New Mormon Tabernacle Choir Director Named

The interim director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir didn’t stay in that position long. Less than four weeks after stepping into that post after director Craig Jessop resigned, Mack Wilberg was officially named Friday as the new music director of the famous singing group. Wilberg previously was associate music director, a position he began in 1999. Jessop led the choir for more than eight years and decided to move on, saying he was “at a major crossroads of life.”

It’s (not) all Greek

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America wants people to know that it’s not in any way affiliated with the “Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Foundation” that’s suing investment bank Bear Sterns. Lots of Bear Sterns investors lost their shirts when the bank was sold at a fire-sale price. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese was not among them, though, says a release from the GOAA. “The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America would like to clarify that the ‘Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Foundation’ is not associated with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America or any of its Parishes and affiliated Endowments or Institutions. At present the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has no information on who or what this Foundation represents.”

Punished with a Baby

Barack Obama spoke to a crowd in Pennsylvania on Saturday about sex education and told them the following: “When it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include — which should include abstinence education and teaching the children — teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include — it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I’ve got two daughters. 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.

McCain Courts Catholics

As Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News points out, John McCain is quietly engaged in the delicate courtship of Catholic voters. A key swing demographic, Catholics could crown McCain victorious come November. However, the generally moderate group could also be turned off if McCain lines up too closely with the religious right. Thus, tact is of the utmost importance as the Senator handles incidents like John Hagee’s endorsement. As part of their effort to win Christian voters, the McCain campaign has dispatched Senator Sam Brownback to spread the good word.

Religion Gap

For those of us (and if we aren’t legion neither are we a tiny few) who have shouldered the burden of tracking religion in the current campaign, the, ah, Godsend that was the Obama/Wright affair has just about run itself into the blogground, leaving in its wake a discernible absence of news. This may be remedied by the visit of Pope Benedict, who (according to Peter Steinfels) will provide at least a little grist for our mills. In the meantime, a couple of uncommented-upon Wright matters are left to be tidied up in this space. First, I’d say there was a bit less than met the eye in Obama’s comment on “The View” last Friday that he’d have left Trinity United had Wright not retired and acknowledged making comments that “deeply offended people.” There’s no question that Obama had long known that his tie to Wright could hurt his candidacy, and my guess is that he figured the retirement would make it easier to weather the storm (as it probably has).

Enough Already

Jacques Berlinerblau, the Washington Post’s house church-state separation absolutist, sticks his tongue in his cheek to advocate a constitutional amendment that begins, “The right of presidential aspirants to discuss religion, invoke sacred texts, or mention God on the campaign trail is hereby repealed.” The amendment also proposes that, “Whenever a religious figure endorses any candidate for the presidency that candidate must reject aforesaid endorsement.” Oh, and Congress would be empowered to exile the faith-based endorser to France. The idea behind this modest proposal is, of course, that the country is best off with no religious talk by candidates, no such endorsements by religious figures. I ‘m less than persuaded by the argument.

Conversion

Yesterday, a man I know told me that he had “converted” to Barack Obama as follows. He had been trying to make up his mind between Obama and Clinton, and while Obama’s speech on race impressed him, it was not enough to cause him to get down off the fence. What did, instead, was his own decision to undertake a campaign to persuade his large conservative synagogue to take a more inclusive approach to mixed (Jewish-Gentile) marriages. His point, as I understood it, was that he realized that he could be at serious odds with other members of his religious community, including his rabbi, without separating himself from the community. Perhaps, even more, that it could be a mark of one’s commitment to the rest of the community, including and especially to those with whom one deeply disagrees, not to remove to some other place.

Vatican for Mumia Abu-Jamal

After an appeals court refused to reinstate the death sentence of convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported the news on the front page of its Saturday edition (released late Friday), accompanied by a photo of pro-Abu-Jamal demonstrators and the headline: “Every sentence of death not carried out is a victory for man.”

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Goliath done in by a hangover, new book says LONDON (RNS) Goliath is a depressed binge drinker done in by a nasty hangover, and Adam drools over Eve’s curvaceous figure. And forget that stable business _ Mary gives birth to Jesus in an overcrowded house. At least, that’s how an Anglican vicar, the Rev. Robert Harrison, sees some of the Bible’s biggest events in his new and rather irreverent book, “Must Know Stories.” Harrison has taken 10 of the Bible’s top yarns and given them a twist in modern idiom _ a retelling, he insist, to make them “more accessible” and “in a way that relishes them rather than trying to make any particular religious point.” There’s no question that his version of events is different. He portrays Goliath as a “depressed alcoholic” who was somewhat the worse for wear on the fateful day that he faced little David and the slingshot.

Chaplains help amputees face new reality

c. 2008 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Capt. Darrick Gutting is the friendliest guy in Ward 57. The bald-headed, 40-year-old Pennsylvanian sports the Army camouflage and a thin scar above his left eye, but his most distinctive feature is his smile. It spreads quickly and rarely leaves. He roams the halls, engaging passersby _ soldiers and medical staff _ in conversations that are equal parts jive and heartfelt concern, leaving a line of grins and shaking heads in his wake.

Interview with head of UCC Part II

Here’ s Part II of my interview with the Rev. John Thomas, who heads the United Church of Christ, a denomination that’s been deeply involved (willingly or not, for good or ill) in the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama. Q: I read that UCC Trinity (Obama’s and Wright’s congregation) had sent something like 50 or 60 members to seminary on scholarship. Is Trinity known for producing ministers? A: Yes, that’s one of our congregations that takes most seriously the development of potential leaders and recruiting towards leadership in the church. Q: How did Trinity come to be a UCC church?

Obama’s a Christian (We Think)

Several pundits have said perhaps the only upshot of all the attention on Barack Obama’s fire-breathing Chicago pastor is that now everyone should know that he’s a Christian, not the closet Muslim many seem to think he is. A new poll shows some success on that front, but 1 in 10 Americans still think he’s a Muslim. Fourteen percent of Republicans, 10 percent of Democrats and 8 percent of independents mistakenly think he is Muslim, according to a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Just over half of each group correctly identified him as Christian, while about a third said they don’t know his religion.

Eye of the Tiger

I don’t really follow golf, but I know who Tiger Woods is, and I know he’s good. I thought his perspective on Buddhist meditation, then, was worth mentioning. Says the Times of London: Woods does not talk much about the fact that he meditates, something he learnt from Kultida, his mother, who is a Buddhist. “In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life,” he said. “It is all about what you do, and you get out of life what you put into it.

Sheik Obama

You’d think by now that anyone who wasn’t aware of Barack Obama’s religious identity would have to be living under a rock. If so, there are a lot of American voters living under rocks. According to a Pew Research poll, 10 percent of voters think Obama’s a Muslim, up six percent from an AP-Yahoo poll in January. A third don’t know what his religion is. Update: The direct link to Pew’s findings on Obama’s religion is here.