Cuts Both Ways

Much has been made of the Democratic Party’s attempts to reach out to religiously minded voters or, as many have said, to simply “get religion.” Apparently that hasn’t stopped the DNC from using religion as a wedge, however. After San Antonio pastor John Hagee (who’s so supportive of Israel that he’d make a really good Jew, except that he’s Christian) endorsed McCain, the DNC put out a statement criticizing Hagee for his anti-Catholic comments. From the DNC’s Stacie Paxton, via email: The Catholic vote has been the only bright spot for John McCain in the Republican primaries among faith voters – so this could pose a serious dilemma and problem for the McCain campaign. In Wisconsin, McCain won the Catholic vote with 67 percent, in Missouri with 46 percent, and in Virginia by 67 percent but lost the Protestant and “other Christian” vote to Huckabee in each contest.

Farrakhan: Obama Still Has My Support

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan says his followers should still support Barack Obama, even if Obama doesn’t really want it. “Those who have been supporting Sen. Barack Obama should not allow what was said during the Feb. 26 presidential debate to lessen their support for his campaign. This is simply mischief making intended to hurt Mr. Obama politically,” Farrakhan said in an unsolicited statement to the Associated Press. Obama, as you’ll recall, said he never asked for Farrakhan’s support, couldn’t really do much about it one way or the other, and denounced Farrakhan’s well-known anti-Semitism.

Time Out for Some Demography

Last Monday, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the first analytical hunk of what it is calling the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (not to be confused with earlier Pew-sponsored “American Religious Landscape and Political Attitudes” surveys). Thanks to the Pew name, a fab marketing strategy, and a really cool website, it has received a huge amount of media attention—despite the fact that it offers precious little in the way of new information about the American religious landscape, and some of what it purports to have found is actually, well, misleading. As a good case in point, take what has been the big take-away for a lot of media: the increase in the number of Americans who are, in Pew language, religiously “unaffiliated.” (These are folks who academics usually refer to as Nones—because when asked what is their religion, they say “none.”) Pew found that 16 percent of Americans fall into this “unaffiliated” group. It also found that only seven percent of the population said they were raised unaffiliated. On Wednesday, when Brian Lehrer of WNYC asked Pew’s Greg Smith in a radio interview if that meant that the number of unaffiliated had doubled in, say, 10 years, Smith said, “It’s not that there was ever a particular point in time where seven percent of the public was unaffiliated.

The Complainant

James Hutchins, the complainant in the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ, has written in to suggest that I based my earlier remarks on the UCC press release, not the complaint itself. Actually, I based them on the Hartford Courant story and the IRS letter. I don’t think I’d say anything different based on what the complaint says, but you can judge for yourself if I’ve been too gentle with Connecticut’s quondam Standing Order. Hutchins has also sent another comment to correct my account of his role in the Courant story. Assuming there are readers of this blog who do not go back and check comments, let me post the correction here as well.I was just emailed a link to this blog.

Texohio poll

Today’s Houston Chronicle/Zogby poll of likely voters in the upcoming Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio shows Clinton up strongly with Catholics, mostly white in Ohio and mostly Hispanic in Texas. Protestants split evenly between Clinton and Obama in Ohio, go strongly to Obama in Texas; others in both states are for Obama. The non-Catholic Christian vote (Protestant plus a significant number of the others) reflects very heavy African Ameircan support. Altogether, no surprises.

Pushed to the edge, `Salt’ took time for God and herself

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When Cheryl James abruptly abandoned her red-hot career as “Salt” of the hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa and became a Christian, she also shattered her relationship with partner Sandra “Pepa” Denton. Ten years after drifting away from the band, James, 43, is trying to be true to both faith and friendship by reconciling with Denton in the VH1 reality show “The Salt-N-Pepa Show” (Mondays at 10 p.m. EST). “Kids look at (fame) and all they see is the glamour,” James said in an interview from New York recently, “but there’s a dark side.” When Salt-N-Pepa first hit the airwaves in 1985, 20-year-old James reveled in the freedom to make music she loved. “I found something that made me excited and something to be passionate about,” she said.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service BAY CITY, Mich. _ Every year during Lent, hundreds of folks come to the Richville Conservation Club to gobble all the fried cod they can eat. The soaring price of fish, however, is munching up club profits. “A lot of the guys who volunteer here are pushing the fried chicken fingers because we serve them, too, and they don’t cost us as much,” said Dave Peyok Sr., 64, the club’s business manager.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. dies at 82 (RNS) Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. died Wednesday (Feb. 27), following a life in which the Catholic writer, magazine editor and TV host simultaneously angered and charmed liberals while also displeasing both Jewish and Catholic groups with his signature killer wit. Buckley, 82, was found dead by his housekeeper at his home in Stamford, Conn. He had been reportedly suffering from emphysema and diabetes.

COMMENTARY: The unsung heroes of Israeli independence

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) On May 14, Israel will mark its 60th anniversary as an independent nation. President Bush and other world leaders plan to attend the festivities in Jerusalem later this spring. An important new book, “Israel at Sixty: An Oral History of a Nation Reborn” (Wiley) by Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober, marks this significant milestone. The book spans the sweeping six-decade saga of Israel’s extraordinary achievements and its bitter tragedies.

McCain Picks Up Hagee Endorsement

GOP presidential candidate John McCain picked up the endorsement Wednesday of San Antonio pastor John Hagee, who said at a news conference that he was giving his “vigorous, enthusiastic and personal support to an American hero.” Hagee, national chairman of Christians United for Israel, praised McCain for his anti-abortion record and his pro-Israel stands. KSAT.com carried the video of the press conference. The Trail, The Washington Post’s political blog, noted that Catholic League President Bill Donohue is already criticizing the endorsement because he believes Hagee has “waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church.”

Beliefnet Lists Influential Black Spiritual Leaders

As Black History Month draws to a close, it’s not too late to point out that Beliefnet has continued its practice of naming “The Most Influential Black Spiritual Leaders.” The Dallas Morning News’ religion blog noticed that the names of two Texas megachurch pastors were missing: Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas and Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, leader of Houston’s Windsor Village United Methodist Church. But it added that Beliefnet said the list was “by no means comprehensive.” Those making the cut this year: – Rev. A.R. Bernard, leader of the 28,000-member Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. – Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, leader of an Ethiopian congregation in Chicago – Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, N.Y. – Archbishop Peter Akinola, the Anglican leader of Nigeria and a leader in the opposition to gay ordination in the Anglican Communion – Vanderbilt University professor and author Renita Weems – Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and pastor to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama – Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, who was the first black president of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops – Bishop Charles Blake of Los Angeles, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ – Imam Zaid Shakir, author and lecturer at the Zaytuna Institute in Berkeley, Calif. – Motivational speaker Myles Munroe, pastor of Bahamas Faith Ministries in Nassau, Bahamas – Rev. Claudette Copeland, co-pastor of New Creation Christian Fellowship of San Antonio

UCC: We’re Not an Obama Campaign Office

We reported yesterday on the IRS investigation into whether a Barack Obama speech at last year’s UCC General Synod crossed the line into improper church politicking. Obama, you’ll recall, is a longtime member of a UCC church in Chicago The UCC says they weren’t aware of any problems, and say the event passed muster. Now they’ve released a video clip of UCC official Edith Guffey admonishing last year’s crowd that this was not a political event, and should not be construed as such. She even told people to keep the campaign signs and buttons outside. Interesting, but perhaps one commenter put it best, after watching the clip: Perhaps the UCC did not cross the line, but Senator Obama and his campaign did not stay firmly on their side of it.

Sister: Don’t get it twisted

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded sharply to an op/ed published in the Washington Post last weekend that criticized the bishops for prioritizing abortion above all other political issues and presumably aligning themselves with Republican John McCain. (You can find that editorial, written by former National Catholic Reporter scribe Joe Feuerherd, here.) In her own WaPo op/ed, Walsh says Feuerherd’s “screed … epitomizes the incivility of this campaign season, where truth has become a casualty and half-truths the norm.” Walsh says the bishops did not limit their document on Catholics in the public square “Faithful Citizenship,” to denunciations of abortion. They also spoke out about the war, immigration, the death penalty, and poverty.

Donate, Then Stay Home

The Episcopal diocese of Washington’s blog, the Lead, has word that Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay and who has yet to be invited to the decennial meeting of all Anglican Bishops in England this summer, has, nonetheless, been asked to fork over $7,000 to support the meeting. Read more here.

Bad News For Boston Parishes

The Boston Globe has a front-page story on the Vatican’s high court siding with Cardinal Sean O’Malley in his decision to shutter a parish in Lowell, Mass. Though the ruling is legally limited to St. Jeanne d’Arc in Lowell, it has unwelcome implications for the scores of other parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston fighting to keep their church doors open, says the Globe. Five of those parishes have held vigils in protest of the planned closings for as long as 40 months. “This is ominous for any parish,” Bill Bannon, a critic of the archdiocese, told the Globe.