion should he attempt to receive the church's most sacred sacrament.

Now the bishops have raised the stakes: It's not only lawmakers and candidates who risk damnation, 98 percent of the U.S. bishops agreed last November, but the voters who put them in office.

He concludes:

Why should non-Catholic Americans care about the bishops' right-wing lurch?

Because the bishops can influence a good number of the faithful, many of whom happen to be concentrated in large, electoral-vote-rich states. In the key swing state of Ohio in 2004, for example, bishops vigorously supported an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the state constitution, which helped drive Republican voters to the polls. Bush won 55 percent of the Catholic vote in the Buckeye State, up from 50 percent in 2000 and enough to provide his margin of victory.

There's little hope, unfortunately, that the bishops will adopt a more pragmatic approach to achieving their aims anytime soon. Younger American priests, the pool from which future bishops will be chosen, overwhelmingly embrace the agenda enunciated by John Paul II.

So what's a pro-life, pro-family, antiwar, pro-immigrant, pro-economic-justice Catholic like me supposed to do in November? That's an easy one. True to my faith, I'll vote for the candidate who offers the best hope of ending an unjust war, who promotes human dignity through universal health care and immigration reform, and whose policies strengthen families and provide alternatives to those in desperate situations.

Read: The Washington Post: I Voted for Obama. Will I Go Straight to. . . ?.

Mr. Feuerherd covered the U.S. bishops and the 2004 presidential race as Washington correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Which church will the next president choose to attend?

Which church will the next president choose to attend? Bush chose the Episcopal Church. The current candidates represent various denominations The next person who moves into the White House will have a lot of decisions to make, but one will have to be made on faith: which local church to attend writes Lisa Zagaroli for the Charlotte Observer.

President Bush worshiped at various congregations before settling on St. John's Episcopal Church across the street from the White House, the same place his parents attended when his father was president.

Bush has been a Methodist since he married Laura. He previously attended Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. At home in Dallas, the couple attended Highland Park United Methodist.

Vice President Cheney belongs to the Methodist Church but occasionally attends St. John's Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming when he is at home.

Hillary Clinton currently attends the Methodist Church, Barack Obama belongs to a United Church of Christ congregation, John McCain used to be an Episcopalian but attends a Baptist Church, while Mike Huckabee is a Southern Baptist minister

Read it all here.

Tracey Lind to lead invocation at tonight's debate

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, will lead the invocation at tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Press release from Trinity Cathedral:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, will give the invocation at tonight’s Democratic Presidential Debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio. Dean Lind was invited to give the invocation by Cleveland State University President Michael Schwartz.

The university and the cathedral are across the street from one another on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s main street, and have a long history of collaboration. Each fall, the two institutions offer the President’s and Dean’s Lecture; recent speakers have included education advocate Jonathan Kozol and public radio host Diane Rehm.

The debate begins this evening at 9 pm EST and will be televised by NBC News. The Dean’s invocation is not expected to be televised.

MSNBC will telecast the debate from 9-10:30 p.m. ET. NBC’s Brian Williams will moderate and be joined by "Meet the Press" moderator and NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert. It will be streamed live.

Dean Lind was one of the final nominees for Bishop of Chicago as reported here and here

A prayer for the Democratic debate

A Prayer for the Nation
Invocation for the Democratic Presidential Debate
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Cleveland
February 26, 2008

Shalom, Salaam, Peace be with you. Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God: we call you by many names and come to you by many paths, yet you have brought us together to this time and place. We join our voices in praising you for the majesty and beauty of this land, for the people of our nation, for the state of Ohio and its citizens, and for the city of Cleveland and those who live, work and study here. May we always be mindful stewards of your bountiful creation.

As we come together this evening, we thank you, O God, for the great diversity of our nation and its people who, throughout our history, have embodied the principles and ideals of a democratic society. We pray especially this night for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We give thanks for their willingness to stand before us and offer themselves to serve as our nation’s president. We pray that as they debate, they will exhibit the courage of their convictions, hunger for the truth, a vision of compassion, justice for all people, and civility toward one another.

And as we, your faithful people, listen, discern and cast our ballots, may we remember that this nation is too important for anything but truth, that this world is too vulnerable for anything but peace, and that your creation is too precious for anything but love.


--with thanks to the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

Michael Gerson on politics and evangelicals

Michael Gerson offered an interesting take this week on the changing nature of the concerns of evangelicals--and the polical implications:

I have seen the future of evangelical Christianity, and it is pierced. And sometimes tattooed. And often has one of those annoying, wispy chin beards.

Those who think of evangelical youths as the training cadre of the religious right would have been shocked at Jubilee 2008, a recent conference of 2,000 college students in Pittsburgh sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach. I was struck by the students' aggressive idealism -- there were booths promoting causes from women's rights to the fight against modern slavery to environmental protection. Judging from the questions I was pounded with, the students are generally pro-life -- but also concerned about poverty and deeply opposed to capital punishment and torture. More than a few came up to me between sessions in anguished uncertainty, unable to consider themselves Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative -- homeless in the stark partisanship of American politics.

Many observers have detected a shift -- a broadening or maturation -- of evangelical social concerns beyond the traditional agenda of the religious right. But does this have political implications?

Perhaps. Recent Zogby polls in Missouri and Tennessee found that about a third of white evangelicals who showed up on primary day voted Democratic. The sample sizes were small. Yet John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum, finds the results interesting. "These results are higher than usual. Typically these numbers would be about a quarter."

. . .

Republicans should take note, because they have growing problems among the post-religious-right generation of evangelicals. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as Republican in 2001. By 2007, that figure had dropped to 40 percent. This generation is not turning into liberal Democrats -- it is more pro-life, for example, than an older generation of evangelicals -- but it has become more loosely moored to the GOP.

These trends highlight a simple fact: Many evangelicals are center-right voters who respond to a message of social justice and community values, not only to a message of rugged individualism and unrestricted markets. Over the years, religious conservatives have made common cause with movement conservatives within the Republican Party -- but they are not identical to movement conservatives.

Sometimes religious conservatives are understandably more sympathetic to one party than to another. For Northern abolitionist evangelicals in the 1850s, the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was a more natural home. For my Nazarene preacher grandfather in Kentucky, the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt stood for God and the common man. Since the 1980s, evangelicals have returned to the Republican fold, largely because Democrats embraced abortion on demand, moral relativism and intrusive, bureaucratic government.

But there is something essentially countercultural about Christianity that should make evangelicals restless in any political coalition. Christianity indicts oppressive government -- but also the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come in free markets and consumerism. It teaches enduring moral rules -- and an emphasis on justice for the least and the lost. It is often hard where liberalism is soft, and soft where conservatism is hard.

If evangelical Christianity were identical to any political movement, something would be badly wrong. It is supposed to look toward a kingdom not of this world, one without borders, flags or end. And by this standard, homelessness is a natural state.

Read it all here.

Barack Obama is a Christian. Now please behave.

The Café doesn't endorse candidates, and we haven't had much to say about the presidential election thus far. But as Episcopalians we know how painful it is to be told we aren't real Christians. In our case, it is because we don't exclude the proper people. In Barack Obama's case the reason seems to be mere political expediency. In both cases the charges are not simply erroneous, they are sinful, in the first instance because they make an idol of one faction's limited understanding of Divine revelation, and in the second because they attempt to tap anti-Islamic sentiment for political gain and personal aggrandizement.

When the "Obama is a Muslim" campaign has played out, don't be surprised if conservative Christians step up their efforts to brand the United Church of Christ a heterodox denomination. If that happens, let's hope that Senator John McCain will be more forthright than Senator Hillary Clinton has been in accepting that Senator Obama believes what he says he believes.

For some solid factual background, see this FAQ about Obama's faith from Beliefnet.

United Church of Christ investigated by IRS

The IRS has granted a three-week extension for the United Church of Christ to respond to an investigation the agency has begun because presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke at the denomination's 50th anniversary conference in Hartford, Connecticut, last summer.

The original IRS letter of Feb. 20 set a 15-day response window, however, the UCC was granted the extension on Feb. 28, according to attorney Donald C. Clark, the UCC's Nationwide Special Counsel.

"Given the extensive amount of information documenting the steps taken by the UCC to be in compliance with permissible restrictions on those addressing the gathering of the faithful at General Synod, we obtained a three-week extension of time to respond to the IRS inquiry," Clark told United Church News.

Even as the IRS continues its investigation, the Rev. John H. Thomas said the UCC will not shirk from its longstanding tradition of advocating for justice as a fundamental tenet of UCC faith and witness.

The Hartford Courant reports on the investigation:

The UCC is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, which wrote the Cleveland-ba)sed denomination saying that it might have jeopardized its tax-exempt status when it allowed Obama to speak before about 10,000 church members at its 50th anniversary celebration last summer.

The church has denied any violations, and the IRS refused to discuss the matter Wednesday. But the question at the heart of the investigation is whether any aspects of Obama's visit — from the words he used, to the presence of campaign workers outside the building — violated IRS rules governing the appearance of political figures at religious events.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly reports:

...as a young community organizer, he visited Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and became deeply influenced by its pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Sen. OBAMA (at UCC speech): He introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ, and I learned that my sins could be redeemed.

LAWTON: Obama has been a member of Trinity UCC for more than 20 years.

Dr. ALLEN HERTZKE (Professor of Political Science and Director of Religious Studies University of Oklahoma): I think what's interesting is Barack Obama is a quintessential mainline Protestant, because he comes out of the United Church of Christ.

LAWTON: But that, too, has been a point of controversy. In June 2007, Obama, an announced presidential candidate, addressed the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod meeting. On Monday (February 25), UCC leaders received notice of an IRS investigation into whether that speech was a violation of tax regulations that could jeopardize the denomination's tax-exempt status. UCC officials insist they did nothing improper and noted that Obama campaign tables were kept outside the arena on a public sidewalk.

Meanwhile, for the past year, the 9,000-member Trinity UCC has come under fire from conservative bloggers and pundits who raise concerns about Pastor Wright's politics. Wright is retiring as Trinity's head pastor. He's been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and a strong critic of Israeli policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Hartford Courant editorializes:

The church went to great pains to keep campaign workers, buttons and banners outside the center. But the UCC couldn't stop Mr. Obama from a little campaigning in an eloquent but innocuous speech on the role of faith in public life. His few "my first term as president"-type slips were not great enough to warrant the IRS threat that followed eight months later.

A letter sent this week to the church questioned whether "political activities" at the conference "could jeopardize" the UCC's tax exemption. Isn't that a bit excessive? The IRS should be policing nonprofits suspected of funneling money from donors skirting contribution limits, not stifling speech at houses of worship.

The inquiry's timing is curious, coming months after the event but at the moment when the senator is emerging as the front-runner.

All Saint's Episcopal Church in Pasedena, California
, was similarly investigated by the IRS starting in 2005 until the charges were dropped in 2007.

The United Church of Christ has an extensive list of the multiple news stories that the investigation has generated.

The UCC news release may be found here.

Ignoring moderate Muslims

Ebo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. He was recently a guest on a radio call-in show:

One caller said, “I was raised a Catholic and we were taught love and acceptance. You were raised a Muslim … and you were taught hatred which leads to violence.”

The producer said there were several other callers from different religious backgrounds with basically the same format question.

I answered each question pretty directly. I effectively said there are many moderate Muslim voices. You just heard one of them – mine – speak for about thirty minutes. Instead of continuing to ask that question, please tell your friends about me. I cited several other such voices.

I expanded on many of the points that I had made in the initial conversation with Marty Moss-Coane – that the dominant ethos of Islam tends towards compassion and pluralism, values that Islam shares with other traditions.

But I admit, there was a little voice inside my head that wanted to say to some of these callers, “Don’t you feel a little embarrassed revealing that level of ignorance and bigotry on Public Radio? Do you know nothing more about the religion of one-fifth of humankind for over 1000 years but the violent bits? Isn’t that a little like knowing nothing more about the United States Constitution than the clause which states black people only count as three-fifths of a human being”.

Read it all.

The President's Faith

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, writes about George W. Bush's faith in his book The Bush Tragedy:

His religion has often been best described as evangelical, but in various respects it appears not to conform to the definition. Unlike most other evangelicals, Bush blithely uses profanity and as governor would play poker. He doesn't tithe. He didn't try to convert others—one of the central obligations in most evangelical denominations—even before he resumed a political career. He didn't raise his daughters in his faith. On issues that divide evangelical Christians from nonevangelical Christians—and varieties of evangelicals from each other—Bush does not need to feign ecumenical neutrality. He isn't hiding his beliefs; he simply doesn't have many of them.

A better term for Bush's faith is Self-Help Methodism.

Read it all.

Putting Obama's pastor's preaching in perspective

Diana Butler Bass comments on the media's lack of understanding of preaching in a congregation and especially the nature of black preaching. At God's Politics a blog by Jim Wallis and friends on Beliefnet she writes:

The current media flap over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, strikes me as nothing short of strange. Anyone who attends church on a regular basis knows how frequently congregants disagree with their ministers. To sit in a pew is not necessarily assent to a message preached on a particular day. Being a church member is not some sort of mindless cult, where individuals believe every word preached. Rather, being a church member means being part of a community of faith—a gathered people, always diverse and sometimes at odds, who constitute Christ's body in the world.

But the attack on Rev. Wright reveals something beyond ignorance of basic dynamics of Christian community. It demonstrates the level of misunderstanding that still divides white and black Christians in the United States. Many white people find the traditions of African-American preaching offensive, especially when it comes to politics.

I know because I am one of those white people.

Read it all here.

Church Executive Magazine has more here.

The Daily News of Los Angeles carries this commentary with the note "Well I guess on the bright side of things, there should be no more questions about whether or not Sen. Barack Obama is a Christian."

The fact is that Wright isn't the first or the last preacher or black to call out America for her racist history - a history that for some reason we are always being encouraged to forget because today Americans are "transcending" race.

Is that why black men and women are being imprisoned almost as fast as their mothers can give birth to them? Is that why a man who called a group of young black women "nappy-headed hos" is still on the radio? And were we rising above race when it was joked that Tiger Woods should be lynched?

Previous story in The Lead here.

The Washington Post reports Wright's congregation's defense of their retired pastor:

To his supporters, the message Wright wove through more than 4,000 sermons is now disseminated in a handful of grainy, two-minute video clips that tell only part of his story. Yes, they acknowledge, he was sometimes overcome at the pulpit by a righteous rage about racism and social injustice. But he was a radical who also inspired women to preach, gays to marry and predominantly white youth groups to visit his services. Until he retired last month, Wright, 66, implored all comers at Trinity to "get happy" -- to shout, to sing, to dance in the aisles while he preached the gospel.

"The world is only seeing this tiny piece of him," Moss said. "Right now, we are all being vilified. This isn't just about Trinity, isn't just about [Wright]. This is an attack on the African American church tradition, and that's the way we see it. This is an attempt to silence our voice."

Read the story here.

Barack Obama responds to criticism of pastor

Updated: 12:14 p.m.

Barack Obama is speaking today in Philadelphia and responds to critics of his former pastor and his church. Excerpts from his speech (transcript here) include:

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love

Full text here. Scripting News has a complete MP3 of the speech here.

NPR is reporting here.

Andrew Sullivan:

...this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.
He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man's faults and pain as well as his promise. This is what my faith is about. It is what the Gospels are about. This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian.

Race, faith and the campaign

Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes:

Out of the 207,000 minutes that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached while building Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, a handful of fiery sound bites have fueled a media frenzy and been used to inject race into the center of our 2008 presidential race.

Wright's words have been dubbed "hate speech" by pundits and preachers of the political right, themselves masters at twisting the truth to arouse resentment.

In a Philadelphia speech Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama tried to a) put some distance between himself and his former pastor's rhetoric, b) hold onto his self-respect while c) seeking to honestly evaluate the roots of racial anger in America.

Read it all, including quotes by Bishop Greg Rickel.

Meanwhile, in the Newark Star Ledger, Jeff Diamant pursues a similar story:

Obama's speech has sparked discussions throughout the country, inspiring many pastors to ponder ways to broaden discussion of race relations from the pulpit. For some pastors, race remains a political, not a religious, issue.

The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, said her church is likely to hold a discussion forum after Easter on Obama's speech, and that his words may become discussion fodder at future church observances of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"When I was listening to Obama's speech, I thought: 'Oh my goodness. This is a speech that political science students are going to be studying ... for generations to come,'" Kaeton said.

Read it all.

See, too, the comments of our own Chuck Blanchard, and those of Brian McLaren.

And to keep up with how John McCain's campaign is handling religious issues, have a look here.

Honoring the dead

Clergy representing Catholics, Protestants, and Jews gathered in Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco yesterday to offer prayers on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Throughout the week, people from churches and synagogues throughout the Bay Area brought hundreds of pairs of boots and shoes to honor American and Iraqi casualties of the war.

The American Friends Service Committee’s “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit, a display of 425 pairs of military boots, representing Californians who have died in the Iraq War, formed the centerpiece of the event. To “complement this exhibit,” said an announcement on its web site, Grace Cathedral invited “faith communities and individuals to collect shoes to represent the more than 88,800 Iraqi civilian causalities.” After the exhibition, the shoes would be donated to Episcopal Charities and other organizations serving the needy.

It's all here.

Finding home

Jeanne was a typical stay at home mom until a series of events in her family's life changed everything. Now she is homeless and trying to find her way back to a home. Through the help of a women's shelter begun by the Methodist Church and an Episcopal program to help women get back their lives she is moving off the streets towards a home of her own.

When she wasn’t transporting Kevin to his mini-football practices where he played the defensive position of nose guard, she was running Marisa to Girl Scout meetings and helping sell cookies every year or taking her youngest child, Daniel, to his Head Start classes.

But, that was a lifetime ago.

Jeanne now lives in a homeless shelter – one of tens of thousands of women across the nation seeking shelter on a nightly basis.

During a January 2007 count conducted by Reach, Inc., 188 people in Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) were classified as homeless. These are the most recent numbers available.

The exact numbers of homeless women locally is not known because some stay at Ruth’s Place in downtown Wilkes-Barre for a few days. Others stay for weeks at a time. On the coldest nights of the year, as many as 30 women seek a warm spot to sleep at the shelter. Other times there might be only a few women looking for a place to sleep.

But, one thing’s for sure, say advocates for the homeless: The number of women using the shelter has steadily increased by 50 percent annually.

Every woman living on the streets has a different story, but many of those are similar to Jeanne’s.

Stefanie Wolownik, director of Reach, at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, says that,
People don’t just decide to become homeless one day, she said. Usually, it is a series of traumatic events, mental illness or drug abuse, which eventually results in people losing their homes and being out on the streets.

“Life on the street is hard,” she said. “Women have a commodity that men typically don’t have. So they make terrible decisions, both morally and legally in order to keep a roof over their head.”

The worsening economy and housing shortage deepens this problem across the U.S.
Transitional housing allows people to live in a facility with their own private room for up to two years as they attempt to obtain their own apartment.

Emergency shelters offer women or men, depending on the facility, a place to sleep in a dormitory-style environment.

98 percent of homeless women in the Wyoming Valley are from Luzerne County – Stefanie Wolownik, executive director of Reach.

During the Jan. 25, 2007, count of homeless people, local advocates found:

Families with children: Nine families with a total of 24 people were in emergency shelters, 19 families with a total of 46 people were in transitional housing.

Families without children: 53 families with a total of 73 people were in emergency shelters, 22 individuals were in transitional housing, 23 individuals were sleeping on the streets.

A total of 188 people were classified as homeless during the one night of this study.

Of the homeless adults: 16 were chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been without a permanent home for more than a year; 25 suffered from severe mental illnesses; 44 suffered from substance abuse issues, 14 were veterans and 27 were victims of domestic violence.

“In no state does a full-time minimum wage job cover the costs of a one-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent, and in 45 states and the District of Columbia, families would need to earn at least double the minimum wage in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent.” - Out of Reach: Can America Pay the Rent?, via the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“It is estimated that 760,000 people are homeless on any given night, and 1.2 (million) to 2 million people experience homelessness during one year.”- National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, via the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 15 to 20 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.” - The National Coalition for the Homeless.

A quarter to 50 percent of homeless women have suffered from physical, mental or psychological abuse, NCH Executive Director Michael Stoops said.

Single women with no children account for 10 percent of the total homeless population, Stoops said.

Read it all here at the northeast Pennsylvania Times-Leader.

Michael Gerson's pastor problem

One good thing about keeping a blog is that you can make sure that your letters to the editor see the light of day one way or another:

Michael Gerson hasn’t learned that people who live in glass churches shouldn’t throw stones. In a recent column in The Washington Post, he took Barack Obama to task for his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, while retaining his membership in the Anglican Church of Nigeria, which is led by the flamboyantly bigoted Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Akinola is well known to international human rights advocates for supporting a Nigerian bill that would have deprived gays and lesbians of basic rights of speech, religion and association and mandated jail time for displays of affection “direct or indirect,” “public or private.” He also was president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in 2004 when a para-militia associated with CAN carried out a retributive massacre of more than 650 Muslims in the town of Yelwa. Asked by a reporter from The Atlantic whether the massacre had been planned, Akinola declined comment.

Wright's rhetorical excesses pale in comparison to Akinola’s deeds. Yet Gerson strains after the gnat in Obama’s eye while ignoring the beam in his own.

(Here is an instance of Gerson carrying water for the archbishop, and a response. )

"Renewal or Ruin?" now available for free online

Steven D. Martin's film on the Institute on Religion and Democracy--Renewal or Ruin--is now available online at talk2.action.org. It's an easy way to understand this organization, its donors and their campaign against mainline Protestantism.

Talking heads include: Jim Winkler of the General Board of Church and Society of the Methodist Church, Columbia University Professor Randall Balmer, author and pastor Andrew Weaver and someone named Naughton.

A transcript is also available, and it includes this from Frederick Clarkson of talk2action.org:

Every single major denomination is racked from within over a host of issues. Though some of these kinds of things are normal in any institution, particularly democratic institutions where people disagree and agree to disagree. But what if there were an outside agency that was created for the sole purpose of fanning those flames and creating divisions—creating mutual distrust and suspicions and hatreds to the point of people leaving each other, breaking their communions, breaking their covenants apart rather than trying to reconcile their differences or finding ways to live constructively with their differences. If you have an outside organizing agency whose sole purpose is to foment distrust and suspicion and to break organizations apart, well you have the kinds of things that we see in the Presbyterian church and the Episcopal church and the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist church every single day.

The IRD has responded, and Clarkson has analyzed the response. Daily Kos is running an article as well.

Bizarre bedfellows

Students of the current Anglican controversy may recall that Richard Mellon Scaife, who spent millions on dollars to bring down Bill Clinton also spent hunderds of thousands of dollars to bring down the Episcopal Church. (Newcomers can read all about it in Following the Money, Part One, or click on Read more to find the relevant section of that article.)

How odd, then, to see him seated beside Hillary Clinton, as she criticized Barack Obama for his handling of the Jeremiah Wright affair.

Tim Noah of Slate writes:

She is free, of course, to associate with whomever she pleases. But she is not free, while paddling the sewers with Scaife, to judge Obama publicly for belonging to Wright's church. Compared with Scaife, Wright is St. Francis of Assisi. The only possible reason why any Pennsylvanian might judge Wright more harshly than Scaife is that Scaife is white and Wright is black. That must be obvious even to Hillary as she cozies up to this repulsive billionaire.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News has tracked down the transcript of the Wright sermon that has sparked much of the controversy.

Read more »

Dean Lind on News Hour tonight

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, will take part in a panel discussion about race, religion and politics on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer tonight. The program is broadcast at 6 pm EDT; the panel discussion is expected to air about 6:30 pm.

The panel discussion, titled “Race, Religion and Politics,” is expected to discuss how issues of race and religion are intersecting with the 2008 presidential race.

Lind was also quoted in a March 23 New York Times story titled “Obama’s Talk Fuels Easter Sermons.”

For more information on Trinity Cathedral and its programs, please call 216-771-3630 or visit www.trinitycleveland.org.

Progressive evangelicals reshape image

The Associated Press is reporting that Sojourners is organizing a conference in Columbus, Ohio, next month to highlight the progressive roots of evangelism--particularly its roots in women's suffrage and the abolitionist movements:

An evangelical group that wants to reshape the movement's political reputation for being focused on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage is hoping that a series of meetings stressing its roots in women's suffrage and abolition will help it break out of the mold.

The stated goal of the first three-day "justice revival," one of several to be held around the country, is to tackle poverty in the city through a collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

But the broader idea is to energize the relatively small liberal end of the evangelical spectrum by linking religious faith with social action as earlier American social movements did, its planners say. Among the areas to be explored by participants are access to health care, immigration, global warming and the war in Iraq.

"I have been very deeply moved by the history of these great awakenings in our national life, where there was a revival of faith that led to big change in our society," said Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

The Washington, D.C.-based group will hold the event April 16-18 in Columbus, with 30 of the city's largest evangelical churches, representing 10,000 Christians.

"A whole generation of young evangelicals believes that Jesus would probably care more about the 30,000 children who died again today — as they did yesterday and they will tomorrow — from preventable disease than he would about passing a gay-marriage amendment in Ohio," Wallis said

Read it all here.

The politics of hope

The New Yorker describes a Good Friday "Seven Last Words" service at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

You could hear Wright’s influence in every sermon. His life and work can’t be accurately extrapolated from a few video clips, and, at the church now, “sound bite” is uttered like a curse word. But there’s nothing on YouTube that seems likely to scandalize anyone who has spent time at Trinity. Even Obama does not claim to be surprised by what he called, in his “A More Perfect Union” speech, which he gave on March 18th, Wright’s “profoundly distorted view of this country.” (Despite such disavowals, there is no evident resentment toward Obama at the church; on Good Friday, every mention of his name and reference to his candidacy was greeted with applause.) Few of the preachers resisted the temptation to draw parallels between the man on the Cross and the man on the news, though most of them found ways to do so indirectly. The Reverend Dr. Rudolph W. McKissick, Jr., from Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, in Jacksonville, Florida, looked suggestively around the room as he described the last days of Jesus: “He does not retire in celebration, but he retires with a crucifixion.” Worshippers were free to think about any retiree they liked.


Obama, in his speech, refused to dissociate himself from Wright (at this late date, to do so would have been futile anyway), but he sought to draw a distinction between his world view and his pastor’s. He said that Wright’s error was to talk about race in America “as if no progress has been made”; he contrasted Wright’s perspective with his own “audacity to hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.” This was itself an audacious move, because “the audacity to hope” was a coinage of Wright’s. Audacious hopefulness is sometimes said to be the thing that separates Obama from more conventional politicians, but it is also what separates him from the radicals who have given it up.... Hope is proof that Obama believes in the system, after all. And it is what helps him appeal to swing voters with fond memories of Bill Clinton, who never tired of reminding voters that he was born in a town called Hope.

Wright’s hope is a different thing. His 1991 “Audacity to Hope” sermon was based on 1 Samuel 1:1-18, which tells the story of a woman, Hannah, childless and bereft, who prays for a son. Wright isn’t interested in the happy ending, so he doesn’t mention 1 Samuel 1:20, in which Hannah finally gives birth. Instead, he dwells on her torment, comparing her to Martin Luther King, Jr., in his last years, when the civil-rights coalition seemed to be crumbling and his old allies were criticizing his increasingly comprehensive political program. “There was nothing on the horizon to say that he should keep on hoping, but he kept on hoping anyhow,” Wright said. For Wright, earthly adversity and the struggle against it are existential. If he thinks that things haven’t changed much in the past hundred years, it’s because he thinks that things haven’t changed much in the past two thousand years. You don’t hope because the odds look good. You hope because they don’t.

The New Yorker: Annals of Religion: Project Trinity

PB lobbies for global health bill

Dear Members of the House of Representatives:

As Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, I write to offer our Church’s strong endorsement of the U.S. Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee and awaiting House floor consideration. The committee-passed bill builds on the successes of our nation’s efforts to fight deadly disease around the world over the past five years, and forges a new bipartisan consensus for expanding and intensifying those programs in the years to come.

The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, more than half of whose members live in countries hardest hit by AIDS, TB, and malaria. Through our relationships with churches around the world, we are deeply aware of the suffering and upheaval experienced by communities affected by deadly disease, and we are actively involved in efforts to restore health and healing through prevention, care, and treatment. A world that has conquered AIDS, TB, and malaria would be not just healthier and more prosperous, but more stable and secure.

As vital as the work of faith communities and other private actors are in the fight against poverty and disease, however, true transformation can only come when the resources and energies of governments are brought to bear. That’s why the United States government’s efforts over the past five years – along with the work of multinational organizations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria – have been so vital.

Read it all.

Why do the poor stay poor?

Drake Bennett of The Boston Globe writes:

In the community of people dedicated to analyzing poverty, one of the sharpest debates is over why some poor people act in ways that ensure their continued indigence. Compared with the middle class or the wealthy, the poor are disproportionately likely to drop out of school, to have children while in their teens, to abuse drugs, to commit crimes, to not save when extra money comes their way, to not work.

To an economist, this is irrational behavior. It might make sense for a wealthy person to quit his job, or to eschew education or develop a costly drug habit. But a poor person, having little money, would seem to have the strongest incentive to subscribe to the Puritan work ethic, since each dollar earned would be worth more to him than to someone higher on the income scale. Social conservatives have tended to argue that poor people lack the smarts or willpower to make the right choices. Social liberals have countered by blaming racial prejudice and the crippling conditions of the ghetto for denying the poor any choice in their fate. Neoconservatives have argued that antipoverty programs themselves are to blame for essentially bribing people to stay poor.

Charles Karelis, a professor at George Washington University, has a simpler but far more radical argument to make: traditional economics just doesn't apply to the poor. When we're poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated.

Read it all.

Tony Blair on Faith

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a new convert to the Roman Catholic Church, gave his first major speech on religion earlier this week. Here is the Christianity Today report on the speech:

In his first major speech on religion, Tony Blair said last night that religion must be rescued from extremism and irrelevance and used as a force for good at a time of global turmoil.

Blair, who converted to Catholicism last year, made the call in a lecture on faith and globalisation at Westminster Cathedral, the first in 'The Cardinal’s Lectures’ series organised by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to examine faith and life in Britain.

“For religion to be a force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism, faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance, an interesting part of our history but not of our future," said Blair.

"Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life. It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target,” he added.

Blair declared his strong desire to “awaken the world’s conscience” to widespread poverty, illiteracy and poor health, and said that the Tony Blair Faith Foundation would set the Millennium Development Goals as one of its priority areas for engagement when it launches next month.

The foundation will bring together different faith organisations to foster friendship and understanding, and harness people of faith as a force for good in the modern world.

Last night’s faith speech was a turnabout from Blair’s recent admission that he dodged questions on his faith whilst in office because “you may be considered weird”. When an American journalist once asked Blair for his religious views, the former prime minister’s atheist spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, famously blurted, “We don’t do God.”

Read it all here. The full text of the speech is here.

How would Jesus choose?

Adam Hamilton, pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas, says that it is time says he is pro-choice "with a heavy heart" and that the abortion debate has been too polarized for too long.

Newsweek writes:

Adam Hamilton does not call himself "pro-choice." He prefers "pro-life with a heavy heart." What that means, as he explains in his new book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, is that he believes abortion should be available and legal, that there are instances in which it might be necessary and that those instances should be very rare. Further, he says, the abortion debate has been too hot for too long, and that, as a Christian minister, his job is to try "to support people no matter what decision they make." As an evangelical megachurch pastor in Kansas, a man educated at Oral Roberts University, Hamilton speaks carefully, aware that he's staking out a controversial position.

Or maybe not. About a third of white evangelicals say that abortion should sometimes or always be legal, according to the Pew Research Center—a number that hasn't changed in a decade. In recent election seasons, however, these moderate voices have been drowned out by hard-line shouting on both sides. In the past, an evangelical who might condone abortion in the case of his ailing wife or 14-year-old daughter would never say so in public. Now, the abortion rhetoric has faded somewhat as evangelicals turn their attention to other things: AIDS, the environment, Darfur. In 2004, megapastor Rick Warren announced that abortion was a "nonnegotiable" for evangelical voters. This year, he's been silent. What's new, then, is not that a pastor like Hamilton would take a softer approach to abortion, but that he would feel comfortable enough to say so from the pulpit and in print.

Hamilton new book, released on April 2nd by Abingdon Press, is called Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality and Politics. The book includes 24 essays including, “Where Is God When Bad Things Happen?” “In Praise of Honest Doubt,” “Is Your Jesus Too Small?” “The Messy Truth About Spirituality,” “Will There Be Hindus in Heaven,” “How to be Pentecostal Without Losing Your Mind,” “Homosexuality at the Center,” “Questions of War,” and 16 others.

He hope the book will...

...be helpful to all who have struggled with the black and white, either/or approach to faith, morality and politics - an approach that tends to polarize our churches and our nation. I also hope each chapter will encourage meaningful discussion (there are discussion questions for each chapter included in the book). Abingdon will be releasing video clips as small group discussion starters based upon some of my sermons by September.

Adam Hamilton keeps the blog "Seeing Gray"

Newsweek: How would Jesus choose?

Olympic protests

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop of the Diocese of California, comments on the protests surrounding the Summer Olympics in China and the role of righteous anger:

The best manners, the most respectful posture towards another in the range of our relationships is one that sheds light – love – both outward and inward.

Voices that say that San Franciscans, Parisians, all those living where the Olympic torch is being carried on its way to Beijing should respectfully let it pass should be heard as promoting a lesser form of human kindness. A recommendation for silence over injustice means complicity, and finally more shadows and less light.

It matters, though, and greatly, how we protest. It is heartening to see the unafraid, creative, non-violent way in which protesters have been emblazoning the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Golden Gate Bridge. As my friends and co-workers who have been following these protests tell me about them, they do so with a happy light in their eyes, and with a spark of energy to join in.

The late Rabbi Friedman advised meeting anger with humor – not the easiest prescription to follow, as we human animals tend to either fight or run when confronted with threatening anger. It is a genuinely human response to respond creatively, as these protestors are doing. I would say it is how the fully human Jesus responded to his attackers, and how I hope to follow him.

I said that we must take a posture that shines the light of love outward and inward when we protest. This comes from what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from the Birmingham Jail, when he was responding to clergymen who said, “Wait, be polite,” with respect to the urgency of the Civil Rights Movement. When planning a non-violent action, King wrote, one of the deliberate steps he and others in the Movement took was to purify their motives.

Read it all here.

Protests have begun in the San Francisco area as the torch arrives and passes through that city. AFP reports:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actor Richard Gere are to attend a pro-Tibet demonstration in the city on Tuesday, during which a "freedom torch" that has shadowed the Olympic torch will be carried to the Chinese consulate.
Tsering Gyurmey, secretary of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, told AFP protestors would be encouraged to demonstrate peacefully.
"We are urging all our supporters to be very peaceful and not be in confrontation with anybody," he said.

Read more news here.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m.
Bishop Andrus is co-hosting, with Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral an event honoring Bishop Desmod Tutu, sponsored by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commision tonight at Grace Cathedral. Following that event Andrus and Tutu are going to a candlelight vigil for Tibet sponsored by the International Campaign for Tibet.

Religion as political weapon

Prof. David Domke spoke to Episcopal Communicators about the question of Politics and Religion in America today. Domke is Professor of Communication and Journalism and author, with Kevin Coe, of The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America.

His talk was titled "Religious Politics in America: Reclaiming the Founding Vision." Domke is a former journalist for a number of large newspaper and head of Journalism department at the University of Washington. He is married to a Presbyterian clergywoman. Dean Nicholas Knisely live blogged the talk on "Entangled States."

The fundamental issue is about what the proper relationship between religion and politics might be. "Lately politicians in DC have been using religion to justify their positions," Knisely writes. For example, we have heard language like "We went into Iraq to give them God’s gift of freedom."

The central part of Domke's talk is that America has moved from civil religion to political religion. Some of Nick's notes:

Political Religion not Civil Religion

1. Religion is used as a political weapon.
2. faith is used in an unprecedented measure
3. Democrats are now responding. Obama is the most religious of the candidates running to 2008
4. Martin Medhurst ”This is not the rhetoric of the founders - civic piety - it is now particular beliefs offered as justification for certain political positions.
5. We have a political dynamic that is counter to the Founder’s vision for the nation. They fled Europe to escape from the effects that religion has on civic life. (Especially it’s motivation for war and conflict)
6. The Declaration of Independence was a prophetic document (the implications of the interactions of democracy and faith.) The Constitution is the nitty-gritty - it has no mention of God on purpose. It’s kept at arms length not denied.
7. Faith tests for public office will rip our nation’s harmonious fabric apart.
8. The political dynamic that is present in America today steps right into the “War on Terror” trap.
9. Domke: It is a political dynamic that can be changed. It won’t change because people are thoughtful and concerned. We need to get out in a public fashion and become involved in the public conversation to change the conversation.

Read the rest here.

Border procession

Christians on both sides of the border between Mexico and US processed along the border, detoured but undeterred by the presence of the expanded wall system growing along the US side, and sharing an agape meal.

The Sierra Vista Herald reports that the Bishop of Arizona, the Rt. Rev.Kirk Smith, took part and, using the image of the wall that surrounded Jericho, said

“Joshua was up against some similar odds as we are. He was facing a wall of fortification that looked like it was impregnable. No one had ever conquered it before,” he said.

“At first it looks like we are up against the same thing. We have this high-tech wall that has been built here with all kinds of electronic gizmos and barbed wire and steel and looks pretty impregnable and we don’t look very powerful against it,” he continued. “Like Joshua, we wonder what could we do against these odds. But the people who built that wall forgot something. They forgot that God does not like walls. And every time we put up a wall, God knocks it down.”

He pointed out the wall in Jericho and the Berlin Wall in Germany were both destroyed, and some day the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will be torn down.

An agape meal ceremony was held outside the Church of Guadalupe, during which people ate bread and drank grape juice.

The event was a binational effort of church groups from Mexico and the United States. Last year, participants walked down the border to where the fence ended and they shared grape juice and bread and sang. But construction of the border fence at that location prevented them from doing the same this year.

The organizer of the event, Seth Polley, originally wanted people to meet near the port of entry at Naco and take part in a “call and response” activity and possibly sing a song through the wall. But new construction of a parallel fence there prevented that, too.

“When we saw the construction, we thought maybe this is not going to work,” said Polley, who is the vicar of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bisbee and the border missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.

So, instead, the event started with the dedication of the Migrant Resource Center at Naco, Sonora.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: Video from the procession is now available

Bishop opposes arrest of homeless in New Orleans

An ordinance that would have required New Orleans police to arrest homeless persons if they refused to go into a shelter was sent back for study by the New Orleans city council last Monday.

The ordinance is favored by the city's mayor, C. Ray Nagin. It was opposed by Episcopal Bishop Charles Jenkins who wrote in a letter, that was also signed by New Orleans priests and deacons,

The failure of our community to develop and implement a comprehensive affordable housing strategy in the wake of unprecedented disaster is a communal failing. Yet this ordinance penalizes only those individuals who have fallen through the cracks—and we expect that there will be many more yet to come.

The ordinance was sent back for study according to WWLTV.com and may be re-submitted to city council on May 8th.

Read Bishop Charles Jenkin's letter on his blog here.

This is what Mayor Nagin said.

Here is the WWLTV.com report.

HT to Grandmere Mimi.

Evangelicals rethinking relationship with politics

Signs are pointing to increasing dissent among conservative Christian leaders with regard to their involvement in politics. Recently we've seen acknowledgment of climate change from Southern Baptist leaders, and the growing influence of Sojourners within the faith-meets-politics landscape. Now, the Associated Press tells us, a group of conservative christian leaders are working on a "starkly self-critical document saying the movement has become too political and has diminished the Gospel through its approach to the culture wars":

The statement, called "An Evangelical Manifesto," condemns Christians on the right and left for "using faith" to express political views without regard to the truth of the Bible, according to a draft of the document obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

"That way faith loses its independence, Christians become `useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology," according to the draft.

The declaration, scheduled to be released Wednesday in Washington, encourages Christians to be politically engaged and uphold teachings such as traditional marriage. But the drafters say evangelicals have often expressed "truth without love," helping create a backlash against religion during a "generation of culture warring."

"All too often we have attacked the evils and injustices of others," they wrote, "while we have condoned our own sins." They argue, "we must reform our own behavior."

The document is the latest chapter in the debate among conservative Christians about their role in public life. Most veteran leaders believe the focus should remain on abortion and marriage, while other evangelicals - especially in the younger generation - are pushing for a broader agenda. The manifesto sides with those seeking a wide-range of concerns beyond "single-issue politics."

What isn't as clear is who has signed the document; two of the most visible Evangelical leaders, Richard Hand of the Southern Baptist Convention and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, say they haven't. The document is slated to come out on Wednesday, according to the article, which is here.

An interview with Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren, well known here as a leader of the Emerging Church movement, has written a new book that argues that "Christians must move beyond traditional charity and work for systemic change that addresses the causes of human suffering." Earlier this week, Rachel Zoll interviewed McLaren about this book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope:

Q: How is what you recommend different than the humanitarian work churches do already?

A: It's not working within the paradigm that a lot of Christians work — which is all that God is ultimately interested in is extracting souls for heaven. And we might do some good works here on earth, but we don't really expect any of it to work, because the world is sort of, the toilet has been flushed and it's going down.


Q: What do you mean by systemic change?

A: You can make incremental changes within a subsystem but in order to actually change a whole system you have to get a lot of the parts changing all at once. ... You can pour money into building a school, but then if there's a war, the war wipes out all the benefit you got from the school and the school shuts down. You can improve agriculture, but if HIV runs through, then there's so much upheaval, then you can't maintain the advances in agriculture.


Q: But there's an impression churches are already so active on these issues. Why does anyone need to urge churches to do this?

A: One of the really important concepts is the difference between mercy and justice. There's that famous passage from Micah 6, "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God." One way to describe it is unjust systems throw people into misery and mercy brings us to relieve some of their misery, but until we confront the unjust systems by doing justice we're never going to make a change. ... I think what churches in America, especially evangelical churches, are just waking up to is the way they have to deal with systemic injustice, not just charitable giving to people in misery.


Q: Are you trying to create heaven on earth?

A: As a Christian, I'm just trying to be faithful. I'm trying to live out what I pray when I pray the Lord's prayer, 'May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth.' ... I'm not a utopian in any way.

Read it all here. McLaren's blog is here.

McCain and religious conservatives, in and out of the Senate

Today's issue of Faith in Public Life Daily News brings three stories on John McCain.

Moral Scales in the Senate (Michael Gerson, Washington Post, op-ed) - Seven Republican senators led by Tom Coburn (who happens to be McCain's healthcare advisor) are blocking reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Gerson writes,

the senators are concerned that AIDS funds might be used for things such as abortion referrals and needle distribution, though the legislation doesn't mention these possibilities. So they are pushing for the extension of a superfluous spending mandate requiring that at least 55 percent of PEPFAR resources be used for treatment, on the theory that this will starve "feckless or morally dubious" prevention programs.

For all of conservatism's evident virtues, it can have one furtive, seedy vice: A justified suspicion of government can degenerate into an anti-government ideology -- rigid, stingy and indifferent to human suffering.
Each of the Coburn Seven counts himself pro-life. If a bill came to the Senate floor that would save millions of unborn children, one assumes that pro-life members would push to improve it, accept a few necessary compromises and then enthusiastically support the legislation.

It is difficult to imagine why pro-life legislation involving millions of Africans should be viewed differently.

Pastor Backing McCain Apologizes to Catholics (Wall Street Journal)
John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who endorsed John McCain, will issue a letter of apology to Catholics today for inflammatory remarks he has made, including accusing the Roman Catholic Church of supporting Adolf Hitler and calling it “The Great Whore.”

“Out of a desire to advance greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful,” Hagee wrote, according to an advanced copy of the letter reviewed by Washington Wire.
Hagee’s letter explains some of the harsh words he has used when describing the Catholic Church. “I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the ‘apostate church’ and the ‘great whore’ described in the book of Revelation” — both terms Hagee has employed — “is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary,” he wrote.

The Religification of John McCain (Wall Street Journal, Steven Waldman is president and editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.com)
John McCain has been focused on a challenging target of his own: religious conservative voters.

He’s always had a mixed relationship with evangelicals, heretofore a key part of the Republican base. Apparently his decision in 2000 to call Christian leaders “agents of intolerance” did not succeed in winning them over. Go figure.

His efforts in 2008 to make amends have been somewhat inept, as when he declared that the Constitution established the U.S. as a Christian nation or sought the endorsement of controversial figures like John Hagee. (Hagee Tuesday tried to make peace with Catholics by distancing himself from his own longstanding theological position that the Catholic Church was the “great whore.” He has not retracted his anti-Muslim or anti-gay comments.)

Last week, Sen. McCain tried again, pledging to appoint conservative judges and combat “moral relativism.”

But Sen. McCain would be wise to remember that it was not, as Democrats often assume, George Bush’s position on issues like abortion and gay rights that mostly won over Christian voters. It was his personal faith narrative.

See also, "Case Closed: McCain Blundered," by Jacques Berlinerblau.

A progressive Evangelical movement?

On the blog Immanent Frame, Rebecca Sager writes:

The close alignment between many evangelical leaders and the Republican Party over the last 30 years has resulted in a growing dissatisfaction from some evangelicals about the appropriateness of these close ties. Once thought of as an unstoppable alliance between the Republican Party and the conservative evangelical movement, there has been a new movement from evangelicals to advocate for policies that are more traditionally aligned with the goals of the Democratic Party.

In a recent article, Pastor Rev. Rich Nathan of the Vineyard Church of Columbus stated, “Lots of people feel that the evangelical label has been taken captive by a very narrow political program . . . Folks don’t feel that that represents them. Many of the so-called evangelical leaders are saying, we didn’t elect these people, they don’t represent us.” This sense that religion has become captive to politics has sprouted a growing frustration from evangelicals and a new call to action for many.

Read it all.

Denied communion because of politics

A conservative, pro-choice Roman Catholic professor of law, Douglas Kmiec, says he was recently refused Communion because he supports Barack Obama for president.

Having been drawn to Senator Obama’s remarkable “love thy neighbor” style of campaigning, his express aim to transcend partisan divide, and specifically, his appreciation for faith ("secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square"), I did not expect to be clobbered by co-religionists.

On the blogs, I have been declared “self-excommunicated,” and recently at a Mass before a dinner speech to Catholic business leaders, a very angry college chaplain excoriated my Obama-heresy from the pulpit at length and then denied my receipt of communion.

Andrew Sullivan says on The Daily Dish,

That's an outrage - and a declaration by some elements in the Catholic hierarchy of a political war. Kmiec has an extraordinary record of pro-life advocacy and passion. Perhaps that's why he was singled out. But this is an extraordinary sign of how extreme the theocons have become.

It appears that Kmeic is not alone. dotCommonweal.org reports that "he joins Kathleen Sebelius in the small but growing group: “not at my Communion rail.”

See The Daily Dish: Denying Kmiec Communion

Martin Marty on when to leave your church

In light of the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Martin Marty offers his readers in Christian Century these very useful tips on when you should leave your church:

This spring a certain Christian layperson has been criticized for not exiting his local church when he disagreed with something his pastor preached.

. . .

[W]e offer this little gamelike guide, suggesting where they should sit in church to indicate affirmation or negation. Arrange your pieces on a hypothetical board and play along. Begin in your regular pew.

1. If the preacher offers the prosperity gospel, announces that you can serve both God and mammon, and uses as sermon text the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal:

Move ten pews forward and up your pledge.

2. If the preacher is not wearing a United States flag over her robe:

Back up 15 pews.

3. If the preacher avoids all controversial topics and lulls everyone to sleep:

No response—remember, you are asleep.

4. If the preacher uses scripture to affirm that all acts by the United States military in all wars have been and are just:

Move forward ten pews and smile. This is getting good.

5. If the proclaimer of the gospel announces good news to the poor, healing and hope:

Move up two pews, but tentatively. As a Christian, you should welcome that kind of message, as long as it is sufficiently vague.

6. If the preacher blasts secular humanists, Islamofascists, rappers and anyone other than standard-brand heterosexuals:

Move up three pews and volunteer for the committee to extend your preacher's call.

7. If the preacher finds that liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites and others, including himself, fall short of gospel-rooted living:

Stay where you are; ambiguity is confusing.

8. If the preacher includes a few seconds of strident and edgy language that will make a controversial sound bite at the next congregational assembly:

Be sure you've recorded it; it will be good ammunition when you are drawing the conclusion that you've had it and don't really belong in this congregation. But stay where you are so you don't look suspicious.

9. If the preacher asks those who are without guilt to pick up a stone to throw: Head toward the back pew in a hurry.

10. If a few angry words from the preacher can make you forget how she visited your dying mother, greeted your children as friends and urged you to work for justice with mercy:

By all means, leave. But admit it—you miss the community, the challenge and the gospel. It's lonely out here, and all you will hear of your former pastor from now on are sound bites.

Read it all here.

Blair gets into interfaith relief and development game

The New York Times reports:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, formally unveiled plans in New York City on Friday for an ambitious new charity that he hopes will enlist religion as a force for economic development and conflict resolution, rather than violence and strife....

Mr. Blair said one of his main goals was to support religious leaders who were working to counter extremism within their faiths.

“Though there is much focus, understandably, on extremism associated with the perversion of the proper faith of Islam,” Mr. Blair said, “there are elements of extremism in every major faith.”

Michael Gerson on the libertarian Jesus

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson (with whom we often disagree on the issues now dividing the Anglican Communion) had a column this week that makes a challenge to the religious right. It responded to those who assert that the Gospel opposes government programs for the poor:

"Common sense and the Scriptures," argues Sen. Tom Coburn, "show that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver. This is why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, not his neighbor's possessions. Spending other people's money is not compassionate."

It is not my purpose to pick on the senator from Oklahoma (once again); he is a man of principle. And he is merely restating a fairly common view: that compassion is a private virtue, not a public one, and that religious conscience concerns the former and not the latter.

But this is a theological assertion, not a political one. And as theology, it is flawed.

It is true that Jesus was not a political activist; he joined no party and issued no Contract With the Roman Empire. But it is a stretch to interpret his personal challenge to the rich young ruler as a biblical foundation for libertarianism.

The Jewish tradition in which Jesus lived and taught demanded that just rulers make a minimal provision for the poor, including no-interest loans and the distribution of agricultural commodities. (Look it up: Exodus 22:25-27 and Deuteronomy 24:19-21.) The apostle Paul held a high view of government's role in promoting justice and urged the willing payment of taxes -- a biblical demand more severe, for some of us, than all those sexual prohibitions. And Jesus's followers, fanning out along Roman roads, eventually expressed strong views on slavery, infanticide and the debasement of women -- political views that followed naturally from their belief in a radical equality before God.

The great evangelical reformers of the 18th and 19th centuries -- from John Wesley to William Wilberforce to Lord Shaftesbury -- certainly believed that the teachings of Jesus had implications for enslaved Africans and children toiling in mills. Shaftesbury, a lifelong Tory, focused in Parliament on the plight of the mentally ill, on young chimney sweeps who often died of testicular cancer, on the 30,000 homeless children of Dickensian London. One biographer wrote of Shaftesbury: "No man has in fact ever done more to lessen the extent of human misery or to add to the sum total of human happiness."

This, one assumes, is a historical judgment a conservative politician would covet.

. . .

Private compassion cannot replace Medicaid or provide AIDS drugs to millions of people in Africa for the rest of their lives. In these cases, a role for government is necessary and compassionate -- the expression of conservative commitments to the general welfare and the value of every human life.

For millennia, artists, thinkers and politicians have shaped their image of Jesus, often into a mirror image of themselves. But the goal of Christianity is to allow Him to shape us, not the other way around. And just as Jesus the leftist revolutionary is a distortion, so is Jesus the libertarian.

Read it all here.

One pastor's forty year struggle

Christian Century describes the work of the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church and a former Pentecostal minister, who worked over four decades to establish legal and religious rights for gays and lesbians before the California Supreme Court decided to give the "right to marry" to same-sex couples.

The idea of legal marriage for gays was too politically volatile in the mid-1990s for the MCC to make it a priority issue. But by early 2001, Perry and his church were fully committed to the fight. Perry and his longtime partner, Phillip Ray De Blieck, were legally married July 16, 2003, at an MCC congregation in Toronto.

"Today the California Supreme Court legally recognized our marriage," Perry, 67 and now retired, exulted on May 15, saying that "our marriage is equal in the eyes of the law to all other marriages."

A sociologist of religion who has studied the MCC movement credited Perry's leadership for the changes. "He has had the audacity and the tenacity to claim for gay and lesbian people the religious and civil rights that most Americans have the privilege to take for granted," said Steven Warner, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Chicago and immediate past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Warner said the movement led by Perry was "reformist" in seeking change and "conservative" in affirming the value of "two conservative institutions—the church and marriage." Many people in the gay community say "nuts to marriage" and reject all churches as homophobic, he said. But Perry and other plaintiffs "don't want to overthrow marriage; they want to be part of it."

While the recent California Supreme Court ruling opens the way for marriage for gay and lesbians, the issue is not resolved as opposing groups seek to change California's constitution.

Churches are not required in the ruling to perform same-sex unions, but each denomination will have to figure out how to apply their teachings in light of it. Some denominations came out four-square against the ruling, such as the Roman Catholic Bishops in the state. Others are finding ways to implement it.

The United Church of Christ, which joined a brief in the California case, approved overwhelmingly in its 2005 convention a resolution supporting legalization of same-sex marriages. Bill McKinney, president of the UCC-related Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, said the seminary "celebrates this historic decision."

Episcopal priest Susan Russell, the national president of the gay-advocacy group Integrity, indicated that supporters for gay union rites should raise these issues at the 2009 triennial Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, California. She told Episcopal News Service that it is time for the church to "be as prophetic as the state of California has been."

Bishop Jon Bruno, who heads the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese, said the court decision resonates with the church's baptismal vows to strive for justice and respect for all. "To paraphrase St. Paul," Bruno said in a May 15 statement, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, gay nor straight in Jesus Christ our Lord."

Read the rest here.

Closer to faith, but staying away from clergy

This has been an interesting year for the faith-and-politics conversation, as Democrats are getting more comfortable talking about faith and Republicans no longer seem to be beholden to a particular faith agenda. But what's interesting about that, notes the Washington Post, is that while faith is still important to the candidates, clergy have become liabilities:

A curious thing has happened in this year's contest for the White House. Candidates are having to distance themselves from preachers, almost as quickly as they had sought their embrace. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) denounced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who was videotaped asserting that the federal government had brought the AIDS virus into black communities and that God should "damn" America.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has found it necessary to disassociate himself from the Rev. John Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley, two conservative preachers who have expressed, respectively, anti-Catholic and anti-Muslim views. Just last week, Obama and his wife resigned from their church after a guest minister, the Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, mocked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Clergy have become ticking time bombs in this year's presidential campaign, so much so that the Obamas say they won't join another place of worship until after the election -- if then.

Worth reading the whole thing, here.

Obama, McCain and religion

The Economist's "Lexington" column this week is devoted to the challenges that both Obama and McCain are having with faith on the campaign trial:

Few Democrats have seemed more comfortable talking about God than Barack Obama has. And yet few, if any, have had more problems with God at the ballot box—from rumours that he is a Muslim to doubts among Catholic and Jewish voters to repeated “pastor eruptions”.

This is a serious worry for the Democrats as they gird their loins for the general election. Four years ago the party finally grasped what should have been obvious for years: that running as a secular party in a highly religious country is a recipe for defeat. George Bush not only beat John Kerry by huge margins among “values voters”. He also profited from a visceral sense that there was something unAmerican about the Democrats' secularism. Seven out of ten Americans routinely tell pollsters that they want their president to have a strong personal faith.

. . .

The leading Democratic candidates all talked about God with a gusto that had once been reserved for the Republicans. Hillary Clinton said that she was a “praying person” who had once contemplated becoming a Methodist minister. She also outraged some of her hard-core supporters by describing abortion as a “tragedy”. John Edwards said that his crusade against poverty was rooted in his Christian faith. The New Testament, after all, has a lot more to say about poverty than about gay marriage.

But none of them talked about God as well as Mr Obama. Mr Obama had a great conversion story to tell—he was the child of agnostic parents who had “felt God's spirit beckoning me” as a young man and had been baptised at the age of 26. And he talked about religion in a way that appealed to both his party's religious and its secular wings. The Republicans may have co-opted religion for reactionary political ends. But the religion that Mr Obama embraced—the religion of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King—was a force for social reform. In his career-making speech at the Democratic convention in 2004 he noted that Americans worship the same “awesome God” in the red states and the blue states. Surely the Democrats had discovered the perfect solution to their God problem?

Two high-octane preachers in Mr Obama's hometown of Chicago put paid to that hope. Jeremiah Wright's cries of “God damn America” almost shook the wheels off his campaign in March. Then last week America witnessed another “pastor eruption”—Father Michael Pfleger, a white Catholic, mocking Hillary Clinton as an “entitled” white crybaby. Hardly the stuff of religious reconciliation and responsible social reform.

Mr Obama's problems with God are not limited to Trinity United Church, which he formally abandoned this week. He may have done enough to quell worries among Jewish voters with a robust speech on June 4th. But the persistent rumours that he is a Muslim—contemptible though they are—will remain a problem during the general election. A poll for Newsweek in May found that 11% of Americans believe that Mr Obama is a Muslim, and a further 22% could not identify his religion.

. . .

The good news for Mr Obama in all of this is that he is up against a Republican candidate in John McCain who has plenty of God problems of his own. Mr McCain has a tin ear for religion. He is in many ways a throwback to the pre-Reagan Republican Party of Nixon and Ford—a party that regarded religion as something that you did in private. He is much happier talking about courage than compassion. At one point recently he sounded confused as to whether he was a Baptist or an Episcopalian.

Mr McCain has also been making a hash of dealing with his religion problem. He initially embraced the support of the religious right's own versions of Jeremiah Wright in the form of John Hagee (who believes that the anti-Christ will return to earth in the form of a “fierce” gay Jew) and Ron Parsley (one of the leaders of the anti-gay marriage movement), though he recently rejected both men. He seems blind to the fact that the leadership of the evangelical community is shifting to a new generation of much more appealing leaders such as Rick Warren.

All this makes for a much more even fight for the religious vote than for a long time. But it will also make for a more intense fight—with the Democrats aggressively courting Catholics and evangelicals and the Republicans relentlessly trying to tie Mr Obama to Mr Wright. Those people, in both secular Europe and on the secular wing of the Democratic Party, who had hoped that America's God-soaked politics would disappear with Mr Bush are in for a disappointment.

Read it all here.

Leaving church is hard to do

It was a difficult decision for Barack Obama to leave his church. As the St. Petersburg Times reports, leaving a church or changing faiths can be difficult for anyone:

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee spoke of the anguish of leaving his church family, where the Rev. Jeremiah Wright had given incendiary and racially charged sermons.

Peg and Bob Green of St. Petersburg are empathetic, even though they're Republicans.

"We're not Obama supporters, but in this instance, I feel for him and his family,'' said Peg Green, who left First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg three years ago for St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

"I know it's a decision that's not as easy as some may think.''

Others agree. Leaving a congregation or changing religious affiliation can be anguishing, say some who have done so.

Even so, a recent study suggests more Americans are swapping churches and religious affiliations. The current religious marketplace is characterized by constant movement, with every major religious group simultaneously gaining and losing adherents, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Rabbi Stephen Moch of Tarpon Springs' Congregation B'nai Emmunah has seen a number of departures during his three decades as a leader of Reform Jewish congregations. Unhappy members struggle with conflicting forces, he said.

One is loyalty to a congregation. The other is the disenchantment that eventually causes them to leave, be it unhappiness with the spiritual or lay leadership, Moch said.

Obama belonged to Trinity for about 20 years. Wright married him and his wife, Michelle, and baptized his daughters.

Green says it's particularly heart-wrenching to leave one's church if, like the Obamas, children are involved.

Read it all here.

The hunt for evangelical endorsements

The New York Times' examines Barack Obama's courtship of evangelical voters who cast their ballots for George Bush, and notes that it has been met "by an increasingly intense reaction from the religious right."

Part of Obama's outreach entails a reworking (to put it mildly) of Bush's initiative to aid faith-based social service providers.

Meanwhile Richard Cohen of The Washington Post believes that the quest for endorsements from religious organizations is warping our politics.

He writes:

Read more »

Makgoba urges Mugabe to recognize political opponents

From the Church of Southern Africa:

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town today called on the Southern African Development Community to establish mechanisms in Zimbabwe to bring about an end to political violence.

He also urged Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF to recognise the legitimacy of its political opponents.

The full text of his statement follows:

Statement by the Most Reverend Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town

"The African Union's resolution calling for negotiations to settle Zimbabwe's political crisis is a welcome first step towards fulfilling the AU's potential to work for an Africa without conflict.

"Now space must be created to ensure that the negotiations are productive.

"Both parties have to be genuinely willing to address one another's fears and aspirations. If the talks are to succeed, Zanu-PF needs to recognise the legitimacy of the MDC. In addition, the talks will go nowhere if Zimbabweans continue to live in terror of being attacked and killed for not having red ink on their fingers.

"We acknowledge and give thanks for what the SADC mediation process has delivered so far. However, it needs now to be expanded, and I urge SADC to establish mechanisms on the ground in Zimbabwe to bring about a climate free of political violence.

"We pray for negotiations between partners fully committed to finding one another and ending the desperate suffering of their people. A lasting settlement would breathe hope and transformation into our common life in Southern Africa."

The Catholic vote in 2008

Time has an interesting article about how Obama is attracting many Catholics who have voted Republican in the past:

Douglas Kmiec is the kind of Catholic voter the G.O.P. usually doesn't have to think twice about. The Pepperdine law professor and former Reagan Justice Department lawyer (Samuel Alito was an office mate) attends Mass each morning. He has actively opposed abortion for most of his adult life, working with crisis pregnancy centers to persuade women not to undergo the procedure. He is a member of the conservative Federalist Society and occasionally sends a contribution to Focus on the Family.

He is also a vocal supporter of Barack Obama. Kmiec made waves in the Catholic world in late March when he endorsed the Democratic candidate. But Kmiec insists that while he still considers himself a Republican, his choice is clear this election year. "I have grave moral doubts about the war, serious doubts about the economic course Republicans have followed over the last seven years, and believe that immigration reforms won't come about by Republican hands," he says. "Senator McCain would not be the strongest advocate for the balance of things that I care about."

A new TIME poll of Catholic voters reveals that Kmiec is part of a broader pattern. Although Obama was thought to have a "Catholic problem" during the Democratic primaries, in which Hillary Clinton won a majority of Catholic votes, he has pulled even with John McCain among that constituency — Obama now polls 44% to his G.O.P. opponent's 45%.

. . .

Many conservative Catholics consider abortion to be the determining factor in their electoral decisions, and as a result they almost always support Republican candidates. But for other Catholics, social issues can be trumped in times of economic and national insecurity. What's interesting about this year is that Catholics like Kmiec are moving from the first group of voters to the second.

Republicans entered this election season from a position of disadvantage with Catholics for the same reasons they face problems with the general electorate: the economy, high gas prices and the ongoing war in Iraq. But they've also failed to embrace the model of Catholic engagement that Bush spent six years putting into place. The Obama campaign is taking advantage of that opportunity. Just as Ronald Reagan brought large numbers of Catholic Democrats into the G.O.P. in the 1980s, Obama is hoping to woo them back and create a new Catholic category: Obama Republicans.

. . .

In a climate in which Catholics aren't voting based on a rather narrow ideological agenda, the mechanics of how campaigns court them become more important. And it's on that level that perhaps the biggest changes from 2004 can be seen. McCain has a team of Catholic politicians, including Sam Brownback and Frank Keating, who serve as his surrogates, but has few aides within the campaign to coordinate outreach. The lack of high-level religious advisers became obvious earlier this year when McCain accepted the endorsement of Evangelical pastor John Hagee, who has called the Catholic Church "the great whore of Babylon," a phrase unlikely to warm the hearts of McCain's Catholic supporters.

Obama's campaign more closely resembles the 2004 Bush outreach effort. An extensive religious outreach team has focused the bulk of its work on training ordinary Catholics to reach out to friends and neighbors by holding "values" house parties and explaining their support for Obama. The Democrat also has a roster of high-powered Catholic surrogates who have fanned out across swing states — including Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr., whose father, the pro-life former governor, was widely viewed by Catholics as a victim of Democratic intolerance after he was not allowed to speak at the party's 1992 convention.

Obama, whose work as a community organizer was partly funded by a Catholic social-justice group, recently laid out his plan for a new and improved faith-based initiative. It is a policy extension of the phrase he often uses — "I am my brother's keeper" — to express his belief that members of a society are responsible for one another. And it is an idea rooted in the Catholic concept of the common good.

Read it all here.

Reactions to Obama's faith-based initiative

Last Tuesday, presidential candidate Barack Obama attempted to reclaim the partnership between government and faith-based agencies, which he no doubt witnessed in his days as a community organizer, but six little words ignited an explosion he may not have anticipated.

Peter Steinfels in the New York Times writes:

He was two-thirds of the way through his remarks when he inserted the six words with the potential to put his whole effort at risk. Speaking “as someone who used to teach constitutional law,” he spelled out “a few basic principles” to reassure listeners that such partnerships between religious groups and the government would not endanger the separation of church and state.

“First,” he said, “if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.”

That little phrase between the dashes — “or against the people you hire” — ignited a political explosion. “Fraud,” declared Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. “What Obama wants,” Mr. Donohue said, is “to secularize the religious workplace.” In its newsletter, the conservative Family Research Council called Mr. Obama’s position “a body blow to religious groups that apply for federal funds.” No less heated reactions came from the other end of the political spectrum, where the Obama proposal was denounced not for that short phrase but for what liberals saw as an abandonment of their principles and part of a suspicious move toward the center.

Read more »

The reform side of religious enthusiasm

Ted Widmer writes in the New York Times magazine that the connection between liberals and evangelicals may be stronger than we think and as old as the nation. The connection is found, he says, in an inherent optimism and a common reformist streak.

Maybe the distance between liberals and evangelicals, each eternal optimists in their way, is much smaller than we realized. In our week of national reflection, it’s worth recognizing that religious enthusiasm in America has as often as not had a reformist or even revolutionary cast to it. Consider the Declaration of Independence. It is not normally seen as an evangelical statement, despite the heroic attempts of the Christian right to claim it as such. God is mentioned four times, but obliquely, and never by name. Even so, the argument against kings derived much of its power from the vigor of Christian thought. The historian Pauline Maier was right to label this bit of parchment our American Scripture.

. . . .

It may disconcert both liberals and evangelicals to learn that they have a lost history together. From Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan and onward, Republicans have been conspicuously more comfortable speaking about God than their opponents. Dwight Eisenhower may have started the trend when his 1953 inaugural parade featured “God’s Float,” which a religion writer likened to an oversize molar. No administration ever listened more attentively to evangelical voices than that of George W. Bush, who declared it the official policy of the United States to “rid the world of evil.”

At first blush, Barack Obama may strike evangelicals as an unreconstructed liberal or, in other words, beyond salvation. But he is wise to reach out to them at a moment when the geological sands are shifting beneath our feet. Now and then he speaks in the ancient accents, promising to create “a kingdom right here on earth” or arguing that “our individual salvation depends on our collective salvation.” Those phrases slip by, generally unnoticed by his partisans (who are evangelical in their own way). They are worth noting in the months ahead. Not only do they connect us to the richness of a deep American past; they might even point to the better future we’ve been waiting for since, well, forever.

Read the rest here.

Ndungane says G-8 is hat sans cattle

The former Archbishop of Capetown analyzes the recent G-8 Summit and finds himself profoundly unimpressed. Read this commentary.

Read more »

James, the "go-to" theologian for Democrats

The Washington Post today has a piece on how the Epistle of James is being invoked again and again by Democrats. The epistle, at times maligned for its emphasis on works (which, say critics through history, implies that it downplays faith), is regarded by many as one that emphasizes community and ethics.

The repeated references to James highlight an often overlooked and sometimes criticized book of the Bible. For centuries, its supposed conflict with St. Paul and the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone relegated it to the sidelines of biblical scholarship.

Yet the book is finding new life in American politics, with James emerging as the Democrats' go-to theologian, and his epistle as their favorite passage of Scripture.

" 'Faith without works is dead' translates politically into 'rhetoric without action is dead,' " said Kevin Coe, co-author of "The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America.

James stresses the theme of faith in action perhaps more than any other book of the New Testament. Unlike other New Testament letters, many of them attributed to Paul, James plays down dogma in favor of practical ethical guidelines that center on loving one's neighbor and, in particular, serving the poor.

The article continues with some famous "James" moments in history, such as Luther's belittling it as the "Straw Epistle" and other times when it was invoked by abolitionists as well as the "Social Gospel" movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.

You can read it here.

The new evangelicals

Frances FitzGerald offers an interesting essay about the so-called "New Evangelicals" in the New Yorker:

Just four years ago, during the last Presidential election, leaders on the religious right were the only white evangelicals whose voices were heard in the public arena. In their own gatherings, they proposed such things as the abolition of the capital-gains tax, a war on radical Islam, and an end to the “myth of separation” between church and state, but they concentrated their public campaigns on gay rights and abortion, the two issues that have resonated most strongly with evangelicals and helped to bring them into the Republican Party. Under the leadership of James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, and others, including Richard Land, the official in charge of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, activists organized “values voters” with the help of ballot initiatives in eleven states for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. In November, all the initiatives passed, and George W. Bush took seventy-eight per cent of the white evangelical vote—a record for a Presidential candidate. Because evangelicals make up a quarter of the population, the religious right claimed credit for giving President Bush his margin of victory.

This year, however, is very different. During the primary season, religious-right leaders could not unite around a candidate. On Super Tuesday, thirty per cent of evangelical Republicans voted for John McCain, the favorite of moderates and independents. Even more surprising, a third of evangelicals in Missouri and Tennessee chose to vote Democratic, as did, a month later, forty-three per cent in Ohio. Meanwhile, Barack Obama—unlike John Kerry, in 2004—has been trying to win over white evangelicals. In televised discussions sponsored by religious organizations, he has spoken of his faith, and framed issues such as health care and the war in Iraq in moral terms. In recent weeks, he has met privately with evangelical leaders and started to reach out to values voters. These efforts suggest that he is hoping to do as well as, if not better than, Bill Clinton, who won a third of the white evangelical vote in both 1992 and 1996. Mark DeMoss, a public-relations expert whose firm has worked for Focus on the Family and for Franklin Graham, is among those who think he can.

This view is based in large part on the fact that religious-right activists are no longer the only evangelical leaders speaking out. Since 2004, influential pastors and the heads of many large faith organizations have set a new national-policy agenda, one founded on their understanding of the life of Jesus and his ministry to the poor, the outcast, and the peacemakers. The movement has no single charismatic leader, no institutional center, and no specific goals. It doesn’t even have a name. But it is nonetheless posing the first major challenge to the religious right in a quarter of a century.

Read it all here.

Faith and the fall congressional elections

While there has been a great deal of attention about the importance of faith to the 2008 Presidential election, there has been less attention paid to the fact that "faith friendly" Democrats look to gain some seats in Congress this fall. Christianity Today has the story:

While polls show Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama running neck and neck for the presidency, the Democrats appear poised to significantly expand their congressional majorities. A couple of factors are tilting key races their way.

First, the faltering economy, gas prices, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be higher priorities for voters than social issues. Second, in regions where social issues still count with voters, Democrats are once again nominating faith-friendly social moderates in some conservative congressional districts, a strategy they employed with some success in 2006.

So long as the strategy works, Democratic leadership will continue to recruit candidates from the conservative wing of their party, said Amy Black, associate professor of political science at Wheaton College. This year, pro-life Democrats have already won special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"The special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi show that traditional GOP voters are prepared to switch parties for Democrats who run as social conservatives," said Mark Silk, founding director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

. . .

Democrats are in a position that we haven't seen in a century: to follow up a landslide victory with another, possibly even a larger one," said Eric Sapp, senior partner at Common Good Strategies, which helps Democratic candidates to engage religious communities. "That will be really significant, perhaps most importantly because the Democrats that have been winning and will be coming into Congress are much more 'faith-friendly' and tend to come from strong faith backgrounds themselves."

Common Good Strategies worked in 2006 with three victorious Democratic candidates: Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, and Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio. All three politicians outperformed the Democratic average among white evangelicals by about 17 percentage points. And each candidate's Republican opponent was a noted social conservative.

The Democratic openness to faith comes at the same time Republicans want to prove they are not beholden to the Religious Right, Silk said. But he noted that there is still time for the political terrain to shift.

Read it all here. Note that "faith friendly" does not need to mean social conservative. Of the three candidates that worked with Common Good Strategies--Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, and Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio--only Casey is a true social conservative.

Tithing on the Campaign Trail

The Christianity Today political blog (well worth reading by the way) has a very interesting post about a Democratic candidate for Congress in a conservative Virginia district devoting ten percent of his staff''s time to good works:

Three months ago, Tom Perriello, the Democratic challenger in Viriginia's fifth congressional district, announced that his campaign workers would be required to spend a tenth of their time doing volunteer work.

Previous campaigns have done the odd bit of community service, but this appears to be the first to make it an integral part of the enterprise, and to couch it in religious terms as a form of tithing. By the end of this weekend, the campaign expects to have logged 300 hours of tithed volunteer work.

In line with the ancient and pretty honorable principle of doing well by doing good, the effort has gotten a lot of positive attention from the press, most recently in a Christian Science Monitor article by Gail Russell Craddock. To be sure, Craddock doesn't omit to include a snide swipe from David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report; to wit: "Perriello has a great profile in a very liberal district in Boulder, Colo., but that's not Virginia's Fifth." But the campaign couldn't have asked for more than it got by way of a quote from Larry Campbell, assistant pastor at Bible Way Cathedral in Danville:


I've had many political candidates come through, but I've never had any work along with us in the area of social-action changes," he says, citing ongoing help from Perriello volunteers. "Most candidates who are running for national office have more programs just getting people out voting for them, but to give back to the community is a heavy statement for social change."

Read it all here.

Olympic Games bracelets protest human rights abuses

Ecumenical News International (ENI) reports on the Olympic Games black bracelet protest begun by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany.

A German church has far exceeded its initial expectations in distributing more than 200,000 black bracelets intended as a symbolic protest against human rights abuses in China during the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Read more »

Obama's VP choices include two different Catholics

Michael Sean Winters, author of Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats has an interesting article in the New Republic about two of the three Catholics that are reportedly on Barack Obama's short list for the Vice President slot on the ticket:

Read more »

Presidential candidates on faith

Time let John McCain and Barack Obama to describe their faith. Each used the opportunity to offer a very different take of the issue of the importance of faith in their lives. Both essays are worth reading in full.

Here is a highlight from McCain's essay:

Read more »

Labor organizing effort leads to theological dispute

The Sisters of St. Joseph, a Roman Catholic order of nuns, sponsors a system of 14 hospitals and employs 20,000 workers in three states. The Service Employees International Union wants to organize in these hospitals. After five years, the hospital and the union have reached an impasse as to the rules of the election.

The irony is that in the 1970's, this order supported the unionization of farm laborers, and it may be that the hospital management position opposing the union is in stark contrast to Roman Catholic teaching affirming the rights of workers to organize.

In practical terms, the stakes are about 9,000 employees of eight of the nine St. Joseph hospitals in California, essentially all the workers except doctors, nurses and operating engineers. The impasse between the union and the hospital system involves the rules for holding an election on whether, and by whom, those employees want to be represented in collective bargaining.

Such a thumbnail description, however, cannot possibly convey the visceral heat of the conflict. This showdown between former comrades goes well beyond the usual labor-management confrontation with its ritualized drama of each antagonist playing tough before sensibly settling. On both sides of the wrought-iron fence at the Mother House, the mutual senses of betrayal and hypocrisy run deep and personal.

Beyond those emotions is an intense debate about whether a community of nuns is violating the Catholic Church’s teaching on social justice. Pressing home that point, the union has lined up public support from many priests and appealed directly to California bishops, a tactic that has particularly inflamed the sisters.

Some of the workers most involved in the drive, like Gilbert Zamora, used to take their families to Mass in the Mother House on Christmas and Easter. Carmelo Gutierrez, a Catholic and a 14-year employee at a St. Joseph’s hospital, said simply of the nuns, “We thought they were just.”

. . .

Kevin Murphy, the health system’s vice president for theology and ethics, characterized the resistance to the union-recognition effort as consistent with Roman Catholic teachings. The papal encyclical, “Rerum Novarum,” issued in 1891, lent the Vatican’s moral force to the labor movement, and has been followed over the decades by similar pronouncements. Mr. Murphy, however, emphasized the concept of individual choice, including the choice to spurn a union. (Unions do, though, represent workers in some St. Joseph’s hospitals.)

“The foundation of the tradition is the human dignity of the individual,” Mr. Murphy said. “First book of Genesis, man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God and invited to co-create with God. There is human dignity. That’s the strand within this tradition of how important human dignity of the individual is.”

The headwaters of the present struggle go back to 2003, when employees in a St. Joseph system hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif., approached the service employees union about representing them. The union had recently won the right to represent workers of Catholic Healthcare West, another hospital system.

Over the next few years in Santa Rosa, the essential battle lines emerged. The St. Joseph system, while insisting that its conditions were so generous that no union was needed, was nonetheless bound by federal law to have a recognition election.

NYT: On Religion- Theology Finds Its Way Into a Debate Over Unions

Concerns that Obama is the antichrist

John McCain has a TV ad out suggesting Obama has a messianic complex. Steve Waldman takes a look and concludes,

My guess is that the McCain camp viewed the ad as a three-fer: some viewers would view it as a playful poke at Sen. Obama’s ego, showing Sen. McCain to have a sense of humor and Sen. Obama to be too full of himself. Other, more religious voters, would be downright offended by Obama’s Messianic complex, since, antichrist aside, it’s offensive for anyone to think he’s God-like. And still other voters would view it as validation or reinforcement of the messages they’ve heard elsewhere that Obama is the antichrist.

Among other things, the ad plays on Obama's popularity with Europeans, and may play on the fears of world government in some corners of American society. Yet, while Obama is popular with Europeans, in an op-ed Susan Neiman has observed:
With gestures that ranged from a wink to a sneer, most anyone you met here [Berlin] this week volunteered the view that Barack Obama’s visit to Europe caused unprecedented frenzy. But it’s been hard for me to find a European, aside from two Harvard-educated friends in Paris, who confessed to excitement — not just about the visit, but the prospect of an Obama presidency.

In the wake of the Edwards' affair

In an essay on Ethics Daily , Robert Parham writes:

For decades, Christian conservatives blindly brought the moral righteousness of the Republican Party, sold effectively by Southern Baptist fundamentalist preachers, James Dobson and others.

Centrist-to-progressives are buying into the moral goodness of faithful Democrats, sold repeatedly by a cast of evangelical and mainline religious leaders. Political liberals and quasi-religious activists have been working non-stop to recapture the flag of faith from the Republicans who have let it fall from their grip.

Rick Warren, moderate?

The Washington Post's On Faith section would like us to believe that megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who is hosting Saturday evening's Saddleback Forum at which Senators John McCain and Barack Obama will speak about issues of faith, is a religious moderate. We beg to differ.

Warren wrote Time magazine's egregious puff piece on Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola, and supported Ugandan archbishop Henry Orombi's decision to boycott the Lambeth Conference because supporters of an openly gay bishop would be there.

Cafe regulars will remember that Akinola supported anti-gay legislation criticized by every major human rights group, the European parliament and the U. S. State Department, and has yet to answer questions about his knowledge of a massacre of 700 Muslims in Yelwa Nigeria in 2004.

Orombi isn't quite as bad. He only believes that gay people and their supporters are out to kill him, and will pay Africans to become homosexuals.

A Kampala newspaper report on Warren's support of the Lambeth boycott included this paragraph:

Dr Warren said that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. "We shall not tolerate this aspect at all," Dr Warren said.

Maybe Senators McCain and Obama should turn the tables and ask Warren a few questions, like whether he would like to recriminalize homosexual activity.

All that said, counting Akinola as your spiritual leader does not seem to disqualify one from being considered a religious moderate, as the career of that great advocate of the emerging center Michael Gerson makes clear.

GOP can't bank on evangelicals anymore

Updated to include link.

It's a trend that we've noted previously as we've followed nonconservative evangelical groups and seen reports of this through the Pew Forum, but the Washington Post gave over part of its front page yesterday to put a new face on the changing landscape both for evangelicals and the Republican Party---that of Jonathan Merritt, 25, a Baptist preacher's son who explains in an interview how he personally has experienced that change:

"I grew up believing an evangelical couldn't be a Democrat," said Merritt. "The two were mutually exclusive."

But in the past year, as the presidential campaign has focused on the country's problems, Merritt has begun to question the party of his father. There was his recent revelation that "God is green," a mission trip to orphanages in Brazil that caused him to worry about global poverty, an encounter with a growing strain of politically liberal evangelicalism that has taken off online, and a nagging sense that Bush's unpopularity has been an embarrassment to the evangelicals who overwhelmingly voted for him.

"When you look at the political party that has traditionally championed poverty, social justice and care for the least of these, it's not been the Republican Party," said Merritt, who now considers himself an "independent conservative" and is unsure whom he will vote for in November. "We are to honor the least of these above even ourselves. It's very difficult to reconcile totally."

He is part of a growing group of young born-again Christians standing on one of the many generational breaks surfacing in this election cycle. Merritt still shares his parents' conservative convictions on abortion, a core issue that forged Falwell's Moral Majority and brought evangelicals firmly into the Republican camp, but he says they are no longer enough for him to claim the Republican Party.

Update: Here's the link. Oops.

"Left Behind" and Obama

Well, this is certainly a huge relief: Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have decided that Barack Obama is not the antichrist--and the publisher of their books actually released a press release on this announcement:

John McCain's campaign ad "The One" has generated a lot of buzz regarding the "Left Behind Series." Political commentators are comparing McCain's portrayal of competitor Barack Obama with the blockbuster apocalyptic series' depiction of the antichrist. But even the series authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don't think Obama is the antichrist. What may have been created as a farce has generated a firestorm of controversy on the internet.

LaHaye and Jenkins take a literal interpretation of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation. They believe the antichrist will surface on the world stage at some point, but neither see Obama in that role. "I've gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist," says novelist Jenkins. "I tell everyone that I don't think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics."

"I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the antichrist," adds LaHaye, "but from my reading of scripture, he doesn't meet the criteria. There is no indication in the Bible that the antichrist will be an American."

Jenkins and LaHaye don't take McCain's commercial or the antichrist speculation over Obama too seriously.

Pundits have pointed out that there are similarities between the "Left Behind Series" character Nicolae Carpathia and Obama. Other than some vocabulary and charisma, Carpathia, a young Romanian politician who eventually oversees a one-world government, and Obama don't have much in common. "If even the people who created the character Nicolae Carpathia don't see the comparisons as warranted, then perhaps this is overblown," says Jenkins.

Read it all here.

I really don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Related posts: Concerns that Obama is the antichrist

Some social conservatives tiring of politics in the pulpit

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a survey that says that some Americans are tiring of their pastors bringing electoral politics to their pulpits.

Some Americans are having a change of heart about mixing religion and politics. A new survey finds a narrow majority of the public saying that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters. For a decade, majorities of Americans had voiced support for religious institutions speaking out on such issues.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.

As a result, conservatives' views on this issue are much more in line with the views of moderates and liberals than was previously the case. Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared.

There are other signs in the new poll about a potential change in the climate of opinion about mixing religion and politics. First, the survey finds a small but significant increase since 2004 in the percentage of respondents saying that they are uncomfortable when they hear politicians talk about how religious they are - from 40% to 46%. Again, the increase in negative sentiment about religion and politics is much more apparent among Republicans than among Democrats.

Second, while the Republican Party is most often seen as the party friendly toward religion, the Democratic Party has made gains in this area. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) now say the Democratic Party is generally friendly toward religion, up from just 26% two years ago. Nevertheless, considerably more people (52%) continue to view the GOP as friendly toward religion.


In addition to somewhat greater worries about the way religious and non-religious groups are influencing the parties, the survey suggests that frustration and disillusionment among social conservatives may be a part of the reason why a greater number now think that religious institutions should keep out of politics. However, there is little to suggest that social conservatives want religion to be a less important element in American politics.

The greatest increases since 2004 in the view that churches and other houses of worship should not express themselves on political matters have occurred among less-educated Republicans and people who say that social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage will be important to their vote. For example, among people who rate gay marriage as a top voting issue, the percentage saying that churches should stay out of politics soared from 25% in 2004 to 50% currently; there was little change over this period on this question among people who do not view same-sex marriage as a very important issue.

Read the rest here. A PDF version of the survey may be found here.

Faith has a high profile at Democratic convention

The Chicago Tribune reports that faith has a very high profile at the Democratic National Convention now meeting in Denver, especially when compared to four years ago.

At the first official event Sunday of the Democratic National Convention, a choir belted out a gospel song and was followed by a rabbi reciting a Torah reading about forgiveness and the future.

Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun who wrote "Dead Man Walking," assailed the death penalty and the use of torture.

Young Muslim women in headscarves sat near older African-American women in their finest Sunday hats.

Four years ago, such a scene would have been unthinkable at a Democratic National Convention. In 2004, there was one interfaith lunch at the Democratic gala in Boston.

But that same year, "values voters" helped re-elect President Bush, giving Democrats of faith the opening they needed to make party leaders listen to them.

The result was on display at Sunday's interfaith service, staged in a theater inside the Colorado Convention Center, and will be evident throughout the convention agenda and on the sidelines.

There will be four "faith caucus" meetings, blessings to open and close each night, and panels and parties run by Democratic-leaning religious advocacy groups that didn't even exist in 2004 — not to mention protests from religious groups and leaders opposed to the Democratic platform.

Other challenges may come from within. At Sunday's service, Bishop Charles Blake, head of the predominantly black Church of God in Christ and a self-described pro-life Democrat, said Barack Obama should be pressed to "elaborate upon his stated intention to reduce the number of abortions by providing alternative programs."

One hallmark of Democratic faith efforts at the convention is diversity, which might soften objections from party activists wary of the Christian right or any mixing of religion and politics. Behind the scenes, efforts to attract the religious vote will concentrate largely on Christian "values voters."

"If we create or become a mirror image of the religious right, we have failed," said Burns Strider, who ran religious outreach for Hillary Clinton's campaign and now does faith-based political consulting. "But if we have increased the number of chairs around the table, ... then we've succeeded."

One reason religion is playing such a prominent role at this week's convention is that Obama has made faith outreach prominent in his campaign.

"People of faith are being engaged in the convention in a new and robust way ,and it's because of Senator Obama's acknowledgment that people of faith and values have an important place in American public life," said Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign's religious affairs director.

Read the rest here.

Religious right likes McCain's pick

Religious conservatives are excited by Senator John McCain's choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, says Ralph Reed in The New York Times:

“They’re beyond ecstatic,” said Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. “This is a home run. She is a reformer governor who is solidly pro-life and a person of deep Christian faith. And she is really one of the bright shining new stars in the Republican firmament.”

Ms. Palin is known to conservatives for choosing not to have an abortion after learning that she was carrying a child with Down syndrome. “It is almost impossible to exaggerate how important that is to the conservative faith community,” Mr. Reed said.

(Politico is on the case as well.)

While running for governor, Palin said she thought creationism and the theory of evolution should both be taught in public schools.

Talking Points Memo has more.

Dallas Morning News Religion Blog has more. Palin is a member of the Assemblies of God Church.

From the Anchorage Daily News in 2006:
Palin's parents say they are not political and don't know how she decided to turn her ambition and work ethic toward politics. Her Christian faith, they say, came from her mother, who took her children to area Bible churches as they were growing up (Sarah is the third of four siblings). They say her faith has been steady since high school, when she led the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and grew stronger as she sought out believers in her college years.

Palin doesn't brandish her religion on the campaign trail, but that doesn't prevent others from doing so. After she was first elected mayor, her predecessor, John Stein, objected that a Valley cable TV program had hailed her as Wasilla's first "Christian mayor." In a column for the local newspaper, he named eight previous mayors and added that he, too, was a Christian, despite a name that led some voters to suspect "I must be a non-Christian, have non-Christian blood or at least have sympathized with a non-Christian sometime in my career."

Her official campaign bio, still up on her campaign site, offers evidence that she didn't "brandish" her religion during that campaign. While it mentions her membership in the Iditarod PTA, htere is nary a mention of a church or religious affiliation.

Advice for the candidates

Panelists at the Washington Post's On Faith section were asked to advise the two presidential candidates on the role that religion should play in their campaigns. Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington is among those who responded.

He said in part:

Understand that all theology is political. By that I mean in looking at the Holy texts of at least the 3 Abrahamic religions they all focus on care of the sick, the alien, the widows and orphans, the poor, the dispossessed, caring for the least among us, and always focusing on radical hospitality for all including strangers. Much of what is done from a contemporary perspective in the legislative process at the state and federal level is aimed at addressing these very same issues. And these issues cannot be addressed well unless through the political process.

On the Palin pregnancy

We agree with Senator Obama's assertion that candidates' minor children should be off limits in political debate. We agree with the blogger Hilzoy who wrote: "To my mind, this extends to using [Sarah Palin's] daughter as evidence that abstinence-only education doesn't work: presumably, no one thinks that it works 100% of the time, and that's the only claim to which this one counterexample could possibly be relevant." We don't think the issue of whether the Palins' youngest child will be properly cared for if his mother becomes vice president is relevant, either. However, as parents, we wonder at the judgment of the two adults who put a 17-year-old child in the position to have her premarital pregnancy become front page news. And as cynics, we suspect that Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and others would be handling this matter rather differently if the pregnant teenager were the child of Democrats.

Sarah Palin's pastors

Updated: Two weeks ago Palin attended a service at which David Brickner, founder of Jews for Jesus gave the sermon. Hew said that terrorist attacks against Israel were God's "judgment of unbelief" on Jews who had not converted to Christinaity. The American Prospect has more, too.

From Harper's:

During the 2008 campaign the beliefs of various candidates’ spiritual mentors has attracted a great deal of attention, especially those of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and to a lesser extent those of John Hagee, who endorsed John McCain. So now seems an opportune time to examine the viewpoints of Sarah Palin’s two most recent pastors, as expressed in their sermons.

A sampling:

Mike Rose, senior pastor at Juneau Christian Center

From an April 27, 2008 sermon: “If you really want to know where you came from and happen to believe the word of God that you are not a descendant of a chimpanzee, this is what the word of God says. I believe this version.”

From a July 8, 2007 sermon: “Those that die without Christ have a horrible, horrible surprise.”

From a July 28, 2007 sermon: “Do you believe we’re in the last days? After listening to Newt Gingrich and the prime minister of Israel and a number of others at our gathering, I became convinced, and I have been convinced for some time. We are living in the last days. These are incredible times to live in.”

Sarah Posner article at The American Prospect is worth reading, too. As is Andrew Sullivan's item on the candidate's invocation of "God's will" in some peculiar circumstances.

God-O-Meter Q&A with Sarah Palin's Biographer

The media has scrambled to learn more are Sarah Palin's faith. Among those publishing articles: Harpers and BeliefNet.

BeliefNet today posted a God-O-Meter Q&A with her biographer. Some extracts:

Sarah Palin was baptized as a Catholic but became active in the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church while still young. How did she go from one tradition to the other?

It was through her mother, Sally. Sarah was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church. And her mom discovered a more meaningful experience at an Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla, where Pastor Paul Riley had really formed a community. And Sally enrolled her kids in church camps and Bible school. This was when Sarah was about 12. She asked to be re-baptized. The whole family was baptized at the same time, at a lake right here in Wasilla called Beaver Lake. I don't know that her father was baptized--it was a mom and the kids. It was a milestone that Sarah never really forgot. She knew she claimed a moral compass that would stay with her.

Was that pastor--Pastor Riley--a major influence in her life? Can you talk about him?

Pastor Riley and his wife became lifelong family friends to Sarah because she grew up in that church. Now he is retired and serves as a chaplain in jails. They are known for taking people in, including--sometimes--prisoners that Pastor Riley ministers to. He was at Wasilla Assemblies of God for 44 years.

Read it all.


Since becoming governor in 2006, Palin has attended the Juneau Christian Center, where Mike Rose serves as senior pastor. Her previous pastor was David Pepper of the Church on the Rock in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla — a church that “was kind of a foundation for her.”

Of the two, Rose is certainly the more politically active, both locally and in the broader evangelical community (with ties to Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, for example). Pepper, it should be noted, is outspoken on slavery, racism, and the massacres of Native Americans, all of which he terms “sins” that still cast a long shadow on minority communities.

Sebastian Jones found links to many sermons by Rose and by Pepper. The excerpts below come from his review.

Read it all.

Conservative churches unite to challenge IRS rule

The conservative Alliance Defense Fund is planning to have conservative pastors all over the country endorse political candidates (and denounce others) by name on September 28th. They want the IRS to crack down on these churches so that they can then the challenge rule that prohibits non-profit organizations (including churches) from taking part in direct political activity.

Read more »

A window into Pentecostalism

The Pew Forum writes that just as coverage of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's fiery former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, opened a window into life inside some black churches, Palin's candidacy is introducing many Americans to the conservative theology of Pentecostalism.

Though Palin currently attends a nondenominational evangelical church and her campaign does not identify her as a "Pentecostal," she's captured on video at a June appearance at Wasilla Assembly of God in her Alaska hometown, saying "it was so cool growing up in this church and getting saved here."

Read more »

Examining the candidates' beliefs

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer has written about or rounded up some of the more intriguing coverage of the candidates and their religious beliefs.

Read more »

Palin worries Europeans

Stephen Bates, The Guardian: "Every word Europeans (and many Americans) hear about Sarah Palin chills their blood - none more so than her religious beliefs, or at least those of her pastors at the Wasilla Assembly of God church, or the Juneau Christian Centre."

N. T. "Tom" Wright, Bishop of Durham: "I am concerned, not about this candidate's religious views (that particular political decisions might be in accordance with God's will) but about her political judgment. (...) Too bad that though the decision will hugely affect the rest of the world, only the elite (i.e. U.S. citizens) vote."

Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
: "Fight too hard, and the Republican machine, echoed by the ditto-heads in the conservative commentariat on talk radio and cable TV, will brand Democrats sexist, elitist snobs, patronising a small-town woman. Do nothing, and Palin's rise will continue unchecked, her novelty making even Obama look stale, her star power energising and motivating the Republican base. So somehow Palin slips out of reach, no revelation - no matter how jaw-dropping or career-ending were it applied to a normal candidate - doing sufficient damage to slow her apparent march to power, dragging the charisma-deprived McCain behind her. (...) Of course I know that even to mention Obama's support around the world is to hurt him. Incredibly, that large Berlin crowd damaged Obama at home, branding him the "candidate of Europe" and making him seem less of a patriotic American. But what does that say about today's America, that the world's esteem is now unwanted? If Americans reject Obama, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the rest of us - and, make no mistake, we shall hear it."

BBC: "People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests. Democrat Mr Obama was favoured by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries."

Turning on a dime for Palin

Robert Parham of the Baptist publication Ethics Daily writes:

The nomination of Sarah Palin changed Southern Baptist fundamentalism quicker than Eve tempted Adam to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden, metaphorically speaking. The Republican Party's first woman caused Republican Party's first-line male clergy to revise their theology about women, while claiming they never meant what they said earlier.

Only 10 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention thumped the Bible and announced in Salt Lake City, of all places, that the woman's place was in the home. More exactly, they added a family paragraph to the Baptist Faith & Message statement, which said that a wife had the God-given responsibility to her husband "to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

Their words were abundantly clear and literally interpreted. The wife had no other role, no other divine appointment, no other responsibility. No exceptions were made for women who work outside the home, either by necessity or vocational fulfillment. The woman was to be a household manager and to nurture children.

Terri Jo Ryan of the Waco Herald-Tribune also examines the issue. (HT: Dallas Morning News.)

Reviewing Rick Warren's performance

The editors of The Christian Century were uncomfortable with the way Rick Warren handled himself in questioning Barack Obama and John McCain about issues of faith:

It's the clout factor that makes us uneasy about the Saddleback event—uneasy both about the integrity of Christianity when it gets a lot of political clout, and especially uneasy about a political culture in which trumpeting one's Christian faith is a way to gain some more clout.

Warren certainly succeeded in provoking some revealing answers. Unfortunately, despite his concern for addressing climate change, poverty and AIDS, which has helped legitimate a broader political agenda among evangelicals, in the forum he never asked questions about those issues. He used the occasion to press issues that the religious right has long focused on: opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.

The questions were also phrased so as to suggest what the appropriate answer would be for Warren and most of his constituency. "At what point does a baby get human rights?" "Define marriage." "Would you insist that faith-based organizations forfeit [the right to hire people who share their beliefs] to access federal funds?" A discussion more illuminating for political life would have emerged if the questions had been phrased this way: "What's the best way to reduce the number of abortions?" "Should homosexual couples be able to have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples?" "Should government funds be used for religious purposes?"

Who would Jesus torture?

A new Faith in Public Life poll released on September 11 says that more than half of Southern Evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views change when they are reminded of the Golden Rule.

A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that "the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers," the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.

"Presenting people with this argument and identifying with the golden rule really does engage a different part of people's psyche and a part of their heart, their soul, and really does shift their views on torture," said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research, which was commissioned to conduct the poll.

The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48 percent of the general public think torture can be justified.

The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

Andrew Sullivan comments:

Southern evangelicals always cite Scripture when arguing that homosexuals should be jailed or sent to therapy or denied basic rights in their marriages. But on torture, they don't cite Scripture:
The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern vangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

Pew Forum: Poll shows support for torture among Southern evangelicals

Andrew Sullivan: The Daily Dish

God's will and the presidency

The Dallas Morning News religion blog is running a series of answers by panelists on the question: "If you were the spiritual adviser to the next president, what would you advise him on how to discern and implement God's will in the execution of his duties?"

Writer and producer Katie Sherrod, Episcopal laywoman in Fort Worth, TX is one of the panelists. She writes:

In Galatians, Paul tells us a work of the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, and peace while sinful nature is full of hatred, fighting, jealousy, and fits of anger." We are then given a list that sounds like the Karl Rove School of Political Campaigning: "It is interested only in getting ahead. It stirs up trouble. It separates people into their own little groups. It wants what others have."

So a huge first step for whoever is elected would be learning the difference between governing and campaigning.

The most obvious danger for anyone seeking to "do God's will" is that of confusing God's will for her or his own. Since humility is not a quality often seen in political leaders in any nation, the danger is even greater for a president seeking to "do God's will" in the execution of his duties. I think American voters are right to be wary of such talk. After all, the men who flew those planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers believed they were doing God's will.

How is one to know? The Gospel of Matthew gives us some excellent guidelines: 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' And conversely, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

So the president could ask the question, "Does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] help the stranger, assist the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick or imprisoned, or does it make their situation worse while helping the most fortunate among us?

Or more simply, "How does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] affect the least of us?"

Read all the answers here.

The young evangelical vote

From AP, via Politco:

Polls have yet to measure the Palin Effect on younger evangelical voters, whose shifting political allegiances put the demographic in play for both major-party presidential campaigns.

But a portrait emerges through interviews with more than a dozen pastors, authors and others who either belong to that generation or track it: Conservatives are energized much like their elders, progressives are unimpressed and many undecideds are gravitating toward McCain-Palin.

"I think the jury is still out on young evangelicals," said Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine, an influential publication for this group. "Both parties have the opportunity to address issues of deep concern for this voting bloc."

We are all for marriage...right?

Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona writes about a ballot proposition in his state designed to protect marriage from...what?

This week I would like to say something about Prop 102, which is bound to get me more e-mails because it is about that favorite media topic, sex.

This proposition, the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" left me scratching my head. Doesn't Arizona law already define marriage as a union between a man and woman, and didn't voters already reject a similar initiative in the last election? Why are we going through this again?

. . .

Prop 102 has nothing to do with upholding marriage and the family -- after all, everyone supports that. Rather it is a much more insidious attempt to exclude gay and lesbian partnerships from full protection under the law. Those who feel that homosexual unions are somehow a "threat" to the American family (Dad, Mom, 2.2 kids) seem determined to make sure that people who are in such unions will know that they are not welcomed in this state, even if their union is recognized elsewhere, hence the constitutional change. I suspect that as more states allow gay/lesbian marriage, the greater will be the perceived threat.

I do wish the supporters of Prop 102 would be honest about their goal instead of bombarding us with misleading ads showing happy family outings and children romping on the playground, implying that such things are somehow endangered by two people of the same sex being in love and wanting to spend their life together.

No matter what you might think about the acceptability of gay/lesbian unions, the way this issue is being presented is really a matter of equal protection under the law, and more important for some of us Christians, whether we are going to "respect the dignity of every human being," as we say in our baptismal vows.

Read it all here.

Both Obama and McCain would expand Bush faith-based initiative

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life interviews two experts about how both McCain and Obama propose to expand the Bush administration's faith-based initiative. John DiIulio Jr. addressed Obama's plans; Stephen Goldsmith addressed McCain's plans.


Sen. Obama wants to foster interfaith, ecumenical, religious-secular and public-private partnerships with faith-based and other nonprofit organizations that constitutionally, compassionately and cost-effectively supply social services to the needy and the neglected. He is dedicated to assisting sacred places that serve civic purposes, but he has a broader vision of religion and public life in 21st century America. It is a principled and pluralistic vision that extends to lending diverse religious leaders and faith communities a real ear in the White House.

That, I believe, is what Obama meant in July when he stated that the council would be a "moral center" of his administration, and not only regarding government support for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships that dispense social services. As we all know, when it comes to many different international and domestic issues, business, labor and other key sectors and interests have long had a voice in the Executive Office of the President or a place in one or more Cabinet departments and agencies.

Well, religious groups are the largest segment of the nation's trillion-dollar tax-exempt sector, but how diverse religious leaders understand issues from international aid to immigration reform, from environmental protection to health care, does not register so routinely in the corridors of government. That's unfortunate because, as many surveys tell us, diverse religious leaders and groups have ideas and experiences that make what they think about public issues at least as interesting, eclectic and potentially valuable to policy deliberations as what other sectors' leaders and organizations have to contribute.

Much has been accomplished in recent years to fully engage faith-based and small community-based organizations (FBCOs) in the delivery of social services to benefit neighbors and communities across the country. Regulatory changes have reduced barriers and expanded the opportunity for government to partner with faith-based organizations. Eleven federal government agencies and the Corporation for National and Community Service created centers within their organizations designed to more fully engage FBCOs. A number of innovative programs are returning positive results. I would anticipate Sen. McCain building out such programs to continue with this momentum.

One example of this is the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, which today has more than 100,000 children matched with a caring adult mentor. Sen. McCain will build upon the success of this mentoring project to tackle the high-school dropout rate and improve academic achievement. Graduation rates from urban public high schools are hovering at 50 percent, with devastating ramifications for those youths, their families and communities. Nearly half of all dropouts, and two-thirds of minority-student dropouts, are concentrated in 12 percent of America's high schools, which are concentrated mostly in large cities. Recruiting and equipping volunteers and tutors to work with youths to improve educational achievement and high-school graduation rates will be a priority in a McCain administration. This effort may lead to a cross-sector collaboration that will provide incentives for youths completing high school, including education and training opportunities that lead to employment through vocational schools, community colleges or universities.

More on the candidates' actions and words here.

MDG mania

Suddenly the world's media, which has been studiously ignoring the Millennium Development Goals to this point, has caught MDG fever, just in time for today's activities in New York City, in which the Episcopal Church will play a major role.

While Bono's blog for the Financial Times, (which is actually quite informative) and articles about Bono's blog for the Financial Times are generating some of the coverage, mainstream media outlets from around the world are weighing in on the political and economic nuts and bolts of the campaign to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

To wit:

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times explains why world leaders feel the U. S. financial meltdown may cripple the whole effort:

Wall Street and the Bush administration's record of financial oversight came under attack at the United Nations, with one world leader after another saying that market turmoil in the United States threatened the global economy.

"We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all," President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said in an opening speech Tuesday that reflected the tone of the gathering.

The Guardian has an excellent special section All Out on Poverty and an astute column by Leo Hickman which begins:

"We must do more – and we must do it now." This urgent call for action is being aired loudly in both New York and Washington DC this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress is being urged to accept Henry Paulson's $700bn bail-out for Wall Street's beleaguered banks, whereas just over 200 miles up Interstate 95 at the UN headquarters in Turtle Bay big wigs from around the world are pondering how the millennium development goals – this week marks the halfway point towards their 2015 target – are ever going to be met given the woeful progress to date.

It's at times like this where you really get to see the naked truth about where our worldly priorities lie. And it's pretty hard not to think about what $700bn would buy you if you were pushing the trolley around the Truly Worthy Causes supermarket.

Causes don't come much more worthy than the eight millennium development goals, which together form a panoply of unquestionably important aims: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. But as today's special Guardian supplement All Out On Poverty illustrates, we have a long, long way to go if we're ever to meet most of these goals, let alone by 2015 which seems as absurdly optimistic a deadline now as it did back in 2000 when it was first announced. In fact, with some goals we have arguably slipped into reverse gear rather than advance towards them.

For a brief overview of what the UN will be discussing this week, this AFP story isn't bad. The Age of Australia has a good overview of the entire MDG effort. Meanwhile, Washington Post has a helpful story about the contributions of Bill Gates and Howard and Warren Buffett in response to the world food crisis.

There are additional stories from Bangladesh, Nigeria, an editorial from Business Daily Africa (Kenya), a pessimistic appraisal of where the campaign stands from World Vision, India, and a personal vantage point provided by Queen Rania of Jordan on Slate.

So, I'm in NY this week wearing a couple of hats, shining a spotlight on the Millennium Development Goals and talking about the need for more sustainable development that will not only safeguard the environment, but also provide opportunity for the disenfranchised in society. It's something we're very interested in, in the Arab world.

I was invited to speak at Condé Nast's World Savers Awards conference amid the awesome and inspiring architecture of Gotham Hall. It was about the power of tourism to nurture our planet's precious resources while providing lasting economic opportunities for local communities.

I was there talking up the Middle East—not a region in conflict and turmoil, as many think, but a mosaic of cultures, stories, traditions, and warm, welcoming people.

Is the fact that Condé Nast has gotten into the act a good thing or a bad one?

U. S. abortion rate at 30-year low

The Guttmacher Institute has released a new report "Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974 to 2004" by Stanley K. Henshaw and Kathryn Kost.

The report finds that the abortion rate is currently at its lowest since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Most of the change is due to declining abortion rates among women aged 20 to 24 since 1989.

Other highlights:

Overall rates of abortion in the United States peaked soon after the procedure was legalized in 1973, remained fairly constant through the 1980s, and have declined steadily since then. However, the overall rate masks large differences and varying patterns across time for demographic subgroups.

A substantial drop in the abortion rates of teenagers and women aged 20–24 accounts for much of the overall decline from 1989 to 2004. During this period, the abortion rate of women in their 30s changed little, while the rate of women aged 40 or older increased.

The majority of abortions (57%) are obtained by women in their 20s. Minors account for fewer than 7% of all abortions.

Abortion is far more common among unmarried women than married women, although rates for both groups have dropped significantly in the past 15 years.

Abortion rates for all racial and ethnic groups have declined recently. The rates now range from 11 per 1,000 for non-Hispanic white women to 28 per 1,000 for Hispanic women and 50 per 1,000 for black women. The widely varying rates reflect differing patterns of contraceptive use, pregnancy and childbearing.

Black women account for 37% of abortions, non-Hispanic white women for 34%, Hispanic women 22% and women of other races 8%.

Most abortions occur before nine weeks’ gestation, and the proportion of very early abortions (<7 weeks) has increased substantially since 1994. The proportion of abortions performed after 12 weeks of pregnancy has changed little, and fewer than 0.2% take place after 24 weeks.

In 2004, 60% of women having abortions already had children, up from 50% in 1989.

Although 47% of abortions are obtained by women who have had a prior abortion, the proportion of second and subsequent abortions has recently begun to fall. There is no evidence that abortion is being used as a primary method of birth control.

Further research on abortion in the United States should focus on the circumstances facing women in the groups with the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.

You make the call

The guys at the Dallas Morning News' religion blog aren't saying whether the Kenyan preacher with an interest in witchcraft who prayed over Sarah Palin is "a problem or not a problem." But they have reproduced the evidence so viewers can decide for themselves. The Associated Press has also covered the story, as have the bloggers at Religion News Service and the Washington Monthly, where Steve Benen writes:

Stepping back, people will, of course, draw their own conclusions about a national candidate who is (or was) a practicing Pentecostal, attending a church where people speak in tongues, where the pastor seems preoccupied with witches. Voters' comfort levels will vary, and I'm still inclined to think politicians' spiritual beliefs, whether part of the mainstream or not, are a personal matter.

Interfaith Alliance pushes non-partisan pulpit pledge

From the Interfaith Alliance:

The boundaries between religion and government rarely have seen the level of threat they face during this election season. Candidates on both sides of the aisle have used religion inappropriately as a political tool, and now, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is preparing to launch a direct attack on religious liberty by encouraging clergy to violate the safeguards that have protected religion in America for generations.

The ADF is asking clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit and purposefully violate their tax-exempt status in order to force a court case. This is a very real threat to religious freedom given the current Supreme Court’s willingness to set aside precedent in favor of weakening the separation of church and state. Last year’s decision in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, in which the court eroded taxpayers’ standing to sue over government spending that violates the separation of church and state, should serve as an early indicator of the Court’s direction not just on clergy endorsements, but also on sound science and reproductive rights – issues at the heart of religious liberty.

In response, the alliance is calling on clergy to sign a pledge :

To educate members of our congregation about how our faith relates to issues of the day.

To refrain from endorsing any candidate, either explicitly or implicitly, in or on behalf of our house of worship.

To prevent partisan speech from candidates or their surrogates, as well as the distribution of partisan materials, in our house of worship.

To resist using or soliciting the resources of our house of worship for the exclusive benefit of any candidate or party.

To respect candidates whose religious beliefs are different from my own, and stand against the use of religion to divide our communities.

To encourage members of our congregation to take an active role in civic life, including casting informed votes.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop John Bryson Chane and Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish are among those who have signed the pledge.

See also Dean Sam Candler's essay on Daily Episcopalian.

Making no inroads

Mark Silk writes: The news is beginning to sink in that Obama has not managed to change the voting preferences of the most religious white voters, evangelicals especially.To explain why Obama's "much vaunted religious outreach campaign...isn't working" pastordan has recourse to the idea that it's just very difficult to move socially conservative evangelicals.

Did your priest endorse anyone today?

As we previously reported, today is "Pulpit Freedom Sunday", a day designated by the Alliance Defense Fund for ministers and other religious leaders to challenge the half century IRS prohibition on political speech by churches. To challenge that rule, several pastors plan to defy the ban by making endorsements from the pulpit. And, as we previously reported, many other religious leaders have challenged the wisdom of this challenge.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good analysis of issues involved:

During sermons this Sunday, some 35 pastors across the country will tell their congregations which presidential candidate they should vote for, "according to the Scriptures."

Their endorsements represent a direct challenge to federal tax law, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan political activity.

The clergy have embraced that risk, hoping their actions will trigger an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, which would then enable a Christian legal advocacy group to take the IRS to court and challenge the constitutionality of the ban.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal group based in Arizona, recruited the pastors for "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" to press their claim that the IRS tax code violates the free speech of religious leaders.

"I have a First Amendment right to say whatever I want to say, and I've never thought it was appropriate that as a pastor I could not share my political concerns with the congregation," says the Rev. Gus Booth, pastor at Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn.

Mr. Booth will endorse Sen. John McCain on Sunday, and has already told his congregation that as Christians, they could not vote for Sen. Barack Obama due to his position on abortion.

For other clergy – and legal experts – this is not a question of free speech, but an act contrary to the law that could also be dangerous for religion, potentially dividing and politicizing congregations.

"This is not a free speech issue," says the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. "Any person, including a pastor, can endorse a candidate as a private individual. And if a church wants to do it, it can give up its tax-exempt status."

He and another Ohio pastor held a press conference Sept. 8 inviting clergy to preach against such partisan activity, and more than 100 pastors in several states did so on Sept. 21, says Mr. Williams.

The Ohio pastors also sent a complaint to the IRS requesting an investigation of the ADF and whether its initiative violated its charity status. They had the support of three former IRS officials who criticized the ADF for encouraging clergy to violate the law by endorsing political candidates.

. . .

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which mails letters to churches alerting them to the IRS rules and has reported alleged violators to the IRS, issued a warning that, "Taking part in this reckless stunt is a one-way ticket to loss of tax exemption."

The IRS says its first goal has always been education on the issue. It plans to "monitor the situation and take action as appropriate."

Read it all here. See also Dean Sam Candler's essay on Daily Episcopalian.

Pastors seek free speech subsidy

Yesterday, at the urging of the conservative Allied Defense Fund, some 33 pastors endorsed a presidential candidate (John McCain, presumably, and ironically, given his history with right wing religious leaders) in an effort to provoke a legal showdown with the Internal Revenue Service.

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution's story is representative.

The Rev. Jody Hice fired a verbal volley Sunday in a battle that he believes will return the United States to its American Revolutionary roots.

From his pulpit at Bethlehem First Baptist Church outside of Atlanta, he urged his congregation to vote for Sen. John McCain and to not vote for Sen. Barack Obama.

He based his recommendations on McCain’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage and Obama’s support of those issues, Hice told the Barrow County church packed with about 400 listeners.

“These are not political issues,” Hice said. “There are moral issues.”

They may be moral issues, but Internal Revenue Service regulations say clergy cannot make public political endorsements to their congregations without risking the tax-exempt status of their house of worship.

Perhaps the most revealing quote comes for a story from The Los Angeles Times via The Baltimore Sun:

"I am angry because the government and the IRS and some Christians have taken away the rights of pastors," (Southern Baptist minister Wiley S.) Drake said to about 45 people at his service. "I have a right to endorse anybody I doggone well please. And if they don't like that, too bad."

The Rev. Drake does have the right to endorse anybody he chooses--but not from his pulpit. This isn't because the IRS has taken away his right to free speech, it is because they don't think taxpayers should subsidize his right to free speech. If his church wants to pay taxes on its income, it can endorse whomever it wants as publicly as it pleases.

The Rev. Drake and his allies don't want the same rights as everyone else, they want special rights for religious leaders.

Values voters: it's my pocketbook at issue

Steven Waldman:

Inspired by the Twelve Tribes of Biblical Israel and based on the new National Survey of Religion and Politics conducted by the University of Akron, the Twelve Tribes looks at the unique behavior of different faith groupings such as Heartland Culture Warriors, Whitebread Protestants, Convertible Catholics and others. (Click here for the full Twelve Tribes lowdown.)

Overall, the Twelve Tribes survey showed that just 13% of voters listed moral issues as their primary concern, half the percentage as in 2004.

Among members of the Religious Right, the percentage emphasizing social issues plummeted to 37.2% from 50.7%, while the portion emphasizing the economy rose to 40% from 18%. Among the Heartland Culture Warriors – consisting of conservative Catholics, conservative mainline Protestants and Mormons — 57% now list the economy first, compared with 28% in 2004.

Prop 8 through the lens of 1 Corinthians

Mad Priest pointed us to this video, which speaks in opposition to California's Proposition 8 and is based on 1 Corinthians 13.

The San Jose Mercury News writes:

Ratcheting up a media barrage that will spill into millions of California living rooms, proponents of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage broadcast their first TV ads Monday, charging that permanent legalization could endanger religious freedom or change schools' curriculum, charges whose veracity were challenged by legal experts.

ProtectMarriage.com's $10 million media buy puts its new pro-Proposition 8 television ad in every major media market in the state "” more markets than its chief opposition group is currently targeting.

With Prop 8 trailing in the polls, ProtectMarriage.com is trying to highlight the broader effects of gay rights legislation and court decisions in its specific support for a ban on same-sex marriage, a strategy that underscores the different tactics the two campaigns are using to woo undecided voters.

The anti-Prop. 8 group Equality California's first ad, which aired last week, focuses on the effect the initiative would have on one family, featuring a gray-haired couple married for 46 years, Sam and Julia Thoron, talking about how they want all of their three children to have equal rights to marry, including their lesbian daughter.

"Please don't eliminate that right "” for anyone's family," says Julia Thoron.

Mad Priest says simply: "This will get you through the day whatever is thrown your way. If it doesn't then you are a clanging cymbal."

The Mercury News: Gay Marriage: Both sides unleash Prop. 8 TV ads

Tempted by politics

Mark Galli responds in Christianity Today to the effort by some pastors to challenge the IRS rules that bar the use of the church for political purposes:

This yearning to tell congregations how to vote arises out of a godly desire to teach how to live daily the Christian life, in political season and out. Politics is nothing if it is not about daily life. Whether it's the place of creationism in the local high-school curriculum, or how many immigrants to welcome into the country, or how much to spend on defense versus welfare — all political decisions affect our Day-Timers or our Form 1040. They influence things like how much our investments earn or what values our children imbibe in the public square.

Pastors are driven by a righteous desire to shape not just church members but also their communities according to biblical standards of justice and mercy.

But these same pastors often hanker to be relevant — and this is nothing but the Devil's third temptation of Jesus. When chatter about candidates and platforms fills the airwaves, when everyone pontificates about the last debate or recent TV appearance, you can seem out of touch with reality or too timid if you don't join in the national conversation and take a public stand. Who wants to go to a church led by an irrelevant coward?

These pastors — and congregations that are egging them on — don't realize that in endorsing political candidates or platforms, they are selling their inheritance for a mess of pottage. Two examples should suffice: the late Jerry Falwell, and the current Jim Wallis — both Christian ministers. When all is said and done, what are they both known for? Falwell was considered a champion of political what most call "the Religious Right", and Wallis is usually identified as a "[politically] liberal evangelical."

Both have said — sincerely, I believe — that their highest priority is serving and proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ. But given the insidious nature of politics (it aims to co-opt everything and everyone into its service), ministers' Christian identity gets swallowed up by their political views. They were ordained to be heralds of the Great King. Instead they end up, like it or not, being seen as marketers for a partisan agenda. What a waste of an ordination.

. . .

Pastors are right about this much: The election season is a unique moment in a church's life, but not because the pastor has the chance to lobby for his candidate. No, the Christian preacher has the unparalleled opportunity to act as the only sane person in a nation mad for power, the only voice in an ephemeral season filled with lies and half-lies to speak abiding truths — that elections (even "the most important in a generation") come and go, that princes (even "the most gifted in a lifetime") appear and pass away, that nations (even "the greatest in history") rise and fall.

And that something greater remains after the first Tuesday in November.

Read it all here.

Church can change fate of trafficked women

Premier Christian Media has produced a thought-provoking resource for churches as they campaign against human trafficking as part of 'Not for Sale' according to Christian Today:

The poster, which is intended to be displayed on church notice boards features the faces of two women, one glamorous and healthy, the other beaten and destitute.

"We hope the poster will dispel the widespread myth that women involved in prostitution lead a glamorous and happy life, when in fact many are enslaved and forced to service men against their will," presenter and campaign member, Maria Toth commented.

"The 'Not for Sale' poster highlights the real face of prostitution - women, many of whom are trafficked from other parts of the world and forced into a life of modern slavery here in the UK."

Premier states: "Because of their plight we're asking that churches display the poster on their notice boards and encourage their congregation to sign a letter of support online here." Also at the website, a variety of resources for churches and individuals, including an introductory short film, fact sheet, poster as well as a printable petition.

Read more here.

A counterintuitive question

Tom Heneghan at Reuters' FaithWorld blog asks a counterintuitive question: Could pro-choice Obama reduce the U.S. abortion rate?

The Matthew 25 Network, which calls itself “pro-life pro-Obama,” says “an Obama administration will do more than a McCain administration for the cause of life, by drastically reducing abortions through giving women and families the support and the tools they need to choose life.”

Over at Beliefnet, editor-in-chief Steve Waldman has two very interesting posts about this. The first one says that Obama supports Medicaid funding for abortion, which obviously would make getting one easier. The Democratic candidate also supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which “would wipe out state laws, including moderate ones that merely require parental notification for teens seeking abortion.” So it looks like total abortions would rise during an Obama administration.

But Waldman’s second post points to a rarely discussed aspect of the abortion issue: “during Democratic administrations (pro-choice administrations) the average annual abortion rate is virtually identical to that under Republican administrations.” There may be something to the Matthew 25 claim, he says, “however, Barack Obama has severely undermined his ability to make such an argument.”

Faith in Public Life's intriguing polls

Faith in Public Life, one of the more influential outfits on the religious left, has released two polls that have caught the attention of religion blogs run by mainstream media outlets.

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post suggests the pool data points to a "truce in the culture wars." She writes:

The poll ... concluded that attitudes about hot-button issues such as abortion, legal recognition of same-sex relationships and the size of government are changing among young people -- possibly shifting or weakening the culture wars.

"What we see is younger Americans, including younger Americans of faith -- they are not the culture war generation," said Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research. "They are bridging the divides that have entrenched the older generation."

The Dallas Morning News and Reuters note that John McCain is the choice of voters who attend church weekly, but that Barack Obama seems to be the choice of people who attend church once or twice a month. Reuters also picks up on some intriguing findings about what church goers in various denominations hear from the pulpit:

[The poll] found that among the white evangelicals and black Protestants surveyed, 67 percent said their pastor speaks out about the issue of homosexuality — among Catholics that number drops to 37 percent.

But Catholics at 78 percent were the most likely to hear about abortion while attending a religious service.

Hunger and poverty topped the list of what Americans from a range of Christian denominations hear in church. Among white mainline Protestants, 88 percent reported their clergy speaking about such things; among Catholics, 90 percent did.

Immigration was at the bottom of the list. Among white evangelical Protestants only 12 percent reported their pastors speaking about the issue.

Find out more about the survey.

AP report: Palin blurs church-state lines

Garance Burke reports:

The camera closes in on Sarah Palin speaking to young missionaries, vowing from the pulpit to do her part to implement God's will from the governor's office.

What she didn't tell worshippers gathered at the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown was that her appearance that day came courtesy of Alaskan taxpayers, who picked up the $639.50 tab for her airplane tickets and per diem fees.

An Associated Press review of the Republican vice presidential candidate's record as mayor and governor reveals her use of elected office to promote religious causes, sometimes at taxpayer expense and in ways that blur the line between church and state.

Meanwhile, a rally for John McCain in Davenport, Iowa, opened with a peculiar invocation from a local minister, which the McCain campaign later disavowed. And Joe Biden was back in Scranton yesterday with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They drew a crowd of 6,000 people, which no doubt irked the local Catholic bishop in the heavily Catholic city.

What the presidential candidates believe

PBS Religion and Ethics Weekly produced a special report, using clips from various appearances, on how each candidate for president and vice president views his or her faith. Kim Lawton, producer of this program also speaks with leaders of the various faith traditions of the candidates.

All four candidates describe themselves as Christians, but they talk about their faith -- and apply it to their politics -- in very different ways.

Barack Obama:

Barack Obama has been the most outspoken about matters of faith, even though a survey last month found that 46 percent of Americans were still unable to correctly identify him as a Christian.

Obama says he was not raised in a religious household. But when he arrived in Chicago as a young community organizer he says he realized something was missing from his life. He visited Trinity United Church of Christ and went forward during an altar call given by its controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

John McCain:

[John] McCain was raised in the Episcopal Church and attended an Episcopal school in Virginia. He learned the Anglican liturgy and memorized the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, two of the oldest statements of traditional Christian doctrine. McCain says he drew heavily on those for spiritual strength during his captivity in North Vietnam.

Joe Biden:

Joe Biden frequently identifies himself as a Roman Catholic, but he rarely speaks in-depth about religious issues... Biden spent his early childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where St. Paul's Catholic Church was a central part of his family's life. He went to Catholic schools and even briefly considered becoming a priest.

In his book, "Promises to Keep," he wrote: "My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion." He attends Mass nearly every Sunday and says he carries a rosary.

But Biden has been in conflict with the Catholic Church over the issue of abortion. Earlier this year, the U.S. Catholic bishops took him to task for what they called his "flawed moral reasoning" in saying he's personally opposed to abortion but supports a woman's right to choose.

Sarah Palin:

Church has played an important role in Sarah Palin's life, although she too has been very private about her personal faith. As an infant, Palin was baptized a Roman Catholic, but then her parents began attending the Wasilla Assembly of God Church. That local congregation is part of the Assemblies of God, an international Pentecostal denomination which has a conservative evangelical theology and emphasizes manifestations of the Holy Spirit. ...

Moderator Kim Lawton wonders, "Does it matter what a candidate believes? According to an August survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, nearly half of all Americans say they get uncomfortable when politicians talk about how religious they are. But at the same time, more than 70 percent of Americans say they do want a president with strong religious beliefs."

Watch and listen here.

Mainliners breaking for Obama

Steve Waldman:

[A]n ABCNews/Washington Post poll released Monday showed Sen. Obama now leading among Mainliners 53%-44%, indicating that the undecided voters are breaking heavily for the Democratic candidate.

Why? The superficial answer is, as with so many other questions, the economy. In Beliefnet’s Twelve Tribes study, 68% of centrist Mainliners (what we called “White Bread Protestants”) said the economy was the No. 1 issue compared with just 4% who said social issues.
But that only gets at part of the riddle.
In some ways, Sen. McCain is actually an ideal candidate to appeal to this group – a mainline Christian himself (raised Episcopalian), he talks about fiscal discipline and earmarks.

The Mainline shift to Sen. Obama may be partly an unintended consequence of Sen. McCain’s efforts to energize evangelical Christians, including through the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Though fiscally conservative, mainline Protestants are socially liberal – so they would be unimpressed by the Republican Party adopting the most antiabortion platform ever. Mainliners may be irritated or scared by Gov. Palin’s religious language and beliefs – including her attendance at a Pentecostal church espousing “End Times” theology (that we’re approaching the end of the world and Christ’s return).

Waldman's entire column is available here.

Meanwhile, Chad Groening at OneNewsNow writes:

Dr. Charles W. Dunn, dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University, believes that even if Obama wins, Americans should give John McCain credit for picking Sarah Palin as his running mate.

"She is the heir apparent to conservative leadership. She is the heir apparent to having the mantle of Ronald Reagan bestowed upon her. She is the heir apparent to becoming the Margaret Thatcher of America," Dunn contends. "If she does not stub her toe along the way, she has a very bright future."
OneNewsNow is a division of the American Family Network.

Latino missioner sleeping a little easier

"Don't be surprised when there's a [expletive] bullet in the back of your [expletive] brain," the caller said in a message."

That's the message that the Rev. Simon Bautista, Latino missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, found on his answering machine in May. Now a suspect has turned himself in.

The Washington Post has the story:

A 34-year-old Maryland man was arrested yesterday on charges of making bomb threats against CASA of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group based in Silver Spring.

Wesley J. Queen II of Pasadena turned himself in to Montgomery County police and was being held on a $250,000 bond, authorities said. He faces two counts of "false statements -- threatening to use a destructive device" and two counts of telephone misuse.

CASA of Maryland runs four day-labor centers, where workers can gather while waiting to be picked up for jobs. On May 18, police said, Queen made telephone calls to CASA and to a CASA staff member's cellphone. The staff member, Mario Quiroz, said the caller told him, "You shouldn't be surprised if your places start blowing up in pieces," according to a police report on the incident.

WNBC has video.

(Editor's note: Simon's office is across the hall from mine and he played the message for several of us back in May. It was chilling. The fact that we were able to trace the call using just the caller ID function on Simon's phone was somewhat reassuring as it made us question the caller's intelligence. On the other other hand, just because someone isn't bright,doesn't mean they aren't dangerous.)

Mainline churches and politics

Ed Kilgore (an Episcopalian, by the way) and Beliefnet's Steve Waldman have interesting posts about the importance of members of mainline churches this election. Here is Ed's take:

If you're not religious yourself, and derive your impressions of Christianity in this country from the news media and the shouting of self-appointed Prophets, you'd be excused for thinking that Christians are pretty much all divided into Catholics and conservative evangelical Protestants. Sure, you might be dimly aware that there was once a large group of people called Mainline Protestants, but they're a relic of the past, decimated by their wishy-washy liberalism and reluctance to leap into politics to defend infallible truths.

But despite many predictions by both secularists and religious conservatives that they are a dying breed, the fact is that Mainline Denominations (as measured by affiliation with that quintessential "liberal" institution, the National Council of Churches) represent 45 million Americans, which is a lot more than a few. They're a diverse group, to be sure, including denominations like the Eastern Orthodox churches which are quite conservative on many cultural issues. But by and large, they have dissented conspicuously from the Christian Right movement, and its alliance with conservative politicians.

. . .

For a long time, the GOP was able to count on the residual loyalty of Mainline Protestants while devoting virtually all of its religious outreach to conservative evangelicals and "traditionalist" Catholics. But shirking these Mainline believers, while allying themselves with religious spokesmen who frequently speak of Mainliners as little more than pagans who like singing hymns, is a gamble that has finally caught up with the Republican Party. And this backlash has not been helfpul to John McCain, a Mainline Episcopalian by birth who now calls himself a Southern Baptist.

Read it all here.

Waldman offers some interesting analysis about what is happening this year:

This used to be a solidly Republican group. In 2004, they went for President George W. Bush 54%-46%. This summer, John McCain was leading Sen. Obama among these voters 43% to 40%, according to a study by John Green of the University of Akron.

But an ABCNews/Washington Post poll released Monday showed Sen. Obama now leading among Mainliners 53%-44%, indicating that the undecided voters are breaking heavily for the Democratic candidate.

Why? The superficial answer is, as with so many other questions, the economy. . . .

But that only gets at part of the riddle.

For one thing, Mainliners are traditionally conservative on economics - and surveys indicate that if anything they've become more skeptical of big government since 2004. Slightly more than four in 10 "white bread Protestants" call themselves conservative compared with 16% who say they're liberal. In some ways, Sen. McCain is actually an ideal candidate to appeal to this group - a mainline Christian himself (raised Episcopalian), he talks about fiscal discipline and earmarks.

The Mainline shift to Sen. Obama may be partly an unintended consequence of Sen. McCain's efforts to energize evangelical Christians, including through the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Though fiscally conservative, mainline Protestants are socially liberal - so they would be unimpressed by the Republican Party adopting the most antiabortion platform ever. Mainliners may be irritated or scared by Gov. Palin's religious language and beliefs - including her attendance at a Pentecostal church espousing "End Times" theology (that we're approaching the end of the world and Christ's return).

In general, Mainliners have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the role the "religious right" has played in the Republican Party. According to a new survey by a progressive group called Faith in Public Life, Mainliners - by a margin of two to one -- believe public officials are too close to religious leaders. Evangelicals, by a two to one margin, think politicians should pay more attention to religion.

If you view the campaign as a chess game, Sen. McCain made a bold and successful gambit to shore up evangelicals by picking Gov. Palin - but thereby left several other pieces on the board vulnerable.

Read it all here.

Florida faith leaders rally against gay marriage ban

From The Miami Herald:

A coalition of religious leaders from across Florida joined forces Thursday to speak against a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Florida Clergy for Fairness, a group of interfaith clergy, say that Amendment 2 is mean-spirited and an infringement upon the religious freedoms of all Floridians.

''Hatred and bigotry are the motivations behind this,'' said Father Frank Corbishley, an Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Miami, during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. ``It's sending a dangerous message about intolerance.''

The measure, called the Marriage Protection Amendment, will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot and needs 60-percent voter approval for passage.

Fighting poverty with faith

From the Center for American Progress:

Faith communities across the nation held a week of action on poverty this September, calling upon political candidates and leaders to address the issue during their first 100 days in office and to pledge their efforts to cut poverty in half within 10 years. The "Fighting Poverty with Faith" action campaign brought together a coalition of nearly 100 religious communities in 36 states to draw attention to America's poor and create a mandate to reduce poverty in a significant way.

The interfaith coalition hosted local summits and social justice workshops, mobilized food and clothing drives, organized sermons, and more. The week ended with an interfaith prayer vigil in Washington and a call to action, urging members of Congress and the administration to pass legislation that will end poverty and hunger in America.

The problem is stark. Over 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line, constituting a population larger than the 25 smallest states combined. As a result, the state of poverty is now the largest state in the union. One in eight Americans is poor. One child in six is poor. And the numbers are growing. From 2000 to 2007, the number of children living in poverty increased by 15 percent. The income gap is growing as well. In 2007, the richest 20 percent of Americans had over 50 percent of the nation's income, while the poorest 20 percent had only 3.4 percent.

Bush administration okays religious discrimination in hiring

The New York Times has the story:

In a newly disclosed legal memorandum, the Bush administration says it can bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that hire only staff members who share their faith.

The administration, which has sought to lower barriers between church and state through its religion-based initiative offices, made the claim in a 2007 Justice Department memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel. It was quietly posted on the department’s Web site this week.

The statutes for some grant programs do not impose antidiscrimination conditions on their financing, and the administration had previously allowed such programs to give taxpayer money to groups that hire only people of a particular religion.

But the memorandum goes further, drawing a sweeping conclusion that even federal programs subject to antidiscrimination laws can give money to groups that discriminate.

Atheists and politics

Peter Steinfels' column yesterday focused on the challenge that atheists face in organizing political activity:

As an atheist, Ms. Norman felt indignant about what she considered an intrusion of religious dogma into public policy. So she decided to hold a rally of like-minded nonbelievers, who might variously describe themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers or secularists. By various polls, such people accounted for nearly one-quarter of Colorado’s citizens.

Over two months, Ms. Norman made all the necessary arrangements — getting a parade permit, delineating the schedule for state officials, even buying a megaphone. She put out word about the rally not only through a variety of local atheist groups but also on the heavily trafficked Web site of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who has become a best-selling author for his broadside against religion.

When the appointed day of Sept. 28 arrived, no more than three dozen supporters joined Ms. Norman on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver. No newspaper covered the event. The speechmaking and picketing concluded a half-hour before the rally’s designated closing time.

“I was very disappointed because I put so much work into it,” Ms. Norman, 42, a model for art classes, said this week in a telephone interview. “And so did some other people. But we were the only ones there. The secular community as a whole seemed so indifferent. It wasn’t like nobody knew. It was like nobody cared.”

Ms. Norman’s exasperating effort to mobilize nonbelievers as a political constituency was not some local anomaly. The difficulty of delivering secular voters in the way numerous religious groups are routinely and effectively put into electoral action reflects a national trend.

Read it all here.

Biblical literalists vote white

The more literally one reads the Bible, the less likely a white voter is willing to cast his or her ballot for a racial minority, according to a Baylor University survey of religious attitudes and practices, as reported in the Waco [Texas] Tribune

Additionally, members of churches that are entirely white are more than two times less likely to vote for a nonwhite candidate, says Kevin Dougherty, assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University.

“One of the most powerful predictors of voting behavior is the color of the church they (voters) came out of,” said Dougherty, who specializes in the study of religion, race and ethnicity. “It’s really a startling thing.”

Sociologists and ethnographers have long decried 11 a.m. Sunday as “the most segregated hour of the week” in America, he said. But the Baylor study seems to put teeth into those words, quantifying what the potential impact of such social segregation might be.

“At our most intimate level, with whom we worship or sit down to dinner or go to bed, that is what makes it easier to divide the world into ‘us vs.them.’ It is easy to be distrustful of ‘the other’ when you have no reason to recognize that someone is ‘just like me,’ ” Dougherty said.

“In a big swath of America, life is still color-coded,” Dougherty said.

The level of religious service attendance had no effect, according to the survey. However, spiritual affiliation, view of the Bible and the racial composition of congregations did, he said

See the study and read the article here.

Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

Colin Powell had a lot to get off his chest in his endorsement of Obama on Sunday. Michael Paulson at Boston Globe's Article of Faith blog focuses on the Powell's remarks about Muslims:

Powell, speaking on "Meet the Press,'' is among the first major public figures to question why it is a slur to call a candidate a Muslim. While explaining his concerns about the McCain campaign to Tom Brokaw yesterday, Powell (an Episcopalian) said the following:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, 'Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America. I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.''
Read all of Paulson's post here. He provides additional links.

Could McCain or Obama come out and say the same thing?

Neither candidate has visited a mosque

Colin Powell's remarks (the right answer to whether Obama is a Muslim -- he isn't -- should be what if he was) seem to have motivated reporters to take a look at the state of Muslim attitudes towards both McCain and Obama. Muslims have the impression the candidates are keeping their distance.


Biviji said it hasn't always been easy for Muslim-Americans to support candidates who don't usually seem to support them.

"Neither candidate has visited a mosque," said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group. "It might not be a gesture that's the politically right thing to do, but it's the morally right thing," Rehab said. CAIR has registered thousands of Muslim voters across the country.
Asma Hasan echoed Rehab's frustration about the occasional fumbles of the candidates toward the Muslim community. She pointed to a June incident at an Obama rally.

Two women were told not to sit behind Obama because they were wearing head scarves. Campaign volunteers thought it would would look bad if the women were seen behind the candidate in a photo or on television.

The Obama campaign quickly apologized, and a campaign spokeswoman said that the incident was not reflective of Obama's message, according to the New York Times.

More recently, a woman at a McCain rally in Minnesota stood up and faced the candidate. She said she doesn't support Obama because "He is an Arab." McCain shook his head and replied, "No ma'am, no ma'am."

NPR, Obama's Absence Upsets Some Muslims, Arabs:
Siblani says both Obama and McCain have allowed the words "Arab" and "Muslim" to be hurled as pejoratives.

And Siblani says worst of all, neither candidate has made a significant effort to reach out to his community.

Siblani also heads the Arab American Political Action Committee, which for the first time is not endorsing a presidential candidate.

"When you are running for office, you're supposed to talk to all Americans. You're supposed to feel the pain and the suffering and the good and the bad, and form your agenda based on what people need," he says. "How could you exclude 3 and a half million Arabs and 6 million Muslims out of your campaign?"

Siblani says Muslims are angry with McCain. But he says many are disgusted with Obama, who he says wants the benefit of his community's vote without the liability of being seen with Arabs and Muslims.
Nadia Bazzy is a third-generation Lebanese-American. She says she's waiting for the day when people see her the same way they see people who worship in churches and temples.

"So while this is a campaign built on change, whether it's on the side of Obama or McCain saying he's going to change Washington, are the American people ready to think of Arabs and Muslims as Americans? And that's the major question," Bazzy says.

Should Muslims be more understanding of the political calculus that says they might be more respected in an Obama presidency, but that the odds of Obama winning would fall if he visited a mosque now?

Racism on the wane?

The Christian Science Monitor suggests that Barack Obama's viability as a presidential candidates indicates that racism may be on the wane in the United States.

This Associated Press story suggests otherwise, contending that racial prejudice could cost Obama the election:

Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them "lazy," "violent," responsible for their own troubles.

Then there is this item from the superb polling blog fivethirtyeight.com
which suggests the existence of racists for Obama.

And finally, here is the take of a Jesse Jackson impersonator on the "Bradley Effect" via Saturday Night Live's new Thursday show.

What do you think this election has shown us about the issue of race in American politics?

Something new in the abortion debate?

Father Thomas J. Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center writes:

After decades of debate over abortion, something new has occurred this year.

First, the Democratic Party is now not just using pro-choice language; it is also acknowledging the need to do something to reduce the number of abortions. Democrats, like presidential candidate Barack Obama are now willing to say that abortion is a moral issue--something the pro-choice lobby always opposed. Democrats are now promoting social and educational programs that will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and help pregnant women have their babies. In other words, after many years of insisting that abortion be legal and safe, the Democrats are finally emphasizing that it should be rare.

This new emphasis by the Democrats will not win over the hard-core pro-lifers, but it will make it easier for those, especially Catholics, who are concerned about abortion and other issues to vote Democratic.


The second change in the debate this year is within the pro-life community. The traditional pro-life strategy has been to try to make abortion illegal. This has meant supporting Republican candidates, even though Republicans have never delivered on their promises even when they controlled both houses of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court.

A small group of Catholic pro-lifers, exemplified by Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, has concluded that criminalization is a failed strategy. Overturning Roe v. Wade will simply return the issue to the states, where most states will keep it legal; and where it is illegal, women will simply drive to a neighboring state. These pro-lifers argue that abortion will not be criminalized in the foreseeable future and that it is time for pro-lifers to be more pragmatic and support candidates who will actually reduce the number of abortions through social programs that help women choose life when they get pregnant

Isn't it possible to argue that whether abortion is a sin is a matter of Church doctrine on which bishops are equipped to instruct the faithful and expect obedience, whereas the best means of diminishing the number of abortions is a matter of public policy and political calculation on which Catholics may have legitimate disagreements? And isn't it also possible to argue that bishops who instruct the faithful on matters of pubic policy and political calculation as though they were speaking on matters of doctrine are abusing their office? And finally, aren't bishops who withhold Communion from politicians who may agree with them on abortion as a matter of doctrine, but disagree with them on how best to diminish the number of abortions committing a grave sin?

An opening for action against poverty

From The Associated Press:

Left-leaning Christian and social activists see opportunity in an unconventional presidential race and a spiraling national economy: pushing poverty as an election issue. At a time when more than 37 million Americans are in poverty, including many who are newly poor and paying keen attention, spiritual leaders are encouraging the young to vote and urging voters to select candidates who will fight poverty. ....

The cause has resonated across party lines and denominations, said Elaine Clements, deacon of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in New Orleans. More liberal Episcopalians and Methodists are working alongside more conservative evangelicals and Baptists in a manner many say they have not seen this generation.

She said that every Wal-Mart patron she has approached in the economically stricken Tchoupitoulas neighborhood has readily signed a pledge to pick local, state and federal candidates this year with poverty foremost in mind.

Many Christians viewed the city's treatment after Hurricane Katrina as added evidence that the poor's needs were being overlooked, said Lisa Sharon Harper, of New York Faith & Justice.

“War and violence across the globe, the lack of compassion toward the poor during their time of most need in Katrina, and the collapse of an economic structure where Wall Street was made rich on the backs of the poor,” Harper said. “There's an open window that nobody really made. It's just time.”

Just so you know

From Think Progress:

On Saturday, Republican North Carolina Reps. Patrick McHenry and Robin Hayes warmed up the crowd at a rally for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by throwing red meat to the right-wing audience. As ThinkProgress noted, the New York Observer’s Jason Horowitz reported that Hayes “accused Obama of ‘inciting class warfare’ and said that ‘liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.’”

Hayes now says the remarks were "definitely not what I intended."

Godless in North Carolina: Bearing False Witness

The Campaign for Senate in North Carolina is close, and Senator Dole has decided to win the race by making false allegations about her opponent's alleged atheism. Here is the ad that Dole has been running:

The response by Kay Hagen, an elder at a local Presbyterian Church where she teaches Sunday school was quick, and effective:

At least one analyst, J.P. Green, thinks that Dole just lost the election by resorting to this tactic:

It appears that Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) has lost either her marbles or control of her campaign. Dole has unleashed a ridiculously bombastic ad that tries to slime her opponent, Kay Hagan as "Godless." Hagan has put in time as both a Sunday school teacher and church elder in a Greensboro Presbyterian church her family has attended for more than a century.

. . .

It's a huge blunder. No doubt Dole hopes to fire up her evangelical base for the home stretch. But Dole's absurd allegations are easily rebutted, given Hagan's clear record of commitment to her Christian faith. It's hard to see how Dole can get off scott-free from the consequences of such a silly accusation. And not all evangelicals are happy about what Hagan describes as Dole's 'false witness.' The latest NC Senate race poll average at Pollster.com has Hagan ahead by a margin of 46.6 to 43 percent. If the people of North Carolina are as decent as I think, Dole's ad could cost her the election.

I remember Dole once saying that her husband, Bob Dole's lagging campaign for the Presidency needed "adult supervision." It looks like her campaign has the same problem.

Read it all here.

What do you think?

A faith and politics 2008 election round-up

Even the political junkies among the editors of the Lead are ready for election day to come and go. Nonetheless, this has been a very interesting campaign season. Barack Obama is not merely the first African-American nominee of a major party. His campaign is the first Democratic campaign for President in decades to make an intentional outreach to so-called "values voters"--and with some success.

U.S.A. Today offers a good summary of the focus of the Obama campaign on faith voters:

When she was director of religious outreach for John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign four years ago, Mara Vanderslice could hardly have seemed lower on the campaign totem pole.

"I had one unpaid intern who didn't have a phone," she said. "We didn't have a budget, and they never let me talk to the press."

Her low status reflected a widely perceived unease in the Democratic Party at reaching out to voters on religious grounds.

Political observers say the changes are evident in advertisements on Christian music stations, biblical references in stump speeches, and networking with pastors, as Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and others in his party try to appeal to people who might view the party as hostile to religion.

"It could not have changed more in only four years," Vanderslice said. "The Obama campaign has six staff people (on religious matters). Josh DuBois (Obama's head of religious outreach) is actively speaking to the press. They're doing 'Faith and Family' tours."

For her part, Vanderslice has formed a political action committee called The Matthew 25 Network, choosing the name from a well-known biblical passage in which Jesus prods people to help the "least of these" — the poor. The group has raised about $300,000 and is working on behalf of Obama.

The Matthew 25 network has run three different advertisements on Christian radio. The first, "Sources of Hope" can be heard here. Another advertisement features pro-life conservative Douglas Kmiec defending Obama's position on abortion, and can her heard here.

Are these efforts working? It appears that Obama is getting support from values voters--most notably observant Catholics and members of mainstream denominations:

For a while this summer, Obama polled like a typical Democrat among this group—which is to say, he polled quite poorly compared to John McCain, who until late summer enjoyed an 18-point advantage among voters who attended church weekly or more. But as the race moves to a close, Obama is doing better than either John Kerry or Al Gore among religious voters: in mid-October the Pew Center released a poll suggesting that white mainline Protestants prefer Obama to McCain by 48-43, and that white Catholics prefer Obama 49-41. (With the same voters, Bush beat Kerry by 10 points and 13 points, respectively.) And, as Morris and others won’t let you forget, Obama is working uphill—against the 12 percent of the country that still believes he is a Muslim.

Read it all here.

Perhaps one reason that Obama has done well with values voters is that he has not bought into myths about what these voters are all about:

We use the term "values" to talk about deep things -- what is most important to people, what organizes their lives. "Family values," by contrast, is the term for a collection of transient political positions that began their prominent political life as "wedge issues" in the campaigns of the 1980s: opposition to abortion and gay marriage or support for prayer in school and teaching creationism.

Traditional values in the United States, Baker found, are very different than in other nations. Unlike nations where collective identity is based on common ancestry, in the United States, he wrote, the imagined community is "a shared set of ideas." These are the ideas of the Constitution: personal liberty, equality, democracy and the rule of law. America was invented, not inherited. Our traditional values don't come from the fatherland, the volk or an ancient regime. Nor are our most basic shared values a selection of moral positions held by conservative American Christians.

Seen in this way, it is clear that traditional American values are alive and well. Constitutional ideals have unchallenged legitimacy, as do the worth of family, religion (or spirituality) and national pride. This is a stark contrast to the countries that have radically rejected their traditional values: Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the former Eastern Bloc nations.

Read it all here.

Reflections on an election

US citizens go to the polls today to elect a new president. A historic election because of the candidates. The process has revealed both the progress we have made in overcoming our racist heritage and the continuing undercurrent of that disease in our national soul. Ads for and against candidates and gatherings of supporters have shown our worst and our best.

Read more »

What does the election mean to religion observers?

Christianity Today interviewed several religious political observers about the meaning of the election and what various outcomes might mean:

To both evangelicals and religion and politics scholars, Election Day is about more than just coloring in state lines. If they had their own CNN magic map, the graphics would show more than just red and blue. The focus would be on state ballot initiatives and where evangelicals land in exit-poll results. It might show whether California was rainbow colored and whether evangelicals were feeling more blue than usual. We asked several political observers what they are watching for tonight.

Read more »

How Obama won the faith and values vote

On Faith, a feature of the Washington Post offers an analysis of how President-elect Barack Obama won the election on the faith and values issues:

Now that Barack Obama is president-elect we have to figure out how issues pertaining to religion contributed to his victory. I will get to the exit-poll data tomorrow, but tonight I want to float the following theory: On the Faith and Values front Obama won this election, in part, because he avoided all the errors made by the Kerry campaign in 2004.

Read more »

How Obama sees religion's role

Back in 2006 Barack Obama delivered his 'Call to Renewal' Keynote Address. It perhaps encapsulates his views on role of religion in politics. In our president-elect's own words:

Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs.

Read more »

The Religious Right has not left the building

At Religion Dispatches, Bill Berkowitz writes:

Right off the bat, longtime leaders of the Religious Right, monitoring every move Obama’s transition team makes, will distribute angry press releases critical of Obama Administration appointees. Organizations will post heated blog entries and dash off Daily E-Mail Alerts to supporters cataloguing a host of Obama missteps including complaints about the reversal of a number of Bush Administration Executive Orders.

Conservative evangelical leaders will engage in a spirited and steadfast attempt to rebuild and reinvigorate a wounded movement, leading to the US Postal Service and direct mail companies experiencing a surge in business as urgent fundraising appeals pepper the mailboxes and inboxes of Religious Right supporters.

At its worst—as was done during the Clinton Administration—forums will be convened to discuss whether the Obama presidency is legitimate.

An Obama presidency will force the Religious Right to re-think its strategy and tactics; a process that has been happening over the past few years due to the deaths of several prominent conservative Christian evangelical leaders and the aging of others.

Support from surprising quarters

The Guardian asked several writers whether the United States is still "one nation under God." Here is how Judith Maltby replied:

At church the next day at my home parish, the sort of Episcopal parish that would give the Archbishop of Nigeria a heart attack, we prayed, as I have heard in every Episcopal church I've been in since the war began, for those serving under arms in Iraq and Afghanistan, including members of the parish. I can't recall when I last heard prayers for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in an English church. In England, perhaps, public prayers like that would be taken to imply support for the war. Nothing could be farther from the truth here and this is another way "one nation under God" manifests itself from perhaps a surprising quarter.

At the heart of all this is American exceptionalism – the belief that there is something special about the United States held by Americans of varied religious beliefs and none – it ought to be a country in which a seven-year-old Muslim American can aspire to be president. What seems to have divided Americans in this election is not disagreement over America's unique calling, but whether that vocation confers privilege or responsibility.

Studying the Catholic vote

Catholics are in a tight race with white evangelical Protestants for the most closely analyzed segment of the electorate.

Public Religion Research reports the following via Faith in Public Life:

Obama beat McCain soundly among Catholics (55% - 44%), performing better than Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000

* Among white Catholics, Obama narrowed the Republican advantage from Bush’s 13-point advantage (56% - 43%), with McCain holding only a 5-points advantage (52% -47%).

* In a few key states, Obama made significant gains.
In FL, Catholics swung from the Republican party to the Democratic party. Obama improved upon Kerry's Catholic performance by 16 percentage points, from trailing by 15 points in 2004 (57% - 42%) to leading by 1 point (50% - 49%) in 2008.
In IN, a 13-point GOP advantage in 2004 (56%-43%) disappeared, with Catholics split evenly between the candidates (50%-50%).
However, in PA, McCain won Catholics 54%-46%, increasing GOP advantage from Bush’s margin of 52%-48%.

The Catholic Bishop of Scranton was especially active on the Republican side in the run-up to the election. However, heavily Catholic Lackawanna Country, the largest jurisdiction in his diocese, went for Barack Obama by roughly 66,500 to 39,200.

Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe writes:

There must be a lot of disappointed Catholic bishops this morning -- dozens of them issued statements over the last few weeks suggesting that abortion should be the primary issue for Catholic voters, and yet it appears that a majority of Catholic voters opted for the abortion-rights supporting candidate in the race, Barack Obama, and helped him win the presidency. Obama's running mate, Joseph Biden, will become the first Catholic vice-president, but he, too, is a supporter of abortion rights.

Both he and the team at the Dallas Morning News blog feature the analysis of Father Tom Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, who wrote:

A closer look at the exit polls should be as discouraging for left-wing Catholics as for right-wing Catholics. Catholic voters did not embrace either the conservative non-negotiables or the church's preferential option for the poor. They were concerned about themselves and their families.

Will the abortion debate rise up again in four years at the next presidential election? A lot depends on President Obama and the Democratic Congress. If they push through the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), then they will have betrayed their pro-life Catholic supporters. This will make it nearly impossible for these people to support them again. On the other hand, if they make a priority the enactment of an abortion reduction bill, then it will be more difficult for the bishops and the Republicans to portray the Democrats as the pro-abortion party.

Equality takes work

The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, as 1850s abolitionist, Theodore Parker said but it takes arduous work. Today's NY Times editorial, Equality's Arduous Path, reiterates this need:

Amid the soaring oratory about the presidential election, it was Barack Obama who put it best late Tuesday night. “That’s the genius of America, that America can change,” he said. “Our union can be perfected.”

Read more »

Obama and evangelicals

Much has been written about Obama's success with evangelical voters. D. Michael Lindsay looks toward the future of the relationship of President Obama and evangelical leaders and comes to a few conclusions.

First, he speculates about whch evangelical leaders will have the President's ear:

So who will President-Elect Obama turn to when he wants to hear what the evangelical community is thinking? As has been the case with President Bush, he will first turn to members of his own administration who are evangelical. I expect Burns Strider, who once led religious outreach in Hillary Clinton's campaign, will serve somewhere, most likely in the office of public liaison. This is the office that was institutionalized by Presidents Nixon and Ford as a way of maintaining regular contact with core constituencies. There has been a person in this office tasked with religious outreach for over three decades. No one in the Democratic Party has done a better job reaching out to evangelicals in recent years than Strider, and although they were not on the same team in the primary season, I expect President-Elect Obama will count on him. . . .

There are also high-profile evangelical pastors who will have the president's ear. Kirbyjon Caldwell publicly supported George W. Bush in 2004 and then backed Barack Obama in 2008. Joel Hunter, who leads a church in Orlando prayed with Obama on Election Day and delivered the benediction on the closing night of this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver. Caldwell pastors Windsor Village United Methodist Church, the largest United Methodist congregation in North America, and frequently participated in conference calls with the Obama campaign.

Next, he argues that the religious right will be strengthened, not weakened by an Obama presidency:

Is the Obama presidency the final nail in the coffin for the Religious Right? Don't count on it. For one thing, political movements like the Religious Right don't need a "god" to succeed, but they do need a devil. Nothing builds allegiances among a coalition like a common enemy. Within the first few days of the new administration, the White House will reverse the so-called "Mexico City Policy" that bans all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding from performing abortions in other countries. President Clinton repealed this policy, first enacted by President Reagan and continued with President George H.W. Bush, on his first day in office in 1993. In 2001, President George W. Bush reenacted the policy upon entering the White House. The policy has become a political hot potato. Shortly after the inauguration, President-Elect Obama will, no doubt, repeal the policy and thereby reinvigorate the Religious Right, for whom abortion remains the defining policy issue.

Read it all here.

Archbishop Tutu on the Obama Victory

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has an essay in today's Washington Post about the Obama victory:

Against all this, the election of Barack Obama has turned America's image on its head. My wife was crying with incredulity and joy as we watched a broadcast of the celebrations in Chicago. A newspaper here ran a picture of Obama from an earlier trip to one of our townships, where he was mobbed by youngsters. It was tacitly saying that we are proud he once visited us.

Today Africans walk taller than they did a week ago -- just as they did when Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994. Not only Africans, but people everywhere who have been the victims of discrimination at the hands of white Westerners, have a new pride in who they are. If a dark-skinned person can become the leader of the world's most powerful nation, what is to stop children everywhere from aiming for the stars? The fact that Obama's Kenyan grandfather was a convert to Islam may -- shamefully -- have been controversial in parts of the United States, but elsewhere in the world, Obama's multi-faith heritage is an inspiration.

. . .

Obama's election has given Americans the message that hope is viable, that change is really possible. He galvanized huge numbers of his compatriots across the board, particularly young people who had become disillusioned with politics. He drew huge numbers of volunteers and raised record amounts of money, not just in donations from the wealthy but in relatively small amounts from many so-called ordinary people. Judging by the reception he received in Berlin earlier this year, he has given the world similar hope.

The renowned African scholar Ali Mazrui has pointed out that Obama could never have gotten as far as he has without an exceptional level of trust on the part of white Americans. In this, his achievement is similar to what Nelson Mandela had achieved by the end of his presidency; Mandela's party may never have drawn a majority of white votes, but he has come to be revered by white as well as black South Africans as the founding father of our democracy.

Mazrui likens Obama to Mandela in other ways, saying that both men share a readiness to forgive and show "a remarkable capacity to transcend historical racial divides." Both, Mazrui says, are "potential icons of a post-racial age which is unfolding before our eyes."

Such a post-racial age for me has the characteristics of a rainbow. We are in a different time now than when I first spoke of a rainbow nation, describing the South Africa that Mandela led for the first time in 1994. But my vision for such a place remains. It is a place where people of each race and cultural group exhibit their own unique identity, their own distinct attributes, but where the beauty of the whole gloriously exceeds the sum of its parts.

Read it all here.

Obama's 2004 faith interview

Steve Waldman gives the setup: "The most detailed and fascinating explication of Barack Obama's faith came in a 2004 interview he gave Chicago Sun Times columnist Cathleen Falsani when he was running for U.S. Senate in Illinois. ... Falsani has graciously allowed [beliefnet] to print the full conversation here."

Some excerpts:

OBAMA: ... I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.
FALSANI: So you got yourself born again?

OBAMA: Yeah, although I don't, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it's best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.
OBAMA: ... It's interesting, the most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I'm talking to a group and I'm saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I'm just being glib or clever.

FALSANI: What's that power? Is it the holy spirit? God?

OBAMA: Well, I think it's the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and an audience.
FALSANI: Can we go back to that morning service in 1987 or 88 [his altar call] -- when you have a moment that you can go back to that as an epiphany...

OBAMA: It wasn't an epiphany.

It was much more of a gradual process for me. I know there are some people who fall out. Which is wonderful. God bless them. For me it was probably because there is a certain self-consciousness that I possess as somebody with probably too much book learning, and also a very polyglot background.

FALSANI: It wasn't like a moment where you finally got it? It was a symbol of that decision?

OBAMA: Exactly. I think it was just a moment to certify or publicly affirm a growing faith in me.

Sounds like a good Episcopalian. The Episcopal Church welcomes you. As Bishop Whalon says, "I must say that I wouldn’t mind at all if they discovered the Episcopal Church! After all, St. John’s, Lafayette Square, will be right across the street." That's just one of many excellent options.

Read it all.

Credit where it is due

From the Associated Press:

President Bush, reflecting on his time in office, said Wednesday that "one of the most uplifting" experiences of his nearly eight-year tenure has been witnessing the gains Africa has made in education and fighting hunger and disease.

Speaking at a charity dinner, Bush called the work done for Africa by his administration and family "a labor of love." Before his remarks, he accepted the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, which pays tribute to leaders in humanitarian fields for Africa.

The dinner benefits Africare, a U.S.-based charity that aims to improve the quality of life in Africa by addressing needs in food security, agriculture, health and HIV/AIDS.

The story notes: "The dinner is in memory of Bishop John T. Walker, the first African-American Episcopal Bishop of Washington and the longtime chairman of Africare's board." The Diocese of Washington, which worked with the Bush administration to help secure grants from the President's AIDS and malaria initiatives for the Church of Southern Africa and the Diocese of Mozambique respectively, recently founded a school in Bishop Walker's honor.

Defending religious liberty by attacking civil liberty

It appears that some religious leaders believe that religious freedom and civil liberties cannot co-exist.

This line of reasoning has been popping up in the political discourse especially since the election two weeks ago: that the promotion of civil liberties for all to an attack on the religious freedom of some. The reasoning has appeared in Proposition 8 debate in California and in Roman Catholic circles since the election of Barack Obama.

The Dallas Morning News has a feature called Texas Faith. It is a weekly discussion that poses questions about religion, politics and culture to a panel of religious leaders. This week's question: "Is a compromise between religious liberty and gay civil rights regarding marriage possible – and if not, which of the two is more important?"

The question assumes that the religious liberty and civil liberties cannot co-exit. That one must always give way to the other. For example, one of the arguments used by opponents of gay marriage is that if passed, then religious groups will be forced by the government to perform them. Similarly, the claim is made that if access to abortion were protected then even religious hospitals would be forced to perform them.

The answers by some of the people approached by the Dallas Morning News deals with these tensions:

Read more »

CA court to hear Proposition 8 challenge

The Sacramento Bee reports that "the California Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to consider complaints by opponents of Proposition 8 that it improperly revised the constitution to ban gay marriage. The court declined to stay its enforcement in the meantime."

Court spokeswoman Lynn Holton said the court asked the parties involved to write briefs arguing three issues:

Read more »

Is God bad for the GOP?

Yes writes Kathleen Parker:

the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

No writes Daniel Larison:

Certainly there is an argument to be made that dead-end partisans qua dead-end partisans who cannot speak to anyone outside their party are a problem, and you can make the case that the holdouts who still think Bush has done a good job are complicit to some degree in all of his errors and crimes. Maybe there is some significant overlap with the so-called “oogedy-boogedy” set, but then the problem with them wouldn’t be their religiosity or their social conservatism or any of the cultural markers that freaked out every pundit east of the Appalachians when Mike Huckabee would start to speak. Instead, the problem is that they were too wedded to the Bush administration and its failed record, and they were too dependent on reciting the trite slogans they heard on the radio and read in syndicated conservative columns.

Your thoughts?

The single-issue faithful

Andrew Sullivan:

The American Family Association puts out a DVD showing how homosexuals have a plan to infiltrate and take over every small town in America in order to construct a new Sodom to terrorize your children. Or something like that. Is it my imagination or has the far right, salivating over their three anti-gay victories in the last election, decided that fear and loathing of homosexuals is now the fundamental tenet of American conservatism?

National Cathedral will host Inaugural Prayer Service

President-elect Barack Obama has accepted the Washington National Cathedral's invitation to host a prayer service in honor of his inauguration on Wednesday morning January 21. Details to come.

(And no, I can't help you get tickets.)

Newsweek poll finds "surge" in support for gay marriage


[T]he latest NEWSWEEK Poll finds growing public support for gay marriage and civil unions—and strong backing for the granting of certain rights associated with marriage, to same-sex couples.

Americans continue to find civil unions for gays and lesbians more palatable than full-fledged marriage. Fifty-five percent of respondents favored legally sanctioned unions or partnerships, while only 39 percent supported marriage rights. Both figures are notably higher than in 2004, when 40 percent backed the former and 33 percent approved of the latter. When it comes to according legal rights in specific areas to gays, the public is even more supportive. Seventy-four percent back inheritance rights for gay domestic partners (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 73 percent approve of extending health insurance and other employee benefits to them (compared to 60 percent in 2004), 67 percent favor granting them Social Security benefits (compared to 55 percent in 2004) and 86 percent support hospital visitation rights (a question that wasn't asked four years ago). In other areas, too, respondents appeared increasingly tolerant. Fifty-three percent favor gay adoption rights (8 points more than in 2004), and 66 percent believe gays should be able to serve openly in the military (6 points more than in 2004).

Culture wars and healthcare workers

Dahlia Lithwick notes that the rights of health care workers is the new battleground in the abortion debate, but argues that the trend is really about empowering only one side of the debate:

What does it tell us about the state of the abortion wars today that battles once waged over the dignity and autonomy of pregnant women have morphed into disputes over the dignity and autonomy of their health care providers instead? Two of the most pitched battles over reproductive rights in America right now turn on whether health workers can be forced to provide medical services or information to which they ethically or professionally object. But as we learn from these fights, our solicitude for the beliefs of medical workers is selective: Abortion opponents will soon enjoy broader legal protections than ever. Those willing to provide abortions, on the other hand, seem to enjoy far fewer. And women seeking reproductive services? They will continue to be caught in the tangle between the two.

Read more »

Shock: evangelical leader is honest about evangelical voting trends

Affinity-group politics took second place to competence for Chief Lobbyist and Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Richard Cizik when he walked into the voting booth this year. What he has to say shows the shift in thinking (and possible split) among politically active evangelicals.

Evidently he is not alone. In an interview with Terry Gross on WHYY/NPR's Fresh Air, he cites the following trends:

32% of younger evangelicals voted for Obama

4 in 10 evangelicals know a gay person in their family, workplace or circle of friends who is out.

52% of younger evangelicals favor some form of civil unions or same-sex marriage or both.

Two-thirds of younger evangelicals would vote for a candidate even if they disagreed with the candidate on pro-life and gay marriage issues.

Younger evangelicals, Cizak says, are overwhelmingly pro-life but have a more pluralistic view than their older white counterparts.

LifeSite, a pro-life web-site, says under the headline "Shock: Evangelical Leader Believes in Gay Civil Unions, Says OK to Vote for Obama":

Read more »

Jon Stewart and Mike Huckabee debate marriage

Huckabee was on The Daily Show last night with his new book, "Do the Right Thing." Stewart asked why extending the benefits of marriage to all people wasn't doing the right thing. Watch it all (7 minutes). One choice quote from Stewart: "Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality, and the protections that we have for religion -- we protect religion. And talk about a lifestyle choice, that is absolutely a choice. Gay people do not choose to be gay. At what age did you choose to NOT be gay?"

In related news, New Jersey's "Civil Union Review Commission concluded that the state's two-year-old civil union law doesn't do enough to give gay couples the same protections as heterosexual married couples." (link)

Credit where it is due

Mona Charen may be beating the drum a little too hard, but the rhythm is right:

Read more »

Still more on the Obama family church search

PBS's religion newsweekly, "Religion and Ethics", featured yet one more story about which Washington, D.C. church might fit the Obama family. Among the churches featured (of course) is St. John's in Lafayette Park:

Read more »

Hope for the first 100 days

The PBS program Religion and Ethics Weekly is asking a range of religious leaders what they most hope for in the first 100 days of the Obama administration. Two Washington, DC ministers, Rev. Stephen Gentle, senior pastor of National City Christian Church, and Rev. Luis Leon, rector of of St. John’s Episcopal Church speak of their hopes.

Watch here.

Obama reaches across the aisle

Marc Ambinder:

Here's a bit of a surprise: Dr. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will give the formal invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. The good pro-life theologian first met Obama in 2006 at a Saddleback AIDS forum in California. Obama used the occasion to press the evangelical pastors present to embrace "realism" when they considered the issue; preach abstience, yes, but preaching against contraception can kill. (Here's some of what Obama said that day: "I know that there are those who, out of sincere religious conviction, oppose such measures. And with these folks, I must respectfully but unequivocally disagree. I do not accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence.")

When I interviewed Obama last year, he told me that the moment was integral to his decision to run for president; when was the last time, he had asked himself, when a Democrat had had such dialog with pastors about AIDS?

Who's not happy? The American Spectator and the Washington Blade.

Obama is likely to undo Bush-era abortion rules.

Added: Furor Over Rick Warren, Obama’s choice of evangelical leader sparks outrage, A Defense of Rick Warren, Could Rick Warren fill Graham's role as counselor to the president?, It's like the Lieberman thing, but even bigger!

Sarah Posner sensed the announcement in the air (see points 1 and 3). But on the announcement she finds herself "speechless."

Can you say "team of rivals?"

Opposing the death penalty in Maryland

The Rev. John L. Rabb, Suffragan Bishop of Maryland and the Rev. James J. Shand, Bishop of Easton wrote an op-ed for The Baltimore Sun opposing the re-institution of the death penalty in Maryland:

As Christians, church leaders and bishops in the Episcopal Church, we urge the General Assembly to act to abolish the death penalty ("Report fuels death debate," Dec. 13).

As Christians, we are guided by the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Here he specifically rejects retribution by stating that even the teaching in the Old Testament of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is to be rejected in favor of the teaching that calls for reconciliation (Matthew, 6:38).

Responding to killing with more killing will not make society less violent. Retaliating for death with death is not simply punishment but a further justification of violence as a way of life. We simply cannot kill our way out of the violence.

The uneven application of the death penalty also points to its fundamental unfairness. And the reality is that, as a result of prosecutorial discretion, the death penalty is most often used against people of color and poorer people.

The pick of Rick

There is a whole lot more coverage today of President-elect Barack Obama's decision to invite Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration. Some pundits suggest that Warren's selection is politically astute. Pastor Dan at Street Prophets is having none of it.

The Café has expressed its own doubts about Warren who has linked arms with the most outspoken homophobes in the Anglican Communion in their campaign against the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Chane expresses concern over Warren selection

From Bishop John Bryson Chane:

I am profoundly disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to offer the invocation at his inauguration. The president-elect has bestowed a great honor on a man whose recent comments suggest he is both homophobic, xenophobic, and willing to use the machinery of the state to enforce his prejudices—even going so far as to support the assassination of foreign leaders.

In his home state of California, Mr. Warren’s campaigned aggressively to deny gay and lesbian couples equal rights under the law, relying on arguments that are both morally offensive and theologically crude. Christian leaders differ passionately with one another over the morality of same-sex relationships, but only the most extreme liken the loving, lifelong partnerships of their fellow citizens to incest and pedophilia, as Mr. Warren has done. The president-elect’s willingness to associate himself with a man who espouses these views as a means of reaching out to religious conservatives suggests a willingness to use the aspirations of gay and lesbian Americans as bargaining chips, and I find this deeply troubling.

Mr. Warren has been rightly praised for his efforts to deepen the engagement of evangelical Christians with impoverished Africans. He has been justifiably lauded for putting the AIDS epidemic and global warming on the political agenda of the Christian right. Yet extravagant compassion toward some of God’s people does not justify the repression of others. Jesus came to save all of humankind, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, “All means all.” But rather than embrace the wisdom of Archbishop Tutu, Mr. Warren has allied himself with men such as Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda who seek to “purify” the Anglican Communion, of which my Church is a member, by driving out gay and lesbian Christians and their supporters.

In choosing Mr. Warren, the president-elect has sent a distressing message internationally as well. In a recent television interview, Mr. Warren voiced his support for the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These bizarre and regrettable remarks come at a time when much of the Muslim world already fears a Christian crusade against Islamic countries. Imagine our justifiable outrage if an Iranian cleric who advocated the assassination of President Bush had been selected to offer prayers when Ahmadinejad was sworn in.

I have worked with former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to improve the relationship between our two countries as hawkish members of the Bush administration pushed for another war. He has spoken at the National Cathedral, which will host the president-elect’s inaugural prayer service, and I have visited with him several times in Iran and elsewhere. Iranian clerics are intensely interested in the religious attitudes of America’s leaders. In choosing Mr. Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration, the president-elect has sent the chilling, and, I feel certain, unintended message that he is comfortable with Christians who can justify lethal violence against Muslims.

I understand that in selecting Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama is signaling a willingness to work with both sides in our country’s culture wars. I appreciate that there is political advantage in elevating the relatively moderate Mr. Warren above some of his brethren on the Religious Right. But in honoring Mr. Warren, the president-elect confers legitimacy on attitudes that are deeply contrary to the all-inclusive love of God. He is courting the powerful at the expense of the marginalized, and in doing so, he stands the Gospel on its head.

The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Eighth Bishop of Washington

Vatican backs decriminalization of homosexual activity

From the Associated Press:

The Vatican Friday urged governments around the world to decriminalize homosexuality but said a proposed U.N. resolution on the issue went too far.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Holy See's delegation explained the position at the United Nations late on Thursday, criticizing the wording of a European-backed text that champions decriminalization of homosexuality.

"The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them," read the delegation's remarks, released by the Vatican on its website (www.vatican.va) Friday.

"At the same time, the Holy See notes that the wording of this declaration goes well beyond the above mentioned and shared intent."

Meanwhile, AP reports that the United States has also refused to sign the UN document:

Alone among major Western nations, the United States refused to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.

In all, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the nonbinding declaration - which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with any-gay discrimination. More than 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution.

Gene Robinson on Rick Warren pick: a slap in the face

Updated with the Rev. Susan Russell's Open Letter to Barack Obama:

Rick Warren is a not only a vocal opponent of LGBT equality who does not believe in evolution, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His views are far outside the religious mainstream and his credentials are steeped in an “Old Time Religion” of narrow exclusionism that ill prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century.

From The New York Times:

V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, whose consecration caused a painful divide in his church because he is openly gay, said that when he heard about the selection of Mr. Warren, “it was like a slap in the face.”

Bishop Robinson had been an early public endorser of Mr. Obama’s candidacy, and said he had helped serve as a liaison between the campaign and the gay community. He said he had called officials who work for Mr. Obama to share his dismay, and been told that Mr. Obama was trying to reach out to conservatives and give everybody a seat at the table.

“I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” Bishop Robinson said, “but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

Robinson joins Bishop John Chane of Washington among Episcopal Church leaders who have criticized President-elect Brack Obama's choice. Warren is an ally of high profile African archbishops who are trying to break up the Episcopal Church and claim its property. An Episcopal church, Washington National Cathedral, is hosting Obama's inaugural prayer service.

Faith on Capitol Hill

From the Pew Forum:

Members of Congress are often accused of being out of touch with average citizens, but an examination of the religious affiliations of U.S. senators and representatives shows that, on one very basic level, Congress looks much like the rest of the country. Although a majority of the members of the new, 111th Congress, which will be sworn in on Jan. 6, are Protestants, Congress - like the nation as a whole - is much more religiously diverse than it was 50 years ago. Indeed, a comparison of the religious affiliations of the new Congress with religious demographic information from the Pew Forum's recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of over 35,000 American adults finds that some smaller religious groups, notably Catholics, Jews and Mormons, are better represented in Congress than they are in the population as a whole. However, certain other smaller religious groups, including Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, still are somewhat underrepresented in Congress relative to their share of the U.S. population.

Of note: [W]hile only 1.5% of American adults identify themselves as Episcopalians, 7.1% of Congress claims this affiliation.

Christmas in Zimbabwe

Life in Zimbabwe will hold very little for Christmas this year according to IRINnews reporting for the UN Office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs:

"This year's Christmas will be recorded as the worst in living memory for Zimbabweans; it will be the worst ever since independence [from Britain in 1980]" said Bulawayo resident Buhlebenkosi Sibanda, 46.

Read more »

Ten minutes with Gene Robinson

Religion News Service has an interview with The Right Rev. Gene Robinson in their 10 MInutes With... series:

Read more »

Sermons on Presidential Inauguration to be collected

The American Folklife Center announces that it will collect sermons and orations on the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

On January 20, 2009, the United States will inaugurate Barack Obama, the country’s first African American president. In anticipation of citizens’ efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009. It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The American Folklife Center is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible.

Read more about how to contribute sermons and orations here.

Alert on Gaza from Public Policy Network and ER-D

The Episcopal Public Policy Network has issued an alert on the situation in Gaza:

Because of the continuing siege in Gaza and its devastating toll, we are doing a second alert regarding the Middle East. We are asking that you send the Presiding Bishop's statement of January 5th to your Member of Congress. The 111th Congress has just been seated and it is important that they hear from you now on the situation in the Holy Land.

Read more »

Bishops oppose reinstituting death penalty in Maryland

An op-ed article by Bishops John Bryson Chane of Washington and Eugene Taylor Sutton of Maryland will appear on the Close to Home section of tomorrow's Washington Post, but it is online now:

For decades, many religious groups have voiced strong public opposition to capital punishment, believing that every human being is given life by God and that only God has the right to deny life. Of course, we understand that the state must seek justice and prosecute wrongdoing, but we cannot condone the state pronouncing a sentence of death for wrongdoing -- no matter how violent and brutal the crime. There is simply no moral justification for the state to execute a child of God in the name of justice.

The Episcopal Church has carefully studied the application of the death penalty in many states. In every case, it has concluded that the death penalty is unjust and ineffective. It is immoral to any who are seriously committed to the ethics of Jesus, who continually forbade violence as a means to solve problems caused by evil. It is unjust because of the hugely disproportionate number of poor and black defendants who receive the death sentence. It is a sad truth that many who are wealthy in our society are able to "buy" their way out of being executed by the state. When it comes to the death penalty, true justice comes with a price tag: "Justice paid is justice won." It is ineffective in that it has never been shown to deter the commission of violent crime, nor has it lowered the murder rate in any state that regularly executes its most violent criminals.

Still more on the Obama church search

Well this is an interesting twist on the story of the Obama family search for a church home: as Politico is reporting, the President-elect is suggesting that they are looking for a neighborhood church, rather than choosing among the larger downtown D.C. churches:

Barack Obama hinted in an interview on "This Week" on Sunday that he might choose a church outside the marble-monuments.

The church may not be in the "company town" part of D.C. but instead in one of the District's neighborhoods facing "enormous challenges," he said. He said he and wife Michelle would visit different churches to see what's comfortable but suggested that his goal on this and other matters will be, "to see if we can bring those two Washington D.C.s together."

Read it all here.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the interview:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, do you have a church here in Washington?

OBAMA: Not yet. And so, one of the things that Michelle and I will be doing is probably visiting some churches and seeing what’s comfortable.It is tougher as president. You know, this is not just an issue of going to church, it’s an issue of going anywhere. You don’t want to subject your fellow church members, the rest of the congregation, to being magged every time you go to church. And so, we’re going to try to be balancing, not being disruptive to the city, but also saying we want to be part of Washington D.C.

But one of the things that I don’t like historically about Washington is the way that you’ve got one part of Washington, which is a company town, all about government, and is generally pretty prosperous. And then, you’ve got another half of D.C. that is going through enormous challenges. I want to see if we can bring those two Washington D.C.s together.

Any suggestions?

Obama names minister for prayer service

President-elect Barack Obama has selected a minister to give the sermon at the prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration, and she is decidedly different than Rev. Rick Warren:

President-elect Barack Obama has selected the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration.

Ms. Watkins, the first woman ever selected to lead the service, is the president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a small, liberal-leaning Protestant denomination with 3,754 congregations and about 690,000 members in the United States and Canada. Ms. Watkins was elected to the post in 2005, the first woman ever chosen to lead a mainline Protestant denomination.

But Ms. Watkins is not well known nationally. She came to the attention of Mr. Obama at a meeting he held during the campaign last summer to introduce himself to a politically and theologically diverse group of ministers. At that closed-door meeting, some of the conservative ministers bluntly questioned Mr. Obama on certain issues. Ms. Watkins was asked to give the closing prayer.

“Sharon was able to conclude in a way that tied everyone together,” said the Rev. Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, who was at the meeting. “It left folks on a buoyant note, with a degree of hope and optimism that we could find some common ground.”

The prayer service will be held on Jan. 21 at the Washington National Cathedral.

. . .

Ms. Watkins has spoken out against torture and the war in Iraq, but as church president she has not taken a position on same-sex marriage. Like many mainline Protestant churches, the Disciples is not unified on the issue. As a congregational church, each church in the denomination is free to set its own policies.

Ms. Watkins said in a telephone interview that the church in Bartlesville, Okla., where she served as minister before becoming president, could not reach a consensus on whether to allow gay union ceremonies and decided to hold off on a decision.

“We really emphasize the responsibility as well as the freedom of individuals within the church to study Scripture to prayerfully pursue their own spiritual journey,” Ms. Watkins said. “That means we end up being incredibly diverse politically, theologically and socially.

“Coming out of that context, the kind of message I want to reflect on is the deeper unity we have as a human family,” she said of the sermon she planned to deliver at the National Cathedral.

Read it all here.

Obama asks Gene Robinson to give Inaugural concert invocation

Updated with numerous links. (Concert performers include Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Beyonce, says the Wall Street Journal.)

We received this email from Bishop Robinson this morning:

I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, “We are One,” to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the “I have a dream speech” was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.


(Editor's note: There will undoubtedly be some controversy over whether Gene was invited as a response to the intense criticism of Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We don't know. We've been sitting on this news since just before Christmas, so it has been in the works for a while. But if Gene had been contacted before the Warren selection was announced, it seems unlikely he would have spoken out so strongly against the choice.)

Updated: Politco's Mike Allen is also on the story, as is Gene's hometown paper, The Concord Monitor. Episcopal Life Online has the most comprehensive story we've read. Washington Monthly has also weighed in, as has Ben Smith of Politco's blog. He writes:

It's a mark of Obama's raw power at the moment as much of his unifying message, that he can bring in fundamentally opposed Christian leaders like those two, without either walking out. (Though, to be fair, they're a safe 48 hours apart.)

Still, it's a mark of just how different, when it comes to mainstreaming gay leaders, it is to have a Democrat in the White House than a Republican, or even than a 1990s Democrat.

The Huffington Post chimes in, as do the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Human Rights Campaign and New York magazine's Daily Intel. The Boston Globe has also filed a story, as have US News and World Report, Religion Dispatches, the American Prospect, the Independent and Reuters. To read Integrity's press release click Read more.

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League is predictabily unhappy. In reference to his statement, it should be noted that it isn't at all unusual for a clergy person of one denomination to give a retreat fo clergy of another denomination, and that this is generally done at the invitation of retreatants. Additionally, it is libelous to say Bishop Robinson left his wife and children for a man, as he hadn't met his partner, Mark Andrew, until will after he and his wife divorced.

Ezra Klein has one of the shrewder posts we've read. It concludes:

This is, incidentally, why it's useful for progressives to criticize the president. Politicians respond to incentives. To noise. To anger. Warren, on some level, was a response to the loud protestations of evangelicals who believed the Democratic Party had no place for them. It's hard to see Robinson is anything but a response to progressive activists who sense that Obama was more willing to risk cross those who supported him than those who opposed him. Erase the anger from either side and it's not worth Obama -- or any president -- taking the risk to placate them. But this is a step in the right direction. This is genuinely inclusive. If it was the plan all along, the Obama administration sure did a good job keeping the secret. And if it wasn't, then equality activists have something to be proud of this morning. They changed the incentives.

In the Times of London, Ruth Gledhill writes:

The President-elect's choice is a sign of his willingness to respond to criticism.

It also indicates that the conservatives might still wield immense political influence in the US but that they have lost their hard-fought battle for the soul of Anglicanism and that the gay and lesbian community, denied equal ordination and other rights for centuries, are with the election of Mr Obama on their way to capturing the moral high ground in the US church.

The New York Times' story is now online.

And if you are keeping score at home, the Robinson story became the biggest blog event of the day at about 4:30, with over 135 blogs on the case, according to Google's blogsearch.

In other news, Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee had this to say.

Read more »

Targeting gun dealers

Episcopal bishop Allen Bartlett of Pennsylvania has joined other religious leaders calling for pressure for a code of conduct for those selling handguns, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's philly.com

Citing frustration with the legislature's reluctance to pass tough laws against "straw" handgun purchases, a coalition of religious leaders stood outside a gun store yesterday and announced a plan to pressure retailers directly.
"We . . . cannot stand by while towns and cities suffer senseless violence," said Bishop Allen Bartlett, assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

He was joined on the sidewalk in front of Colosimo's Gun Center in the 900 block of Spring Garden Street by representatives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Friends Yearly Meeting, and a synagogue.

A group of about a dozen area religious institutions, named "Heeding God's Call," is urging Pennsylvania gun retailers to sign a 10-point "code of conduct" to curb the supply of weapons to criminals. The code, created in April by a national coalition of mayors, drew national attention when Wal-Mart - the largest seller of rifles and shotguns in the country - signed a document agreeing to abide by its rules.

Dealers who take the pledge agree to:

Videotape all their firearms transactions.

Participate in a computerized gun-trace log that will identify buyers whose previous purchases were used in crimes.

Conduct criminal background checks on employees and train them in ways to deter illegal purchasers.

Accept only federal or state photo IDs.

Read more here.

+Gene talks about praying at the inauguration

NPR interviews Bishop Gene Robinson, who has been chosen to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's kickoff inaugural event Sunday.

Robinson says he doesn't think Obama picked him to balance the selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren. Robinson believes the invitation came because of his work with the Obama campaign. He hopes that the prayer will be one that many if not all people can join in praying.

Listen here.

Read more here.

Robert Bellah on Barack Obama and "the common good"

Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart, has written a rapturous, but nonetheless scholarly essay at the blog The Immanent Frame that situates President-elect Barack Obama within the context of both Roman Catholic social teaching, Protestant individualism and the traditions of what he calls Biblical and Civil Republicanism. It is well worth a read.

If you look at Obama’s specific policy concerns you will find the common good at the core of almost all of them. Universal health care is an obvious example. And why, except for our culture of radical individualism, don’t we already have it as every advanced society in the world has it? Because in normal times common good arguments do not carry the day in America. Obama’s jobs program, his environmental program, his foreign policy concerns are all examples of making the common good the focus of politics. What all this leads to in my opinion is that Obama is not concerned with center-left or center-right but with making America into a country with a concern for all its citizens and not just the privileged few, a country like other advanced countries and less like a third world country.

T. D. Jakes to preach at Inauguration morning service

Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press reports:

Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Dallas megachurch pastor, will preach at the private church service that President-elect Barack Obama will attend the morning of his inaugural, The Associated Press has learned.

Jakes will give the sermon Tuesday at St. John's Episcopal Church, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. St. John's, dubbed the "Church of the Presidents," sits across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

On Wednesday, a National Prayer Service will be held in the National Cathedral to cap the inauguration. Among the participating clergy will be the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell and Jim Wallis, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Read more on participants here.

The inauguration as pilgrimage

Ali Eteraz argues in the Guardian that the inauguration is a classic example of America's civic religion, and compares it to a pilgrimage:

Barack Obama's inauguration promises to be one of the most important civic events in American history. Millions will make their way to the National Mall. More than 10,000 buses will be chartered. At a website called Inauguration or Bust, people anywhere in the country can find locals to travel with. At the site, the contingent from Savannah, Georgia, refers to its trip as a "pilgrimage". That word, most often associated with religious fervour, is appropriate here. The inauguration buzz is reminiscent of the excitement I have encountered in Muslim countries in the days preceding the hajj.

. . .

The inauguration is a ritual, akin to Muslims touching the walls of the Ka'bah in Mecca. It renders tangible the ethereal. It is a reminder that the government is like an idol, a fact that was well known to those who introduced the modern nation-state - the French even raised a new goddess after the revolution - but which goes entirely forgotten by us.

The comparison is not all exalted, however. Quite like the hajj - where wealthy western and Gulf-based Muslims discover their piety in five-star hotels while everyone else stays in a tent city on the desert plain of Mina - the inauguration also offers an insight into inequality.

. . .

Still, for its various issues, the thing about the hajj, ultimately, is that it erases all previous sins. It is a time for renewal. Reincarnation without death. A hopeful look forward. It is upon that principle that Obama's inauguration, the coronation of the first black president in American history, is to be valued. He is a mea culpa for America's original sin. A trip to this inauguration thus becomes a secular hajj for collective redemption.

Read it all here.

Bishop Gene Robinson blogs the inauguration

Bishop Gene Robinson is keeping a blog about his experience at the inauguration, where he will give the invocation at the kickoff concert at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon at 2:30.

Arriving at National Airport yesterday was like coming into a recently-stirred-up anthill. But there were no angry, impatient voices (okay, I did hear one!), no one in a bad humor. Faces filled with anticipation and sheer joy at being here. Was it my imagination, or were all the African-Americans walking just a little bit taller? I think so. I hope so. And so was everyone else.

I am, to say the least, overwhelmed by the possibilities of this day. Not just offering a prayer for the nation and the new president, but helping to kick off the beginning of a new era of hope in this nation. The hope that then-candidate Barack Obama talked about -- and which was often decried by others as hopelessly (literally) labeled as unrealistic and maudlin -- is about to become reality. The future won't be perfect, of course, and the new president won't be either. But what a new beginning!

I am also overwhelmed and humbled by the task ahead of me. This prayer has weighed on my heart for several weeks now. My words will be the first heard by the crowds who will have been standing, waiting, for six hours to witness this event. I figure they'll be ready to listen, and grateful that the event has finally begun, or maybe they'll start chanting "Springsteen" or "Bono" and wishing the clergy guy would just get out of the way. Either way, I will attempt to get the crowd to pause for a moment before the fun begins, and join me in a prayer that we can all pray together.

+Gene Robinson's Prayer for President-elect Barack Obama

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama
(Also available on You Tube).

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


+Gene blogs about his day

UPDATE: Beliefnet interviews Gene Robinson

Robinson said he was huddled together privately with his daughter and partner, Mark, and his daughter reminded him that the last time the three of them were secluded in a hotel room was five years ago when the Episcopal general assembly was considering his consecration. Charges came forward that he was involved in sexual misconduct and linked to a pornographic website. He knew they were false but didn't know whether he could disprove them in time.

"People were saying unspeakable things about me and my detractors, of course, were relishing that moment. Ella [his daughter] reflected last night what a difference five years makes... Here we were [Sunday] sequestered away again but now awaiting to speak before the new First Family, a million people gathered on the mall in Washington, at the invitation of the President of the United States. So it's at least one indication of how far we've come in five years."

Interview and video to come here.

Bishop Robinson reports the latest on his blog:

One addendum to yesterday's posting: I have been invited to be on the President's Platform for the inauguration/swearing in. An astounding honor!

From his blog last night:
When I got to the second petition of my invocation, the one where I ask God to "bless us with anger," those million people got very quiet. It's an unnerving experience to have a million people go silent as a result of what you are saying. It was then that the import of the moment hit me. I wanted it to be a moment for God, and of course, I will never know who or how many were touched by what was said. What I do know is that it was an indescribable honor to be asked to address God at this amazing occasion.
I learned fairly early on that the live broadcast of the event would begin just AFTER I concluded my invocation. A decision made by HBO? Who knows? But I couldn't help but wonder if the HBO-powers-that-be could not imagine that the nation would be interested in a religious prayer. For whatever reason, it was not to be broadcast. I learned a long time ago not to worry about those things over which I have no control! I was honored to be invited to give the invocation, and that's what I intended to do.

More from +Gene on yesterday's events here.

Pastor Dan at Street Prophets has written a thoughtful meditation on Bishop Robinson's prayer that is well worth reading:

It makes me tremendously sad that anyone should find his comments at all exceptional, that we even have to remark on the difference between what he had to say and what we guess Rick Warren might say tomorrow. It certainly saddens me that we must consider the possibility that Robinson might have been cut out of the broadcast on purpose.

In saying that, I don't want to point fingers at anyone. Or maybe I want to point fingers at everyone. Somehow we have lost all sense in this nation that faith is for everyone and against no one. A pack of wicked jackals has convinced America that the limits of belief in the Lord Jesus are defined by Randian economics and who does what with their naughty bits. That lot arose as part of an aggressive and malignant political movement built around the cornerstones of sanctimony, greed, and resentment, of course. But they were enabled by too many easy marks in the press, and yes, too many liberal believers who took it for granted that the public would understand that not all Christians were narrow-minded conservative ideologues.

We have failed America, we liberal Christians. We have failed to speak up loud and long enough to be heard over the din of our right-wing brothers and sisters so that our neighbors can hear the real message of Christianity: faith and hope and love.

Obamas attend church at St. John's

As massive crowds swarmed the National Mall on Tuesday to witness Barack Obama's inauguration as president, the man at the center of the maelstrom began the day quietly and reverently, at a church service across the street from the White House according to Talking Points Memo:

Obama and his family attended a private service at St. John's Episcopal Church, a tradition for those about to become president. The family of Vice President-elect Joe Biden also attended.

Barack and Michelle Obama waved to bystanders, then entered the church to applause from about 200 people. The choir and congregation began singing the hymn, "O God Our Help in Ages Past."

The Rev. Luis Leon welcomed the Obamas and said every president since James Madison has worshipped at the church at least once, "some of them kicking and screaming."

Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., of Los Angeles, drew murmurs and chuckles when he blessed the Obamas and asked that "they may finish these two terms in office" stronger than they are now. Obama, of course, would have to win re-election in 2012 to serve a second term.

The Rev. Joel Hunter of Longwood, Fla., offered a blessing to "Barack Hussein Obama."

The sermon was by prominent Dallas minister T.D. Jakes. Borrowing an Obama campaign slogan, he told the president-elect that he will face many critics, "but you are all fired up, sir, and you're ready to go." The nation and God will go with him, too, Jakes said.

Read more here.

Ben Smith of Politco has the pool report from the service:

Jakes read from Daniel, 3:19 and used the scripture to offer PEOTUS a series of four lessons for his administration.

1 – “In time of crisis, good men must stand up. God always sends the best men into the worst times.”

2 – “You cannot change what you will not confront. This is a moment of confrontation in this country. There’s no way around it…This is not a time for politeness or correctness, this is a time for people to confront issues and bring about change.”

3 – “You cannot enjoy the light without enduring the heat. The reality is the more brilliant, the more glorious, the more essential the light, the more intense the heat. We cannot separate one from the other.”

4 – “Extraordinary times require extraordinary methods. This is a historical moment for us and our nation and our country, and though we enjoy it and are inspired by it and motivated by it.”

After his four lessons, Jakes turned from the crowd and looked directly at Obama.

“The problems are mighty and the solutions are not simple,” Jakes said, “and everywhere you turn there will be a critic waiting to attack every decision that you make. But you are all fired up, Sir, and you are ready to go. And this nation goes with you. God goes with you.

“I say to you as my son who is here today, my 14-year-old son – he probably would not quote scripture. He probably would use Star Trek instead, and so I say, ‘May the force be with you.”

Read more notes on the service here.

The Rev. Rick Warren's inauguration prayer

ABC News reports that Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who faced criticism for his anti-gay views in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, today delivered an inclusive but deeply religious invocation that celebrated the first African-American president.

Read more »

Sermons on the inauguration

Inspired by the Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center, the Boston Globe invited local clergy to e-mail the texts of inauguration-related sermons and prayers for their Articles of Faith religion blog. Michael Paulson reports on the sermons:

Read more »

HBO to get right by Bishop Robinson tomorrow at 11:30 pm

The Washington Post reports:

HBO says it will telecast “an updated version” of Sunday’s inaugural-related concert tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time,

By “updated,” the premium cable network means it will include the invocation that had been delivered by the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal bishop, at the ceremony’s start.

Good news on the new White House Web site

In an item entitled "Obama's Promises to Gays," Marc Ambinder writes: "They're now in black and white on the White House website. Full civil unions and federal rights. Employment non-discrimination. A repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Expanded Adoption Rights."

To read the White House Web site section on Support for the LGBT Community click Read more.

Read more »

Celebrating King and praying for Obama at the National Cathedral

The National Prayer Service will be Web cast today from Washington National Cathedral at 10 am. Here is the service leaflet.

UPDATE: On demand video link.

Read more »

National prayer service: reports

(Update: On demand video here.)

The Washington Post has some raw video. From the Post's article:

Canon Carol Wade, who as the cathedral's precentor oversees music and worship, said that in accordance with tradition, today's prayers were based on the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and sound similar to prayers given at services after the inaugurations of both Bush presidents and Ronald Reagan.

New touches to the service this year, cathedral officials said, were prayers drawn in part from George Washington's 1789 post-inauguration prayer service and Abraham Lincoln's 1865 inaugural address. The latter includes the famous phrase "with malice toward none, with charity for all," which was said as part of the closing prayer given today by Katharine Jefferts-Schori [sic, it's Jefferts Schori], presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

"We felt it was time to take a fresh look at the prayers," Wade said yesterday, noting Obama's embrace of religious liberalism. "Care was taken as to how we might respect and celebrate our diversity." While multiple clergy who are not Christian participated in the service, Wade noted that the service was, at its core, Christian to reflect Obama's personal beliefs.

Washington Times (also includes video clips and photos):
"This is the first full day on the job, and the best way we can begin is by praying," The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the cathedral, told the gathered congregation. "This morning, we're all coworkers."
The World Council of Churches has a press release which includes a link to the text of the sermon given by the Rev. Dr Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From the sermon:
So how do we go about loving God? Well, according to Isaiah, summed up by Jesus, affirmed by a worldwide community of Muslim scholars and many others, it is by facing hard times with a generous spirit: by reaching out toward each other rather than turning our backs on each other. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "people can be so poor that the only way they see God is in a piece of bread."

In the days immediately before us, there will be much to draw us away from the grand work of loving God and the hard work of loving neighbor. In crisis times, a basic instinct seeks to take us over – a fight/flight instinct that leans us toward the fearful wolf, orients us toward the self‐interested fast... In international hard times, our instinct is to fight – to pick up the sword, to seek out enemies, to build walls against the other – and why not?

Video of the first half of the sermon here.

Addendum. USNews has good report.

The National Prayer Service: A report from the Great Choir

Hi folks,

Just back from the National Prayer Service. [On demand video of service here.] The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins preached a heck of a sermon, but for me the high points of the morning were musical: the gently rocking harmonies of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Choir (Annisse Murillo, soloist) singing He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands; the impassioned majesty of Amazing Grace as sung by Dr. Wintley Phipps, President of U. S. Dream Academy; and the sweet, serene tones of The Cathedral Choir whose version of America the Beautiful makes plain the profoundly prayerful essence of that song.

Amazing Grace

America the Beautiful

I was also taken by the jubilant elegance with which the Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Decatur, Georgia read the first reading (Isaiah 58:6-12).

The Obamas are either prayerful folk, or expert mimics. From my seat in the Great Choir—The cathedral clergy and diocesan canons processed with the altar party, and then sat blessedly out of sight.—I could see them throughout the service and their attention never wavered.

Before the service, President and Mrs. Obama met privately with the Bishop John Bryson Chane, Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III, John H. Shenefield, chair of the Cathedral Chapter and their wives. Bishop Chane said the ten-minute meeting was as relaxed and informal as a quick get-together of this sort can be. He asked the president if he was tired after his hectic day yesterday, and President Obama said no, and that he was having a good time. “These are young people,” the bishop told me later.

Karen Chane and Michelle Obama talked about the Obama’s daughters first night in the White House. (I am withholding the details, not because they are especially revealing, but because the children are off limits.)

The bishop said the Obamas are an unpretentious couple. “It was like meeting your neighbors across the back fence,” he said. “That’s just how they carry themselves.”

After the service former President Bill Clinton stuck around for a long time chatting with the crowd, while people climbed the altar steps to get above the crowd so they could take pictures of him.

Mary Francis Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service is working on her story in the office next to mine. We will link to it later.


Jim Naughton

Read more »

Religious leaders praise torture ban

Religious leaders are celebrating President Barack Obama's executive order banning torture. Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe is on it.

A call for civility

On the eve of the Inauguration which seemed to make "inclusiveness" its by-word, two religious leaders, a conservative Evangelical and a liberal Jew launched the new Civility Project in an attempt to foster more dialogue between increasingly polarized voices in American society.

As an article in the Christian Post explains:

DeMoss, an evangelical conservative, and Davis, a Jewish liberal, developed the idea behind The Civility Project during a meeting in Washington six months after Sen. Hillary Clinton ended her campaign for the presidency.

“As dissimilar as our religious and political beliefs and opinions are, we found ourselves drawn to each other's love for this country,” recalled the two, “and a conviction about the importance to its future of trying to change the polarizing, attack-oriented political culture that has become all too common in recent years and, instead, to bring civility back as the staple of American politics and life.”

As an example, DeMoss and Davis referred to the uncivil events that erupted amid and after the campaigns for and against California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

“[W]e both condemn the vandalism by some who opposed the proposition directed at those such as Mormon Church members who supported the measure,” DeMoss and Davis stated despite their different stances on Prop. 8.

“We also oppose the often blind hatred, violence and discrimination against gay people by certain individuals, who claim they act in the name of religious beliefs while violating other religious tenets,” they added.

To participate in the project, there are three promises that need to be made to govern the way a person expresses their ideas in public discourse. You can find them fully listed at the link above, but in short, they involve promising to be civil in expressing a viewpoint, being respectful of the people with whom one agrees, and calling out incivility in others when it is present.

The comments on the news story announcing the site don't give this particular author much hope that this movement is going to get much traction...

"The gay-friendliest Presidency we have ever seen"

The Washington Post's On Faith Web site offers two new interviews with Bishop Gene Robinson.

If the first, Robinson talks with Sally Quinn about Barack Obama, Rick Warren and his involvement in the "prayer wars" that surrounded Obama's inauguration.

In the second Bishop Robinson talks about his faith journey and his beliefs.

Ask the Senate to re-authorize SCHIP

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

Last week, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a four-and-a-half year reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), extending health coverage to an additional 4 million children to provide health insurance to a total of more than 11 million children. The bill provides $34 billion in SCHIP funding and allows states to cover children and families with income up to 300 percent of the poverty level. The House bill also allows the states to waive the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women to enroll in SCHIP, providing access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and treatment for chronic health problems.

Similar bills passed both houses of Congress in 2007, but they were vetoed by President Bush, leaving the program operating under a temporary, one-year extension. It is long overdue for Congress to provide health care to the nation's neediest children. Since SCHIP was enacted in 1997, it has, in combination with Medicaid, succeeded in reducing the number of uninsured children by one-third despite rising health care costs and declines in employer-based coverage. But, with 9 million children still lacking health insurance and unable to access the care they need, it is clear that more needs to be done.

During this time of economic crisis, in which American families are plagued by rising unemployment and increasing health care costs, the Senate must now act quickly to reauthorize the program to increase both the number of children served by SCHIP, improve the quality of coverage they receive, and provide long-term, dedicated funding to this critical program.

Contact your Senators today and ask them to vote to reauthorize and strengthen the SCHIP!

The end of war, culture war, that is

At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart sees the possibility of an end to the culture wars:

When it comes to culture, Obama doesn’t have a public agenda; he has a public anti-agenda. He wants to remove culture from the political debate.
A black politician running in the midst of a racial culture war is virtually doomed. But amidst a religious culture war, being black is less of a handicap since blacks are the least secular element of the Democratic coalition. Barack Obama was more successful than John Kerry in reaching out to moderate white evangelicals in part because he struck them as more authentically Christian.

That’s the foundation on which Obama now seeks to build. He seems to think there are large numbers of conservative white Protestants and Catholics who will look beyond culture when they enter the voting booth as long as he and other Democrats don’t ram cultural liberalism down their throats.
Obama’s effort could fail. After all, he’s not offering to split the difference with cultural conservatives, only to make his cultural liberalism less conspicuous.

Read it all.

Some reaction:

Commentary: "Muddles don’t end wars. They draw them out. ... Americans want a recess from ugliness, but that’s not how history works." (Abe Greenwald)

The New Republic: "If he fulfills [his promise to sign the Freedom of Chose Act], Obama will not only have failed to end the culture war. He will have ensured its survival for another generation." (Damon Linker)

When the culture war gets in the way of larger issues, Obama appears willing to concede -- as to the Republicans on the family planning money House Democrats want in the stimulus bill.

Obama's faith background: It's not a flaw, it's a feature

You may have already seen this clip from President Obama's first TV interview as president, the one he did with Al Arabia (based in the United Arab Emirates). In it he highlights that he has Muslims in his family and that he lived for a time in a Muslim country (the largest Muslim country, Indonesia). He points out that the US is a country of many believers -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and (as he said in his Inaugural address) non-believers (although skeptics remain). These are not things you can say on the campaign trail, but they may serve him well in healing relations between the US and the Muslim world.

Even if you've seen it, you may want to look again:

Progressive religious groups hope for a new day

The Washington Post says that progressive religious groups are hoping that the new administration in Washington will be more sympathetic to their causes and will act on poverty, the environment and social justice issues.

The faith agenda that dominated the Bush years focused on abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. But there were large portions of the religious community that the former administration would not talk to.

"The last administration showed no interest in talking to a large chunk of the religious community," said Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "We're already seeing change. . . . This administration, so far as I can see, is not making a similar mistake."

During the transition, the Obama transition team reached out to a wide variety of religious groups looking for advice on a wide variety of issues.

Between the election and the inauguration, Obama's staff held more than 20 meetings with a diverse mix of religious groups that included mainline Protestant organizations such as Lutheran Services in America as well as the Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Those attending said administration officials were seeking advice on how the new White House can work with faith organizations through Obama's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The meetings also focused on such issues as the environment, AIDS worldwide, Middle East policy, detainee interrogations, criminal justice reform and the economy.

High-level Obama staff members attended the sessions, which were held at the transition headquarters or by teleconference. They included Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Heather A. Higginbottom, the council's deputy director; and Michael Strautmanis, Obama's director of intergovernmental relations.

On Thursday, Obama named Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor who ran religious outreach for the campaign, to head the White House's new office for faith-based programs, a White House aide said. DuBois is close to the president, and faith leaders see his ascent as a sign of the importance of their causes to the new administration.

Writing in America, John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, says the legacy of the Bush administration was very disappointing, including favoritism, lack of accountability and objective measurement.

The whole truth is that America’s “armies of compassion” remain much as Bush described them in his maiden campaign speech in 1999: “outnumbered and outflanked and outgunned,” needing “more support, public and private” and forced to “make bricks without straw.”

The whole truth is that religious nonprofits, large and small, national and local, have been struggling harder than ever to meet human needs begotten by increases in poverty and unemployment. Thanks to well-meaning leaders and staff in my former office, Bush’s faith-based initiative had a little post-2006 surge, but the office’s “mission accomplished” hype unintentionally masked and mocked the unmet needs.

Dilulio says that "to succeed, Obama, a former Catholic Charities community worker in Chicago, must insist that all grantees serve all people in need without regard to religion. He must keep the faith-based effort fact-based, bipartisan and open to corrections. And he must honor all campaign pledges to create or expand programs that benefit low-income children and families."

Read the Washington Post: Progressive Faith Groups Now Trying to Shift Debate

Also read America: 'Faith-Based' Hopes

Welfare slow in responding to recession

The New York Times reports that state welfare programs are not keeping up with the increasing demands created by the increasing unemployment and the worst economic downturn in decades. The paper says that "18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years."

Meanwhile churches are responding both in terms of direct service and advocating for people in deep poverty.

According to The Times,

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, though it was one of two states whose October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation’s largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main cash welfare program for families with children. Nationally, for the 12 months ending October 2008, the rolls inched up a fraction of 1 percent.

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 amid bitter protest and became one of the most closely watched social experiments in modern memory.

The program, which mostly serves single mothers, ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements, and giving states latitude to discourage people from joining the welfare rolls. While it was widely praised in the boom years that followed, skeptics warned it would fail the needy when times turned tough.

An editorial in America advocates a stimulus package that would create both jobs and the protections that poor people need as shields against hunger, homelessness and lack of health care.

The new administration’s projected $825 billion stimulus package should create jobs not only in traditional ways, like infrastructure improvements on roads, bridges and school construction. It should also focus on offsetting the sharp rise in hunger and homelessness among the nation’s rapidly growing number of poor people.

Already, low-income advocates predict that people in deep poverty, that is, those with incomes of less than half the poverty line of $21,200 for a family of four, will increase by between five and six million if unemployment reaches 9 percent. Barbara Sard, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has said that such an increase would put as many as a million families at risk of housing instability and homelessness. Even those not yet in deep poverty could face homelessness because of home foreclosures that have already pushed many into the rental market, which, because of competition for affordable rental housing, has experienced an increased demand that in turn has caused rents to rise.

Read The New York Times: Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off

Read the America editorial Shelter, Food and the Stimulus here.

Faith in the voting booth: looking back at November

Over at Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk is still poring over the data on how religious voters cast their ballots in the presidential election.

In Slicing the evangelicals he writes:

The point, obviously, is that young evangelicals are the future of the voting bloc, and if they hew to their 2008 preferences, the solid 3-1 GOP majorities that evangelicals have turned in for the past few elections is in jeopardy.

In Traditionalist Catholics Heart Obama he argues as follows:

If I'm right and Traditionalist Catholics have more of a problem voting for a pro-choice Catholic than a pro-choice non-Catholic, that's both good and bad news for conservative Catholic hierarchs and intellectuals. On the one hand, it suggests that the message that Catholic politicians should be pro-life (delivered delicately if unmistakably by the pope to Speaker Pelosi yesterday) has definitely gotten through to the old-time faithful. On the other, it indicates that such Catholics understand this to be less a natural law injunction incumbent on all members of society than a religious obligation for their own kind. That a staunch pro-choicer like Obama can garner two out of every five Traditionalist White Catholic votes helps makes sense of the high pro-life anxiety that seems to have taken hold in so many episcopal breasts.

Palestinian Christians protest Israeli TV sketch

Christians and Muslim Palestinian-Israelis protested a satiric sketch on Israel television which insulted both religions.

A satiric sketch on Channel 10 television prompted dozens of Christians in the Galilee to demonstrate against the channel this weekend, while the heads of local Christian churches published a denunciation of their own.

In their denunciation, the clergymen accused the skit of fomenting interreligious hatred. The skit, which aired on Lior Shlein's nightly program, was called "Like a Virgin," after the Madonna song.

Juan Cole wrote on the blog "Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion" wrote:

So what did we learn here? A Jewish-Israeli attack on the holy figures of Christianity provoked outrage among Muslims as well as Christians, and was denounced by Palestinian-Israelis (20% of the population) as racist and as anti-Semitic.

One background for this Palestinian-Israeli response is that the crucified Christ is often taken by Palestinian Christians as a symbol of their displacement and expropriation at the hands of Israelis. So the attack on that symbol ('died young of being obese') by a representative of the Jewish majority was doubly painful, since it repeated on a symbolic level the Israeli denial of the 1948 Catastrophe and even of the existence of the Palestinians.

Read more here and here.

Taking on the death penalty in Maryland

Bishop Eugene T. Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is leading the campaign to repeal the death penalty in Maryland. First, he and Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington co-authored an op-ed article for The Washington Post. Now, Sutton can be heard on WTOP radio, and he is quoted in today's stories in the Post and the Baltimore Sun.

Governor Martin O'Malley supports the bill repealing the death penalty, but Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. opposes it, and its chances of passing seem slim.

Church lobbyists represent diverse views

It's pretty commonly known that voices from the Religious Right have a strong lobbying presence in Washington DC and in many state capitals. But there's a small, growing group of voices from the Mainline denominations and the liberal churches too.

An article in the Arkansas Times reports on the phenomenon;

Most of the faith-based lobbyists working the Arkansas legislature are from the political Right, but the Left is not bereft of Christian soldiers. Rev. Steve Copley, a Methodist minister and political activist, is among the most prominent. He's worked with labor groups, among others, and chaired the Arkansas Interfaith Committee For Worker Justice, a coalition that succeeded in raising the minimum wage. He now chairs the Arkansas Friendship Coalition, which hopes to prevent passage of legislation detrimental to immigrants. The Coalition fears discrimination against newcomers and believes that immigration policy should be set at the national level, not by the separate states.

Religious Right lobbyists don't deal much with questions about separation of church and state. Most of them don't believe in the concept, and if someone suggests that preachers stay out of politics, they're apt to note the political involvement of black preachers like Martin Luther King Jr.

As a liberal, Copley sometimes has to confront the church-state question, though it's not something he agonizes over.

“My understanding of church and state is that the state is not to establish a state religion,” Copley said. “The Constitution didn't exclude people with religion from speaking in the public square. All voices should be heard in the public square, including the religious voice. We all make decisions on what's right or wrong based on our values. My values include religion.”

Latino churches organize

Pastors of Latino congregations are talking about how they can most effectively advocate for comprehensive immigration reform now that a new administration is in power in Washington.

The issue is personal and common for them:

Eric Tabora burst into tears as he remembered his wife being hauled away by federal immigration officials.

The 33-year-old independent contractor said his wife was arrested when they returned to their home in Powder Springs Wednesday morning after driving their 11- and 7-year-old sons, both U.S. citizens, to school.

Now it could be months or years before the boys see their mother again. She is being deported to Honduras for overstaying her visa.

“If she leaves, what are we going to do?” Tabora said, hunching over as he cried.

Pastors in the Latino community say stories of families torn apart by deportation are all too familiar among members of their church congregations. The Rev. Miguel Rivera of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders estimates 38 percent of those church members are undocumented.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more of this story here.

Black ministers circle the wagons for Senator Burris


Nearly every day over the past week or so, groups of African-American ministers, community leaders, lawyers or politicians have held news conferences and rallies in Chicago to pronounce their support for Burris and to ask that calls for his resignation stop.

Read more »

Stem cell research and religion

US News writer, Dan Gilgoff, of God and Country, and on The Lead's blogroll, reports:

Read more »

Republicans argue in defense of hierarchical denominations

It's not always conservatives who push bills to regulate church polity. In Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma that has been the case. But in Connecticut the shoe is on the other foot. The Catholic Church isn't happy.

Read more »

Vermont clergy voice support for gay marriage bill

The Rev. Linda Maloney of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont is among those featured in a report from WPTZ in Burlington about 185 clergy of various faiths who support a bill legalizing civil marriage for same-sex couples in Vermont.

Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action

From the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs:

A groundbreaking report, Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action, which calls on The Episcopal Church to address the issues and concerns of the poor in this country, was released today.

The report, based on the outcomes of 2008 Presiding Bishop’s Summit on Domestic Poverty, presents a Model for Domestic Poverty Alleviation, with an initial endeavor in Native American communities. This innovative Model works in tandem with the Episcopal Church’s global poverty initiatives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Click Read more to see the full release.

Read more »

Religious leaders call on G20 to remember the most vulnerable

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams and other Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders are calling on the leaders of the G20 nations to remember the most vulnerable and the moral implications of their choices when they meet in London this week.

Read more »

Churches, federal funds and discrimination

The Washington Post says in an editorial that the Obama administration has not ended the Bush administration practice of allowing faith-based groups that receive federal funds to discriminate in hiring.

Read more »

G20: grow up and remember the poor

Dave Walker at Church Times blog reports on a debate held at St. Paul's Cathedral in London as the G20 leaders gather to meet and discuss the global economy, the environment and other pressing issues:

Read more »

Is "religious centrist" a pejorative?

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary writes:

I'll be clear. I'm in favor of reaching out and I am less interested in labels. To me as a person of faith, I believe we should be engaging the public square in order to effect change. In order to effect change, you have to engage in the broadest possible coalition-building. To use a sports metaphor, the point of a football game is not to perfect the huddle, it's to move the ball down the field.
Here's the reality check. Before you accuse someone of being a "centrist" and use that as code for lack of faith commitment, ask these questions: Does it matter at all where the center is? Does it matter at all where the center could and should be?
[I]sn't it a good idea to try to move the center back more toward, well, the center? How do you do that? You do that by building bridges, building trust and building a movement. Movements move. It's risky, it doesn't always work out, but it's how change happens.

Among people who self-identify as liberal or progressive, there should be room for diversity of opinion on how to best effect the change we need. And really, if we can't honor diversity, aren't we betraying that fundamental principle of historic liberalism?

Read it all in On Faith.

President's faith-based advisory council announced

The White House sent a press release April 6 announcing additional members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Advisory Council is part of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and is composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds. We note that Henry Knox of the Human Rights Campaign is among those named.

Read more »

Gay marriage = religious freedom

Many of the arguments against gay marriage come from Christian organizations suggesting that the recognition of gay marriage somehow infringes upon their religious freedom. This video from the Web site Waking Up examines these claims and dismisses them.

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Awaiting a refugee

The Diocese of Montreal in the Anglican Church of Canada has sponsored more than 1,000 refugees in the last 25 years but one Algerian who is still in custody at Guantanamo has an offer from the diocese to sponsor him to come to Canada as a refugee.

Read more »

Peacemaker or lightning rod?

Dan Gilgoff of US News asks whether Rick Warren can be a peacemaker if he is a lightning rod:

Read more »

Going Nuclear: young evangelicals and politics

This week marks the public launch of the Two Futures Project, a new movement of Christians, led by younger Evangelicals, for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. The Washington Post On Faith Guest Voices reports on how younger evangelicals are redefining what issues matter to them and becoming involved in change.

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Obama closes the religion gap

Mark Silk of Spiritual Politics writes of President Barack Obama's First 100 Days:

Read more »