For the 51st time, evangelist Billy Graham has been named as one of the 10 most admired men, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. Both the 89-year-old evangelist and former South African President Nelson Mandela received 3 percent of the votes of 1,011 adults surveyed Dec. 14-16. Pope Benedict XVI, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former President Jimmy Carter, received 2 percent of the votes. In case you were wondering, President George W. Bush was named most admired man, with 10 percent of those surveyed choosing him.
Looking back at year’s end on Mitt Romney’s “Faith in America” speech, I see it as a touchstone for the new role of religion in contemporary American politics. The speech contained three major messages that indicate how much more complex faith-based politics have become since John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960. Romney’s first message concerned public skepticism toward Mormons. He argued that neither his nor any other candidate’s religious affiliation should be the basis for rejection—or election—to public office. This claim is based on a demand for religious liberty.
c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As politicians try to jump start a new round of Middle East peace talks, one of the world’s foremost experts on negotiation is literally forging a new path to peace in the region. William Ury, director of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University, is the visionary behind the Abraham Path Initiative (http://www.abrahampath.org). The idea is to bring Christians, Muslims, Jews and others together to walk in the footsteps of Abraham _ a figure revered in all three monotheistic faiths _ by charting the 700-mile route from his traditional birthplace in Turkey to his tomb in the West Bank. Path organizers christened the first leg of the trip earlier this year by walking 12 kilometers to where the Bible says Abraham heard the voice of God.
c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The opening scene of “Love Actually,” the 2003 romantic comedy that is one of the best Christmas-themed movies of recent vintage, takes place at the arrivals gate of Heathrow Airport in London. As you see images of reconciliation _ people running into each other’s arms, hugging, kissing, crying, laughing, looking generally relieved _ you hear Hugh Grant talking about how love is all around us, all the time, even (or perhaps most especially) when we’re feeling most unlovable. “Seems to me that love is everywhere,” Grant says. “Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there.” During the Christmas season, most of us get caught up in the giving and receiving of material gifts.
c. 2007 Religion News Service Muslims accept pope’s invitation to dialogue VATICAN CITY (RNS) A group of prominent Muslim scholars and clerics has accepted the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI for a “working meeting” on inter-religious dialogue at the Vatican. According to Catholic News Service, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan wrote to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, on Dec. 12 to accept the pope’s invitation. Representatives of Muslim participants at the meeting will travel to the Vatican in February or March to prepare for the event, Ghazi wrote.
c. 2007 Religion News Service PRINCETON TOWNSHIP, N.J. _ The woman told her friend she was looking for her luck to change. She needed positive energy and hoped to rid her home of evil spirits. Her friend, who later told police his name was Joaquin Ramirez, was a Santero, a priest of sorts who practiced Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion akin to voodoo. According to police, Ramirez picked up mercury at a botanica, a store that was selling supplies and other religious items in Brunswick, N.J. An injection of mercury, or “azogue” in Spanish, would cleanse her of evil spirits and bring luck and wealth to her life.
Frank Newport, the “Gallup Guru” you see all the time on CNN, has some interesting numbers about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Bottom line: 62% of Republicans say they would be “afraid” if she is elected president. Unfortunately, Newport doesn’t show a breakdown by religion, but since religious conservatives make up at least one-quarter of the GOP base, it’s safe to conclude the evangelicals would be among those shaking in their boots at the prospect of another Clinton White House. But in glancing at Newport’s analysis, I stumbled across his compilation of voters’ feelings about a Mormon president. One of the more interesting was the parallels between Romney’s race and the ghosts of his father’s 1968 campaign: 6.
c. 2007 Religion News Service Mayors’ report says cities are seeing more emergency food requests (RNS) A majority of U.S. cities participating in a recent survey have seen an increase in the number of requests for emergency food assistance, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reports. The Washington-based conference issued its annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey on Monday (Dec. 17), saying that 16 of the 19 cities that responded to questions about hunger saw increases in requests for emergency food aid in the last year. In addition, an average of 17 percent of people seeking food assistance are not receiving it.
Despite reports that her nomination might be in trouble, the Senate last week confirmed Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law professor and prominent “theocon,” as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. UPDATE: As noted by another news service’s blog, this blogger was still reporting that Glendon’s nomination might be in trouble even after she had already been confirmed. Apologies.
Reuters’ Jim Forsyth has this story on how Mike Huckabee’s appearance at a controversial church might anger some Catholic voters. The anger surrounds the church’s pastor John Hagee. “Hagee has a history of denigrating the Catholic religion,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, the largest Catholic civil rights group in the United States. In his recent book “Jerusalem Countdown,” Hagee wrote: “Most readers will be shocked by the clear record of history linking Adolf Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews.”
I was just watching the hour-long interview with Obama conducted last October by editorial board of the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, which endorsed Obama today. About eight minutes from the end, the candidate is asked whether his faith has ever come into conflict with policy positions he has taken. His answer is no, though it he seems to hint that he and his wife are personally opposed to abortion (for themselves) while not wishing to impose that view on others. At the end of his response, he gives the classic answer, in just about the same words, from Kennedy’s 1960 address to the Houston ministers: that he would resign his office rather than do anything that would violate his conscience.
This story by Politico’s Kenneth Vogel on clergy political contributions testifies to the new faith-based appeal of Democratic candidates. The raw numbers don’t mean much; clergy don’t have much to give. What’s most significant is that whereas four years ago religious professionals were giving the GOP 59 percent of their campaign contributions, they’re now giving 56 percent to the Dems. Obama’s the big winner with Clinton not too far behind. One caveat (of which Vogel seems unaware) is that the LDS Church has no clergy as such. All Temple-going adult male Mormons are considered priests, however, and if their contributions to Mitt Romney were counted, the numbers would look very different.