10 Minutes With … Mustafa Ceric

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Mustafa Ceric may come from a small, dysfunctional country, but he plays a critical role in averting the clash between Islamic and Western worlds that so many people fear. As Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ceric is spiritual leader to one of Europe’s last surviving communities of indigenous European Muslims. Educated in Sarajevo’s Gazi Husrev-beg Madrassa and later Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Ceric is seen as blending moderate European Islam with the authority of Islam’s leading center of learning in Egypt. With a doctorate in theology from the University of Chicago and several years spent as imam of Chicago’s Islamic Cultural Center in the 1980s, he is also well-versed in American ways. When ethnic cleansing nearly wiped out Bosnia’s Muslims during the Bosnian War, Ceric emerged as an eloquent voice for action to save his people, and later as a champion of reconciliation.

Arkansas Jews Get a Lesson in Wandering Toward a Permanent Home

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) For the past 26 years, members of the tiny Temple Shalom synagogue in Fayetteville, Ark., have celebrated Passover without a building to call their own. But that’s about to change, thanks to an uncommon act of charity that stands to infuse their holiday with new significance and, members hope, be a catalyst for conflict resolution far beyond Arkansas. Temple Shalom has accepted a pledge from a local developer to donate his time and erect a 6,600-square-foot facility without taking any profit. What makes the pledge even more unusual is that it comes from a Palestinian Muslim who grew up seeing Jews as the people who divided his family, bombed his West Bank village and forced him to flee into nearby mountains for safety.

Jews Mull Modern Menu Options for Passover

c. 2007 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ Every time her birthday falls during Passover, Melissa Hantman of Rochester, N.Y., stifles a sigh and looks for a palatable but permissible dessert to offer party guests. Her spiritual stomachaches have given way to philosophical headaches lately, as the 27-year-old Reform Jew ponders whether the growing range of kosher-for-Passover delights somehow defeats the purpose of the weeklong holiday. “The point of Passover food, I’ve always been taught, is to remember the hardships faced by the fleeing Israelites, so you eat matzo _ the bread of affliction _ instead of bread,” Hantman said. “I have a nagging feeling that we’re getting off easy because it’s really not a diet of affliction anymore.” Indeed, Jews traditionally observe Passover (which begins April 2 this year) by adhering to strict dietary laws.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Christian College Settles Case With Transgender Professor SPRING ARBOR, Mich. (RNS) Spring Arbor University and fired transgender professor Julie Nemecek reached a financial settlement Monday (March 12) in her discrimination suit. “It was a difficult thing for me and for the university, but I think we both walked away happy,” Nemecek said Tuesday. As part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mediation agreement, the amount of the settlement was not disclosed.

Romney Finds Deep Pockets in Heart of Mormon Country

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ One out of every six dollars raised last year by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came from the predominantly Mormon state of Utah, highlighting the relationship between the former Massachusetts governor and the Mormon church. Several polls have suggested that Romney’s Mormon background could hamper his presidential campaign with some voters, especially the key Christian conservative base in the Republican party that views Mormonism with a skeptical eye. But Romney’s success in attracting money from Utah also underscores the support of the 6 million-strong Mormon community _ and Romney’s star role in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics _ which could prove an invaluable asset in a prolonged presidential campaign, many observers said. In 2006, Utah residents gave more than $1.3 million in donations of $1,000 or more to Romney’s fundraising organizations, or Political Action Committees (PACs), according to a Medill News Service analysis of state and federal filings.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Methodist Churches Say Merger Not an Option (RNS) Bishops from six U.S. Methodist denominations pledged to work together on common social justice goals but said a merger or union among them is not likely to happen any time soon. Representing the United Methodist Church and the historically black African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches, the bishops gathered in Atlanta March 11-13 for their quadrennial meeting. Two new members also joined the meeting: the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Union Methodist Protestant Church. Noting that the gathering’s goals do not include a “union” of the churches, the bishops agreed to change its name from “Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Unity” to “Pan-Methodist Commission,” according to United Methodist News Service.

`Gospel of Judas’ Offers New Spin on Jesus’ Betrayer

c. 2007 Religion News Service ROME _ A new book by a colorful British author and an Australian New Testament scholar offers a sympathetic portrayal of Judas as the unwitting betrayer of Christ. “The Gospel According to Judas, by Benjamin Iscariot” published simultaneously in eight languages on Tuesday (March 20), is a work of fiction presented in the form of Scripture, complete with numbered verses, pages in gold trim and key passages highlighted in red ink. The unlikely co-authors are best-selling novelist Jeffrey Archer (known since 1992 as Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare) and the Rev. Francis J. Moloney, the former dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington. Their account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is based on the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but deviates from the standard narrative on certain important points _ most significantly in asserting that Judas unintentionally abetted the capture of Jesus that led to his crucifixion.

Muslim Magazines Discover an Untapped Market

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Holding an American flag and wearing a bright-white grin beneath her head scarf, Wardaw Chaudhary, a 16-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., radiated confidence and optimism, the perfect cover girl to grace the first issue of Muslim Girl magazine. Launched in January with the tagline “Enlighten Celebrate Inspire,” the bimonthly magazine targets what editor-in-chief Ausma Khan says are 400,000 Muslim teenage girls in North America who, like other teenagers, want a magazine that reflects their lifestyles and aspirations. “We want to tell the stories of Muslim girls who have grown up in America,” said Khan, 37. “We want to give them a voice and a forum where they can see themselves and connect to other Muslim girls, but also demonstrate how much they’re part of the fabric of American life.” Muslim Girl, with circulation approaching 50,000, is the latest of several new magazines catering to Muslim Americans.

COMMENTARY: The Good News About the Bad News

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Why, asks a reader, have new community churches had “such tremendous growth,” while older denominational congregations show “declining church attendance?” Some want the answer to be better doctrine, conservative ethics and politics, and a fundamentalist biblical theology. Nonsense. This isn’t a partisan victory dance. It is time to be concerned.

New Book Brings Together 10 Years of Thoughts on Faith, Meaning

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A new book based on interviews from the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” finds a spiritual hunger beneath the secular veneer of modern culture, with many searching for something beyond the material world. “The Life of Meaning” (Seven Stories Press, $29.95, 448 pp.) was edited by the show’s executive editor and host, Bob Abernethy, and longtime journalist William Bole. Essays in the book were drawn from interviews conducted by Abernethy, who founded the show 10 years ago after four decades as an NBC correspondent, and other Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly correspondents and producers. Bole has written for many publications, including The Washington Post and Commonweal magazine.

Supreme Court Hears `Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ Case

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday (March 19) in the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, a free speech conflict that has caught the attention of religious litigators nationwide. Morse v. Frederick is the high court’s first student speech case in nearly 20 years, and comes at a time when school administrators and students regularly battle over religious activities in public schools. The case concerns an Alaska high school student who displayed a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” as the Olympic torch passed through his town in 2002. After he was suspended, the student, Joseph Frederick, now 23, said his banner was a “free speech experiment” that had no religious or political message.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Christians Worship, March in Protest of Iraq War WASHINGTON (RNS) About 3,000 Christians gathered at the Washington National Cathedral Friday (March 16) before marching to the White House to protest the war in Iraq. “This kind of a Christian witness was long overdue,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, one of three dozen groups represented in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. “Just going to secular demonstrations wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to express their faith on the Iraq war.” At the cathedral, attendees heard remarks from Wallis, the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, a U.S. representative of the World Council of Churches, and Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphia United Methodist whose son, a National Guardsman, was killed in Baghdad in 2004.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Loving Us Into Extinction

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) I have fond memories of growing up in my Southern Baptist church in Lexington, Ky. My father was a deacon, my mother taught Sunday school for 14 years, and _ like all good Southern Baptists _ we attended services on Wednesday nights and twice on Sunday. Several of our church leaders graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Louisville. As a result, I was horrified _ as all fair-minded Americans should be _ to read the recent comments of Albert Mohler, the current president of that seminary and a board member of Focus on the Family.

New Book Brings Together 10 Years of Thoughts on Faith, Meaning

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A new book based on interviews from the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” finds a spiritual hunger beneath the secular veneer of modern culture, with many searching for something beyond the material world. “The Life of Meaning” (Seven Stories Press, $29.95, 448 pp.) was edited by the show’s executive editor and host, Bob Abernethy, and longtime journalist William Bole. Essays in the book were drawn from interviews conducted by Abernethy, who founded the show 10 years ago after four decades as an NBC correspondent. Bole has written for many publications, including The Washington Post and Commonweal magazine.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Setting the Record Straight on Chris Hedges and Southern Baptists

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In a Feb. 14 Religion News Service interview about his new book, “American Fascists,” decidedly liberal and anti-evangelical Chris Hedges made a number of assertions that fail the truth test. One in particular about Southern Baptists needs to be corrected for the record. Hedges, credentialed as a “former New York Times correspondent” and a “graduate of Harvard Divinity School,” made the following linkages that belie his supposed expertise: “Dominionism, or Christian Reconstructionism, is a movement: _ “ …