RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service IRS Denies It Told Churches Not to Pray for Bush’s Re-election WASHINGTON (RNS) A Virginia pastor who prayed that God would re-elect President Bush says the Internal Revenue Service threatened him with charges of improper “electioneering,” but the IRS maintains it has made no decision in the case. The controversy erupted Friday (Oct. 29) on the eve of the presidential elections as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and other conservatives urged churches to hold prayer vigils for “pro-life and pro-traditional family leaders.” Attorneys for the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a Presbyterian pastor based in Fredericksburg, Va., asked the IRS in September if he could pray for God to “grant President Bush four more years” without risking a church’s tax-exempt status. Mahoney planned to offer the prayer during a 16-city tour of churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

ESSAY: Autumn Teaches Natural Lessons to Those With Spiritual Eyes

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Harlem Renaissance poet Esther Popel wants to stand before death proud and naked, unashamed and uncaring, asking in her poem “October Prayer,” “Oh God, make me an autumn tree if I must die.” The Rev. William Surber of Uhrichsville Moravian Church needs only to take a walk outside in his pastoral corner of Tuscarawas County, Ohio, in mid-October and conclude: “This is not an accident. There is a divine hand in it, just the sheer beauty of it.” When he was alive, former baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti would sit at a baseball game in October, longing for something in this world to last forever, “and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.” As the leaves turn on another fall, so begins another stage in a lifelong spiritual journey of believers fortunate enough to live in parts of the country with four seasons. San Diego and Orlando, Fla., might have year-round sunshine, but only in places such as Connecticut, Montana and Ohio can people stay so closely attuned to the rhythms of the natural world. The glory of fall offers particularly meaningful opportunities to reflect on both the beauty and the transitory nature of much of creation, and our own capacity to lead meaningful lives in our limited time on earth, say theologians and a wide range of writers and poets who have turned to autumn for their inspiration.

NEWS STORY: Constitution Signing a Setback for Pope, European Christianity

c. 2004 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ European Union leaders, who gathered in Rome Friday (Oct. 29) to sign their new constitution, handed Pope John Paul II a rebuff in his effort to secure an acknowledgment of Christianity in the historic document. The Roman Catholic pontiff has often voiced concern about Europe’s increasingly secular society. In the signing of a constitution that does not take note of Europe’s religious history, the Vatican sees proof that the EU is distancing itself from Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

NEWS STORY: Campaigns Target Hispanics With Faith-Based Messages

c. 2004 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly DEMING, N.M. _ Republicans and Democrats alike are using faith-based appeals in an effort to attract the rapidly growing but largely untapped Hispanic population, according to activists and academics. “There’s a line in the `Our Father,’ you know: `Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,”’ said Santiago Juarez, director of VIVA _ the Voters’ Initiative for Voices in Action, a nonpartisan group seeking to register Hispanic voters. “Well, there’s one way we exercise `thy will on earth,’ and that is we get involved in the political process. What we’re trying to do is reach a community and reach communities that have not been engaged,” he said.

NEWS STORY: Christian Coalition Voter Guides Designed to Mobilize Evangelical Vote

c. 2004 Religion News Service PHILADELPHIA _ Though not the political force it was in the 1990s, the Christian Coalition and its 30 million voter guides are likely to inspire conservative evangelicals to get to the polls Tuesday, political analysts say. In battleground states such as Pennsylvania, which President Bush narrowly lost in 2000, the voter guides could play a vital role in helping Republicans mobilize the evangelical vote, a goal President Bush’s campaign strategist, Karl Rove, has identified as a key to victory. The John Kerry campaign alleges that the voter guides distort the record of the Democratic candidate and are a thinly disguised effort to re-elect Bush. Both campaigns, as well as independent analysts, concur that with the race so close, turnout could determine the winner.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Mideast Muslims Offer Prayers for Arafat’s Health JERUSALEM (RNS) An official at the Wakf Islamic Trust at the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, said Thursday (Oct. 28) that large numbers of Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian territories are taking it upon themselves to pray for the health of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is reportedly very ill. Adnan Husseini, the director of the Wakf, told RNS that “I am sure that all the people in Palestine are praying for the president to be better.” Husseini said that, to the best of his knowledge, local Islamic leaders have not called on Muslims to say a special prayer for Arafat “because Islam does not work like this.” Rather, Husseini said, “many Muslims have prayed for Arafat’s well-being all along.” Arafat, 75, is critically ill, according to Palestinian officials. While there have been reports that he is suffering from everything from the flu to cancer, the precise nature of his illness remains unknown.

COMMENTARY: Politicians Obliterate This Commandment

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author of “Cardinal Bernardin’s Stations of the Cross,” published by St. Martin’s Press.) (UNDATED) Supposedly secular America has had no lack of moral advice and no small appetite for it during the election campaign. Catholics have been told by bishops and theologians that it is immoral to vote for candidates who support the pro-choice position on abortion; and they also have been told they can vote with a clear conscience for such a candidate if he or she otherwise supports overall Catholic social teaching. Catholic bishops backed uneasily away from their denial of the Eucharist to pro-choice candidates and those who vote for them.

NEWS STORY: Constitution Signing a Setback for Pope, European Christianity

c. 2004 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ When European Union leaders gather in Rome to sign their new constitution Friday, they will rebuff Pope John Paul II and his effort to acknowledge Christianity in the historic document. The Roman Catholic pontiff has often voiced concern about Europe’s increasingly secular society. In the signing of a constitution that does not acknowledge Europe’s religious history, the Vatican sees proof that the EU is distancing itself from Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. The drafters of the constitution have made it clear for months that they would ignore the pope’s tireless 21/2-year campaign for explicit Christian recognition in the constitution’s preamble.

In World Series Win, Some Players and Fans See the Hand of a Higher Power

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Ecstatic with their first World Series championship in 86 years, fans of the never-say-die Boston Red Sox are preparing to enshrine this team’s players as bigger-than-life legends who overcame the infamous Curse of the Bambino. But as the Fenway faithful gear up to pay them homage, the heroes of this Cinderella story have another idea, one that’s giving pause for thought to famously reticent New Englanders. For this achievement, say many Sox players, give God the glory. “I don’t believe in curses,” said Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez in an oft-repeated clubhouse sentiment after a four-game sweep of the St.

NEWS FEATURE: Grieving Families Try to End Mideast Cycle of Violence

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Robi Damelin remembers intense discussions she had with her son, David, when he was called up to duty again in the Israeli Army and assigned to serve in the occupied territories. As a peace activist, David, then 28, faced a crisis. If he went to serve, he believed he would be contributing to the misery of an occupied Palestinian community. If he defied the military’s orders, he worried that he would set a bad example for his students at Tel Aviv University, where he was a teaching assistant while completing graduate studies in philosophy.

COMMENTARY: Scholars of Islam and Judaism Find Common Ground

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s Senior Interreligious Adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in beautiful Santa Barbara, Calif. Challenging hiking trails in the nearby mountains and lovely beaches on the Pacific Ocean beckoned to the city’s residents along with lush golf courses and well-maintained tennis courts. But despite those outdoor attractions, more than 700 people came to Campbell Hall on the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus to attend a public discussion on Judaism and Islam featuring professor Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., and myself. The Herman P. and Sophie Taubman Foundation of Los Angeles sponsored the UCSB event.

NEWS DIGEST: Religion in Canada

c. 2004 Religion News Service Islamic Leaders in Trouble Over Comments TORONTO (RNS) Pressure is building on a Canadian Muslim leader to resign after comments he made about killing Israeli civilians, and at the same time police are probing a Vancouver Islamic cleric for calling Jews “the brothers of monkeys and swine.” Mohamed Elmasry, the high-profile president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, is under fire for saying all Israelis above the age of 18 are legitimate targets of attack. He made the comments Oct. 19 on a Toronto-area television call-in show. Asked whether “anyone over the age of 18 in Israel is a valid target,” Elmasry replied, “Anybody above 18 is part of the (Israeli) army.” The show’s moderator, Michael Coren, then asked, “Anyone in Israel, irrespective of gender, over the age of 18 is a valid target?” “Yes, I would say,” Elmasry responded.

NEWS FEATURE: Pagans Come of Age and Find Comfort in Their Beliefs

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Judy Harrow, a self-described witch, remembers dancing in the woods of New Jersey with a circle of young pagans back in 1979. That group still meets, and this year members with stiff joints called ahead to reserve the lower bunks. Pagans _ those who practice a variety of nature-based religions that gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s _ are growing older, and have the aches, pains and fears of maturity to prove it. But senior pagans says issues of aging and even death don’t haunt them like they could because they have found comfort and meaning in the philosophy and coming-of-age rituals of their belief system.

NEWS STORY: Religious Leaders Frustrated That Poverty Goes Unnoticed in Election

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The Rev. Bob Vitillo has heard a lot of talk about swing states, blue states and red states, but the one state no one is talking about this election year is what he calls America’s “51st state” _ the 36 million Americans living in poverty who, grouped together, would outrank California as the nation’s largest state. “When we listen to what poor people tell us about their experience, time after time they talk about feeling invisible, forgotten and ignored by everyone,” said Vitillo, director of the anti-poverty Catholic Campaign for Human Development. “It’s almost as if they didn’t exist.” Vitillo’s frustration is shared by other religious leaders who say poverty has gone mostly unnoticed by both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. In an election year dominated by terrorism, Iraq and the economy, they say the “least of these” have gotten the least amount of attention.