Putting the Fire in a Fireplace

The Mission of the Trinity
Singaporean theologian Simon Chan says 'missional theology' has not gone far enough.
Interview by Andy Crouch in Christianity Today

Simon Chan may be the world's most liturgically minded Pentecostal. The Earnest Lau professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore is both a scholar of Pentecostalism and a leader in the Assemblies of God, but his recent books, Spiritual Theology and Liturgical Theology, engage with wider and older Christian traditions as well. Worship, Chan believes, is not just a function of the church, but the church's very reason for being. Our big question for 2007 focuses on global mission: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world? Christian Vision Project editorial director Andy Crouch interviewed Chan while Chan was a visiting scholar at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to find out whether fully joining God's mission may require that we unlearn some of our assumptions about mission itself.

Interviewer: You have written a great deal about liturgical theology, but missional theology seems more popular these days.

Chan: I think that missional theology is a very positive development. But some missional theology has not gone far enough. It hasn't asked, What is the mission of the Trinity? And the answer to that question is communion. Ultimately, all things are to be brought back into communion with the triune God. Communion is the ultimate end, not mission.

If we see communion as central to the life of the church, we are going to have an important place for mission. And this is reflected in the ancient fourfold structure of worship: gathering, proclaiming the Word, celebrating the Eucharist, and going out into the world. The last, of course, is mission. But mission takes its place within a larger structure. It is this sense of communion that the evangelical world especially needs. Communion is not just introspection or fellowship among ourselves. It involves, ultimately, seeing God and seeing the heart of God as well, which is his love for the world.

In many services today, the dismissal into the world is quite perfunctory. But if you go to an Orthodox service, you'll be amazed at the elaborate way in which the end of the service is conducted. It's not just a word of dismissal—there are whole prayers and litanies that prepare us to go back out into the world.

Interviewer: If liturgical worship is such a good preparation for mission, why are Pentecostalism and evangelicalism, which hardly follow the ancient structure of worship, growing so fast?

Chan: In the modern age, the free churches are evangelistically successful, but in the broader history of mission that hasn't always been true. Europe was evangelized in the early centuries by missionaries who were certainly not free-church evangelicals. And think of the spread of the Orthodox Church from Russia to northern Africa.

In Singapore, we keep very close statistics about the growth of the Assemblies of God, which is currently the second-largest Protestant denomination in the country. We are good at evangelizing, bringing people in, but we have also noticed that many of those people that we have brought into our churches would over time go to more traditional churches and seeker-friendly megachurches. Our net growth isn't really that much, but in terms of bringing people in, yes, we have significant numbers of people being brought into the church for the first time. It may be that in God's providence he is using free churches, Pentecostals, and charismatics to reach out to the world, but I still believe that his aim is to embrace them all within the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Read it all HERE

Virginia breakaway churches struggling

Eleven Virginia churches being sued by the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia for leaving the denomination with their property last year have set a goal of raising a combined $3 million to $5 million for their pooled legal expenses, according to Julia Duin the Washington Times

But an informal poll by The Washington Times revealed that more than half of these churches can't afford to give funds or have made no plans to do so.

Read it all here

Another group wants its own bishop

Forward in Faith North America, meeting June 19, reaffirmed their request for their own bishop for their constituency in the United States. Although Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria have ordained bishops for Anglican breakaway congregations in the United States, FIFNA wants their own bishop who will support their inability to accept the ordination of women as priests or bishops. The resolution is as follows:

A reaffirmation of the 2002 request that a bishop be consecrated for the constituency of FiFNA:
Whereas, the 2002 FIFNA Assembly passed two resolutions:

1. Called upon supportive Primates to nominate, elect, and consecrate (according to the canons of their province) one or more persons to serve as bishop(s) for our constituency, and

2. Recommended two priests we considered worthy of consideration for this ministry, the Reverend William Ilgenfritz and the Reverend David Moyer,

Be it resolved that this 2007 FIFNA Assembly reaffirm the recommendation of the Reverend William Ilgenfritz to orthodox Primates for consideration for consecration as bishop for our constituency.

More on these resolutions and other events at the meeting here

More information on Forward in Faith is here

African Anglicans: are they endangered?

Anglicans and Catholics established the initial footholds in Africa, and have spread rapidly in places. But they are now under threat of competition from Pentecostalism.

Tim Cocks reports:

His white suit picked out by floodlights, the U.S.-based preacher [tele-evangelist Benny Hinn] promised a "miracle crusade" to heal the sick, make the blind see and the lame walk. "In Jesus' name, lift your hands and sing," he cried, almost drowned out by cheering.

Pentecostal religion is mushrooming in Africa.

Promising prosperity, miracle cures and life-changing spiritual experiences, the "born again" faiths that are the staple of America's multi-millionaire televangelists are fast taking over the world's poorest continent.
The U.S. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says Pentecostalism is growing globally, with a quarter of the world's 2 billion Christians thought to be members of these faiths that emphasize speaking in tongues, divine healing, prophesy and a strongly literal interpretation of Bible stories.

In Africa all churches are booming, but Pentecostalism is overtaking traditional Catholic and Anglican faiths brought by European colonizers over a century ago.
Christians say the ecstatic experiences offered by Pentecostals are more exciting than the subdued worship -- complete with silent congregations and soporific organ music -- that the continent's first missionaries brought here.

"Africans want things done powerfully," said Rev. Nathan Samwini of the Christian Council of Ghana. "You meet white evangelicals from America, they behave like Africans. They are vibrant, everything is done with vigor."
Moses Malay heads a Ugandan organization helping what he calls victims of "pulpit fraud" after quitting a church whose pastor claimed divine powers.

"I saw people robbed and I participated. How do they do it? Simple. They instill hope, they nurture it, they reap."

Faith healers insist there is no fraud.

Read it all here in the Washington Post.

Evangelical Presbyterian Church coping with growth

The Washington Times reports,

The [Evangelical Presbyterian Church] was founded in 1981 after a split with the mainline Presbyterian Church over the denomination's increasingly liberal direction.

The EPC started with just 12 churches. In the years since then, it has grown to include 188 congregations and 75,000 members.
Most EPC churches are either newly planted or converts from other denominations, notably the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

That church boasts 2.4 million members and 11,100 congregations but continues to struggle after three decades of declining membership. The denomination also has wrestled with disputes over same-sex "marriage" and ordination of homosexual ministers.

Sound familiar? You can read it allhere.

We, of course, don't hear about the small denominations that folded or merged. Denominations that start from a tiny base - and have survived - more than likely are experiencing high growth. No doubt PCUSA has lost some members due to controversial issues - and gained or held onto others for the same reason. But what newspapers rarely mention, when pointing out the declining membership in the mainline denominations, is that conservative denominations tend to have higher birthrates, and in mainline denominations the birthrate hovers at or below replacement.

Besides, PCUSA isn't merely following the times. It is following its moral compass - even if that means those more attracted to religion are turned off by the change in direction.

Not proper churches

The Roman Catholic Church reiterated its position that Protestant groups including Anglicans are not proper "Churches." According to a press release from Vatican City and approved by the Pope:

"Made public today was a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "Responses to some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." It is dated June 29, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, and bears the signatures of Cardinal William Joseph Levada and Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., respectively prefect and secretary of the congregation."

The document offers 5 questions and answers on the status of bodies and churches outside the Roman Catholic Church. The fifth question has to do with those who have separated since the Reformation and why they are not proper churches.
"Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of 'Church' with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

"Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense.

Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction offers a fine commentary.

The full press release is here.

More news from The Times and the Washington Post

This news makes Ruth Gledhill of The Times proud to be an Anglican.

Apostolic Succession and the Catholic Church

From today's Arizona Republic

Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday asserted the spiritual primacy of the Roman Catholic Church.

He did so at the expense of Christian Orthodox churches, which he said are wounded, and Protestant churches, which he said are not really churches at all.

The pope approved a document that says the only path to true salvation is Catholicism. The move was a stark reaffirmation of centuries-old Catholic belief that Protestant churches are lacking because they cannot trace their leadership back to Christ's apostles.

The document says Christian Orthodox churches are true churches but have a "wound" because they do not recognize the power of the pope.
The Episcopal bishop of Arizona, the Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith, was surprised by the pope's position.

"It's disappointing to see such a hard line," Smith said. "I don't know what would cause him to say this at this time."

Smith also pointed out that Catholics and Episcopalians in the community work together frequently. "It's not consistent with what's happening in the grass-roots."

Some Catholic Church observers think the pope is trying to revisit the historic events of Vatican II from 1962 to1965.

Apostolic Succession can be something of a stumbling block for ecumenical relations between Episcopalians and other non-Catholic denominations. But how much of a stumbling is it as long as our objective is good relations and not reunification? Is reunification desirable?

UPDATE: Tobias has a helpful catechism on the statement from Rome. Sounds to me like the RCC is rounding up Lone Rangers and not about a change and chill towards other denominations. Thanks to Ann Fontaine for the pointer.

UPDATE: Our church's chief ecumenical responds, "This doesn’t change anything for us, and is certainly nothing new for the Roman Catholic Church ... And we look forward to what should be a very interesting Anglican – Roman Catholic (ARC-USA) dialogue in Washington, DC next October!"

Clergy fitness declining

The Charlotte Observer reports:

Officials cite research showing that 50 years ago, clergy suffered fewer illnesses and lived healthier lives than workers in most other professions. Today, their medical claims and rising insurance costs strain denominational budgets.

The Western North Carolina Conference spent $7.5 million in 2005 on health care benefits for about 990 ministers. In 2006, that rose to $8.7 million, and is expected to soar past $10 million this year, said Bill Wyman, conference treasurer.

In recent years, Baptist, Lutheran and Episcopal leaders have also addressed the problem. The Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based foundation, runs a national clergy renewal program that gives ailing ministers sabbaticals.

About six years ago, a national survey of about 2,500 religious leaders showed that 76 percent of clergy were either overweight or obese, compared with 61 percent of the general population. Forty percent said they were depressed at times, or worn out "some or most of the time."
Explanations for the problem vary. Some researchers note that the average age of Methodist clergy has gone up in recent decades. Those over age 55 jumped from 27 percent to 41 percent in the past 20 years, according to a national study.

Others trace the problems to the changing nature of the work itself. Better-educated, increasingly consumer-oriented parishioners are putting more demands on clergy, Mann said. Conflict is rising inside churches as parishioners do battle over who controls money and priorities.

"It's almost the No. 1 reason now why most clergy leave a congregation," he said. "So much of it is, `I just can't keep dealing with these people fighting with each other over where the congregation is heading.' "

Read it all here. It sounds as if our clergy don't just need a better health, or a better plan for managing their own health. They need someone to address whether conflict within congregations and with denominations, and what to do about it.

Bishop Dixon: Give people choice

Former Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Jane Holmes Dixon, offers her thoughts on the reintroduction of the Latin Mass by the Roman Catholic Church,

If some Roman Catholics need and prefer the Latin Mass, who am I at this stage of my life to object? It is not my choice, yet the work I am doing now at The Interfaith Alliance is to help the American public appreciate and preserve the freedom to worship as they choose. I hope the Roman Catholic Church continues to give their people the freedom to choose the vernacular as well as Latin
. Read her "On Faith" column here in the Washington Post.

Lutherans meet next week

The Episcopal Church and the Canadian Anglican Church are not the only denominations that will confront the issue of same sex realtionships this year. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ("ELCA"), the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States will next week at their biannual assembly in Chicago.

Front and center will be the issue of ordaining ministers in relationships with same sex partners. The current policy requires celibacy of its GLBT clergy, and the proposal would be to allow clergy to remain in good standing as long as they were in committed relationships:

Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.

The full policy can be found here.

According to Eillen Flynn of the Austin American Statesman, over 80 Lutheran ministers will come "out" on Tuesday in an effort to affect this debate:

Are you serious, I thought when I heard the voice mail. More than 80 Lutheran ministers will go public with their homosexual identity next week? Mind you, these clergy members serve a comparatively liberal branch of Lutheranism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

But still, many of those coming out on Tuesday are in homosexual relationships, and the ELCA restricts ordination to heterosexuals who are faithful in marriage or celibate homosexuals. As it happens, the ELCA will be debating the issue of dropping the celibacy requirement for gay ministers at its biennial assembly next week in Chicago.

I got the phone message about next week’s press conference from a fellow with Lutherans Concerned/North America, a group that supports people of “all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Now again, this is the liberal Lutheran denomination — not the Missouri Synod, which takes a much harsher stance on homosexuality. But still, the ELCA, like most mainline Protestant churches, does have a celibacy rule. And if church leaders don’t change that policy at this convention, aren’t these folks putting their collars on the line?

Read it all here.

The new face of evangelicals

Mark I. Pinsky writing in USA Today

This is more than what Freud called "the narcissism of small differences." The emerging face and voice of American evangelicalism is that of a pragmatic, politically sophisticated, pastor of a middle class megachurch.

The emerging face and voice of American evangelicalism is that of a pragmatic, politically sophisticated, pastor of a middle class megachurch. A younger generation of ministers such as Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life; Bill Hybels, of the pioneering Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago; T.D. Jakes, the African-American pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, as well as a music and movie producer; and Frank Page, the re-elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
They want to change the tone of the national political debate, making it less confrontational, and to open the movement to tactical coalitions with mainline Christian denominations, other faiths and even liberal secularists on a broad spectrum of issues.
True, on cultural touchstone issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, there is no difference between the Old Guard and the New Guard: All are equally opposed. But the younger pastors want to broaden the evangelical agenda beyond what Hunter calls "below the belt" issues linked to sexuality.

Emphasis added. Read it all here.

Evangelicals see abstraction in Bible

Continuing today’s theme of the evolving nature of Evangelical Christianity in America:

Fujimura's abstract works speak to his evangelical Christian faith. But to find it takes some digging.
"The Bible is full of abstraction," said Fujimura, an elder at a Greenwich Village church he helped start. "Think about this God who created the universe, the heavens and the earth from nothing. In order to have faith you have to reach out to something, to a mystery."
Evangelical unease with the visual arts dates to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Andy Crouch, editorial director for Christianity Today's Christian Vision Project, which examines how evangelicals intersect with the broader culture, notes that Protestantism traces its origins to an era when noses were snapped off sculptures in a rejection of Catholic visual tradition while the word of God was elevated.

"The very parched nature of evangelical visual culture is making people who have grown up in this culture thirsty for beauty," he said.
Emphasis added. Read it all here in the Washington Post.

Here at the Episcopal Café we too recognize art as a path to God as regular visitors know by the regular rotation of art. But did you realize that our Art Blog tells more about the art used on these pages? One of our partners at EC is ECVA, the Episcopal Church and the Visual Arts.

Lutherans vote on question of discipline for gay and lesbian clergy

There are a number of news stories out this evening about what the decisions made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church meeting in the final day of their assembly. Having decided to postpone any decisions on officially sanctioning same-sex blessing until 2009 earlier this week, a resolution passed today encourages Lutheran bishops to refrain from disciplining clergy "who are in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship" in the interim.

This action is being taken to mean that the Lutheran Church now officially allows non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy, according to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times:

"For the first time, clergy in same-sex committed relationships can serve the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America without threat of discipline to them, their congregations or their bishops.

The historic decision, made today at a national assembly at Navy Pier, was spearheaded by Bishop Paul Landahl of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod.

A day earlier, attendees voted down a measure that would have ended a ban on non-celibate gay clergy. But Saturday’s vote calls on church leaders to ‘refrain from or demonstrate restraint’ in disciplining those who violate the policy."

But as Eric Bjorlin, who presents the situation in detail points out:

The assembly seemed to say that we (the entire 4.8 million members of the ELCA, as represented by the assembly) aren’t ready to make formalized changes of policies and procedures, but if certain areas (via their bishops) don’t want to abide by the rules established, then we’ll accept that. As Phil Souchy of Lutherans Concerned said, it’s basically a call by the assembly saying, “Do not do punishments.” Now while this doesn’t technically change anything, but it’s an obvious step in a new direction and a likely indicator of where the ELCA is headed. There is technically no “official” change, but the Yahoo! News article’s title would have you think there had been.

It will probably be a while until the full implications and ramifications of the decisions are understood.

Methodists target online seekers

A Pew Internet & American Life Project report revealed that 64 percent of Internet users in 2003 used the Web for spiritual and religious activities, a jump from 25 percent in 2001. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they used the Internet to seek or exchange information about their own religious faith or tradition and 17 percent used the Internet to find information about where to attend religious services.

The United Methodist Church is using this data for its "Igniting Ministry" campaign to increase memebership and to assist seekers. According to The Christian Post:

More than 21 million people are expected to drop in on a new wave of online interactive ads being launched by one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations.

As part of a multi-million dollar "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." advertising campaign, The United Methodist Church will target the younger generation (22- to 44-year-olds) over the next two months with ad messages on the Internet.

"We're seeking to reach people who feel like something is missing from their life and are looking for meaning or purpose," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of the United Methodist Communications, in a released statement. "Many of those people are searching online. We've chosen sites where they may be looking for something to fill a void in their lives - whether it's travel, relationships, or something more spiritual."

More on the campaign can be found here

I wonder what the latest data would show on internet usage and spiritual seekers. Episcopal Cafe is our way of reaching out.

Where's the conversation?

Elvis asked for a "little less conversation, a little more action please."

The moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Joan S. Gray, asks "Where is the conversation?" Quoting:

The Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church presented seven recommendations to the 217th General Assembly last summer. Recommendation number two commends to the church-at-large the process the task force used to conduct its work. This process involves bringing together a group of people with different theological views and engaging in a committed program of worship, study, honest conversation, and prayer.

In essence, this is a process of exploring how to be the church with those who disagree with us.

My disappointment is that I have not found many presbyteries or churches where groups are meeting to do this kind of work. In fact, the attitude generally seems to be, "What good does it do? It won't solve our issues."

The way we live together as Christians is part of our witness to the watching world. It is a powerful witness to God's power when the Holy Spirit enables human beings to come together in love in spite of their differences.

One of the most spiritually enriching experiences of my life was participating in a common-ground group for four years with fellow members of my presbytery who had greatly differing opinions on denominational issues. When this group came to an end, I am sure that no one had fundamentally changed his or her position on controversial issues. What had changed, though, was our relationship. Respect and Christian affection had replaced suspicion and wariness.

Emphasis added.

United Methodists target seekers online

As part of a larger marketing campaign, the United Methodist Church will soon use interactive internet advertisements to attract younger seekers to the church. Church Executive has the report:

More than 21 million people are expected to drop in on a new wave of online interactive ads being launched by one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations.

As part of a multi-million dollar "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." advertising campaign, The United Methodist Church will target the younger generation (22- to 44-year-olds) over the next two months with ad messages on the Internet.

"We're seeking to reach people who feel like something is missing from their life and are looking for meaning or purpose," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of the United Methodist Communications, in a released statement. "Many of those people are searching online. We've chosen sites where they may be looking for something to fill a void in their lives - whether it's travel, relationships, or something more spiritual."

. . .

The Methodist ads will appear on such popular websites as Beliefnet, eHarmony, CitySearch, and About.com from Aug. 20 to mid-October, asking questions about desires and beliefs and offering poll results from users' responses. Television spots from the campaign will also be streamed and links will lead users to information about The United Methodist Church.

The outreach campaign comes as membership in The United Methodist Church is at its lowest level since 1930 with just over 8 million.

In 2005, The United Methodist Church announced a $25 million advertising effort over the next four years to reach out to their communities and raise their identity. The boosted ad effort came on the heels of airing United Methodist television commercials between 2001 and 2004. Research indicated that first-time attendance increased by 9 percent among congregations residing where the ad was broadcasted during that campaign period.

Testing out other outreach strategies to complement the TV ad campaign, United Methodists launched a large-scale outdoor advertising last year, placing 450 billboards in 15 media markets to reach commuters and travelers.

This year, the new medium is the Internet. With the growth of Internet advertising, United Methodists have picked up on the fast-growing medium to reach wider audiences, particularly seekers.

Read it all here. The interactive ads will ask users questions about their desires and beliefs and offer a choice of answers. After submitting a response, they will see the poll results, along with information and links to explore more about The United Methodist Church. The ads also will feature streaming video of television spots from the campaign and offer a free MP3 download of the theme music.

This is a significant investment. Will it bring new members to the Methodist Church? Should the Epiecopal Church do something similar?

Methodists denounce the Institute for Religion and Democracy

The Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church is proposing a resolution, to be considered by their General Conference in 2008, condemning the tactics of the Institute for Religion and Democracy and calling for all Methodists to cease working with this organization.

The Desert Southwest Conference denounces the IRD and proposes the following for consideration by the national conference.

The Resolution contains numerous Wheras clauses concluding with these resolutions:

Therefore, be it resolved, that we condemn the hardball, deceptive and divisive tactics of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and its UMAction Committee.

Therefore, be it further resolved, that we call for the following actions:

* Good News/RENEW and The Confessing Movement to cease their partnership with the IRD
* all caucus groups not to use the same kinds of hardball tactics exhibited by the IRD
* all United Methodists not to support the IRD and to reject the agenda it works to impose on the UMC and the tactics it uses to advance them.
* the IRD to disband its UMAction committee and cease its efforts to impose its agenda on the UMC.
* all parts of the UMC to engage religion of the heart, in accordance with Wesley’s teachings and the example of Christ, and join hands together so that we may move forward together in love and in good works.

Therefore, be it further resolved, that, in order to facilitate this joining of hands, we call on all parts of the Church to engage in study and dialogue on Wesleyan theology, specifically in regards to Wesley’s understanding of what is true religion (and what is not)— religion of the heart with the Royal Law at its center—and how it applies to the needs of the world, as expressed in his concept of "practical Christianity." In such dialogue, it is hoped that the Church will return to what is essential and most important about our faith and about living as disciples of Christ. It is further hoped
that through this, organizations such as the IRD that seek to divide us will fail in their efforts, and we will better learn to love each other and to see Christ in each other, enabling us to then join our hands so that we may indeed move forward together in love and good works.

Therefore, be it further resolved, that at the close of the 2007 New York Annual Conference session, the above resolution be prepared and submitted by the Annual Conference secretary to comply with deadlines and submission requirements for consideration by the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Read the whole resolution here

Obedience to Rwandan authority, in America

The Christianity Today blog reports:

A suburban Chicago church sought leadership from Rwanda amid theological disputes with the Episcopal Church. This week, it found itself in conflict with its leaders over Rwandan politics.

All Souls Anglican Church had invited Paul Rusesabagina, whose life was featured in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, to speak during Sunday morning services. The Wheaton, Illinois, church, a member of the Rwandan-led Anglican Mission in America, invited him as part of a fundraiser to build a school in Gashirabwoba, Rwanda.

On Thursday, however, Emmanuel Kolini, the Anglican archbishop of Rwanda, asked All Soul's pastor J. Martin Johnson to rescind the invitation.

Rusesabagina has been at odds with the president of Rwanda. The archbishop feared that the event could create a strain in the relationship between the Anglican Church of Rwanda and the government.
[A]fter President Kagame found out Rusesabagina was supposed to speak to speak at a church overseen by archbishop of Rwanda, he contacted Kolini, who then told the church to cancel the event, Johnson said.

"The bigger reality for us is having to accept the whole concept of obedience, and that is a harder cultural pill to swallow than I realized," he said. "I'm forced to encounter my own resistance and bias."

Johnson, who was previously a priest in the Episcopal Church, has been under the Rwandan authority since 2004.

Read it here.

Thank you to SFiF for the lead.

Church of Norway re-evaluates

While the Episcopal Church weighs how to deal with the differences in whether to ordain partnered homosexuals or to develop rituals for blessing same sex relationships, and while the House of Bishops debates crucial issues, the National Council of the Church of Norway is reevaluating its pastoral practice after 14 years experience with civil unions in that nation.

The national council of the Church of Norway announced on September 13, 2007 that it has recommended that the church's General Synod, which meets November 12-17, 2007, rescind guidelines prohibiting the ordination and appointment of members living in state-registered same-sex partnerships.

In a decision taken 13 September, the Church of Norway National Council states in a recommendation to the General Synod that there is no longer the relatively high degree of consensus in the Church of Norway on this sensitive issue as there was in 1995 and 1997. Since that time, the reality is that both the church's Doctrinal Commission and the Bishops' Conference are divided near the middle in their assessment of homosexuality. The National Council states, therefore, that it finds it difficult to continue the application of the earlier Synod decisions.

Recognizing that there is not uniform consensus on the issue within the Church, the national council recommends that local bishops and local councils will be responsible to decide on the appoints of all pastors and deacons, and also that each diocese recognize each others decisions whether or not to ordain or appoint.

The recommendation bases itself on what is already Norwegian church law, sc. that the formal authority in matters of ordination and appointment to positions of ordained ministry lies not with the General Synod, but with the relevant bishop and the appropriate appointing church body. For pastors and deacons, the diocesan councils are the appointing bodies. In light of this, the National Council recommends that the General Synod no longer gives general guidelines to the bishops and appointing bodies with regard to ordination and appointment of candidates living in registered same-sex partnership to positions of ordained ministry.

If the Church of Norway General Synod, which will meet 12-17 November 2007, follows the recommendation by the National Council, it will be recognized in the church that the ecclesial bodies responsible for appointments may either appoint, or not appoint, persons living in same-sex partnership. In their procedure they can, if they so wish, take the candidates’ civil status into consideration, without being in breach of Norwegian law or guidelines by the General Synod.

The National Council also requested that the Bishops develop for their dioceses "consistent" processes "whether or not they will ordain homosexual persons living in partnership, and/or provide them with the (normal, but not legally required) episcopal letter of recommendation to the parish(es) they are to serve. The bishops are also requested to consult with each other on how they handle cases where bishops with different practices are involved."

Previous guidelines had been passed in 1995 and 1997 that persons living in registered same-sex partnerships could serve in some church positions but could not be ordained nor function as pastors. Fourteen years of experience with civil partnerships, which took effect August 1, 1993, has created problems with the enforcement of the current rules. The National Council notes that Norwegian society has generally embraced civil unions, while there remains some differences within the Church. Their recommendations are meant to address the current situation in both Norwegian church and society.

The Council recognizes that "there is still a basis in the church in support of not ordaining or appointing or granting an episcopal letter of recommendation to persons living in same-sex partnership" and, while placing the practice of individual dioceses and bishops in local hands, the Council also recommends a process for working out differences between jurisdictions.

The National Council recommends to the General Synod that all bodies involved in church appointments be asked to actively strive toward good and orderly solutions when different views meet in particular cases.

The recommendation passed the National Council by a vote of 11-4.

Read the rest here.

End time for Metropolitan Community Church?

The Metropolitan Community Church was founded in 1968 as a church home for the GLBT faithful who otherwise had no welcoming church home. With a change in attitude in many mainline congregations, however, the future of the Church may be in doubt, according to an article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal Online:

Metropolitan Community Church began in 1968 as an alternative for gays who felt alienated by most churches' condemnation of homosexuality.

After a contentious summer in which the denomination suspended local worship for a month and revoked the credentials of the local pastor, the Rev. Beau McDaniels, Hope Metropolitan Community Church members are doing what many congregations do after a fight with church headquarters.

They are thinking about joining another denomination. The United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant church that has ordained openly gay clergy and affirmed same-sex marriage, is mentioned as a possible successor to the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Vikki Del Fiacco, a former Metropolitan member in Daytona Beach, has already switched over. She is training for the ministry with Port Orange United Church of Christ.

Del Fiacco likes the United group because "it's open and affirming of everyone." She noted Metropolitan founder Troy Perry "never thought MCC would last long term."'

Its original mission was "to be accepting," Del Fiacco said. "But other denominations are accepting now."

Episcopalians, of course, have gotten much attention for ordaining an openly gay bishop.

Some liberal Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations have also embraced openly gay members, said Lesley Northup, an associate professor of religion at Florida International University.

Because of the growing acceptance, gays may no longer feel the need to segregate themselves in a niche church, Northup said.

The Metropolitan Community Church, however, was always intended as a temporary home for GLBT worshippers, and there is sadly still a need for a welcoming church for many:

Melissa Wilcox, a professor of religion at Whitman College in California, has written a book on Metropolitan Community Churches called "Coming Out in Christianity."

She acknowledged Metropolitan Community Churches founders intended the church as a temporary, "stop-gap" solution until other denominations became more accepting of gays.

Wilcox, however, noted many gays are still uncomfortable going to even the most liberal churches, Wilcox said.

They feel awkward and conspicuous when identified as the church's official "gay members." They also encounter "there goes the neighborhood" resistance from members who did not want them to join in the first place, she said.

So Metropolitan Community Churches still fills a need as a place of acceptance. "I think there's a future," Wilcox said.

The whole thing is here.

UCC church barred from Angel Tree project

A United Church of Christ congregation in Texas has been told it cannot participate in an evangelical Christian program that assists children of prisoners because of the church's outspoken gay-friendly stance, according to the UCC web site.

The Rev. Dan De Leon, pastor of Friends Congregational UCC in College Station, Texas, said he learned this summer that his church was disqualified from Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program, which encourages churches to buy Christmas presents for the children of inmates.

Prison Fellowship officials said the church's stance on homosexuality, declared on its Web site, represented a disagreement about basic scriptural doctrine.

"For a church to qualify for Angel Tree, its beliefs must be consistent with our Statement of Faith, including being Trinitarian and accepting the unique authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and life," reads a July 24 letter the church received from Prison Fellowship.

Read it all here

Gap between rich and poor new form of slavery

A group of leaders of the largest coalition of Reformed churches says that the growing gap between rich and poor is a new form of slavery. They are calling upon members to question and challenge globalization that increase the gap. The Geneva-headquartered World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) groups 75 million Reformed Christians from 214 churches in 107 countries. The Rev. Setri Nyomi, Presbyterian theologian from Ghana, explained that the Accra Confession meant that churches and Christians needed to question whether their lifestyle and actions contributed to or hindered overcoming poverty.

From the United Church of Christ website:

Leaders of the world's biggest grouping of Reformed churches, which includes the UCC, have compared the effects of economic globalization to the transatlantic slave trade, and said that Christians need to combat this modern form of "enslavement."

"As a matter of the integrity of our faith, we must say, 'No' to slavery in all of its forms," said the president of the UCC-supported World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick. He was speaking at an October 18-28 meeting in Trinidad of Reformed leaders from around the world.

"While we acknowledge this year the 200th anniversary of the passing of the transatlantic slave trade act by the British Parliament, we are painfully aware that slavery is still with us," said Kirkpatrick in his October 20 presidential report to WARC's main governing body, its executive committee.

Read the article here

Farm Bill Reform is being debated in the US Senate this week. For more information on how this bill can impact world and domestic poverty go to Episcopal Public Policy Network

Flirting with monasticism

Catherine Clair, Prison Fellowship's Breakpoint, decided to investigate the current attraction of the ancient ways of monastic life for modern evangelicals and pentecostals.

It seems the frenzied and the frenetic are finding stillness and order; the alienated are discovering the richness of belonging; and the non-committal are jumping headlong into the freedom of vows.

About eight years ago, I found myself in a convent in Bogotá, Colombia. I had not planned to get me to a nunnery. But it just so happened that I had signed up for a women’s retreat with the Baptist church where I was serving with youth that summer, and since the local convent had a bit of extra space, they hosted us for the weekend. My room—quiet, clean, white—lacked only one thing: distractions. It was perfect. It felt like I had entered rehab for the chronically over-stimulated. That weekend, I got a taste of something that hordes of evangelical Christians are flirting with today: monasticism.

A couple of months ago, I bumped into filmmaker Lauralee Farrar at the Washington Arts Council. She had shared earlier that day about her new film, Praying the Hours, a story about eight people connected by community, at a time in their lives when one of them has their life tragically cut short. The film’s themes grew out of Farrar’s own exploration of the way in which the Benedictine monks view time. After a shattering moment in her life that changed everything, she says she “stumbled upon the Benedictine hours of prayer and began to make them the structure for living through a day”—sort of a Benedictine AA: “one hour at a time.”

At the time, Farrar had no idea that she was a part of a growing trend of people keeping the hours. For the uninitiated, the practice of praying the hours grew out of the eight times each day during which the Benedictine monks stopped to pray the Psalter: Lauds (Morning Prayer) offered at sunrise; Prime (1st hour of the day); Terce (3rd hour, or Mid-morning); Sext (6th hour or Midday); None (9th hour or Mid-Afternoon); Vespers (Evening Prayer) offered at sunset; Compline (Night Prayer) before going to bed; and during the Night (Matins).

Read is all here

UMC allows transgendered pastor to retain post

The Episcopal Church is not alone in struggling to address the matter of GLBT people and ordained ministry. The United Methodist Church has been trying to figure out what to do about the Rev. Drew Phoenix. Phoenix, previously, was the Rev. Ann Brown, and underwent sexual reassignment surgery a year and a half ago. After his reappointment to continue pastoring his congregation at St. Johns United Methodist Church in Baltimore earlier this year by his bishop, John Schol, several other clergymembers in the Baltimore-Washington conference challenged the decision.

According to the Baltimore Sun:

The highest judicial body of the United Methodist Church announced yesterday that a transgender man can remain pastor of a congregation in Charles Village.

The ruling by the Judicial Council affirms last spring's decision by Bishop John R. Schol to reappoint the Rev. Drew Phoenix -- formerly the Rev. Ann Gordon -- to St. John's United Methodist Church.

Backstory from USA Today shows that there was concern whether the Judicial Council would uphold the decision. Dr. James Holsinger Jr. heads the council; Holsinger is Bush's appointee for Surgeon General and has stirred up some controversy for his comments describing gay sex as "abnormal and unhealthy."

A report on the ruling is here. The USA Today story, from two weeks ago, is here.

GOP senator investigates prosperity gospel ministries

Senator Grassley (R.-Iowa) is investigating several TV ministries. The Washington Post reports

After receiving reports of lavish spending at the ministries, Grassley said yesterday that he has requested detailed documents on the finances of the organizations, which bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in donations annually.

All of the ministries have been the target of complaints for years by watchdog organizations, which have alleged that the groups' charismatic leaders dip deeply into donations to fund extravagant lifestyles.

The Grassley investigation is "well-deserved and well-overdue," said Rusty Leonard, who runs MinistryWatch.com, which examines how nonprofit Christian organizations spend donations.
Grassley, who in recent years has forced changes in such nonprofit organizations as the American Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy, American University and the Smithsonian Institution, said in a statement that the allegations involve such amenities as private jets and Rolls-Royces. He has also asked for credit card records, clothing and jewelry expenses and any cosmetic surgery expenses.
Meyer, who is based in Fenton, Mo., has said that her accouterments, including multimillion-dollar homes and luxury cars, are blessings from God.

More news coverage beneath the fold (click more)

Read more »

Vatican conference on the human embryo

In an effort to both bridge the gap between science and Catholic teaching on bioethical issues such as abortion and stem cell research, the Vatican is organizing a conference next week on the origin and development of the human embryo. Here is the Associated Press report:

The Vatican is organizing a conference on the origin and development of the human embryo, saying current bioethical debates regarding stem cells, cloning and assisted fertility often overlook what it considers the crucial origin of organisms.

Church teaching holds that human life begins at conception. The Vatican has been on an increasingly vocal campaign in recent years against abortion and technologies such as embryonic stem cell research which destroy embryos.

The Nov. 15-17 conference is part of a Vatican teaching and research program involving six pontifical universities. The program was created in 2003 to further explore the relationship between science and faith.

"The study of human life from the point of view of its individual origin acquires a particular interest in today's world," said the Rev. Rafael Pascual, dean of the philosophy department at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university, which is hosting the conference.

He cited issues such as assisted fertility, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryonic stem cell research.

The Vatican program, "Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest," was created to help what officials say was a mutual prejudice between religion and science that has bedeviled the Catholic Church since the time of Galileo.

The project, which is under the auspices of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, was inspired by Pope John Paul II's 1992 declaration that the church's 17th century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension."

Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicholas Copernicus' discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.

The head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, was asked if in the scope of its research the Vatican would entertain scientific views that differed from its own regarding the origin of life.

He said that in research, there must always be respect paid between two sides but at the same time each side must hold fast to its beliefs without compromise.

Read it all here.

"Bibliolatry" among evangelicals comes under fire

The Evangelical Theological Society held its annual meeting earlier this month, and Christianity Today's blast email today features a piece on ETS's most popular breakout session. CT blogger Ted Olsen reports on J.P. Moreland’s standing-room only “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.”

“In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ,” he said. “And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.”

The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.”

Suppose an archaeologist discovered a portion of the ancient city of Jerusalem that was specifically described in the Old Testament, Moreland said:

Could the archaeologist have discovered the site without the use of the Old Testament? Once discovered, could the archaeologist learn things about the site that went beyond what was in the Old Testament? Clearly the answer is yes to both questions. Why? Because the site actually exists in the real world. It does not exist in the Bible. It is only described in the Bible and the biblical description in partial.

Likewise, Moreland argued, “because the human soul/spirit and demons/angels are real, it is possible, and, in fact, actual that extra-biblical knowledge can be gained about these spiritual entities. … Demons do not exist in the Bible. They exist in reality.”

By not researching how demons work, how to fight them, and other such issues by, for example, working with exorcists, Christian scholars are harming the church, Moreland argued. In a similar vein, he thinks evangelical scholars and the movement as a whole are rejecting “guidance, revelation, and so forth from God through impressions, dreams, visions, prophetic words, words of knowledge and wisdom.”

“We shut that down because of charismatic excesses,” he said. “Because of abuses, we fear teaching people how to use it. We think it’s all going to be Benny Hinn or something like that.”

A third area where Moreland critiqued evangelical over-commitment to Bible was in the scarcity of evangelical appeals to natural theology and moral law in their political and cultural discussions.

“The sparse landscape of evangelical political thought stands in stark contrast to the overflowing garden both of evangelical biblical scholarship and Catholic reflection on reason, general revelation, and cultural and political engagement,” he said. “We evangelicals could learn a lesson or two from our Catholic friends.”

The whole thing is here.

Priest fired for being scandalously good

This is how Father Ray Martin got fired from his three parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baltimore: he invited an Episcopal priest...a woman!... to read the Gospel at a funeral mass. He also hired a handyman who was arrested once...and for whom the charges were dropped. The handyman, Frank Gulbrandsen, lost his home and his job in the process, but hire him Father Martin did.

Liz Kay and Kelly Brewington broke the story for the Baltimore Sun on November 9th:

Baltimore's new Roman Catholic archbishop removed a priest who was pastor of three South Baltimore parishes for offenses that include officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, which violates canon law.

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien personally ordered the Rev. Ray Martin, who has led the Catholic Community of South Baltimore for five years, to resign from the three churches and sign a statement yesterday apologizing for "bringing scandal to the church."

Martin led the funeral Mass on Oct. 15 for Locust Point activist Ann Shirley Doda at Our Lady of Good Counsel with several clergy, including the Rev. Annette Chappell, the pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Redemption in Locust Point, Martin said.

Doda's son, Victor, who had invited Chappell to participate in the service, was stunned and outraged by the action taken against Martin.

The Sun followed up with the residents of Locust Point and found that they were hopping mad.

So the news ... that the Rev. Ray Martin, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, was forced to resign for offenses that included officiating at a funeral Mass with an Episcopal priest, was met with outrage. Community members of all faiths decried Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien's action and vowed to protest, noting how sharply it seemed to break from the emphasis on religious tolerance by his predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler.

"Locust Point was ecumenical before it was kosher to be," said Joyce Bauerle, 65, who attends the Church of the Redemption. "The three churches have always worked together. We do dinners together. We work at their church. They work at our church. Christmas bazaars, Easter bazaars, we always help each other.

"This is just a big slap in the face to this whole community," she said yesterday. "We're appalled by this."

The three women sitting around her, all congregants of Our Lady of Good Counsel, nodded their heads in agreement.

One, Helen Kazmarek, an 81-year-old lifelong Locust Point resident, wore a T-shirt with a picture of the community's three churches.

"A Community In Unity," it read.

The Archdiocese said that one of the reasons it removed Martin was that he hired a man with a criminal background to work as handyman in the parish. Given the recent news of other kinds of scandal and abuse in the church, this might have seemed a prudent response except that there is more--and less--to the story according to the Sun.

But who is this maintenance man? How serious is his criminal record, and how old are the charges against him?

Answer: He's Frank Gulbrandsen, a 41-year-old welder and handyman. Most of his problems with the law go back to the early to mid-1990s, when he was in his 20s. Some of the charges against him involved drugs, including marijuana and PCP; most were dropped.

His relationship with Martin developed last spring, when the priest hired Gulbrandsen to make repairs at Holy Cross Church in South Baltimore, one of three in Martin's pastorate. More than his supervisor, Martin became Gulbrandsen's encouraging friend and spiritual mentor. By late summer, Gulbrandsen, who was raised a Lutheran, was ready to convert to Catholicism.

He was happy - "Closer to God than I've ever been before," he says - until the Archdiocese of Baltimore rejected him as a full-time employee at Holy Cross.

And the archdiocese rejected him, he says, because of a crime he did not commit.

In 2005, Gulbrandsen owned a modest rowhouse on a side street in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore. He rented the second floor to a young woman.

One day, his tenant's boyfriend was arrested in the basement of the house for selling drugs. Police arrested Gulbrandsen, too, though he claimed he had nothing to do with the crime. "They arrested me because I owned the house, that's all," he says.

Though the charges against him were eventually dropped, Gulbrandsen says, the arrest cost him the house; he spent 2 1/2 months in jail, fell behind in mortgage payments and lost the property in an auction. He lost most of its contents to theft.

Sun writer Dan Rodricks thinks this shows that in its quest for order and discipline, the Church--in this case the Diocese of Baltimore--has lost sight of the big picture.

Read more »

Spe Salvi: a new Papal encyclical

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI released his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, or “Saved in Hope.” The bibical reference is to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:24, “For in hope we were saved.”

John Allen offers an analysis in the National Catholic Reporter:

If one were to compile a list of the core concerns of Joseph Ratzinger, his idees fixes over almost sixty years now of theological reflection, it might look something like this:

• Truth is not a limit upon freedom, but the condition of freedom reaching its true potential;
• Reason and faith need one another – faith without reason becomes extremism, while reason without faith leads to despair;
• The dangers of the modern myth of progress, born in the new science of the 16th century and applied to politics through the French Revolution and Marxism;
• The impossibility of constructing a just social order without reference to God;
• The urgency of separating eschatology, the longing for a “new Heaven and a new earth,” from this-worldly politics;
• Objective truth as the only real limit to ideology and the blind will to power.

All those themes take center stage once again in the encyclical Spe Salvi, released today in Rome. In that sense, one could argue that the text represents a sort of “Greatest Hits” collection of Ratzinger’s most important ideas, developed over a lifetime, and now presented in the form of an encyclical in his role as Pope Benedict XVI.

. . .

In essence, the message of Spe Salvi can be expressed this way: If human beings place their hopes for justice, redemption and a better life exclusively in this-worldly forces, whether it’s science, politics, or anything else, they’re lost. The carnage of the 20th century, the pope suggests, illustrates the folly of investing human ideology and technology with messianic expectations.

Instead, ultimate hope – what the pope describes as “the great hope” – lies only in God, because only through the moral and spiritual wisdom acquired through faith can technology and political structures be directed towards ends which are truly human.

Read it all here. The text of Spe Salvi can be found here.

Escaping the SBC Shadow

While we wrestle with schism, some 30 different Baptist denominations are talking about uniting, according to an Associated Press report:

ATLANTA (AP) -- A conference organized by former President Carter and others that aims to unite Baptists from more than 30 denominations says major political figures from both parties are tentatively planning to come.

Former Vice President Al Gore, former President Clinton and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Charles Grassley of Iowa, are slated to appear at the event in Atlanta. Among the conference topics are evangelism, criminal justice, preaching, interfaith relations, racism, HIV/AIDS and religious liberty. The meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

The gathering is part of an effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, that's meant to pool the resources of the many Baptist groups and escape the shadow of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention.

"For the first time in more than 160 years, we will have a major convocation of Baptists in America with neither our unity nor freedom threatened by differences of race, politics, geography, or legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures," Carter said in a statement Monday.

From AP Religion News Briefs, here.

Foreclosure Sunday

At a time of year when we hear of Mary and Joseph not finding room in the inn for the birth of Jesus - many are learning the hard reality of being cast out of their homes due to mortgage foreclosures. One church in Chicago is calling on churches and legislators to solve this housing crisis.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

"We have a foreclosure crisis across this country," Acree said. "But we came here today to tell you there is hope."

Acree's sermon came as U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) launched Foreclosure Sunday, an effort to get churches and other spiritual organizations involved to solve what the Greater St. John Bible Church pastor called a "pandemic that has taken over our country."

Davis, whose district includes Austin, stepped to Acree's pulpit to encourage people having trouble meeting their ballooning mortgage payments to seek help from the local, state and federal programs working on the problem.

"Do not just suffer in silence," Davis told the churchgoers. "We have to have faith, but we also have to know that there are things that we can do."

Bills are being sponsored in Congress to extend the time for homeowners to work out mortgage issues and there is help in many states. People are often embarrassed to say they are having difficulties until it is too late. Pastor Acree challenges churches to get involved in supporting people to find the resources available and to lobby congress to take action.

Stories of more churches taking action here

More on the lending crisis in the NYTimes here

No ordination of women in CANA

...the new so-called Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), described as a “mission” of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, held a ceremony in Herndon, Virginia, last week to consecrate four new bishops, all male and two from Nigeria. The ceremony was led by CANA head Rev. Martyn Minns of Fairfax’s Truro Church, another defecting congregation. In his remarks at the ceremony, Minns said, “At this time, the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women,” according to reports in the Falls Church News-Press.

Read it all here

Tony Blair converts to Roman Catholicism

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism, the faith of his wife and children. Blair converted during a Mass Friday night at the private London chapel of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the church said.

"I'm very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church," Murphy-O'Connor said.

Read it all.

Don't confuse Jesus with super heros

The key message of Christmas is that God in Jesus commits to dignifying and transforming human ordinariness, not to fantasies about a super-hero figure or military conquerer, the Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, President of the Methodist Conference in Britain, has declared in his seasonal message.

He writes: "When Jesus Christ came into our world he was more ordinary and human than many expected – both then, and now. The ancient Jews had expected Messiah for a long time, and their expectations increased over time. Older expectations of the coming of a great but essentially human King became anticipation of a more supernatural figure. They expected a mighty warrior who, Superman like, could remove invaders from the land, and purify the Temple with a wave of his hand. Or he would be the perfect Law keeping machine, the immaculate Pharisee."

A similar note was struck by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams in a Christmas Eve article appearing in The Times newspaper, where he wrote: "[T]he [Gospel] story goes on to say something quite strange and surprising. God steps in to sort it all out. But he doesn’t step in like Superman, he doesn’t even send a master plan down from heaven. He introduces into the situation something completely new – a new life; a human baby, helpless and needy like all babies."

Read it all here.

Jesuits to elect new leader

Time Magazine reports on the election of a new leader for the Jesuits.

The Jesuits' outgoing Superior General is a soft-spoken Netherlands native named Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who has served since 1983. The 79-year-old last year became the first ever Jesuit leader to ask for, and receive, papal permission to retire from the post. White-haired and goateed, Kolvenbach has kept a low public profile during his quarter-century reign, but is widely praised for his skills in reestablishing good ties with the Holy See after the run-ins with top Vatican officials of his predecessor, a charismatic Basque-born progressive named Pedro Arrupe.

Most Jesuits... focus... on frontline missionary work amongst the poor and oppressed. Noted in particular for their vast network of schools and universities, the Jesuits are widely considered the day-to-day educational and intellectual motor for Roman Catholicism. ...lately been working on an education project in the hinterlands of Mongolia. "Whereas a Benedictine is centered around his monastery, the Jesuit's life is the road. The way we've achieved our credibility is getting our hands dirty, getting involved in issues of countries."

Read it all here.

Brazilian priests not keen on celibacy

AGI is reporting:

Brazilian priests have spoken directly to Pope Benedict XVI to ask him for a revision of the canonical law obliging celibacy for those carrying out priestly functions.

The story mentions a report in a Spanish paper, in which an unnamed bishop is quoted saying that

married laymen have long been ordained in Brazil. "Rome is aware of the fact, but does not want it to be made public." Brazilian priests have also asked for the appointing of priests to be made more democratic, and for those who have divorced to have a right to the sacraments as well.

Read it all. (Hat tip: Religion News Service.)

Spokesperson for U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responds

On Monday The Lead covered the op-ed by Joe Feuerherd appearing in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post.

Today the Post has run a response by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The bishops never align themselves with any party or any candidate, yet Feuerherd presumptuously declares them for Sen. John McCain. He puts the bishops in the Republican Party despite that fact that on many of their positions, such as immigration and health care, they could be considered in the Democratic camp. He describes Pope John Paul as conservative, despite the fact that the media who heard him in Newark in 1995 said he sounded more liberal than the most liberal Democrat. In 1999, in St. Louis, Pope John Paul personally -- and successfully -- called upon the governor of Missouri to commute the sentence of a man on death row.

The current campaign shows that politics is too often a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype. In "Faithful Citizenship," the Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. It stresses that Catholics need to be guided more by their moral convictions than by attachment to a political party or interest group. Catholic participation should help transform the party to which they belong; they should not let the party transform them in such a way that they neglect or deny basic moral truths.
His final salvo, damning the bishops, is unworthy of both Feuerherd and The Post. It's hard to imagine The Post giving its pages to a writer suggesting the outright damnation of the leaders of any other religious body. Feuerherd's vitriol might be understandable if the bishops were concerned, like a typical special-interest group, only with what benefits them. However, the bishops' defense of the right to life of the unborn is a principled commitment in justice to the good of others who are vulnerable and with no voice of their own.

A group calling itself the Catholic News Agency suggests Feuerherd could be subject to sanction by the church:
While describing himself as an opponent of liberal abortion laws, Feuerherd criticized Republicans and pledged his support for the Democrats. “Sounds like I'll be voting for the Democrat -- and the bishops be damned,” his essay concluded.

Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters vigorously condemned the curse. “To wish damnation on an individual or a group is to wish on them the absolutely worst fate conceivable: separation from God forever,” Peters wrote. “Catholics possessed of even a rudimentary catechesis know that one cannot invoke upon a human being any greater calamity than damnation, and that it is never licit, for any reason, to wish that another person be damned.”

Peters said Feuerherd’s “words of contempt” were not made in the heat of the moment. “Feuerherd's curse, ‘the bishops be damned’, was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in a prominent national publication.”

Peters noted that Canon 1369 canon law mandates the imposition of a “just penalty” for a person who in published writing “expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church.” Another canon, 1373, commends “an interdict or other just penalties” to be imposed on a person who publicly incites animosities or hatred against an episcopal ordinary “because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry.”

“I believe Feuerherd has gravely violated both of these canons,” Peters said. He stated that by virtue of their office, bishops should impose canonical punishments upon Feuerherd.

Catholic bishop targets breast cancer charity

From Associated Press:

The Diocese of Little Rock is urging its members not to donate to a breast cancer foundation known for its fundraising races across the globe because the group supports Planned Parenthood.

The diocese says the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, which has invested about $1 billion in cancer outreach and research, gives money to Planned Parenthood to hold breast exams and offer education to women in its clinics.

"Donors cannot control how an organization designates its funds," a diocese statement reads. "Therefore, money donated for a specific service ... directly frees up funds to support other areas of an organization's agenda."

Marianne Linane, director of the diocese's "respect life" office, said those other agendas includes abortions and contraceptive services. The Catholic church's policy is that abortion is wrong in every instance.

Rebecca Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Komen foundation, said the group invested $69.6 million in more than 1,600 community-based education and screening programs during 2007. Planned Parenthood received less than 1 percent of that money, she said.

"It's insignificant in relation to all of the funding we do," Gibson said. "I think it's just really unfortunate undue attention is being shed on organizations that are providing vital services in those communities."

The diocese's decision comes as northwest Arkansas prepares for its running of the Race for the Cure on April 19.

Officials estimated Little Rock's running last year brought out more than 43,000 participants and raised more than $1.65 million.

Read it all.

Pope to issue new Encyclical during Holy Week

The Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, confirmed on Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI is about to finish his Encyclical on social issues, which will focus on the developing world. The Catholic News Agency has this report:

"Yes, the Pope is working on a social encyclical, which will have, I believe, a significant impact on the great social and economic problems in the contemporary world," said Cardinal Bertone during an interview published today by the Italian daily "La Repubblica."

Pope Benedict, according to Cardinal Bertone, "will address issues particularly related to the third and the fourth world."

The concept "fourth world" was coined by Pope John Paul II in his social encyclical “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis”, in reference to the poor and marginalized living in developed countries, especially in inner cities.

The Secretary of State gave no clue as to when the document will be released, but unnamed sources from the Vatican quoted previously by the daily "Il Messaggero," said the third encyclical of Pope Benedict would be signed on the feast of St. Joseph –March 19th - and released during Easter.

"The encyclical will focus on international social problems, with special attention to developing countries," Cardinal Bertone told "La Repubblica."

Read it all here.

Hat tip to Vox Nova.

Pope Benedict XVI will rehabilitate Martin Luther

Pope Benedict XVI has decided that Martin Luther was not so bad after all. Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo, but the current Pope will announce that Martin Luther was misunderstood. The Times has the report:

Pope Benedict XVI is to rehabilitate Martin Luther, arguing that he did not intend to split Christianity but only to purge the Church of corrupt practices.

Pope Benedict will issue his findings on Luther (1483-1546) in September after discussing him at his annual seminar of 40 fellow theologians — known as the Ratzinger Schülerkreis — at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence. According to Vatican insiders the Pope will argue that Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy, was not a heretic.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the move would help to promote ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. It is also designed to counteract the impact of July's papal statement describing the Protestant and Orthodox faiths as defective and “not proper Churches”.

The move to re-evaluate Luther is part of a drive to soften Pope Benedict's image as an arch conservative hardliner as he approaches the third anniversary of his election next month. This week it emerged that the Vatican is planning to erect a statue of Galileo, who also faced a heresy trial, to mark the 400th anniversary next year of his discovery of the telescope.

Read it all here.

More reasons to go to confession

The Vatican announced a new list of additional sins that should be added to the traditional reasons for confession. According to a report by Reuters:

Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.

The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.Girotti, who is number two in the Vatican "Apostolic Penitentiary," which deals with matter of conscience, also listed drug trafficking and social and economic injustices as modern sins.

But Girotti also bemoaned that fewer and fewer Catholics go to confession at all.

He pointed to a study by Milan's Catholic University that showed that up to 60 percent of Catholic faithful in Italy stopped going to confession.

In the sacrament of Penance, Catholics confess their sins to a priest who absolves them in God's name.

But the same study by the Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God's intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.

Read more here.

Lutherans to confront sexuality issues

Two big stories from the Lutheran Church:

A task force drafting a statement on sexuality for the nation's largest Lutheran group said Thursday that the church should continue defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

However, the panel did not condemn same-gender relationships. The committee expressed regret that historic Lutheran teachings have been used to hurt gays and lesbians, and acknowledged that some congregations already accept same-sex couples.

Rachel Zoll of AP has it here.

The Draft Statement is here in pdf.

For background on the statement from ELCA click here.


Facing a likely vote on the ordination of gays at the 2009 national convention, which will be held in Minneapolis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) issued a draft Thursday of its Statement on Human Sexuality. Seven years in the making, the report does not take a specific stand on gay ordination -- that will come in a position paper expected to be released about a year from now -- but it does lay the groundwork for the impending debate.

Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has the story.

More thoughts on that Pew survey of religious affiliation

At least two more good essays have appeared since the initial reactions in blogs and in the media to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's first set of findings from its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008.

From the Alban Institute comes an article by James P. Wind, president of the Alban Institute. Wind crunches the numbers. One of the things he notices:

At first glance, American Catholicism looks relatively stable, making up 23.9 percent of the adult population, a figure very similar to the 25 percent regularly reported over the past several decades—except, as the researchers remind us, for the stunning fact that actually American Catholicism has suffered the greatest losses of any faith community. Almost one-third of the survey respondents who claimed to have been raised as Catholics no longer label themselves that way.
The Alban Institute's interest is in congregations. Wind draws this conclusion about the churning found by the Pew survey:
In every worship service, board meeting, Sunday school class, social event, and rite of passage, all the churn that the Landscape Survey points to “out there” in the national environment is going on “in here”—in the lives of individual members and the small faith communities they belong to. Once upon a time religious leaders represented very distinct religious communities that were clearly differentiated from the ones down the street or across town. Now our leaders work in a sea of religious vagueness and search for ways to help people surrounded by a growing tide of “nothing in particular” find something in particular to build a life upon.

Alan Wolf, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, observes that the survey informs the public of much of the scholarly community already knew. But then he goes on:

Yet other findings in the study shed new light on issues around which there has been no scholarly consensus. Three in particular are worthy of attention: the size and composition of minority faiths, the winners and losers in the religious marketplace, and the potential prospects of the religious right.
The lowest estimate usually cited of the Muslim population, it turns out, is too high....It is not just that Buddhists, who do not trace their roots to Abraham, may outnumber Muslims, who do. It is that the combined percentage of those who identify themselves as either Hindu (0.4 percent) or from "other world religions" (0.3 percent) does so as well.
For many years now, it has been received wisdom that mainline, politically liberal Protestant churches have been the losers and conservative evangelical churches have been winning. That assumption, too, will have to be rethought.

The biggest losers among American religions turns out to be Catholics....Nor is it quite the case that conservative Protestant churches are the winners.

whatever the case in the past, there is no strong evidence of strict churches attracting a disproportionate share of members now. Political scientists interested in American religion, such as John C. Green, Clyde Wilcox, and Kenneth D. Wald, believe that the influence of the religious right may have peaked. The Pew survey provides strong evidence that they are right.

The Pope's visit to America

On April 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI will make his first visit as Pope to the United States. Beliefnet offers full coverage, including, a blog by noted religion writer David Gibson devoted to the visit. Here is a sample post:

As CNS reports, the Popemobile is on its way! I can't wait till the Magliozzi brothers on "Car Talk" get hold of this one. Popes have almost always used Mercedes (though you'd think the Bavarian Benedict might like a BMW, no?), and this one is a modified version of the Mercedes-Benz ML430 off-road vehicle. Not terribly gas-friendly for this environmentally-sensitive pontiff. But he's not traveling very far in it.

So as the "Car Talk" fellows would say, here's a Puzzler for you: When did popes start using Popemobiles?

Stay tuned for the answer.

Read it all here.

David Gibson also offers Six Surprising Things About Benedict XVI, 'The Puzzling Pope', which includes the following explanations of the current Pope:

ONE: "He’s not conservative—he’s old-fashioned!" A Vatican aide to the pope delivered that protest to a friend of mine, and it strikes me as one of the best one-liners about Benedict. In reality, of course, Benedict is conservative, in the classic sense of the word—preserving tradition, preferring personal virtue over systemic change, doing more with less. And yes, Benedict will turn 81 on April 16, the day after he arrives. But his outlook is not about his age or philosophy. It’s his style. He loves the Fathers of the early church—St. Augustine is his hero—and he models his vestments on the Medicis of the Renaissance papacy. His Latin is better than his English—and his English ain't too bad—and he plays Mozart to relax. Benedict yearns for the good old days. That's his character, it's his destiny—and, for the foreseeable future, the church's destiny, too. On the other hand, for Catholics "on the ground" who are seeing a return to Latin in the Mass and maybe communion on the tongue (while kneeling at an altar rail, no less), calling Benedict "old-fashioned" rather than conservative may be a distinction without a difference.

Look for full, and updated, coverage here.

Church can expand

New York Times:

The lawsuit, filed against Boulder County by the Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Niwot, Colo., is an important test of a federal statute aimed at protecting churches and other houses of worship from discriminatory zoning.

The church says it has outgrown its current home, on a 54-acre site in one of the buffer zones the county established decades ago to preserve open space around its towns and villages. In February 2006, the county refused to permit the church to double the size of its buildings. The church sued under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, saying the decision limiting its growth also limited its religious liberty.

Read it here.

UCC fights back

The United Church of Christ is leagues ahead of The Episcopal Church in its efforts to establish and protect a distinctive Christian indentity. Today's full page advertisement in The New York Times, prompted by the controversy surrounding Sen. Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is just the latest example of the UCC's aggressive approach to refuting its detractors. Our passive Church has yet to grasp the danger in allowing its opponents to define it. We are also behind the UCC in our understanding of viral issue-oriented fundraising, as a nugget from this story makes clear:

An online campaign to raise $120,000 to purchase the ad began on March 27. In less than a week, UCC members, churches and Conferences had gathered enough money to pay for the ad.

Imagine what might have been accomplished had the folks calling the shots for the UCC been calling the shots in our Church after the consecration of Gene Robinson. It's painful to consider how little we did with that phenomenal opportunity to reach out to people who appreciated what we had done.

(Meanwhile, Dan Burke of Religion News Service has a two-part (1, 2) interview with UCC leader the Rev. John Thomas)

The Pope at the UN

The Pope gave a spirited defense of human rights before the United Nations, emphasizing that human rights are not the gift of the State, but are God-given. The New York Times has this report:

The 81-year-old pope, who was a young German prisoner in the war that forged the United Nations, insisted that human rights — more than force or pragmatic politics — must be the basis for ending war and poverty.

“The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and for increasing security,” Benedict told the United Nations General Assembly.

“Indeed, the victims of hardship and despair, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, become easy prey to the call to violence, and they can then become violators of peace,” he said.

He made no explicit reference to a nation or conflict in particular, and he laid no specific blame in the half-hour speech, which was densely packed with philosophy and theology. But he did mention briefly some specific priorities for the Vatican, like protecting the environment, and making sure that poor nations, especially in Africa, also reap the benefits of globalization.

And in a passage that will have particular resonance for the current United Nations leadership, which is trying to establish the right of the outside world to intervene in situations where nations fail to shield their own citizens from atrocities, the pope said that “every state has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights.”

The concept, known as “responsibility to protect,” is one that Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, has backed as a way for international institutions to take action in regions like Darfur.

“If states are unable to guarantee such protection,” the pope said, “the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations charter and in other international instruments.” In an apparent allusion to countries that claim such international actions constitute intervention in their national affairs, he said they “should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty.”

He added, “On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage.”

In his speech, Benedict touched on themes important both to his three-year-old papacy and his decades of writing as a cardinal and one of the church’s leading intellectuals.

At base, the pope presented the idea that there are universal values that transcend the diversity — cultural, ethnic or ideological — embodied in an institution like the United Nations, founded to help prevent the ruin of another world war. Those values are at the base of human rights, he said, as they are for religion. Thus religion, he said, cannot be shut out of a body like the United Nations, which he said aims at “a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person.”

“A vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help achieve this,” he said. “Recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favors conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism, war and to promote justice and peace.

Read it all here. A video and transcript of the speech can be found here.

Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church is the only religious body to have permanent observer status through the Holy See. Read an interesting explanation here.

The Pope challenges "so-called prophetic actions"

As Rachel Zoll reports, the Pope made comments yesterday that seem to be directed at the Episcopal Church:

At a Roman Catholic church in Manhattan, the pope later warned other Christian leaders against "so-called prophetic actions" that conflict with traditional views of the Bible, a reference to the debate over Scripture that is fracturing churches in America and around the world.

At his visit with Christian leaders, the pontiff said allowing individual congregations to interpret the Gospel undermines evangelism at a time when "the world is losing its bearings" and needs "persuasive common witness" to salvation in Christ.

"Only by holding fast to sound teaching will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world," Benedict said at the evening service with Protestant and Orthodox clergy at St. Joseph's church, which was founded by German immigrants and still regularly celebrates Mass in German.

"Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the method which the world is waiting to hear from us."

Benedict did not mention specific issues troubling the churches. However, many Protestant groups have been arguing for years over how to understand what the Bible says about truth and salvation, and whether it prohibits gay sex.

Read it all here. The full text of the remarks can be found here.

What do you think?

Later: Here's the ENS report on the Pope's remarks. A portion:

Read more »

Southern Baptists in decline

The decline in Episcopal Church membership relative to America's population growth is often attributed to our "lack of biblical faith". Interestingly today, the Southern Baptist Convention, which prides itself on a focus on biblical faith above all else has announced that it must recognize that it is a "denomination in decline".

According to an article published on EthicsDaily.com;

"New statistics released by LifeWay Christian Resources listed total SBC membership in 2007 as 16,266,920, a 0.24 percent decrease from the 16,306,246 reported in 2006. Baptisms, long used as a marker of Baptist vitality, dropped more than 5 percent to their lowest level since 1987.

LifeWay President Thom Rainer called the report 'truly disheartening.'

Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, said membership growth has been moving toward a plateau for some time.

'Many have predicted that membership (an inflated statistic anyway) would soon began to decline, but the statement, 'Southern Baptists are a declining denomination' was not 'officially' accurate,' Stetzer wrote in a LifeWay blog. 'Until today.'

'For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline,' Stetzer wrote."

Stetzer goes in the article to say that membership in the SBC has peaked and the long term trends indicate a decrease that should continue for the foreseeable future given that baptisms are at their all time low.

Read the rest here.

United Methodist Church adopts full communion proposal with ELCA

ELCA News Service:

By a vote of 864-19, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) adopted an implementing resolution April 28 that will establish full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Full communion will be fully realized by both churches should the same proposal be adopted at the next ELCA Churchwide Assembly, which meets Aug. 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, Chicago, said he eagerly awaits the ELCA Churchwide Assembly vote in 2009 and hopes that it, too, will be a strong affirmation of full communion with the UMC. Hanson also preached at an April 29 worship service at the UMC General Conference. "This is about revival of two church bodies that are deeply committed to re-presenting themselves in a pluralistic, dynamic changing culture for the sake of mission," Hanson said.
The ELCA's five full communion partners are the Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

Not guilty by reason of nonexistence

San Francisco Chronicle:

A San Rafael minister who presided over several same-sex ceremonies didn't violate Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rules, because same-sex marriages don't exist in the church, a church court ruled Tuesday.

At the same time, the Permanent Judicial Council's ruling affirmed the right of same-sex couples to have unions, a ceremony that would theoretically have a distinct liturgy.

The ambivalent ruling - affirming the rights of gays and lesbians to have their relationships sanctioned by the church but not considering them equal to those of heterosexual couples - is likely to disappoint both sides in the debate.
Clergy "who are authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply or represent that a same-sex ceremony is a marriage. ... A same-sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage."

Spahr said she had conducted hundreds of same-sex unions since 1974. She said that in recent years gays and lesbians have wanted marriages specifically because they saw the term as a measure of equality.

Over the past five years, Spahr said she'd presided over at least 14 such ceremonies.

She called the court's ruling, which removed a censure against her, a mixed ruling.

"To hear once again that they are not equal, but we are separate and unequal, gives me great pause," she said.

Methodist delegates vote to reject same-sex unions

From the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Delegates at the United Methodist Church's General Conference voted Wednesday to adhere to the church's position that marriage should not include same-sex unions and that homosexual acts are not compatible with Christian teaching.

Those guidelines are included in church's Social Principles, which do not have the force of church law but are to instruct the denomination's 11 million members. The nearly 1,000 delegates at the international conference at the Fort Worth Convention Center are struggling with social issues at the conference that ends Friday.

While affirming the existing guidelines about sexuality, delegates also approved a resolution Wednesday opposing homophobia.


Approved, 517-416, keeping the statement that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Rejected, 574-298, a measure that would have changed the church's definition of marriage to include same-sex unions.

Approved, 544-365, a resolution opposing homophobia and discrimination against lesbians or gays.

Read it here.

Who supports the Evangelical Manifesto?

The group behind the Evangelical Manifesto is carefully managing its splash in the news and The Lead is playing along. Up until 9am this morning this is all their website said:


the official web site of

"An Evangelical Manifesto
A Declaration of Evangelical Identity
and Public Commitment"

** This web site will be actived at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, May 7th. **

The time has now arrived.

An Introduction

An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.

A press conference is running live in video (from 9:30 AM) here. [Links to the transcript and stored video will be placed in this post once they become available.]

Read the manifesto (20 page, PDF format).

Here is the list of "Charter Signatories". Update - Ethics Daily concludes "several signers of the declaration should confess their own involvement in political activity they now condemn." See also this comment on the chief drafter of the Manifesto.

The Lead will have a roundup of reactions later in the day.

See The Lead's earlier story on the Evangelical Manifesto here.

This may be a key paragraph in the manifesto:

Read more »

Focus on Os Guinness, drafter of the Evangelical Manifesto

Os Guinness, principle drafter of the Evangelical Manifesto:

When you have best-selling authors who appear on public television with “feel-good” gospels who have to apologize to their own churches that they’ve diluted the faith when they get home, something is profoundly wrong. When you have Evangelical leaders who make predictions in the name of God, which by biblical standards are openly false prophecy, something is badly wrong. When scholars and writers can look at the Evangelical political movement and describe them as “theocrats” or worse, as “fascists,” something is badly wrong.
From his statement at the National Press Club this morning. God and Culture blogger Paul Edwards provides us an mp3 of the statement (5 minutes). Listen to it all.

More about Guinness here.

UPDATE. In the comments Jim Naughton points out that Guinness co-authored a recent op-ed in the Washington Post with The Rev. John Yates of the breakaway The Falls Church where Guinness is a parishioner. In the op-ed they wrote about why they left the Episcopal Church. Read for yourself and decide whether the Episcopal Church they describe bears any resemblance to reality. Is it civil to slander an entire church in this way?

The news of the day: This is the author of the Evangelical Manifesto. He talks the talk, but does he walk the walk?

Reactions to the Evangelical Manifesto

Updated Thursday morning and again Thursday afternoon and Friday morning

AP - Many veteran Christian activists on the right side of the political spectrum do not support the declaration. James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, reviewed the document and was invited to sign it, but did not, said Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Dobson. Dobson consulted the group's board of directors — a common practice — and the board agreed he shouldn't sign "due to myriad concerns about the effort," Schneeberger said.

Dallas Morning News - There's an unusually high ration [ratio?] of meat-to-bun in this one, whether you agree with it or not.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State - Adopting the language of right-wing Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus, they warn against the “partisans of a naked public square, those who would make all religious expression private and keep the public square secular.” This strikes me as completely bogus. Christopher Hitchens does not have a multi-million-dollar broadcasting empire or an army of devoted Irreligious Left followers. Sam Harris heads no Anti-Christian Coalition with chapters around the country seeking to block religious voters from going to the polls. Religious persons freely speak out on public affairs in this country, and there is no serious effort to stop them.

CBN News - Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America told CBN News the authors of the manifesto were definitely trying to distance themselves from the religious right. "Basically, they were saying 'those of you who care about abortion, who care about homosexuality, who care about the family disintegrating don't speak for us, because we are too intellectual, we are too sophisticated to be concerned about those kinds of things.'"

Reuters - Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said of the statement: "It's a sign of maturation of the evangelical movement ... It's an important theological document but it will have limited political influence because it is making a essentially a theological argument.

World Magazine - the timing of the document's Washington, D.C., release, during the "home stretch" of the presidential primary season, caused some journalists at the event to suggest that claim was disingenuous. [The Washington Times' Julia Duin asked about the timing. Her coverage is here.]

God's Politics (Jim Wallis) - We have a serious image problem. People think that we should stand for the same things as Jesus did. So it's time to change the image.

The FundamentaList (Sarah Posner) - And even though it appears to chastise both conservative and progressive evangelicals equally for such politicizing of issues (if someone can tell me who those progressive evangelicals are, that would be mighty interesting), it's the right that has taken umbrage at its exclusion from the drafting process. People close to the writing process have told me that no one was excluded, but another person with knowledge of it interpreted it as a rebuke of the tactics and tenor of the culture wars. I'll have more later in the day over at TAPPED. [That was earlier in the day. It's late evening and there's nothing at TAPPED yet.]

Updates (latest last):

Ethics Daily

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said several signers of the declaration should confess their own involvement in political activity they now condemn.

"Those who claim to want to recover the word evangelical played a nasty role in creating political fundamentalism, advancing the anti-everything public image that conservative evangelicals rightfully have, fostering the cultural narrative that GOP stands for God's Only Party and truncating the biblical witness' moral agenda to a few so-called non-negotiable issues," Parham said.

Parham said some signers, like steering committee member Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, "helped the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention which strengthened Christian Right and its agenda of dominion and theocracy."

David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, worked over a decade at SBC-related Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Union University in an era when Southern Baptists earned reputation as one of the most stalwart defenders of the Republican Party. Since joining the faculty of a moderate seminary associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Gushee has moved away from fundamentalists on some issues like torture and global warming.

Parham said others signers, like Liberty Theological Seminary President Ergun Caner, "have helped to spread a mean-spirited anti-Islamic fear." Caner's book, Unveiling Islam, was cited as the source for former SBC President Jerry Vines' 2002 statement describing Islam's founding prophet "a demon-possessed pedophile."

Caner stood by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell until Falwell's death last May. In 2005 Caner lionized old-guard SBC leaders like Adrian Rogers and Jimmy Draper, who helped build bridges between Southern Baptists and the Religious Right in the "conservative resurgence" movement launched in 1979.

By one Internet account Caner "brought the house down" with a statement aimed at supporting President Bush during a 2006 sermon at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., a prominent SBC church whose pastor, Johnny Hunt, is reportedly running for SBC president this year.

[The article contains more of the same kinds of instances for signers from the left and the right.]

Washington Times - [Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council] "Theirs is an ivory tower perspective," said Mr. Perkins, who was not asked to sign. "It's an age-old problem with people who are concerned with being spoken well of. They want to rid the world of evil but they don't want to get their hands dirty. It's not true that you can't preach the Gospel and be engaged in taking on the culture." [...] Janice Crouse, director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America, criticized the paucity of female signers (six out of 77) and the "contradictions" in the document. "While calling for more civil dialogue, they called the 'politically visible public voices' of evangelicalism 'political zealots' and declared that their 'emotional responses' harmed the brand name of evangelicals," she said.

Wall Street Journal (Alan Jacobs) - Once all the self-description is out of the way, it turns out that the heart of the document is a kind of urgent appeal: Please don't call us fundamentalists or confuse us with them. This strikes me as a regrettable tack.... At the bottom of page 15, these words appear: "The Evangelical soul is not for sale." This is what is called "burying the lead."

Free gas is The Word

CNN has VIDEO on the story of Dr. Rusty Newman, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Snellville, Georgia, who is offering a chance at free gas for those who attend an upcoming revival.

Stephen Colbert is advocating free gas for all:

And, last, a story on free gas where "free" takes the verb form.

Is liberal Catholicism dead?

David Van Biema's essay on the decline of liberal Catholicsm in the United States was among the more perceptive articles written in the wake of Pope Benedict's recent visit to the United States. The Church that American Catholics have struggled to create since Vatican II bears striking similarities to a certain mainline Protestant denomination.

Van Biema writes:

The liberal rebellion in American Catholicism has dogged Benedict and his predecessors since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. "Vatican II," which overhauled much of Catholic teaching and ritual, had a revolutionary impact on the Church as a whole. It enabled people to hear the Mass in their own languages; embraced the principle of religious freedom; rejected anti-Semitism; and permitted Catholic scholars to grapple with modernity.

But Vatican II meant even more to a generation of devout but restless young people in the U.S. Rather than a course correction, Terrence Tilley, now head of the Fordham University's theology department, wrote recently, his generation perceived "an interruption of history, a divine typhoon that left only the keel and structure of the church unchanged." They discerned in the Council a call to greater church democracy, and an assertion of individual conscience that could stand up to the authority of even the Pope. So, they battled the Vatican's birth-control ban, its rejection of female priests and insistence on celibacy, and its authoritarianism.

Rome pushed back, and the ensuing struggle defined a movement, whose icons included peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan, feminist Sister Joan Chittister, and sociologist/author Fr. Andrew Greeley. Its perspectives were covered in The National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal and America. Martin Sheen held down Hollywood, and the movement even boasted its own cheesy singing act: the St. Louis Jesuits. The reformers' premier membership organization was Call to Action, but their influence was felt at the highest reaches of the American Church, as sympathetic American bishops passed left-leaning statements on nuclear weapons and economic justice. Remarks Tilley, "For a couple of generations, progressivism was an [important] way to be Catholic."

Then he adds, "But I think the end of an era is here."

Bishop Robinson barred by California Cardinal

The New Zealand Catholic reports,

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has barred a controversial Australian bishop from speaking in his California archdiocese.
In a May 9 letter to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary of Sydney archdiocese, Cardinal Mahony invoked the Code of Canon Law to explain that he had decided to "deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles."

Cardinal Mahony took action just as the Australian bishops' conference issued a public statement warning of "doctrinal difficulties" in Bishop Robinson's new book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. The Australian bishops noted problems with Bishop Robinson's treatment of "the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church's moral teaching."

Trends: The emergent and the mega churches

Christianity Today brings us two stories.

First, CT presented a five day exchange between two emergent church figures:

Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village and author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. Collin Hansen is editor-at-large of Christianity Today and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. Both books take a sympathetic journalistic approach to a young but growing movement in American Christianity, examining why it's growing and how it's changing the larger church.

Second, Willow Creek's 'Huge Shift':
After modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, Willow Creek Community Church now plans to gear its weekend services toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith.

The change comes on the heels of an ongoing four-year research effort first made public late last summer in Reveal: Where Are You?
the analysis in Reveal, which surveyed congregants at Willow Creek and six other churches, suggested that evangelistic impact was greater from those who self-reported as "close to Christ" or "Christ-centered" than from new church attendees. In addition, a quarter of the "close to Christ" and "Christcentered" crowd described themselves as spiritually "stalled" or "dissatisfied" with the role of the church in their spiritual growth. Even more alarming to Willow Creek: About a quarter of the "stalled" segment and 63 percent of the "dissatisfied" segment contemplated leaving the church.

On evangelicals and homosexuality

With all the excitement in the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality, we failed to note a quite interesting development on these issues in Evangelical circles. David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, is a self-described Evangelical centrist. He has written two columns for the Associated Baptist Press about homosexuality.

The first column focused on how the church treats GLBT persons:

I’m one of the few leaders in Baptist life with the freedom to talk openly and honestly about the complex theological, moral, pastoral, and public policy issues raised by homosexuality without destroying myself professionally.

Because I hold a tenured professorship in Christian ethics at Mercer University, I am one of those rare souls who can talk candidly about this hot-button issue. And these days I’m finding it hard to avoid the nagging and unsought conviction that this freedom now demands responsible exercise.

. . .

In light of the hatred, mockery, loathing, fear and rejection directed at homosexuals in our society -- and in our churches -- I hope to God that I am not and never have been a perpetrator. But I fear I have indeed been a bystander. I am trying to figure out what it might mean to be a rescuer.

There are always very, very compelling reasons to be a bystander. Mainly these revolve around self-interest. You live longer when you are a bystander. People like you more. And even if you entertain nagging questions of conscience about your inaction, in the end it is easier to stay out of it. And so the hated group keeps getting thrown under the bus.

. . .

I want to begin a dialogue in this column by simply calling for the rudiments of Christian love of neighbor to extend to the homosexual. And the place to begin is in the church -- that community of faith in which we have (reportedly) affirmed that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The second column, published earlier this month, seems to move much further in the direction of affirmation:

In moments of grave moral conflict there are always such competing narratives about what’s really going on. The question becomes how we discern God’s will, how we read the signs of the times, how we figure out whose narrative is the right one.

Consider: 1850, United States: Slavery is either a biblically mandated practice or an abomination before God. 1938, Germany: The church is either called to accommodate itself patriotically to Nazi rule or to resist it even to the point of imprisonment and death. 1963, United States: The Civil Rights Movement is either a great Spirit-led force for liberating oppressed black people or a bunch of misguided rabble-rousers destroying public order. 1980, South Africa: Apartheid is either God’s plan for keeping the races separate or a grave violation of God’s will for justice. 1990, Southern Baptist Convention: Full equality of women in church leadership is either direct disobedience to Scripture or a long-delayed fulfillment of God’s will.

Those caught in the midst of such profound moral conflicts have three options: they can clearly side with one narrative, they can clearly side with the other narrative, or they can seek a kind of in-between position in an effort to take some of the rough edges off of the debate -- and, in doing so, perhaps prevent irreparable divisions in churches and denominations.

But in the end, as the examples above indicate, on the most significant issues, the middle-of-the-road position almost always fails.

. . .

The deeper question is posed by the competing narratives presented above. Either homosexual behavior is by definition sinful, or it is not. If it is sinful by definition, then presumably it must be resisted like any other sin. If it is not sinful by definition, then the homosexuality issue is a liberation/justice struggle for a victimized group.

Probably the right answer to this question will be very clear to everyone (that is, to 99% of all reasonable Christian human beings) in 100 years, as the proper positions on slavery and Nazism and civil rights and Apartheid are to modern-day Christians. But in real time, right now, it is tearing churches and denominations apart here and around the world.

Read the first column here, and the second here. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Episcopal, Lutheran PBs urge prayers, donations for Sudan

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have released a joint statement on Sudan.

In the coming days, we urge all Americans to pray for peace in the Sudan and to call for strong action from the international community to restore stability in a land whose people have been entangled far too long in violence.

Read more »

Baptists reject child sex-abuser database

USA Today

Under pressure to fight child sex abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee said Tuesday that the denomination should not create its own database to help churches identity predators or establish an office to field abuse claims.
The report decried sexual abuse as reprehensible and a sin. But the Southern Baptist principle of local church autonomy means it's up to individual churches — and not the convention — to screen employees and take action against offenders, the committee said.
The past two years have seen a few high-profile allegations against Baptist clergy, and a key victims' advocate in the Catholic crisis, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, began lobbying the Baptists.
Local church autonomy rules out creating a centralized investigative body to determine who has been credibly accused of sexual abuse or anything else, it said, and the convention has no authority to bar known perpetrators from ministry or start an office to field abuse claims.
Christa Brown, SNAP's Baptist outreach director, rejected the argument about local church authority and questioned the convention's commitment to taking the problem seriously.
Frank Page, the outgoing SBC president, called the report on abuse a "home run." Anyone questioning the convention's commitment to fighting child sexual abuse need only look to its website, which has a prominent link to information about preventing the problem, he said.
So, readers, should the Baptist polity be the trump card? May be polity does matter. Although the Roman Catholic example must serve as a strong reminder that centralization can also fail miserably.

Not of one mind

Jonathan Marlowe of Theolog writes:

The recently concluded United Methodist General Conference retained its claim that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote was relatively close, and of course there were faithful, intelligent people on both sides.

At one point, a legislative committee proposed replacing the “incompatibility clause” with nonjudgmental language declaring that the United Methodist Church (UMC) is not of one mind on this issue. Part of me agrees with the idea: I would like very much simply to acknowledge our “separate minds” and move on. But then I wonder . . .

How consistently would we apply this principle? For example, the UMC has a clear statement in our social principles opposing capital punishment. I am glad that we take this prophetic stand. Should we apply our principle of nonjudgmentalism to this area and say simply: “United Methodists are not of one mind with respect to capital punishment,” and leave it at that? I would be deeply disappointed.

Read it all.

Presbyterians move toward full inclusion

The Lead just received a press release from the Presbyterian centered More Light organization reporting on actions taken today at the biannual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. The actions taken today will, if ratified, eventually make it possible for gay and lesbian pastors in committed same gender relationships to serve openly in ordained ministry.

From the press release:

"The action by the General Assembly removes G.60106b from its Book of Order, the Constitution which governs the Church and replaces it with new language. Formerly, it required fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness to be eligible for ordination as deacons, elders or ministers.

"The intent of this standard, passed over a decade ago, was to bar LGBT persons from full membership and service in our Church since marriage equality is not yet available to most in our country," Adee said.

New language passed by the General Assembly reaffirms historic standards of the Church that focus on faith and character which has withstood the test of time, and did not exclude anyone based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

This news was not received well though in other parts of the Presbyterian Church. The IRD weblog characterizes these decisions thusly:

"Late this morning the General Assembly here in San Jose took three actions that will do grave damage to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (1) It voted immediately to remove the 1978-79 "authoritative interpretation" of the PCUSA constitution that declares homosexual practice to be contrary to God's will. (2) It voted to send out for presbytery ratification an amendment that would delete the "fidelity and chastity" standard for church officers. In the absence of that standard, there really would be no standard of sexual behavior. (3) It voted to adopt another authoritative interpretation to ensure that the church is unable to enforce any really binding standards of behavior in any area of life.

The effect on conservative or evangelical Presbyterians was like three hammer blows to the head, one after the other. (And there could be a fourth later today, if same-sex marriage is approved.) We know this fight isn't over--the presbyteries will have to weigh in, and we have a lot more votes there--but it still feels as if we've gone down for the count and the other side is already strutting around the ring like that famous photo of Muhammad Ali glaring down at the fallen Sonny Liston."

Update: AP report.

Methodist bishop responds to Virginia court

Posted at the blog re:conexxion, a statement from Charlene P. Kammerer, Resident Bishop Virginia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, and W. Clark Williams, Jr., Chancellor Virginia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church:

The Virginia Annual Conference strongly believes that theological disagreements within any denomination should be resolved according to the polity and discipline of the denomination itself, and not by the Court’s imposition of itself as arbiter of those disagreements, or by civil legislative mandate. This is true especially where such intrusion by the state courts and legislature permits the Court effectively to nullify the doctrine and discipline of a religious denomination, under which churches have been acting in agreement for years. Such a role by the state government and secular courts is inappropriate, and offends the First Amendment principles of separation of church and state which have been central to the religious freedom of Americans since the founding of our nation.
Read it all.

Pope to stay out of Anglican debate

An article from the AP is saying that Benedict XVI is praying for the Anglican Church but he isn't inclined to weigh in.

Benedict said he did not want to "interfere" in the debate.

Still, the Vatican on Tuesday said the decision by the Church of England to allow women to become bishops will be an obstacle to its reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican does not permit the ordination of women.

You can read more here.

Presbyterians approve ties with Episcopal Church

According to a report in The Living Church, The Presbyterian Church, USA, has agreed to move forward in dialogue with The Episcopal Church.

Read more »

The Pope's interest in Lambeth

There's been speculation that the Catholic Church plans to make hay of tensions in the Anglican Communion. But would that really be in its interest?

In commentary in today's Independent, Paul Vallely answers, No. The Pope, he writes,

worries that the Church of England, which for centuries has prided itself on being both catholic and reformed, could mutate into hardline Protestantism.
The Pope feels more in common with [Rowan Williams] than he does with theologically primitive and doctrinally ideological evangelicals who share his objections to homosexuality or women bishops. Both men see preserving unity as key and the Catholic bishops in England have warned Rome about the deeply factional nature of Anglican politics. A number of the Anglicans who moved to Rome when women were ordained brought with them a rancorous divisive mentality.

Read more »

Vatican: thou shalt not sing the name of Yahweh

Catholic News Service:

In the not-too-distant future, songs such as "You Are Near," "I Will Bless Yahweh" and "Rise, O Yahweh" will no longer be part of the Catholic worship experience in the United States.

At the very least, the songs will be edited to remove the word "Yahweh" -- a name of God that the Vatican has ruled must not "be used or pronounced" in songs and prayers during Catholic Masses.
two Vatican officials noted that "Liturgiam Authenticam," the congregation's 2001 document on liturgical translations, stated that "the name of almighty God expressed by the Hebrew Tetragrammaton and rendered in Latin by the word 'Dominus,' is to be rendered into any given vernacular by a word equivalent in meaning."

"Notwithstanding such a clear norm, in recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," the letter said. "The practice of vocalizing it is met with both in the reading of biblical texts taken from the Lectionary as well as in prayers and hymns, and it occurs in diverse written and spoken forms," including Yahweh, Jahweh and Yehovah.

(Thanks to A Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian.)

In other news from the Vatican,

Italian activists have petitioned Pope Benedict to stop wearing his ermine-trimmed hat and cape but a former Vatican official says there are more important issues to address.
Italian activists have petitioned Pope Benedict to stop wearing his ermine-trimmed hat and cape but a former Vatican official says there are more important issues to address.
Benedict has revived the use of clothing, including a white ermine-lined cloak and a similarly adorned hat last worn by Pope John XXIII in the 1960's.

Senior clergy compensation more than $80,000

Your results may vary, but according to the 2009 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, annual compensation packages for senior clergy in the U.S. exceeds $80,000 the Christian Post reports:

Compensation packages, including benefits such as retirement, life insurance, health insurance and continuing education allowances, have increased to $81,113 per year for the average senior pastor.
According to the survey, churches that draw 101 to 300 people each week pay senior pastors $72,664 per year, including benefits. The pay increases to $88,502 for pastors at churches that average a weekly attendance of 301 to 500 people, and then to $102,623 when attendance averages 501 to 750 people.
Senior pastors, full-time secretaries and administrative assistants in the New England states have higher compensation compared to those in other regions, the survey also found.
Pay also differed among denominations. Pastors leading in Presbyterian and Lutheran churches earn the most with over $100,000 in compensation while executive and administrative pastors make more on average with independent and nondenominational churches ($80,469) than any other denomination.
Find out a bit more from this press release. An excerpt:
The comprehensive results and analysis for this year’s survey of 13 distinct church positions, ranging from senior pastor to church secretary, can be found in The 2009 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff. The complete analysis includes breakdowns based on church denomination, income budget, size, and geographical setting.

This release from 2007 is also interesting:
Although the overwhelming majority (93.7%) of solo-pastor respondents were male, female solo-pastors reported 10.4% higher total compensation.
According to survey results, the role of full-time solo pastor is one of two positions where females reported higher compensation than their male counterparts. The other position is Secretary/Administrative Assistant.

No word on whether those results remain true in the latest survey.

Catholics debate how to weigh a candidate's abortion stance

New York Times:

A struggle within the church over how Catholic voters should think about abortion is once again flaring up just as political partisans prepare an all-out battle for the votes of Mass-going Catholics in swing-state towns like Scranton.

The theological dispute is playing out in diocesan newspapers and weekly homilies, while the campaigns scramble to set up phone banks of nuns and private meetings with influential bishops.

Progressive Catholics complain that by wading into the history of church opposition to abortion — Mr. Biden brought up St. Thomas Aquinas, Ms. Pelosi discussed St. Augustine — Democratic officials are starting a distracting debate with the church hierarchy.
Once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, Catholics have emerged as a pivotal swing vote in recent presidential races. Evenly divided in a New York Times-CBS News poll over the summer, Catholics make up about a quarter of the national electorate and about a third in the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Dozens of interviews with Catholics in Scranton underscored the political tumult in the parish pews. At Holy Rosary’s packed morning Masses on Sunday in working-class North Scranton and the Pennsylvania Polka Festival downtown that afternoon, many Clinton supporters said they were planning to vote for Mr. Obama, some saying they sided with their labor unions instead of the church and others repeating liberal arguments about church doctrine broader than abortion.
But more said they now leaned toward Mr. McCain, citing both his experience and his opposition to abortion.
One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black. “Are they going to make it the Black House?” Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. (Five of the six, all lifelong Democrats who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary, said they now lean toward Mr. McCain.)
After the 2004 election, progressive Catholics started to organize and appeared to win some victories. In 2006, the bishops’ conference all but banned outside voter guides from parishes. And last fall, the bishops revised their official statement on voting priorities to explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons. And it also allowed for differences of opinion about how to apply church principles. The statement appeared to leave room for Democrats to argue that social programs were an effective way to reduce abortion rates, an idea the party recently incorporated into its platform.

Yesterday the Pew Forum issued its latest poll on abortion attitudes. The basic finding: a majority of the public supports keeping abortion legal. A majority of white evangelicals (62%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases while 44 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics are similarly opposed to abortion.

Finally, Douglas Kmiec today has more about the events since he was denied communion for his endorsement of Barack Obama.

Addendum: Catholic bishops seek meeting with McCain and Obama. For the first time in recent memory, leaders of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops have invited the two presidential candidates to meet with them before the election. Neither Republican John McCain nor Democrat Barack Obama have replied to the invitations offered last month, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the conference.

A spokeswoman for the McCain campaign said the senator wants to accept, but does not yet know if such a meeting will fit into his schedule. A spokesman for the Obama campaign could not be reached for comment.

Five bishops who lead policy committees -- delving into matters including abortion, education, migration, international affairs and communications -- want to discuss the candidates' views on social issues, said Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese in New York state. He is chairman of the bishops' domestic policy committee. The meetings, if they occur, will be private and off the record, he said.

Gospel Today goes behind the counter

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Teresa Hairston, owner of Gospel Today, whose glossy pages feature upbeat articles about health, living, music and ministry, said she discovered by e-mail that the September/October issue of the magazine had been demoted to the realm of the risque.

“It’s really kind of sad when you have people like [Gov.] Sarah Palin and [Sen.] Hillary Clinton providing encouragement and being role models for women around the world that we have such a divergent opinion about women who are able to be leaders in the church,” Hairston said. “I was pretty shocked.”

Chris Turner, a spokesman for Lifeway Resources, which runs the stores for the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “It is contrary to what we believe.”

Treated like pornography:
The magazine's publisher, Teresa Hairston, said she was just reporting on a trend, not trying to promote women pastors.

"They basically treated it like pornography and put it behind the counter," she said. "Unless a person goes into the store and asks for it, they won't see it displayed."
Chris Turner, a spokesman for Lifeway Resources, said the cover was not the reason the magazine was pulled from Lifeway's shelves.

"The buyers said the statements that were in it took positions that were contrary to what we would say," Turner said. "It wasn't so much that there were women on the cover."

Featured on the cover are Pastor Sheryl Brady of The River in Durham, N.C.; Pastor Tamara Bennett of This Is Pentecost Ministries in Sacramento, Calif.; Bishop Millicent Hunter of The Baptist Worship Center in Philadelphia, Pa.; Pastor Claudette Copeland of New Creation Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas; and Pastor Kimberly Ray of Church on the Rock in Matteson, Ill.

The Sacbee has more about Pastor Bennett's life story; more about Pastor Brady at the Raleigh News & Observer.

In other news, "The [Lutheran] Church of Sweden welcomed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church to Stockholm and Uppsala September 22-23 to join the anniversary celebrations of its historic decision 50 years ago to ordain women to the priesthood."

Megachurch loses property case to hierarchical denomination

When a local church participates in, prospers from and enjoys the benefits afforded by the parent church it cannot then disclaim affiliation when it disagrees with the parent body, so as to shield church property from the equitable or contractual interests of the parent church. The court affirmed the concept that individuals may leave the church but they cannot take the church property with them.

-- Craig Hoster, the presbytery’s attorney in the case
Presbyterian News Service, September 11, 2008:
An Oklahoma district court in Tulsa has ruled that the Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the legal owner of the property of breakaway Kirk of the Hills, a 2,600-member congregation that bolted to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in August 2006.

In his Sept. 9 ruling, Judge Jefferson Sellers denied Kirk of the Hills petition for a summary judgment and ordered the church to “convey its real and personal property” to the presbytery, as per the decision of the presbytery’s administrative commission, which concluded in March 2007 that Kirk of the Hills was “in schism.”
The court followed the “hierarchical deference” approach in awarding the property to the presbytery, affirming the trust clause in the PC(USA) Constitution, which holds that all property is held in trust for the denomination. Oklahoma has been considered a “hierarchical deference jurisdiction since an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in 1973 involving Cimarron Presbytery and Westminster Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK.

Dean Luthey, an attorney for the PC(USA), said hierarchical deference means that in property disputes involving churches, the state court will defer to the decision of the church's legal system.

Craig Hoster, the presbytery’s attorney in the case, said, “The court followed Oklahoma law. When a local church participates in, prospers from and enjoys the benefits afforded by the parent church, as has been the case here for more than 40 years, it cannot then disclaim affiliation when it disagrees with the parent body, so as to shield church property from the equitable or contractual interests of the parent church….The court affirmed the concept that individuals may leave the church but they cannot take the church property with them.”

The ruling is the latest in a series in several states that support the claims of hierarchical denominations that their polity is intrinsic to their theology, and property is not owned by individual congregations. The prominent exception is in Virginia where the Diocese of Virginia has said it will appeal the constitutionality of a Reconstruction era "division statute."

Vatican refuses ambassadors for being gay or divorced

The Roman Catholic Church has a wide range of teachings on social issues, and recently there have been signals that sexuality issues has taken a disproportional place in the public sphere.

France has tried twice to appoint an ambassador to the Vatican but failed when one candidate was divorced and another a partnered gay man. Reuters reports:

For a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.

The Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on ambassadorial nominations until they are accepted by the country involved. But with the post open for an unusually long period of 10 months, newspapers in Paris and Rome have begun writing about the delay. Even the Paris Catholic daily La Croix got into the story today. It seems Paris has been rebuffed twice for proposing a gay candidate and a divorced one. The Argentinians could have told Paris to play safe with a solid family man.

Meanwhile, with the news that some bishops saying they would refuse communion to Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden for his pro-choice voting record, there is concern that Vatican may have difficulty working with if Barack Obama should he become president.

Douglas Kmeic told National Catholic Reporter that the Catholic voter should look at the broad spectrum of Catholic teaching when choosing a candidate:

Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine, is author of Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama, in which he argues that the pro-life teachings of the church can be reconciled with voting for Obama despite the Democratic candidate's pro-choice stance. Kmiec spoke this morning to reporters in a conference called organized by the “Matthew 25 Network,” a coalition of Christian groups that has endorsed Obama.

Relations with the United States are a diplomatic priority in the Vatican, and some analysts have speculated that an Obama victory would create new tensions between Rome and Washington because of differences over the “life issues,” above all abortion. Kmiec, however, offered a different forecast.

“An Obama presidency would open the door to what is frequently called the best-kept secret of the Catholic church, which is the balance of its social teaching,” Kmiec said. He argued that many of the Vatican’s social concerns are broadly congruent with the likely priorities of an Obama administration, including health care, a living wage, economic policies that promote the well-being of families, and environmental protection.

Kmiec also pointed to a broad meeting of minds between Obama and the Vatican over the war in Iraq.

“The mindset that took us to war is not his,” Kmiec said. “He believes that our greatest strength as a country comes not just from military defense but international diplomacy, for the kind of understanding which the Vatican has repeatedly asked America to have of other cultures and other religions.”

For those reasons, Kmiec predicted, “relations between Benedict XVI and the Holy See under an Obama administration would be very, very positive.”

Reuters: Gays and divorced need not apply as ambassador to Vatican

National Catholic Reporter: Pro-Obama Catholic predicts 'very positive' ties with Vatican

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

The Roman Catholic Church wants to declare Cardinal John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism, a saint. They wanted to remove his body from its original resting place to a place where the new saint could be properly venerated. To do this, the body would have to have been separated from the remains of the man Newman wanted to be buried with. After much controversy, they finally opened the grave and found...nothing.

Ruth Gledhill wrote about it here:

On Thursday, having won the battle to exhume Cardinal John Henry Newman's body for its transfer to the Oratory in Birmingham, those paying their respects at the graveside had a bit of a shock. There was no body to exhume, nothing at all. Not a trace of bone, hair, human remains or anything except this plate. It means that he was not buried in the lead coffin that many supposed he had been but a simple wooden affair. It is not apparently unusual for remains to disintegrate totally in this fashion. A few fragments of hair preserved elsewhere will now be placed in a casket for veneration in the Birmingham Oratory, but of course there can be no 'lying in state' for a real body. At least it solves the Peter Tatchell problem. A non-existent body cannot be exhumed. As the spokesman for the Cause, Peter Jennings, has just told me, rarely can there have been a more vivid reminder of the truth of what the priest says at the Ash Wednesday Mass: 'Remember Man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.' As our capitalist world crumbles about us, it seems that Newman is a saint for our times in more ways than we could previously have imagined.

And Libby Purves, also of the Times wrote:

You would need a heart of stone not to laugh. After months of furious controversy about homosexuality, Victorian graveyard law and Birmingham Council planning, the man at the heart of the row has softly and silently vanished away like the Snark. Last week it was discovered, to the chagrin of exhumers, that Cardinal Newman is not in his grave at all.

So John Henry Newman, that humble, thoughtful, loving and humane convert, that hot tip for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church, cannot after all be hoicked out and reburied. Not for him the marble tomb in the Oratory, still less the risk of being laid out with a nasty waxen mask from the Tussauds team over his dead face so that the faithful may file past and gawp as they do at Pope John XXIII and Padre Pio. Dust to dust: nobody can get their reverential paws on him now. Newman's last wish, furiously quoted by Peter Tatchell, was to be buried alongside his close friend and companion of 30 years. He wrote: “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Father Ambrose St John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will.”

. . .

Oh, enough! Even as a genuinely devout Catholic schoolchild I hated this stuff, and I hate it more now. The Church's weird horror of fleshly things (unmarried or contracepted sex, gay love) is nastily counterpointed by its affection for cadavers. I know the theology, I accept that there is a distinction between voodoo paganism and the more complex ideas formulated by St Jerome and Thomas Aquinas. They say that relics are not worshipped in themselves but are an “aid to veneration” of people whose bodies “were the temples and instruments of the Holy Spirit”.

Fine. Save a well-thumbed prayerbook if you will, or a lock of hair. But these creepy exhumations feed the superstitious magical instincts of religion, not the spiritual and humane ones.

68 percent of Catholics back legal recognition for gay unions

A Knights of Columbus survey, reports Catholic News Service, finds:

A plurality of registered Catholic voters, 36 percent, said homosexual couples should be able to form civil unions. The remaining 64 percent were split evenly -- 32 percent to 32 percent -- on gay couples being able to legally marry or such couples getting no legal recognition.

What's that you say?

In other words:

Although the poll results indicated that 68 percent of Catholics would favor some kind of legal recognition for gay couples in terms of either same-sex unions or legal marriage, "I would not read it that way," [Supreme Knight Carl] Anderson said.

Anderson was probably surprised by the result since it cannot be explained by the inclusion of nonpracticing Catholics: amongst practicing Catholics 63% back legal recognition of gay unions.

When results on the question of same-sex unions are presented (see link below) they are "read" this way: "70% of Americans do not support same-sex marriage including 38% who advocate no legal recognition and 32% who favor civil unions. 68% of Catholics and 75% of practicing Catholics share this view. Even though a majority of non-practicing Catholics oppose same sex marriage, 46% believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry."

The question on same-sex unions asked was: Which comes closest to your view: (A) Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry, (B) gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally form civil unions, but not marry, or (C) there should be no legal recognition of the relationship between gay and lesbian couples?

Given that C < 50% Anderson instead frames the finding as B + C > 50%. Yet it is also true that A + C > 50%. In other words, a majority of Catholics back legal recognition of gay unions. That's a far cry from what many would predict.

You can listen to the news conference webcast here.

The poll, Moral Issues and Catholic Values, is summarized here.

The battle over Pope Pius XII

The 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death is causing renewed tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews. The Economist has a good summary of the dispute over history:

Eight years ago, when Pope John Paul II prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, there seemed to be a new level of trust between Roman Catholics and Jews. But so heavy is the historical baggage that the relationship still creaks under the strain.

The latest problem is a nasty flare-up in an old argument over the role of Pius XII, who was pope during the second world war. Was he a hero who deserves to be beatified, or was he, as some Jews say, guilty of neglectful silence?

. . .

The flare-up began when the Vatican, in what was meant as a friendly gesture, invited an Israeli rabbi to address the Synod of Bishops convening in Rome to discuss the teaching of the Hebrew scriptures. Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen discovered too late that his trip coincided with ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Pius XII’s death. “We cannot forgive or forget,” the rabbi told the bishops, in an oblique reference to the pope. He also told journalists the pope should have done more to save Jews. The Vatican responded that this was a “black legend”.

The arguments go back more than 40 years. Writers in the 1960s, most famously Rolf Hochhuth in his 1963 play “The Representative”, condemned Pius XII for passivity and pusillanimity. The reading was reinforced in John Cornwell’s best-selling “Hitler’s Pope” (1999). But Mr Cornwell himself retracted many of his allegations after criticism. The Vatican archives, meanwhile, hardly helped the pope’s case by refusing, for technical reasons, to open critical diplomatic files to scholars.

Still, historians are reassessing the record. Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Churchill, who is a Jew and an authority on the Holocaust, has said that Pius XII, far from deserving obloquy, should be a candidate for Yad Vashem’s order of “righteous Gentiles”.

Read it all here.

Catholic abortion teaching changes over centuries

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden is telling the Catholics in his audiences that St. Thomas Aquinas had a different teaching on abortion than the current pope and his immediate predecessors. Many Catholics are saying, "He simply cannot be right." Well, the short answer is: Biden is right. The news media are saying that American bishops are giving him a theology lesson on abortion. Mr. Biden is in a position to give them one right back according to Frank Flinn, author of the Encyclopedia of Catholicism who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Catholic teaching on abortion has complex roots in Jewish teaching, Greek thought and early Christian doctrine. Jewish teaching shows great reverence for life as a gift from God. The law of compensation in Exodus 21:22 makes a distinction between the penalty for striking a pregnant woman that ends in the loss of the fetus (a monetary amount) or the mother (death).

The Greek Septuagint text of this verse shows the influence of Greek thought. It distinguishes between incompletely and completely formed fetuses, and exacts a penalty of death in the case of the abortion of the latter. This is a clear reference to Aristotle's distinction between three types of souls corresponding to three types of living beings: plants, animals and humans. Aristotle taught that the human fetus does not receive a human soul until it takes on a human form. This became known as the delayed hominization thesis or the late implanting of the human soul.
It is important to note that for roughly 500 years the Catholic church followed the teaching of Aristotle and St. Thomas on the status of the fetus. The Council of Vienne (1312) under Pope Clement V affirmed Aristotle's teaching on delayed hominization. But in 1588 Sixtus V issued the bull Effraenatum excommunicating anyone who used contraception and induced abortion at any time. Three years later Gregory XIV rescinded the severity of Sixtus' punishments and reinstated the doctrine of delayed hominization or "quickening" of the fetus, approximately sixteen weeks after conception. This rule remained in effect for another three hundred years until 1869 when Pope Pius IX imposed automatic excommunication for abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Implicitly Pius's teaching embraced a theory of the immediate implanting of the soul at the moment of conception.

More Roman Catholic commentary on the election and abortion here.

A witch hunt disguised as screening

It appears that the Roman Catholic Church continues to officially blame the sex abuse scandals of the last decade on homosexuality and is mandating even more drastic measures to root out and banish gay men from the ranks of the priesthood.

Toby Cohen writes:

Sex tests will be applied to men wishing to become Catholic priests, according to new guidance issued by the Roman Catholic Church yesterday.

After a series of sex-scandals involving priests, Pope Benedict XVI has authorized a new strategy which will aim to root out applicants with devious sexual urges. The guidance states the tests should also aim to vet for those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”.

The tests have been underlined as voluntary, but will be requested by rectors in appropriate cases. The guide stipulated that applicants would be refused entry to the priesthood if it is “evident the candidate has difficulty living in celibacy: That is, if celibacy for him is lived as a burden so heavy that it compromises his affective and relational equilibrium.”

The Vatican affirms that a priest must have a “positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity,” and that the test will aim to identify those who are ‘immature’.

The Catholic News Service Blog the Vatican says that in 2005 the church could not "ordain men with 'deep-seated' homosexual tendencies" but did not define who would define or determine these so-called tendencies. The document released last Thursday outlines this process.

The “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood” states that psychological evaluation should be used when there is a suspicion of “psychic disturbances” or “grave immaturity” in a candidate — such as uncertain sexual identity or deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

It also said that in judging a candidate’s capacity for living the charism of celibacy with joy and faithfulness, his sexual orientation must be evaluated....

One lingering doubt about the (2005) homosexuality document was whether a homosexually oriented man who was nevertheless committed to celibacy could be ordained a priest. At Thursday’s press conference, Cardinal Grocholewski gave a rather forceful “no,” and here are the essential parts of his answer:

“The candidate does not necessarily have to practice homosexuality (to be excluded.) He can even be without sin. But if he has this deeply seated tendency, he cannot be admitted to priestly ministry precisely because of the nature of the priesthood, in which a spiritual paternity is carried out. Here we are not talking about whether he commits sins, but whether this deeply rooted tendency remains.”

Cardinal Grocholewski was then asked why, if a man with strong heterosexual tendencies but who is celibate can be ordained, the same could not be true of a man with homosexual tendencies? His answer:

“Because it’s not simply a question of observing celibacy as such. In this case, it would be a heterosexual tendency, a normal tendency. In a certain sense, when we ask why Christ reserved the priesthood to men, we speak of this spiritual paternity, and maintain that homosexuality is a type of deviation, a type of irregularity, as explained in two documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Therefore it is a type of wound in the exercise of the priesthood, in forming relations with others. And precisely for this reason we say that something isn’t right in the psyche of such a man. We don’t simply talk about the ability to abstain from these kinds of relations.”

Psychological tests have been used in some seminaries for fifty years. A 2005 Vatican document allowed men to become priests if they had suppressed homosexual urges for three years. However, after spending vast sums on law suits in recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has seen the need for less tolerant measures.

The report and the process outlined misses the mark according to the Survivor of Those Abused by Priests. The Associate Press reports:

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Vatican needs to go beyond screening seminarians to end what the group calls the church's "virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy" that left dangerous priests in parishes.

"Every barrel will always have some bad apples," the Survivors Network said. "Real change requires effectively reforming the barrel and those who oversee it."

As long as the Roman Catholic Church assumes, against the best evidence, that neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is an accurate predictor of who might perpetrate sexual abuse against children and adolescents, then their scapegoating will not result in a safer church nor in deal effectively with the consequences of abuse.

Some Methodists aiming around noncelibate-gay clergy ban

Annie Britton was preparing for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church when she came out to the congregation she was leading in Southwestern Massachusetts; she had been keeping her wedding ring hidden because she was married to a woman. The announcement left her ineligible to continue her ministry at that church and ended her ordination process, or so she thought.

Britton continued to study at Boston University's School of Theology, and she was approached by the Rev. Susan Morrison, a pastor at another nearby church. Morrison explained that there was a movement within the denomination that is attempting "to model what the United Methodist Church can be."

"We have other progressive organizations working to reform the denomination, and it became our vision that we would be the church that we wanted to be," Morrison said. "We would not leave the denomination or try to change it, but be the change."

So Church within the Church held what it called the "extraordinary ordination" ceremony in Baltimore at which it says it ordained Britton, as well as a heterosexual woman, Jenna Zirbel, who could not be ordained in the United Methodist Church because she refused to say she supports the church's position on sexuality. The ordination ceremony was ecumenical, featuring two retired United Methodist bishops, as well other Christian clergy.

The United Methodist Church does not recognize the ordinations, which took place on Oct. 19.

Here's a photo of Britton before her ordination from the Baltimore Sun, and lots more pictures here.

Story from the Boston Globe here.

More information on the Church Within a Church movement is here.

Reformation Day in Chile

The Economist notes that Reformation Day is now an official holiday in Chile and notes the changing face of faith in Latin America. The Catholic monopoly is gone:

Latin American countries have long celebrated a plethora of Roman Catholic public holidays, from Corpus Christi to St Peter and St Paul. But this year Chile set a regional precedent, declaring October 31st a public holiday in honour of “the evangelical and Protestant churches”. It marks the date in 1517 when Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, starting the Protestant Reformation. Only Slovenia and some German states take it as a holiday.

In the latest census in 2002 in a once staunchly Catholic country, 15% of Chileans said they were “evangelicals” (a synonym in Latin America for Protestants). State schools now offer a choice of Catholic and evangelical religious teaching, and the armed forces have chaplains from both denominations.

Chile is not alone. More than 15% of Brazilians and over 20% of Guatemalans are now evangelicals. Most Latin American Protestants are Pentecostals, stressing direct experience of God. Pentecostal churches continue to multiply in poorer areas of Santiago, as they do across the region. A former Catholic bishop and liberation theologian was elected as Paraguay’s president this year. But the embrace of Protestantism by Latin America’s socially aspirational poor looks like an inexorable trend. Five centuries after the region’s forced conversion to Catholicism, Chile’s new holiday is a cultural milestone.

Read it all here.

Taking the L.D.S. Church at its word

The Mormon Church took a prominent role in the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Gay advocates in Utah see a positive fallout from the church's engagement with the issue of same-sex marriage. The New York Times reports,

Equality Utah, said statements made by Mormon leaders in defense of their actions in California — that the church was not antigay and had no problem with legal protections for gay men and lesbians already on the books in California — were going to be taken as an endorsement to expand legal rights that gay and lesbian couples have never remotely had in Utah, where the church is based.

“We are taking the L.D.S. Church at its word,” said Stephanie Pappas, Equality Utah’s chairwoman.
[F]ive bills would be drafted in time for the opening of the Legislature in January, all narrowly tailored to what church leaders had said they could live with in California.

No attempt will be made ... to overturn Utah’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, passed in 2004. The group will propose, however, striking out language in the amendment that prohibits legal protections for domestic unions.

The proposed laws would also expand protections for same-sex couples in health care and hospitalization decisions, housing and employment and in inheritance issues in probate court.

Catholic bishops on abortion rights

Over the past several days Catholic bishops have met in Baltimore and have taken action or made statements on ACORN, the economy and the abortion.

The Washington Post reported that "The nation's Catholic bishops Tuesday approved a statement declaring that if the Democratic-controlled Congress and the incoming Obama administration enact proposed abortion rights legislation, they would see it as an attack on the church." The formal statement was written overnight by Francis Cardinal George, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and read and approved by the bishops on Wednesday.

From the statement (with emphasis added):

The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.
The Catholic League characterized the statement as a rebuke to the Catholic Left. Catholics for Choice stated,
It is by now well-known that the majority of Catholics disagree with the dictates of the Catholic hierarchy on matters related to sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the vast majority of Catholics do not believe they are under a religious obligation to vote on issues the way their bishops recommend. The election of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden proves this. Despite attempts by about two dozen bishops to make this election about abortion and abortion alone, the exit polls showed Catholics voted 54 percent for the prochoice Democratic nominee...

Catholic voters and prochoice Catholic policy makers understand the importance of the church’s teaching on conscience in guiding them on the most important matters. In voting the way they do in elections and when making policy, Catholics follow their own consciences and respect the consciences of others.

While the Catholic League said “Cardinal George explicitly rejected the ‘common good’ mantra of the Catholic Left that justifies legal abortion while pursuing ameliorative social policies that may reduce abortions,” David Gibson observes that
Cardinal George’s latest remarks on that score seem far more nuanced than his personal pre-election motu proprio. The cardinal’s quote: “We express again our great desire to work with all those who cherish the common good of our nation. The common good is not the sum total of individual desires and interests; it is achieved in the working out of a common life based upon good reason and good will for all.”

The president-elect has said,

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

When priests attack

A Catholic priest got exercised when a California reporter attempted to ask him about reports that he had expelled a woman from Mass "because her vehicle sported painted signs in support of president-elect Barack Obama." Violence ensued. Insidebayarea.com has the story.

Reporter Ryan Chalk did manage to return to his office and write up the incident involving the Obama signs.

Imagine the response among right wing bloggers and a few African Primates had the priest been an Episcopalian and the signs in support of John McCain.

Hat tip: Dallas Morning News.

Evangelicals warm to Advent

USA Today:

Evangelical Christians are adopting — and adapting — the rituals of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas that are traditionally celebrated by Catholics, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox and other liturgical churches.
Popular evangelical authors are offering readings and composing prayers for the Advent season. And Family Christian Stores, the nation's largest Christian retailer with 301 stores nationwide, has seen sales of Advent-related items climb 35% in the past year.
This year the chain is featuring characters from the VeggieTales video-and-book empire, with a Merry Christmas felt wall hanging that counts down from Dec. 1 to 24th with a candy cane to mark the days.

"We're also seeing big growth in demand for Advent candle sets, set in decorative wreaths, for family home devotionals, as people want to incorporate more old traditions," says Klamer.

Vatican hedges on sanctity of life


[W]ith the Christmas season upon us, there is growing proof that the 82-year-old Pope is also quite willing to play the part of Scrooge to defend his often rigid view of Church doctrine.

Benedict's envoy to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, has announced that the Vatican will oppose a proposed U.N. declaration calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals. At first blush, no one should be surprised to find the Catholic Church hierarchy butting heads with gay rights activists. But this particular French-sponsored proposal, which has the backing of all 27 European Union countries, calls for an end to the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation. Most dramatically, in some countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by death.

Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was forced to clarify that the Vatican continues to condemn the use of the death penalty for any crime, including those associated with homosexuality. Instead, Migliore said the Vatican's opposition to the U.N. proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. Said Migliore: "Countries that don't recognize the union between people of the same sex as marriage will be punished and pressured."

The U.N. declaration does not in fact mention gay marriage, and most of the nations that support it themselves don't allow people of the same sex to wed.

Archbishop Migliore confirmed on Tuesday that the Vatican had also refused to sign a U.N. document last May in support of the rights of the disabled because it did not include condemnation of abortion, and the rights the fetus with birth defects. Vatican officials nevertheless voiced support for the central principles of the disabled rights document, which Migliore helped craft before the final decision to withhold the Holy See’s signature.

Read it all.

Other reports: Reuters article which includes a good roundup of reactions from newspapers in Europe, from the French UN representative, and from gay activists | Catholic News Agency article headlined "Holy See not in favor of death penalty for gays, Vatican spokesman clarifies."

Meanwhile, in Arizona,

Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix taped a short message that explained why traditional marriage is a "nonnegotiable issue" for Catholics, an unprecedented move. The diocese believes the tape was played at every mass in its jurisdiction. While this angered some liberal Catholics, Ron Johnson, the executive director of the public policy agency for the three Arizona dioceses, said Bishop Olmsted's message led to a 32-point uptick in support for Prop. 102 among churchgoing Catholics.

The cynical use of 'Freedom of Religion'

Kate Childs Graham of Religion Dispatches marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with an essay about how arguments ostensibly rooted in religious freedom are being used to foster oppression. She writes:

Read more »

Cizik backers speak out

Dan Giloff of US News and World Report interviews David Gushee about the kind of person progressive evangelicals would like to see replace Richard Cizik as chief lobbyist of the National Association of Evangelicals. An extract:

How much pressure is there on the National Association of Evangelicals from the Christian right to replace Cizik with someone more ideologically aligned with its agenda?

I'm sure those pressures are there. I think Leith [NAE President Leith Anderson] and the executive committee are going to take their time and let the furor over this die down. I personally think they need to find somebody who can promote all seven of the policy commitments in the NAE's Health of Our Nation statement. There's one on sanctity of life and one on climate change and one on poverty. There are always pressures from the right that the two fundamental issues of our time should be abortion and homosexuality. I think there will be pressure to hire somebody to make those the top priority.

I can tell you from some feedback that if the NAE makes the mistake of rolling back to the classic Christian right agenda, they would lose support of a lot of people who are currently happy to be working with them.

See also Christianity Today: What Cizik's Resignation Means for Creation Care

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.

Warren clarifies

A roundup of stories and posts on the fallout from Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation:

Rick Warren's latest: Clarification?

One day you have soon-to-give-the-inaugural-invocation pastor Rick Warren, clear as a bell, telling Beliefnet founder editor Steve Waldman that gay marriage is morally the same as incest.

Now, after Warren gets excoriated from all sides for his views, voila, he's back with a video of his own. In it, Warren blames the media (honestly, doesn't that ever get old?) for falsely presenting him, saying that he just doesn't want gay people to use the word "marriage." Warren says he loves everyone "regardless of the choices they make."

Waldman on Rick Warren's New Clarification Video
In his December 22 video Warren had an opportunity to do something quite straightforward and healing: clarify, take responsibility and, ideally, apologize. He did clarify but did not, in my view, take responsibility. He could have simply said, "it came out in a way I didn't mean and I apologize for those who I hurt because of that." It wouldn't have required him to back off his position on gay marriage one iota. Instead, he blamed the media and misremembered or mischaracterized what he'd said.

On the other hand, what's most important is that he did make it clear that he doesn't believe gay relationships are the moral equivalent of incest etc. That idea should now be put to rest.

Rick Warren loves gays, and more
A Saddleback spokesman, Larry Ross, tells me [Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe] that a controversial Q&A on the church's web site, which suggested that gays were welcome to worship but not as members at Saddleback "has not been permanently removed as alleged in some media reports, but rather is being repurposed for clarity.''
As for Obama, in what may or may not be a reaction to the Warren controversy U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian member of Congress, has been named an honorary co-chairwoman of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration. Read the story here.

RC priest shortage

The New York Times reports on the shortage of priests in the Roman Catholic Church in the US and efforts to recruit clergy from overseas. The story relates the challenges and benefits of international clergy:

Read more »

Will Church of the Saviour die to be re-born?

The Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC, is an icon of Christianity in action. Their long time pastor, Gordon Cosby gave his final sermon on December 28. The church is contemplating the future with the very real possibility of ending its current mode of being to allow new forms to emerge.

Read more »

Pseudo-science from the Vatican

Even if one accepts the tortured logic of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on birth control (which is widely disregarded by the faithful) it is still difficult to make sense of two recent Roman pronouncements on contraception.

William Saletan of Slate points out logical and scientific flaws in the Vatican's argument against the so-called morning-after pill advanced in the Dignitas Personae. But that document is a marvel of rational discourse compared to the views advanced over the weekend in an article in The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano . As Tom Heneghan of Reuters reports, Pedro José Maria Simón Castellví, head of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations claims without much in the way of proof, "that the contraceptive pill pollutes the environment massively, contributes to male infertility and causes abortions."

Silvia Aloisi of Retuers Rome bureau managed to get a few reactions to the article.

The deputy chairman of the Italian Society of Contraception dismissed the article as “science fiction. “Gianbenedetto Melis told Italy’s Ansa news agency: “The pill cannot provoke an abortion because it blocks ovulation, and if there is no egg to be fertilised there can be no pregnancy.” Flavia Fronconi, a pharmacologist, said “the world is full of substances with oestrogen effects … Even a plastic bottle left in the sun releases oestrogen ‘polluting’ the liquid that we drink.”

Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, former president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, was cautious about the link made in the article between the pill and male infertility. “It’s true that the spreading of hormones in the environment increases the chances of multiple births and in turn provokes male infertility,” Sgreccia told the daily Corriere della Sera. “But there are several causes for this. And more than anything else, it stems from the fact that they are used in agriculture fertilisers, so they end up in vegetables and meat,” he said.

Ross Douthat of The Atlantic offers this reasoning in the article's wake:

An orthodox Catholic is required to believe that the Church teaches truly in matters of faith and morals. He is not required to believe that the Church teaches truly in matters of science; indeed, the Church does not have "teachings," properly understood, on scientific questions. Where the two intersect - well, there things get a bit dicey. My sense of that matter is that I am bound to accept the Church's moral judgment that the taking of innocent human life at any stage from conception to natural death is a grave evil (and would not have become a Catholic if I did not), but that I am not bound to accept a Vatican document's summary of where the science stands regarding whether the morning-after pill does in fact take a life, by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo. And therefore, to take up Rod's hypothetical, if someone contemplating taking the morning-after pill asked for my opinion on the matter, I would tell them that I've seen no persuasive evidence that suggests that emergency contraception is anything save, well, contraception - whose use is sinful according to Catholic teaching, obviously, but not nearly so gravely sinful as abortion.

Saletan has also probed Castellví claims in a very funny column in which he notes that in essence, Rome is arguing that:

The new cause of male infertility is female urine. Specifically, the urine of women who are committing the sin of contraception.

Will the real Rick Warren please stand up?

Who is Rick Warren? What is his purpose?

In this internet age it's hard to tailor your message to your audience. Everyone has ears. And even if you don't intend for a message to be public your audience may find it convenient to make it public. (And who's to say you didn't mean it be public rather than belatedly regretting your words?)

Who is the real Rick Warren?

Rick Warren 1 [Jan. 9]: In this email,

[The Episcopal Church has] already considered me an adversary after partnering on projects with Kolini, Orumbi [sic], and Nzimbi, and writing the TIME bio on Akinola.

But since last summer... I’ve been on Gene Robinson and other’s attack list for my position on gay marriage. ....[Our] brothers and sisters here at St. James in Newport Beach lost their California State Supreme Court case to keep their property.

We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.

Read more »

Lay Catholics call on five bishops to resign

Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe has the story:

Voice of the Faithful, the Newton-based [MA] organization formed in the wake of the abuse crisis to push for change in the Catholic Church, is calling for the resignations of Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Bishop William F. Murphy of Long Island, Bishop John B. McCormack of New Hampshire, and Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati. The group is also calling on Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston, to give up his positions in Rome, where he oversees a basilica and serves on several Vatican committees.

The group's explanation:

"We ask those authorities that failed to protect the well-being of our children by knowingly and secretly transferring predator priests from parish to parish without informing the laity of the reasons for such transfers to resign their current office before June 30, 2009. In our view, any secret transfer constitutes prima facie evidence that, regardless of the professional advice or counsel they may have received, such bishops and other religious authorities, by acting in secret, put the interests of the institutional church before the safety of its people and their children. In addition to requesting all such resignations, we call on these bishops to acknowledge personally and publicly their involvement in the sexual abuse crisis, and to ask for forgiveness from the survivors and their families who were so badly wounded by their decisions."

Pope on holocaust denial

The Boston Globe carries Pope Benedict XVI's comments on why he revoked the 1988 excommunications of the four bishops ordained without permission by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre:

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LA Catholic diocese under investigation for abuse cover-up

Updated: The Los Angeles Times has a more extensive story.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Federal authorities are investigating the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to see whether top church officials tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by priests, said a person familiar with the matter.

A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas and begun calling witnesses in the probe, which began late last year, said this person. The investigation is still in its early, fact-gathering stage, and it isn't known whether any criminal charges will result.

Addendum. NYT has more, including reaction from the diocese and Cardinal Mahony.

US Catholic bishops speak out on anti-Semitism and religious bigotry

Just as Commonweal's David Gibson was observing a "perceived Catholic 'silence' over Benedict XVI’s fiasco with the SSPX was raised earlier, with a focus on the relative absence of strong American voices", the US Catholic House of Bishops has issued a fairly strong statement.

But, first, back to Gibson. In his post today he writes:

[O]verseas, at least, and from the Pope’s native Germany in particular, objections are being raised as the furor grows among both Catholic and Jewish communities.

The latest comes from the Vatican’s chief ecumenist, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German like Ratzinger, but considered a much more pastoral figure. According to this Reuters write-up, Kasper told Vatican Radio’s German-language program that he was not consulted on the pontiff’s decision to rehabilitate the schismatic Traditionalist bishops–one an overt Holocaust denier, the rest associated with dodgy statements on Jews.

“There wasn’t enough talking with each other in the Vatican and there are no longer checks to see where problems could arise,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper in a blunt interview with Vatican Radio’s German program, broadcast on Monday night……Vatican sources and officials had said privately the decision was taken without wide consultation.
Read it all for more evidence of the "growing furor."

Now back to the US Catholic Bishops. Michael Paulson writes:

In the most pointed statement yet from a high-ranking Catholic official, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, today is sharply criticizing the Holocaust denial by a traditionalist bishop whose excommunication was lifted last month by Pope Benedict XVI. George, clearly alarmed by the brewing controversy and the damage to Catholic-Jewish relations, called the statements by Bishop Richard Williamson "deeply offensive and utterly false" and called the outrage from Jews and Catholics "understandable.''

Signficantly, George also asserts that full reconciliation between the Vatican and the four un-excommunicated bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, including Williamson, will require "their assent to all that the Church professes, including the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.'' That is important because the Second Vatican Council resulted in the church's renunciation of anti-Semitism and led to a historic warming of relations between Catholics and Jews.

Read it all; George's statement is at the end of Paulson's post.

Pope says holocaust denier must recant

France24 International News reports:

Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson must "unequivocally and
publicly" change his views before he can be admitted to office in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Read more »

Amnesty in the hereafter

The New York Times reports:

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

The fact that many Catholics under 50 have never sought one, and never heard of indulgences except in high school European history (where Martin Luther denounces the selling of them in 1517 and ignites the Protestant Reformation) simply makes their reintroduction more urgent among church leaders bent on restoring fading traditions of penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world.

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”

Presbyterians will study same-sex unions


The Presbyterian Church (USA) has tapped a 13-member committee to investigate the place same-sex unions should have in Christianity and wider society and issue a report in 2010.

Read more »

Men and women sin in different ways


A Catholic survey found that the most common sin for women was pride, while for men, the urge for food was only surpassed by the urge for sex.

The report was based on a study of confessions carried out by Fr Roberto Busa, a 95-year-old Jesuit scholar. The Pope's personal theologian backed up the report in the Vatican newspaper.

Read more »

Lutherans to test the local option on gay clergy?

From the Associated Press:

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination will consider allowing individual congregations to choose whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy, an attempt to avoid the sort of infighting that has threatened to tear other churches apart.

A task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recommended that course Thursday in a long-awaited report on ministry standards. The panel, however, said the church needs to clarify a number of questions before overhauling its gay clergy policy.

The report, issued at the same time as a broader church social statement on human sexuality, seeks balance on an issue dividing many Protestant churches. Both documents will be considered in August in Minneapolis at the biannual convention of the 4.7-million member denomination.

"At this point, there is no consensus in the church," said the Rev. Peter Strommen of Prior Lake, Minn., chairman of the 15-member task force on sexuality. "The question ends up being, 'How are we going to live together in that absence of consensus?'

Addendum. See, also, the Grand Forks Herald.

Dobson steps aside

Don't stick a fork in it. The Religious Right isn't done. But as Steven Benen writes in Washington Monthly's Political Animal, "James Dobson is done. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have passed away. Billy Graham is ailing. Pat Robertson is nearly 80 and has been relegated to sideshow status.The Republican Party isn't the only far-right institution with a leadership vacuum." Benen points us to this quote in an article by Julia Duin at the Washington Times:

"It's a changing of the guard," said Brian McLaren, 52, cited in 2005 by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. "There is a possibility the religious right will collapse on itself. Or someone will articulate a new religious center. The evangelical community has been slowly diversifying, and there may not be a center anymore."

Read more »

Mainline clergy surveyed

Public Religion Research has issued what it calls "is the largest survey of mainline clergy in seven years, and the broadest ever in scope." The mainline denominations included were: "United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, American Baptist Churches USA, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)."

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Vatican backs Brazilian bishop


A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication in Brazil of the mother and doctors of a young girl who had an abortion with their help.

The nine-year-old had conceived twins after alleged abuse by her stepfather.
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, himself a Catholic, said on Friday that he regretted what he described as the cleric's deeply conservative attitude. "The doctors did what had to be done: save the life of a girl of nine years old," he said.

Earlier report here.

Pope confesses mistakes were made

In a letter to bishops worldwide, the pope says that the internet should have been used to check backgrounds, and that the reasons for lifting the excommunications should have been better explained. At the same time, the pope suggests he was not given the benefit of the doubt.

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Why is the Southern Baptist Convention shrinking?

If you read enough right-wing criticism of Mainline Protestant religious denominations such as ours, you will run--repeatedly-- across the unsupported assertion that our membership numbers are in decline because our theology is not sufficiently conservative. No doubt that explains why those crypto-Communistic, syncretistic, New Age revisionists in the Southern Baptist Convention are also experiencing a decline in membership.

Pope: distributing condoms helps to spread AIDS

From the Times of London:

The Pope courted further controversy on his first trip to Africa today by declaring that condoms were not a solution to the Aids epidemic – but were instead part of the problem.

In his first public comments on condom use, the pontiff told reporters en route to Cameroon that Aids "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems". ....

He said the "traditional teaching of the Church" on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be "the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and Aids".

The World Health Organization, on the other hand, says that "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent. Are the pope's comments morally responsible?

AP is on the story as well.


France, echoing the reaction of some aid agencies, said it "voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of [the Pope's comments]".

"While it is not up to us to pass judgment on Church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life," foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.

Vatican press office applies profilattici

The Times reports that the Vatican press office has altered the words of the Pope who had said to reporters Aids was a “tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”:

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PCUSA considers deep cuts

From Presbyterian News Service:

Senior staff of the General Assembly Council (GAC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) outlined their plans for closing a $9.92 million shortfall in the 2009 General Assembly Mission Budget at a meeting of the council’s executive committee here March 24.

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The Vatican's curious timing

Fresh off its failure to Google Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson before welcoming him back into the Church, the Holy See is planning a pastoral instruction on the internet. Ruth Gledhill has details.

Catholic Church knew of sex abuse in 1950's

The National Catholic Reporter writes that as early as the 1950s the US Roman Catholic Church was being warned about sex abuse cases.

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ELCA Sexuality and Ministry reports released

The Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality has proposed a social statement on human sexuality called Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, and the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies. It will come before the 2009 Churchwide Assembly to be held August 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis. If it passes this summer, it will effectively give Lutherans a local option as to same sex blessings and the ordination partnered gay ordinands.

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Holy See rejects Caroline Kennedy


The Vatican has rejected at least three possible candidates proposed by Barack Obama to serve as US ambassador to the Holy See, say reliable sources in Rome.

None of the three candidates informally proposed by the Obama administration so far is acceptable to the Pope because of their support for abortion rights.

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Vatican probes nuns


The Vatican has launched a doctrinal investigation into the leadership of Catholic sisters in the United States, reportedly because they have not sufficiently promoted the Vatican line on homosexuality, the all-male priesthood and other issues.

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Rick Warren at ACNA assembly

Pastor Rick Warren will be one of the speakers at the upcoming organizing Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America scheduled for June 22-25 in Bedford, Texas according to the Common Cause Partnership (CCP).

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Drift, not rupture, explains decline

The Washington Post has a story that should put an end to the canard that the decline of mainline Protestant denominations like the Episcopal Church is caused by theological liberalism:

Americans have given up their faith or changed religions because of a gradual spiritual drift than switched because of a disillusionment over their churches' policies, according to a new study released today which illustrates how personal spiritual attitudes are taking precedence over denominational traditions.

Married priests or eucharistic famine

The editors of America, a Jesuit magazine, argue that the Catholic Church must consider allowing priests to marry:

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Methodists launch $20 million ad campaign

From the United Methodist Church:

Rethink Church, the next evolution of The United Methodist Church's "Open hearts" welcoming and advertising campaign, will kick off on May 5 and 6 with major launch events in New York City and Washington, D.C., and other cities nationwide.

Audiences will see and hear more than $20 million in new advertising over the next four years on television, radio, print, and in new media, including banner and keyword advertising on major secular Web sites.

The messaging, targeting 18- to 34-year-olds, highlights the many opportunities for involvement within United Methodist churches - from community hunger programs to basketball leagues. Meanwhile, the denomination is engaging in dialogue within its churches about enhancing those opportunities.

One miracle short

The Vatican is poised to beatify John Newman the Anglican convert to Catholicism. But the New Statesman says there's some sand in the gears:

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America's Conscience?

Diana Butler Bass for Beliefnet:

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ACNA: some dissent amongst the rank and file

A member of the Reformed Episcopal Church writes Brad B. Root, recently appointed Chief Operating Officer of ACNA.

Hap Arnold writes in response to Root's email giving advance notice of a mailing "to you and your vestry from Archbishop-Designate Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)" announcing a $700,000 fund raising campaign:

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UMC bishops vote themselves a pay cut


Bishops in the United Methodist Church have voted themselves a pay cut after “recognizing the financial challenges facing the church.”

The UMC’s 50 active U.S. bishops voted to give up their planned pay raises for next year and instead reduce their salaries to the 2008 level, dropping their annual pay from $125,650 to $121,000 according to United Methodist News Service.

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US Catholics: let Obama speak and keep abortion legal

Beliefnet reports the latest poll shows Catholic voters favor keeping President Obama as the speaker at Notre Dame University's commencement by a margin of 60-34--even higher than the general public, which approves of the invitation by 56-31 percent.

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Thousands abused in Catholic Irish reform schools


A fiercely debated, nine-year investigation into Ireland's Roman Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorized thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades — and that government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation.

High Court Justice Sean Ryan on Wednesday unveiled the 2,600-page final report of Ireland's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which is based on testimony from thousands of former students and officials from more than 250 church-run institutions.

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CO Springs CANA vestry on the indictment of rector

The website of St. George's Church in Colorado Springs, member of CANA, has a response to the Grand Jury findings against their rector, Don Armstrong:

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The marriage of Eva Brunne

The Diocese of Stockholm in the Church of Sweden has just elected Eva Brunne, a lesbian in a registered domestic partnership, as its bishop. The Church of England, like the Anglican Communion Churches of Ireland, Scotland and Wales is in full communion with the Church of Sweden through the Porvoo Agreement. The question now is how Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will respond, having gone to such great lengths to keep partnered gays and lesbians from becoming bishops in the Anglican Communion.

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Controversial Rev. Cutié joins Episcopal Church

Updated with news links and CNN video.

The Miami Herald reports:

The Rev. Alberto Cutié (KOO'-tee-ay), the celebrity priest removed from his Miami Beach church after photos of him kissing and embracing a woman appeared in the pages of a Spanish-language magazine earlier this month, will leave the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami to join the Episcopal church.

The small and private ceremony will happen early Thursday afternoon at Trinity Cathedral, the church's South Florida headquarters in downtown Miami. Bishop Leo Frade, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, will officiate. ....

Cutié will initially be a lay person in the Episcopal church … not a priest. The process of a Catholic priest becoming an Episcopal priest takes at least a year, experts say.

While not having the same authority as a priest, Bishop Frade plans to give Cutié special status as a lay minister, meaning he can preach in Episcopal churches but not celebrate the Eucharist, the symbolic body and blood of Christ.

Read more »

Obama designates new Vatican ambassador

Here are basics, but read Mark Silk's take on the designation of Miguel H. Diaz, professor of theology at St. John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota as the United States' ambassador to the Vatican.

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Catholic bishop fights extension of statute of limitations on abuse cases

New York Times:

[I]n the battle over the sex-abuse bill, which has been introduced for several years but never had a chance of passage until now, Bishop DiMarzio [of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn] has mounted such an urgent and aggressive sally into the political realm that some elected officials and community leaders have questioned whether he has overstepped church-state boundaries.

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End high interest pay day loans

A United Methodist bishop testifies on the scandal of predatory lenders who often charge as much as 400% interest. Bishop Minerva Carcaño called for a cap on the amount of interest that can be charged.

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AMiA to add 3 more bishops

All Africa:

Kigali — The Episcopal Church of Rwanda has elected three new Bishops to serve in one of the provinces of the Anglican Church in North America. The election took place on Saturday 13 at the Anglican Diocese of Kigali.

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Robert Duncan to become archbishop of ACNA

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), meeting in Bedford, Texas, will elevate former Episcopal Church bishop Robert Duncan to Archbishop of a new body made up of groups who have left The Episcopal Church over the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons and other issues that have arisen in church life in the past 200+ years.

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Southern Baptists evict church, debate decline


Southern Baptists opened their annual meeting yesterday with calls to turn around plummeting baptism rates, even as researchers warned that the nation's largest Protestant body could lose half its size by midcentury.

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Is CANA more Anglican than ACNA?

Thinking Anglicans reports on how the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) views the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). While Uganda immediately transferred their American parishes to ACNA, Nigeria did not. Martyn Minns talks about CANA churches having "dual" citizenship. He admits that ACNA churches are not part of the Anglican Communion, but says that CANA churches have better Anglican bona-fides because of their continuing connection to Nigeria.

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U. S. nuns under Vatican scrutiny

Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times reports:

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women’s religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

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The Amish encounter modern life

Wall Street Journal:

In Amish country, a bank run is about as familiar as a Hummer or a flat-screen TV. For decades, the more than 200,000 Amish in the U.S. have largely lived apart from the mainstream, emphasizing humility, simplicity and thrift. Known as "the plain people," they travel by horse-drawn buggy, wear homemade clothing and live with very little electricity.

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FoCA UK ruffles Queen

George Pitcher:

I hear that Canon Chris Sugden may have somewhat spoilt his chances of a knighthood. The secretary to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which is this week busy fanning the embers of Anglican schism, went on Roger Boulton’s BBC Sunday programme and was asked whether it was true that The Queen had written to Canon Sugden and his traditionalist pals to say that “she understood their concerns”. Canon Sugden replied that this was “correct”.

“Sources close to the Palace”, as they say, have coughed lightly and raised an eyebrow to one another. That’s a courtier’s equivalent of being incandescent with rage.

Because Her Majesty said no such thing.

Read it all.

Thinking Anglicans continues to a great job of covering FoCA UK. His latest roundups are here and here.

Included in the former of the two:

Dave Walker at the Church Times blog has a selection of blog posts titled Anglo Catholics unimpressed by the FCA launch meeting.
From the latter roundup: Jonathan Bartley has written for Cif belief Evangelicals are betraying their heritage.
On Monday a new coalition of evangelical and Anglo-Catholic parishes launched within the Church of England, claiming to uphold the “traditional biblical view” on homosexuality.

But such a coalition was unlikely to be contemplated by evangelicals at many times gone by. For the original evangelical spirit with its reforming zeal and progressive outlook was more often at odds with traditionalists, than aligned with them.

Jimmy Carter leaves Southern Baptists

Former President Jimmy Carter has decided that he must, after 60 years of membership, leave the Southern Baptist Convention of churches because of their stance which insists on the submission of wives to their husbands.

President Carter writes in an essay posted on "The Age":

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Episcopalians, Lutherans taking action on sexuality topics

ELCA News Service has released this statement: ELCA NEWS SERVICE
July 21, 2009

Episcopalians, Lutherans Taking Action on Sexuality Topics

Read more »

Britain's Quakers endorse gay marriage

Britain's Quakers have agreed to carry out same-sex marriages on the same basis as marriages for opposite-sex couples.

The BBC reports:

One of the UK's oldest Christian denominations - the Quakers - looks set to extend marriage services to same-sex couples at their yearly meeting later.

The society has already held religious blessings for same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership ceremony.

But agreeing to perform gay marriages, which are currently not allowed under civil law, could bring the Quakers into conflict with the government


The BBC says that the Quakers "had been more prepared than other groups to reinterpret the Bible in the light of contemporary life."

Ekklesia describes the debate:

The decision came after an intense week of debate and reflection at the Quakers' Yearly Meeting in York.

Emotions ran high in the discussions and several people of various views were visibly in tears. Many participants hugged each other and expressed delight as the decision was reached.

People working for equality and inclusion within other churches and faith groups will be encouraged by the decision.

Quakers are now likely to face a difficult time with the law, which currently offers same-sex couples only civil partnerships, in which no religious element is allowed.

The statement agreed by the Religious Society of Friends, as Quakers are otherwise known, comes 22 years after they began formal consideration of the issue.

The Quakers agreed this morning that they would “treat same-sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite-sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord's work and we are but witnesses”

They further declared that “the question of legal recognition by the state is secondary”.

Quaker same-sex marriages will now be “prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state in the same way as opposite-sex marriages”.

Read the BBC story here and the Ekklesia story here.

Lutherans prepare to debate role of gblt clergy

USA Today notes that our Lutheran companions in ministry will consider the role of LGBTs with spouses who wish to serve as clergy:

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Lutherans to vote on gay clergy

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty, reports on the upcoming meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the likely outcome of its vote on the ordination of gays and lesbian who have spouses,

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Lutherans voting and twittering

UPDATE: see below

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is holding its Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis this week. The topic of interest in the media is how they will vote on allowing clergy with same sex spouses -- the Ministry Policy resolution.

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US nuns investigated by Vatican

Sister Sandra M. Schneider writes in NCR Today to answer questions about the apostolic visitations by authorities in the Roman Catholic Church:

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Day 2: ELCA Churchwide Assembly

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America News Service has several news releases on events from Day 2 of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly (The Lead's coverage yesterday is here.)

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ELCA Assembly Adopts 'Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust'

UPDATE: Read The Star-Tribune on the events leading up to and following the vote.

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ELCA votes on new ministry policies today

Breaking. Updated 2:30 pm EDT Today the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is voting on a major piece of legislation that modifies their ministry policies. If passed in its entirety then the ELCA will allow people "in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church."

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ELCA and UMC enter into full communion

Yesterday the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church entered into full communion at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting in Minneapolis. The Methodists approved an identical resolution last year.

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ELCA resolution on ordained gay persons passes

Breaking:The ELCA Churchwide Assembly has voted on the third resolution about human sexuality and minsitry which reads

RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

It has passed: 559 to 451. A simple majority was required.

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And now the nuts and bolts

BREAKING: The implementing resolution has passed by a substantial majority.

The ELCA has voted to the ordination and placement of gay and lesbian persons who are in "publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships." Now they have voted on the practicalities about how they make this a reality in their denomination.

Read more »

Round up of ELCA news reaction

Here is a round up of news and media reaction to yesterday's historic votes at the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Whither the ACNA?

The present controversy in the Episcopal Church has caused division in the Diocese of Colorado in ways that mirror the effects it's had on the national stage. Now that a number of congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado have declared their "independence", they are finding that the next steps are not as obvious as they thought.

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New English language Roman Missal

Rome has posted the text of its new English language liturgy online as a way of helping people to prepare for the transition:

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Fissures show in the land of ACNA

There's a new member of the all-male bishops club in ACNA*. The Rt. Rev. William H. Ilgenfritz will continue as Rector of St. Mary's Anglican Church in Charleroi, PA, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. But his consecration creates a non-geographic diocese for Forward in Faith congregations across the country.

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Request to seal clergy sex abuse cases denied

The Hartford Courant reports that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has denied a request by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport to keep court files on clergy sex abuse cases sealed until the high court decides whether to take up their case in the fall.

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Catholics engaging Luther

A German Roman Catholic bishop preached on the lessons his denomination should be trying to learn from Martin Luther. In his remarks he points out how Luther's 95 theses were meant to reform not divide the church.

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Rick Warren thanks Howard Ahmanson

Saddleback Church recently served up the Ahmanson Lectures on Faith & Science funded reports Pastor Rick, "thanks to the generosity of my dear friends Howard and Roberta Ahmanson."

In case you don't know, that would be this Howard Ahmanson.

Evangelical churches snowball in Brazil

The New York Times reports on the growth of evangelical churches in Brazil, and their particular appeal to the young:

Evangelical Christian churches are luring Brazilians away from Roman Catholicism, the dominant religion in Brazil. In 1950, 94 percent of Brazilians said they were Catholic, but that number fell steadily to 74 percent by 2000. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who described themselves as evangelicals grew by five times in that period, reaching 15 percent in 2000. A new government census is due out next year.

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CANA says Episcopal Church a cause of growth in Islam


The Anglican enclave planted in the United States by the Nigerian Church has accused the Episcopal Church of unintentionally encouraging conversions to Islam by moving away from a simple message and liturgy.

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Pope to visit UK in 2010

Pope Benedict's visit would only be the second by a head of the Catholic Church since Henry VIII declared himself head of the church in England more than 500 years ago, and the first as a head of state.

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Minns' advice to Lutherans: We left and so should you

As Lutherans who are upset about the ELCA's decision to welcome gay and lesbians into the full life of their church (with conditions) gather in Chicago, a video from CANA bishop Martyn Minn has been released to greet them. His message: "We know your pain. We left our church. You should leave yours."

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35% of "nones" pray at least weekly

Steve Waldman:

Consider this: 39% attend church weekly yet 75% pray at least weekly, according to the Pew Religion Forum.

In fact, 58% of Americans, and 66% of American women pray daily.

And maybe most remarkably: 35% of those who don't identify with any religion
at all -- the "unaffiliated"-- pray weekly or daily.

Read more »

We're not as bad as others says Vatican spokesperson

The Guardian:

...Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that "available research" showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse. He also quoted statistics from the Christian Scientist Monitor newspaper to show that most US churches being hit by child sex abuse allegations were Protestant and that sexual abuse within Jewish communities was common.

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From Roman Catholic to Protestant

Stephen Joseph Fichter writes in America Magazine asking how common it is for Roman Catholic clergy to do as Fr. Alberto Cutié did in leaving the Roman Catholic Church for ministry in another Christian tradition.

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Indian bishops call for an end to caste system

Ekklesia discusses the challenges for Christian churches in India when facing the injustices caused by the caste system in their country. Even though the Indian constitution forbids discrimination based on caste, discrimination including violence and rape continues. Christian bishops have called for repentance as well as stricter enforcement of the law.

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Catholic African bishops praise Obama

The Associated Press reports:

African bishops attending a Vatican meeting are speaking about the election of Barack Obama in divine terms — putting them very much at odds with many of their U.S. counterparts.

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Vatican offers home to
traditional Anglicans

It may be a while before anybody can speak with any real knowledge about the impact of the development described in the AP story below, which contain a major error in its first paragraph.

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An answer to the "Why?" question

The Big Question:
Why is the Catholic church offering a home to congregations of Anglicans?
By Paul Vallely

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What is a "former Anglican"?

Fr. John D. Alexander is a rector in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island who blogs at Videtur Quod where he offers a close reading of the Vatican's recent statements. In particular, Father Alexander wonders about the use of the term "former Anglican." If you're wondering what to make of all this Roman Catholic / Anglican news buzz, you might want to explore his questions.

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Countdown to gay marriage in Swedish churches

The Church of Sweden will begin marrying same-sex couples in churches on All Saints Day.

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Chilean new head of Lutheran World Federation

Ecumenical News International (ENI) reports on the election of the new General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF):

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Colbert on pope's offer: "I'm sure there's no strings attached"

Colbert on the Vatican offer:

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Not ready for prime time?

It appears that the news of the new Apostolic Constitution is not ready for prime time. Richard Owen reports in the Times of London that the publication of an Apostolic Constitution outlining a process for welcoming Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church is delayed because of controversy in the Vatican over the specifics, in particular priestly celibacy.

Those who saw this announcement as the sign of a liberalizing trend in Rome will apparently be disappointed.

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DC Archdiocese opposes same sex marriage law

Catholic News Agency reports that changes in DC law to allow same sex couples to marry could cause the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to cease services that are now provided to the poor. Is this a threat?

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Andrew Sullivan is fed up

In his "Daily Dish" blog at The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan writes that he is fed up with the Roman Catholic Church's anti-gay actions.

A Gay Catholic Now?
by Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic

It is time to acknowledge that the Catholic church hierarchy can no longer pretend that it isn't the active enemy of gay people and our families. That this church hierarchy - especially in its more conservative wing - is disproportionately gay itself and waging war against their fellow gays through the cowardly veil of the closet, is not new. But it is, as we flinch with the sting of defeat, harder to take than ever.

Rick Warren quiet on Uganda's Anti-Gay Law

There has been deafening silence from many prominent religious voices about the proposed new Ugandan Anti-Gay Law which would authorize life imprisonment and even execution for gays and lesbians. Rick Warren has worked closely with Henry Orombi, Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Uganda, and with ACNA which is recognized by the province. The Cafe reported on these relationships HERE and HERE.

Read more »

Orthodox Patriarch is green

Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew meets with President Obama and other officials to advocate for greater protections for the environment in order to combat climate change.

Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew meets Obama on U.S. visit
From Reuters' FaithWorld blog

Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the “green patriarch” who leads 300 million Orthodox Christians, spoke with President Barack Obama on Tuesday about the fight against climate change.

“We view with alarm the dangerous consequences of disregard for the survival of God’s creation,” His All Holiness told a gathering at Georgetown University after his White House meeting.

How one man came to change his mind

Mark Achtemeier is a Presbyterian pastor and a seminary professor. He's also a man who has been open about how he has changed his mind on the question of the full inclusion of LGBT Christians into the church. He details the process that led to his re-thinking in an essay that was delivered to a group of Presbyterians who are working, among other things, for full inclusion in that denomination.

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GAFCON/FCA refuses Vatican offer

The Primates Council of Global Anglican Future Conference/Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON/FCA) has issued a press release refusing the Vatican offer of an Apostolic Constitution which allows Anglicans/Episcopalians a way to become Roman Catholics and retain some Anglican rites.

Read more »

Russian Church ends talks with Germans

The Russian Orthodox Church has decided to end 50 years of dialogue with the Lutheran Church in Germany as a result of the Lutherans electing Margot Käßmann as their leader for the next six years.

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Homosexuality no factor in abusive priests

Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press has a story which indicates that the Vatican's 2005 decision to exclude gay men from the priesthood in the wake of the pedophilia scandals was misguided:

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Lottery used to choose patriarch

Leadership in the Church justifiably occupies a good deal of time and energy, as well as news coverage. Even a casual observer of the Church knows that who becomes pope, bishop, priest or lay leader can have a great effect on the life of the Church. The "how" question around the selection of leaders in the church is an important one, is there an election, is there an appointment, some combination? The Serbian Orthodox Church uses a combination of preliminary voting and then a lottery to pick the final choice for patriarch. What do you think of that?

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A Lutheran church for every stripe

A group of Lutherans are so angry over the ELCA's decision to allow for the inclusion of partnered gay clergy into their ranks under certain limited conditions that they want to form their own denomination.

Read more »

Lutherans cut budget, discuss mission

According to the Salisbury Post (NC) and press releases from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA is undergoing the same difficulties as The Episcopal Church due to the economic situation and for standing with their gay, lesbian, transgender clergy and laity in leadership positions:

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Some Catholic sisters resist Vatican's scrutiny

As reported previously (in April, July, and August), pressure and scrutiny have been applied by the Vatican into the lives of Catholic sisters living in the United States. Now, AP reports, it seems some sisters are exercising resistance.

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US conservative churches membership declines

Martin Marty, in Ekklesia, writes that conservative churches are undergoing decline similar to that suffered previously by progressive churches:

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ACNA speaks out on Uganda anti-homosexuals bill

It took a while to be noticed, but ACNA recently issued a "Communique from the First Annual Provincial Council". According to the communique issued December 11, "The Provincial Council is the governing body of the Anglican Church in North America and consists of bishops, clergy and laity representing each of the twenty-eight constituent dioceses, clusters or networks."

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Rwanda has a bill, too

Update: The bill will be debated in parliament next week according to APA.

And then there is the case of the AMiA, the Rwandan branch of ACNA. What does it have to say about the anti-homosexuals bill before the Rwandan parliament? The one that states:

Any person who practices, encourages or sensitizes people of the same sex, to sexual relation or any sexual practice, shall be liable for a term of imprisonment ranging from five (5) to ten (10) years and fine ranging from Two Hundred thousand Rwanda Francs (200.000 RwF) to one million (1,000,000) Rwanda francs.”

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Barcelona's "Sagrada Familia" church's architect up for sainthood

The architect of the dramatic Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona has been proposed for sainthood by a group of supporters to officials at the Vatican.

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Pope Pius XII moves closer to sainthood

Despite criticism from Jews and other groups, the Vatican continues to move the WWII Pope Pius XII toward sainthood:

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Seven people killed in Egypt church

Our thoughts and prayers at the Cafe are with the families and communities of the Egyptian Coptic Christians who were killed yesterday after leaving Coptic Christmas Mass.

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Presiding Bishop Hanson on Lutheran defections

The ELCA voted this summer to allow local Synods the option to roster clergy who are in committed same-sex relationships. The fact that this is now a possibility for some has caused some Lutheran congregations to separate from the ELCA. Bishop Hanson though says that the numbers leaving are not as great as they might seem.

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Lutherans write to Secretary of State

The Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) reports on a recent letter from their Presiding Bishop to Secretary of State HIllary Clinton:

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Pope forgives attacker

Embodying Christ's admonition to turn the other cheek, and love and forgive our enemies, the Pope met with the woman who attacked him at Mass on Christmas Eve:

Pope meets and forgives Christmas Eve Mass attack woman
From BBC News online

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Rowan Williams to pay tribute to "unique woman of vision and faith"

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, and The Most Reverend and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a special celebration at Westminster Cathedral this Saturday in honour of Mary Ward, who has officially reached the first stage towards sainthood, and the 400th Jubilee of the Congregation of Jesus (CJ) and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) which she founded.

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The Pope's plans for the UK and Anglicans

Pope Benedict has been in the news lately telling the UK they have too much equality, in advance of his visit there later this year. He has also been speaking about his offer to disaffected Anglicans. He met yesterday in Rome with Catholic bishops from England and Wales.

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Can the Church listen to the Spirit?

A wonderful essay by Tom Kam, in today's Washington Post's "On Faith" page, who points out that most American Catholics are not impressed by their bishop's efforts to deny basic human rights to gays and lesbians.

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D.C. Catholic archdiocese gets out of the adoption business

Mark Silk of Spiritual Politics says we may not know enough yet to make moral sense of the conflict between various Catholic social service agencies and the government of states in which same-sex marriage is legal:

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TAC recycles pedophile priest

The Traditional Anglican Church has been severely criticized by an Australian judge who says he is "astonished" the church allowed Wilfred Edwin Dennis to re-enter the priesthood and commit sexual child abuse "strikingly similar" to crimes for which he was convicted in the 1970s.

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Gay Presbyterian minister re-instated

A gay clergyperson has been re-instated in the Presbyterian Church. The reinstatement was based on the person's exercising a "scruples" clause (conscientious objection) to a "one man, one woman" definition of marriage in an ordination standard.

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The quest for a small pure Church continues

From The DenverChannel.com:

A preschooler is caught in the middle of a fight between religion and sexuality. Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, in Boulder, has refused to readmit a preschooler because the child has two moms. Her parents are lesbians.

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The child rape crisis and the Pope

The New York Times got the ball rolling with this story:

A widening child sexual abuse inquiry in Europe has landed at the doorstep of Pope Benedict XVI, as a senior church official acknowledged Friday that a German archdiocese made “serious mistakes” in handling an abuse case while the pope served as its archbishop.

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A haunted St. Patrick's Day

In his homily today at the Mass for St Patrick's Day, St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady spoke of recent reports that as a canon lawyer he mishandled sex-abuse cases 35 years ago:

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Decline of Southern Baptists may be greatly understated?

From the Letters to the Editor section of the latest edition of Religion in the News

Thanks to Andrew Manis for his informative article on falling Southern Baptist membership. [Baptists Shrink, Religion in the News, Vol. 12, No. 2] Actually, the trend may have started before it appeared in the numbers he cites.

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Sullivan: "When will this Pope step down?"

One post per day on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church ought to be sufficient to encompass breaking news. But today -- which just happens to be St. Patrick's day -- is an exception. It requires two. (The first is here.)

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Vatican accepts Irish bishop's resignation

5 have submitted resignations;
2 have been accepted by the Vatican.

But who's counting?

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Vatican declined to defrock U.S. priest who abused boys

Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times reports today: 'Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

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Jewish outrage over Vatican Good Friday sermon

The situation in Rome is becoming more and more tense as Holy Week and Triduum observances are being overshadowed by the scandals of clergy sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic church. The Preacher to the Papal Household in his Good Friday sermon likened the outrage against the Vatican to the anti-semitism of Europe against the Jewish people.

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Rowan Williams' unnecessary apology

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has apologized for saying in passing something that is incontestably true: the Catholic Church in Ireland, which has knowingly sheltered child rapists for decades, has lost all credibility.

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The Catholic Church needs checks and balances

Mary E. Hunt, writing for Religion Dispatches, reduces the Catholic child-rape scandal to its essence in this paragraph:

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Vatican: Church decentralized therefore Pope not accountable

Defending itself in the sexual abuse scandal, the Roman Catholic Church finds itself in the awkward position of claiming it does not control its bishops.

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Crisis in congregational health in Baptist churches

Is the grass greener on the congregational polity side of the fence? No.

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Rebutting the pope's apologists

Mark Silk of Spiritual Politics comprehensivley and dispassionately rebuts the efforts of Michael Sean Winters, who has a longstanding habit of peering down his nose at journalists, to blame the most recent episode in the deepening, widening child rape scandal in the Catholic Church on journalists. He concludes:

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Vatican attempts to clarify recent statements

In an effort, perhaps, to clarify recent statements by the Cardinal Bertone's about homosexuality and sexual abuse, Jesuit Father Frederico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office offered a communique which attempts to limit the scope of these statements. However, is this Vatican "clarification" only digging a deeper hole?

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Silk and Hertzberg on the Catholic Crisis

Mark Silk reflects on Rick Hertzberg essay in the current New Yorker on the current Catholic crisis.

Hertzberg on the Church
From Spiritual Politics blog

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Five myths about the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church

David Gibson, one of the best journalists on the Catholic beat wrote a perceptive essay for The Washington Post's Outlook section yesterday enumerating five myths about the child rape scandal in the church. These include that Pope Benedict XVI is the primary culprit, that gay priests are to blame and that journalists are biased against the church. The article is pointed, yet evenhanded, and well worth a read.

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Lutheran Church embraces LGBTQ community

Huffington Post reports on the latest news from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Church Council meeting:

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Statement by Catholic bishops of England and Wales

Statement by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales
Press release Issued by the CBCEW

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What Italian bishops are reading about paedophilia

A "great fan" of the PBS Newshour, Cardinal William Levada, was interviewed by Margaret Warner in a segment that aired last night. Levada is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and "a top Vatican official charged with handling the fallout of the church's sexual abuse scandal." From the extended transcript at PBS:

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Papal protege rips top cardinal, says maybe gays ain't so bad

While reading this report from The Tablet keep in mind that the cardinal voicing these criticisms is close to Pope Benedict XVI and the principal author of the Roman Catholic Catechism:

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The Vatican's not very diplomatic ambassador

Annie Groer of Politics Daily has a weird story about the snotty comments that the Vatican's chief diplomat in the United States has made to the sex abuse victim who has kept a longstanding vigil outside of the Vatican embassy. She writes:

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Pope admits church is to blame for abuse by clergy

Pope Benedict XVI has admitted that the church is at fault for abuse by clergy and it is not an outside campaign, according to news from the Associated Press

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Playing into the martial-arts religious marketplace

How some churches are pursuing male members:

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Vatican files motions to dismiss U.S. lawsuits against it

The Vatican has filed a motion to dismiss the U.S. lawsuit against it. Religion Clause blog reports on the basis for the filing:

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AMiA: Status in ACNA "untenable and unsustainable"

[UPDATE: ACNA responds. See our post.]

AMiA, the US outpost of the Anglican Church in Rwanda and founding member of ACNA, says it will withdraw its citizenship from ACNA and become an independent Ministry Partner with ACNA.

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Duncan explains AMiA's fellow traveler status

An email from ACNA HQ on the AMiA-ble separation with AMiA is in circulation. It reads in part:

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A visit to Tract Society HQ

Non-Witness Joel Meares pays a visit to the Headquarters of Tract Society where The Watchtower is produced:

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Bp. Whalon reports on the Kirchentag

Bishop Pierre Whalon, bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, recently spent time at the Kirchentag in Germany. Don't know what that is...read on:

From Bishop Whalon's blog, "BishopBlogging"

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Why don't we reach out to Roman Catholics?

Last week, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Phoenix made the sort of morally outrageous decision that we've come to expect from the celibate male hierarchs who govern that battered church.

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A Catholic bishop who got it right

From Northern Kentucky comes the story of Bishop Roger Foys, who has won praise for his compassionate handling of sexual abuse claims filed against his diocese:

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Vatican likes health care reform bill, US bishops don't

Mark Silk notes that the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are at odds about the merits of health care reform legislation in the United States.

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Pew does analysis of media coverage of Pope

Bad company:

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Denominations: they have
Barbara Boxer hair

Mark Silk's cogent comment on Why Conservative Churches are Shrinking

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Police raid headquarters of Roman Catholic Church in Belgium

From the BBC:

Belgian authorities have raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church during an investigation into child sex abuse claims.

A spokesman for the Brussels prosecutors' office confirmed that the palace of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels had been sealed off.

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Why Belgium raided Roman Catholic offices

The New York Times is reporting on why the police raided Roman Catholic institutions this past week:

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Southern Baptists call for accountability in Gulf oil spill

NPR reports: The Southern Baptists have called for governmental and corporate accountability to protect the environment and prevent future crises like the one in the Gulf of Mexico:

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Presbyterians approve gay ordinations but not marriage

In a late night session, the Presbyterian Church USA voted to allow partnered gay and lesbians to be ordained but refused to allow same-sex blessings in their denomination.

The AP reports:

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Vatican: ordaining women as great a sin as raping children

As the Church of England was deciding whether to send legislation permitting women to its dioceses for their approval, the Roman Catholic Curia was also considering the issue of women's ordination. David Gibson at Politics Daily tells us what they came up with:

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Lutherans urged to ordain more women

The Lutheran World Federation was challenged by its outgoing general secretary, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, to live up to its inclusive vision by ordaining women across the globe. Meeting in Germany, the LWF will also hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams today, July 22nd:

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Lutherans welcome their gay and lesbian pastors

Laurie Goodstein, in The New York TImes reports on the warm welcome for Lutheran gay and lesbian pastors.

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Foundry UMC considers marriage equality policy

In September a policy of marriage equality will be put to a congregational vote at Foundry United Methodist Church. While President Clinton was in the White House the Clintons attended the church.

Foundry is engaged in a Summer of Great Discernment:

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Pope unfriends Mary Magdalene

Just in time for Philadelphia 11 Day (see previous post), Pope Benedict has issued a children's book, Friends of Jesus, featuring 14 of Jesus' closest friends. Evidently our Lord's top 14 did not include women:

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21,000 Jedi in Canada

Religion News Service blog pointed us to the story that 21,000 people in Canada wrote "Jedi Knight" as their religion in a recent census.

Religion: Jedi Knight

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Bishop accused of fleecing flock

Martin Sigillito, Presiding Bishop of the American Anglican Convocation, has been accused of running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, according to the St. Louis, MO Riverfront Times:

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Allowing girl acolytes ends prejudice, inequality

Catholic News Service reports that the Vatican says allowing girls to serve at the altar as acolytes has ended prejudice and inequality:

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John Paul II shook the hand of an Anglican clergywoman

Correction to The Guardian's claim that no pope has ever shook the hand of an Anglican clergywoman:

The Rev. Donald Schell, a Daily Episcopalian contributor, let us know that actually Pope John Paul II shook the hand of the Rev. Beth Kelly, an Anglican clergywoman in April 2003.

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The pope is coming. The pope is coming

Benedict XVI is visiting the United Kingdom this week, and opinion pages and blogs are alive with ideas about how he should be received.

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Stealing Newman

Gary Wills writes in The New York Review of Books:

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Welcome home to Lutheran lesbian pastors

As a result of the resolutions at their last National Convention, gay and lesbian pastors with partners/spouses can now serve in ELCA congregations. Watch the service of welcome in our sister church:

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Truth and clarity about Armstrong's plea agreement

Received by email from Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal, Colorado Springs.

Armstrong Plea Agreement [Attached]

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Armstrong's parish website
removes statement

It's an incremental development, but the statement defending CANA/ACNA priest Don Armstrong issued on his parish's website has been taken down without announcement. This followed the wide publication yesterday of the plea agreement Armstrong had entered into.

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Don Armstrong remains a "priest in good standing" in CANA

At the end of George Conger's article detailing the events of the past week in Colorado surrounding the former rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and the present leader of St. George's (CANA) comes this bit of information:

"Mr. Armstrong told The Church of England Newspaper he was pleased by the outcome.  ‘This is really over,’ he said.

A spokesman for CANA told CEN Mr. Armstrong remains a ‘priest in good standing’ with CANA,

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CANA's Minns to Colorado Springs: "not criminal"

"... there are still more decisions to be rendered and hearings to be held; therefore at this juncture it is not appropriate for me to comment on specific legal issues ... It is my belief, based upon a thorough investigation of the contested facts, that this entire situation never should have been made the subject of a criminal investigation." - CANA bishop Martyn Minns

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The patron saint of whistleblowers

Francis X. Rocca of Religion News Service writes:

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Mother Mary MacKillop won’t be canonized until Oct. 17, but some Catholics already have an unofficial title for the 19th-century Australian nun: Patron Saint of Whistle-blowers.

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Belgian cardinal says AIDS is just punishment for promiscuity

David Gibson of Politics Daily has the latest sensitive, pastoral utterance from a leading Catholic official:

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Roman Catholics forever?

The Irish Times reports that once baptized in the Roman Catholic Church you can never leave:

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Board member, editor resign from Baptist newspaper

A row continues over a threat by conservatives to strip funding from the Biblical Recorder. The Recorder is the newspaper of the North Carolina convention of the Southern Baptist Convention. As reported in the Recorder,

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Fighting about fighting poverty

Conservative Roman Catholics don't like the methods of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), one of the Roman Catholic Church's premier anti-poverty efforts.

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RC Bishops choose new leader

In a surprise vote, affected by bloggers and "campaign" calls to other bishops, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops have broken with tradition as they elected a new leader. NPR reported the story this morning:

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Pope: condoms can be used to prevent HIV/AIDS

AP reports that the Pope has expanded his remarks on the use of condoms to include any protection from HIV/AIDS, including married heterosexuals even though that would act as birth control also:

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Ratzinger failed to deal with pedophile priest says German media

#Vatileaks ?

A battle of documents has emerged surrounding the Archbishop Ratzinger's handling of the case of a pedophile priest in Munich in the 1980s. After the German media received documents of specifics of the case the Vatican this week released documents from the period that painted Ratzinger in a better light.

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Is the market for Amish romance novels saturated?

Another trend to watch: Bonnet rippers

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Vatican bank under investigation: did clergy front for Mafia?

More scandal for Benedict XVI and the Vatican. AP has the story:

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Bishop of Phoenix threatens Catholic status of hospital

Religious Clause provides a fine summary:

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Catholic Bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, is threatening to remove the Catholic affiliation of Phoenix's St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center this Friday in a dispute over the hospital's actions to save the life of a pregnant woman earlier this year.

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Call for Ten Commandments makeover

David Hazony, author of "The Ten Commandments: How Our Most Ancient Moral Text Can Renew Modern Life"

In our world, it’s been a long time since the Ten Commandments, as a text, had any real meaning. We’ve put them into a black box, glorified that box and attached all sorts of sacred connotations to it, rendered it symbolically and, having commissioned our artists to depict it visually, have convinced ourselves that we no longer need to know what’s inside.

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Go, Martyrs, Go!

NPR has news of one order on nuns in the U.S. who are bucking the trend and growing. They're not Episcopalians, but that doesn't diminish the sweetness of the story. Follow this link to the transcript and the audio (the latter is recommended).

Not so sweet is the unraveling of a Church of England convent caused by Pope Benedict's offer of an Anglican Ordinariate.

Cutié's new book is critical of Catholic Church

The Miami Herald reports:

In a controversial book being released Tuesday, Roman Catholic-turned-Episcopal priest Alberto Cutié lashes out against his former church, calling it "misogynistic," ‘‘disconnected'' and an "institution that continues to promote old ideas."

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John Paul II to be beatified in 2011?

The late Pope John Paul II to move one step closer to becoming a saint, according to a story in the National Catholic Reporter. John Paul II will likely be beatified in late 2011, paving the way towards recognition as a saint sometime soon.

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Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse

A 1997 letter "documents the Vatican's rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland's first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits" reports AP: <

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Vatican letter a smoking gun?

Is the Vatican letter to the church in Ireland a smoking gun, or not? How shall we interpret the news from yesterday from AP that the Vatican wrote a letter to the church in Ireland?

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Russians celebrate orthodox Epiphany

Many Russians celebrated the close of orthodox Epiphany with a traditional swim in icy water:

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Young Jesuit leaders point to emerging principles

In America Magazine, Paul G. Crowley notes some of the characteristics of students of theology in Catholic settings:

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Catholic theologians advocate major changes

The Catholic Herald in the UK reports:

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Why believe Scientology?

In the current edition of The New Yorker Lawrence Wright reports on the Church of Scientology. Tuesday, Terry Gross interviewed Wright on Fresh Air. Wright described the thorough fact checking the magazine did which leaves little doubt that Dianetics is based on a lie.

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Messages prone to misreading

Late last week, a new iPhone app designed to help Catholics prepare for the confessional made its debut. The app tailors its questions to a person’s gender and vocation. So if you punch in both “female” and “priest,” you immediately receive the message “sex and vocation are incompatible.”

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Duncan issues "godly directive" to his diocese

Bob Duncan, The Archbishop of the one province ACNA, bishop of the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh has issued a statement to his diocese concerning the settlement that the Somerset Anglican Fellowship negotiated with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh without the input, fore-knowledge or approval of the Diocese.

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More fun with numbers

A former Episcopalian tells fellow conservative Roman Catholics that they should take the Ordinariate seriously in North America. To prove his point, he plays with numbers and even made a Google map.

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Abp Okoh says CANA belongs to ACNA, not CoN

During his visit to London last week the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, met with the Archbishop of Canterbury. He also made a statement saying that CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Church of Nigeria. If true the Church of Nigeria would no longer be under the threat of sanctions defined by the ABC for boundary crossing into another province of the communion.

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Are there lessons for Episcopalians in the Catholic clergy scandal?

Here are two of the most recent stories about the scandal that refuses to go away. I offer them not to suggest that there is something uniquely wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, but to ask what the Episcopal Church can learn from this crisis.

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Child sexual abuse: 21 RC priests placed on leave

CNN reports that 21 Roman Catholic priests in Philadelphia have been put on leave after review of suspected child sexual abuse.

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Is supporting hate tax-exempt?

Not that we want to give Westboro Baptist Church any more oxygen than it's already sucked out of the room, but as it's tax season, its activities do beg a certain question.

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Majority of Catholics back LGBT rights

Perhaps surprising, perhaps not, but the "publicreligion.org" website reports a study that found that Roman Catholics are pro LGBT:

Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: A Comprehensive Portrait from Recent Research
From PublicReligion.org

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A Litany of Confession

[Book of Common Worship, Presbyterian Church USA]


Almighty God: you alone are good and holy.
Purify our lives and make us brave disciples.
We do not ask you to keep us safe,
but to keep us loyal,

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"Charter for Protection of Children & Young People" #fail

In 2002 the American Catholic Church instituted reforms to protect children from sexual predators in the church. The recent charges brought by civil authorities in Philadelphia — the first indictment ever of a senior church official in covering up an abuse case — have exposed failings in the system that was put in place. (More indictments were delivered Friday -- the end of this post.) What lessons can we learn and apply in The Episcopal Church? Is our system adequate to the task?

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Catholic Church roundup

Banning nun's book; Women in the priesthood; How priests accused of abuse can go undetected.

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The Ordinariate: not that big a deal

Riazat Butt of the Guardian has managed a feat that so far has proved difficult for some of her colleagues on the religion beat at London's major daily newspapers, eschewing sensationalism about the Ordinariate that the Vatican has created to receive disaffected Anglicans.

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John Paul II beatified in Rome

Pope John Paul II has been brought a step closer to sainthood, Guardian reports.

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3 Presbyterian moderators support end to LGBT discrimination

The 173 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church of the United States are in the midst of voting on Resolution 10-A, passed by the church's 219th General Assembly which met last July.

The resolution replaces this language, currently contained in G-6-0106b of the church's Book of Order:

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Presbyterians on the verge of approving LGBT ordination

Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal reports:

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PCUSA votes for inclusion

UPDATED: 5/11 AP reports:

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The Vatican still isn't protecting Catholic children

The Associated Press has the most clear-eyed report on the Vatican's latest efforts to curb child abuse by Catholic clergy without actually forcing bishops to comply:

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Clergy Sexual Abuse Final Report due out today

The John Jay College Final Report, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” a five-year study commissioned by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops is due out today. Its purpose was to provide a definitive answer to what caused the church’s sexual abuse crisis has concluded that neither the all-male celibate priesthood nor homosexuality were to blame.

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Equally Blessed on the John Jay sexual abuse report

The pro-LGBT Catholic group Equally Blessed has read the John Jay report. It has both praise and concerns.

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What did the Church of Scotland decide?

There was a lot of confusion in the news yesterday about what The Church of Scotland had decided about allowing gay and lesbian clergy in same-sex relationships to serve as ministers.

Thinking Anglicans has a round up of reports on the actions of The Church of Scotland (Presbyterians).

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Fisking the John Jay report

The Revealer has been running an illuminating series of articles on the John Jay College report on clerical sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

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Elizabeth Johnson responds to Committee on Doctrine

From Commonweal Magazine:

NCR has obtained a copy of Johnson’s 38-page reply to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, whose statement [.pdf] on her Quest for the Living God claimed the book “contaminates the traditional Catholic understanding of God” and “completely undermines the gospel.”

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More women ordained as Roman Catholic priests

UPDATE: Buddhist women ordained as monks. See below.
NPR reports on the growing numbers of women serving as priests in Roman Catholicism:

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The other side of the Catholic church

Former Roman Catholic priest, Matthew Fox, offers this perspective the current state of affairs in the in the Roman Catholic Church:

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Southern Baptists elect black pastor to #2 positon

Southern Baptists elect Fred Luter Jr., the head pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, to the number two position in their denomination:

Southern Baptists elect black pastor to No. 2 post
From YahooNews

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RCC progress report on US Ordinariate

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington reported to a gathering of Roman Catholic Bishops this week on the progress towards establishing an Anglican ordinariate in the US, saying that they expect about 100 clergy and 2,000 laypeople could be among the first to move from an Episcopal or Anglican-related churches into the Roman Catholic Church.

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Roman Catholic marriage rate plummets

Our Sunday Visitor reports:

The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010.

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Methodist pastor found guilty of marrying lesbians and gays

Methodist pastor, the Rev. Amy DeLong, has been convicted of marrying same sex partners according to the Huffington Post:

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The O'Malley model?

Mark Silk suggests that Roman Catholic bishops stop talking smack about marriage equality. After noting that the bishops and their allies were outmaneuvered in New York, he writes:

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When lawyers run the church

Why is it we default to taking the advice of lawyers when a matter touches on the law?

The Diocese of Cloyne (Irish, Roman Catholic) provides an object lesson for what happens when we do.

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Irish prime minister assails Vatican's elitism, disregard for children

From The Guardian:

Ireland's prime minister has launched an unprecedented attack on the Vatican, accusing it of downplaying the rape and torture of Irish children by clerical sex abusers.

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Lutheran social services network shows strains over gays

Lutheran social services networks participated in jointly by the Lutheran Church0Missouri Synod and the ELCA are threatened by differences between the two denominations over the equality of heterosexuals and gays and lesbians.

Rachel Zoll of AP reports:

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Get those girls off the altar

This just in from The Arizona Republic:

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Clergy rebellion against Roman Catholic Church in Austria

Time reports on "a clergy rebellion" in the Austrian Roman Catholic Church:

A Clergy Rebellion in Austria's Catholic Church
From Time.com

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Presbyterians to ordain first openly gay man

A Wisconsin Presbyterian church is planning to ordain the first openly gay minister in the history of the denomination early next month. This is the first such ordination since the vote this summer that opened the Presbyterian Church to gay and lesbian clergy.

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No wine for you

The Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix has announced that it his policy that the wine consecrated during Mass is no longer to be shared among the laity present. Reaction has been pretty uniformly negative in Catholic circles.

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Hundreds of NY and CT Methodist clergy reject ban on same-sex marriage

News being made today as Methodist clergy and others push back against the long standing ban on same-sex marriages in the Methodist Church:

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Splintering amongst the breakaways

We are hearing news of splintering among the various Anglican breakaway groups. The Anglican Mission in America wants to breakaway from the Church of Rwanda, and relations between the Convocation of Anglicans in North America and the Anglican Church of North America have grown chilly.

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Methodist bishops will uphold ban on same-sex blessings

The bishops of the Methodist Church, in a pastoral letter published on Friday (Nov. 11) committed themselves to following church discipline and formally forbidding any clergy person to bless a same-sex relationship.

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Goodbye to the "old Mass"

The Roman Catholic Church began using its new missal this past Sunday. Reactions range from "love it" to "hate it." From the Huffington Post:

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Rwanda to AMiA head: recant or resign

Anglican Ink reports that Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje and the House of Bishops of Rwanda have issued a rebuke to Bishop Chuck Murphy of Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) telling him to recant or resign.

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Seeking province for oversight

When the Province of Rwanda adopted the AMiA not so long along ago, both got something out of the deal. The AMiA got to pretend it was part of the Anglican Communion, and Chuck Murphy got to be bishop. The Province of Rwanda gained a higher profile in the small pond which in Anglicanism broadly defined by adopting a few dissident U.S. parishes who no longer wanted to play by the rules of the Anglican Communion and submit to the leadership of The Episcopal Church.

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Odd doings in the Traditional Anglican Communion

Archbishop John Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion (affiliated with Catholics by the Ordinariate and definitely not a member of the Anglican Communion) has recently seen the settlement of charges he lowered that he was raped 40 years ago in a Catholic seminary by a priest.

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Cardinal apologizes for comparing gay pride parade to KKK

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago apologized for comparing the gay pride parade to the Ku Klux Klan. The Chicago Tribune reports:

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Will married priests change the Roman Catholic Church?

Will having more married Roman Catholic priests change the rules on celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church? The New York Times reports that there are currently 80 married priests in the US and more to come as the Ordinariate welcomes married men who are priests into the clergy ranks.

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Unsurprising, still depressing: Pope on same-gender marriage

Reuters is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI, said "that gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined 'the future of humanity itself.' '

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Numbers: Episcopalians who join the ordinariate, Catholics who become Episcopalians

In the last month, I have prepared three different Episcopal clients to speak to reporters about the advent of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, through which disaffected Anglicans can join the Roman Catholic Church while continuing to use an Anglican rite of worship. This story has appeared in major newspaper across the country, often accompanied by commentary about the Vatican’s bold move against the theologically liberal Episcopal Church.

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No one expects the you know what

Cullen Murphy, author of a recent book on the Inquisitions, Spanish and otherwise, answers 10 questions for the Huffington Post. Number 2 is arresting:

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Knights of Columbus' use of resources surprising to many

The Knight of Columbus, the second largest Catholic organization besides the Church itself, appears to be deeply involved in contested political areas.

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Methodists discuss restructuring

Some interesting parallels and contrasts between the discussions about re-structuring in the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. (see also Daily Episcopalian and the Video blog on the Café this week - as we offer more thoughts on restructure and the Episcopal Church.)

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Mormons break promise in posthumously baptizing Anne Frank

Andrea Stone of The Huffington Post reports:

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The chuch and the Dodo bird

As The Episcopal Church begins the process of re-imagining itself, or at least its governing structures, we should pay special attention to those in the midst of a similar process. In this brief essay, Alison Boulton, a Baptist minister in England compares Christian churches to fat, flightless Dodo birds, and wonders if the time hasn't come to shed some weight.

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The intense and conflicted relationship of Komen and the Catholic bishops

Reuters has read some interesting correspondence between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and U. S. Catholic bishops.

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The wild Catholic career of the Rev. Bernard Lynch

Peter Stanford of The Independent profiles the Rev. Bernard Lynch, whose career is the Roman Catholic Church as a whistleblower, advocate for LGBT people, and, as it turns out, married gay man, would be dismissed as implausible were it proposed as fiction.

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Roman Catholic bishops issue manifesto

Sara Posner of Religion Dispatches reflects on the Roman Catholic Bishops' Religious Liberty Manifesto Vowing Disobedience to "Unjust Laws."

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The Methodists are wrestling with structure too

As General Convention draws near there is a growing consensus that this year the presenting issue is how to best structure the Episcopal Church to do its work as we move into a new era. We're not the only denomination facing the challenge. The Methodist General Conference has just looked at the same question, and it didn't go well.

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Methodists vote against ending investments tied to Israel

In The New York Times:

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Protestors on United Methodist delegate floor

Update 5 PM

A protest was held on the United Methodist's vote to retain the current language of the Book of Discipline that the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

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Why the Methodists did what they did

We covered the demonstration following rejection of any official accommodation of conscience for clergy and laity in the Methodist Church who are supporters of marriage equality last week. But there's more to what happened than just the demonstration. The Conference decided, after the votes that would have officially admitted a diversity of opinion to cancel all subsequent votes on issues touching on the same subject.

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Updated. US Catholic has what ought to be an April Fool's Day story, but isn't. Bryan Cones writes:

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Hidden exodus: RC becoming protestant

The National Catholic Reporter reports that the Roman Catholic Church has lost one-third of its members and one in ten Americans (USA) is an ex-Catholic:

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Ecclesia de Lange and the cost of conscience

The Rev. Ecclesia de Lange talks about being dismissed from her position as a pastor in the Methodist Church of South Africa after she married her female partner. The Rev. de Lange participated in a consultation sponsored by the Chicago Consultation and the Ujamaa Centre of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in October 2011.

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“Nuns on the Bus: nuns drive for faith, family and fairness”

Excerpted from Laurie Goodstein's article in The New York Times:

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Sister Farley's revenge

UPDATE: see below

Nothing like having your book "banned" to make sales according to the