GUEST COMMENTARY: The Occult Isn’t Just a Batty Idea in America’s Attic

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) It was a moment made for C-SPAN, though television sets would not reach American living rooms for another century. In 1854, Sen. James Shields of Illinois, one of the most respected voices in the Senate and the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, rose to present his colleagues with the strangest petition in American history. Holding a document signed by 15,000 enthusiasts of Spiritualism, and expounding on the work of medieval alchemists and occult philosophers, Shields begged his colleagues to take seriously the request to fund a government commission to study the possibility of talking to the dead _ perhaps even looking into “establishing a spiritual telegraph.” Within moments, senators hooted him down, one jokingly referring the matter to the Committee on Foreign Relations. This Halloween, it might be tempting to dismiss such episodes as nothing more than a bat or two flying around the attic of America’s history.

COMMENTARY: Lessons on Church Growth From Those Who Need It

c. 2006 Religion News Service HUNTSVILLE, TEXAS _ We sped past the 66-foot statue of statesman Sam Houston, leader of the Texas Revolution, who retired here rather than violate his unionist principles when the State of Texas seceded in the Civil War. We drove more sedately past the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, whose execution chamber accounts for one-third of all executions in the U.S. I came to lead workshops on “church wellness” for a group of United Methodists who want to move on from denominational bickering and focus on nurturing healthy congregations. In these two days at the leading edge of tomorrow, at the place where faithful people are setting out to do the hard work of strengthening congregations, what did I find? I saw mounting frustration with how their denomination has been paralyzed by the relentless badgering and clever maneuvering of conservative ideologues.

Separation of Church and State

Quote of the Day: Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder “We rightly criticize that in most Islamic states, the role of religion for society and the character of the rule of law are not clearly separated. But we fail to recognize that in the U.S.A., the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies.” -Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, writing in a new book, “Decisions: My Life in Politics.” He was quoted by the Associated Press.

COMMENTARY: For Passover, Consider King Tut’s Use of Hebrew Slaves

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In February, I visited the world-famous King Tut exhibit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It’s on display until April 23 when it moves to Chicago and then Philadelphia. The extraordinary artifacts from an ancient royal Egyptian tomb will remain in the United States until September 2007, and if the large Florida crowds are an indicator of public interest, the exhibit will attract huge throngs at its next two American venues. Tut _ his full name was Tutankamun _ was a “boy-king” who at age 8, scholars believe, succeeded to the throne around 1353 B.C. following his father’s death.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Kidnapped Christian Aid Workers Released in Iraq TORONTO (RNS) Two Canadian Christian aid workers and a British colleague held hostage in Iraq for nearly four months were freed Thursday (March 23) in a daring morning raid by coalition forces. Jim Loney, 41, of Toronto, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, formerly of Montreal, were released along with Norm Kember, 74, of London. All three were members of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an international peace and aid group. They were abducted at gunpoint Nov.

Torah Cover That Survived Nazis to Return to New York Family

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When Gavriel Wesel came safely home to Vienna, Austria, after World War I, his wife, Miriam, sewed a cover for a Torah scroll at their synagogue to give thanks to God. On Monday (March 27), 87 years later, the cover will be returned to the New York grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Wesels, who have died. The return will take place in the office of New York Gov. George Pataki, who established the world’s only public agency that helps Nazi victims and their heirs recover looted properties. Because the Torah cover survived in a Nazi-annexed country during World War II, it is considered extremely rare.

At Theater Churches, the Early Matinee Is Rated `G’ for Gospel

c. 2006 Religion News Service NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. _ Pastor Reford Mott looks into two cameras as he stands at a makeshift pulpit on a temporary stage. Behind him, Mott’s image fills a large movie screen where an R-rated film will start in less than two hours. Churchgoers in the top rows of the stadium-style seating in Theater 16 focus not on Mott, but on his real-time image as he preaches on the importance of community. “Relationships are the glue that holds the church together,” says Mott, pumping his fist.

They See Their Savior in Buckling Drywall

c. 2006 Religion News Service SARALAND, Ala. _ Church members say a buckling of drywall in their flooded sanctuary resembles a crucifixion and works miracles. “You never know how he is going to come,” said Ella Roberts, pastor of the Triumph Learning and Worship Center for Life. “You can’t explain it.

Last Rites …

It sounds like the set-up to a bad joke: three Catholic priests are riding in a car when they get in an accident … But the Italian car accident that claimed the life of a Pennsylvania priest and injured Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore wasn’t funny at all. Keeler, 75 and nursing a broken ankle, talked about the accident for the first time in Baltimore. Immediately after impact, two of the three priests performed last rites on each other, just in case. “That was what the instinct reaction of the priest is: to make sure the sacraments of the church are available to someone dying or in danger of death,” Keeler said.

Red, White and God: What We Believe

David van Biema over at Time magazine, one of the best in the biz, has an interesting take out on what America believes and why, based on the recent Baylor survey on America and religion. There’s a cool interactive graphic based on the 2000 Glenmary survey, as well as a snazzy graphic that shows America’s “Four Gods” from the Baylor survey. David’s analysis: Denomination has been a sociological non-starter for a while. More interesting is that at least one Baylor team member is claiming that its Type of God categories are more predictive than church attendence or Bible reading. This is novel, and if it’s true, a lot of political strategists will be up late digesting the Baylor numbers.

Shattering the Stained-Glass Ceiling

The Christian Century has Adelle Banks’ report on the milestones-and continued resistance-faced by women clergy in mainline Protestant denominations: Adair Lummis, a sociologist of religion and an expert on women clergy at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, applauds the new steps by mainline Protestant churches. But she offers a “don’t just relax” caution. “Just because you have more women and you’re having these milestone celebrations, please remember that in some denominations . . .

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Kurt Carr, Take 6 Among New Inductees for Gospel Hall of Fame (RNS) Gospel musicians Kurt Carr and Take 6 are among the new inductees to the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum. A ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of awards sponsored by the Detroit-based hall of fame was held Saturday (Oct. 21). Carr, who has worked as an accompanist with the late Rev. James Cleveland and Andrae Crouch, formed the Kurt Carr Singers in the early 1990s.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Big Faith on the Silver Screen

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Rare is the saint’s biographer who can avoid these words in the first few pages of the book: “His life would make a great movie!” or “Her story was like something out of a Hollywood film!” So with Nov. 1 _ All Saints Day _ nearly upon us, here is an entirely subjective list of the top 10 films and documentaries about saints and near-saints, listed in order of their release. The Song of Bernadette (1943) Based on the novel by Franz Werfel, the movie is unabashedly romantic, starring Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous, the young girl who has visions of the Virgin Mary in the French town of Lourdes in 1858, and Charles Bickford as her initially doubtful but finally supportive pastor. Some find the score overripe, the dialogue saccharine and the acting hammy (Vincent Price all but devours the French scenery), but the stalwart character of St.

Cop Patrols the Streets and Then Preaches From the Pulpit

c. 2006 Religion News Service BIRMINGHAM, Ala. _ Police Officer Marvin Anthony Neal patrols the streets of Birmingham on most mornings, but on Sundays he patrols the pulpit at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Alabaster. Neal became pastor in August but works as a patrol officer on the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. shift in the city’s South Precinct. On a recent Saturday morning, he responded to a shooting at an apartment complex and interviewed the victim for a description of the assailant.

Food Stamps a Hard Sell Among Ohio’s Amish

c. 2006 Religion News Service CLARIDON TOWNSHIP, Ohio _ Tim Taylor’s job calls for finding ways to distribute food stamps to the Amish in Geauga County. He might as well be trying to sell them cars. The horse-and-buggy crowd philosophically opposes the support program overseen by Taylor’s agency, the Geauga Department of Job & Family Services. Accepting public assistance is verboten within the Amish culture.