RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Gorbachev denies Christian conversion VATICAN CITY (RNS) Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev debunked reports, based on his recent visit to the shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, that he had become a Roman Catholic. “Some media have been disseminating fantasies _ I can’t use any other word _ about my secret Catholicism,” Gorbachev told the Catholic Church’s AsiaNews agency. “To avoid misunderstandings I would like to say _ I was atheist and I stay atheist.” Gorbachev visited the Basilica of St.

Lamott’s life an open book

c. 2008 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ The carpet guy, as Anne Lamott calls him in an essay, cheated her out of $50 for a moldy church rug she returned to his store. He did this with a smugness that infuriated her, and she cursed and threatened him. Finally, days later, the carpet guy gave her a check. Then it bounced.

COMMENTARY: Anti-Semitism, all too alive and well

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The late Rev. Edward Flannery, appointed in 1967 as the U.S. Bishops’ first director of Catholic-Jewish relations, wrote that anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews and Judaism, was history’s “oldest pathology.” Anti-Semitism, he said, must be constantly exposed and vigorously opposed lest it become a global peril that threatens not only the Jewish people but also many other ethnic, racial and religious groups. Flannery’s grim analysis was a sobering corrective to the widespread belief that the destruction of Nazi Germany and the horrific revelations of the Holocaust had permanently immunized the world against the scourge of anti-Semitism. Were he still alive _ he died in 1998 _ Flannery would not have been surprised by the findings contained in “Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism,” a comprehensive report issued this month by the U.S. State Department. The report documents an “upsurge” of anti-Semitism in many countries.

Why the Dalai Lama Matters

Robert Thurman, an expert on and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, personal friend of the Dalai Lama, and father of Uma, weighs in on why China needs the Dalai Lama. “We are at a moment of great significance for humanity, ” Thurman says here, “at the beginning of this new century, which could be either a horrendous time of natural and man-made mega-disasters or the greatest century yet of environmental restoration and peaceful global community. Of all world leaders at this time, the Dalai Lama most convincingly provides spiritual, intellectual, and ethical leadership, exemplifying and elucidating the most reasonable path to peace and happiness. This is the secret of his worldwide popularity. His person and teaching really do matter, to the Tibetans, to the Chinese, and to all of us and our future generations.”

Did He or Didn’t He?

There have been mixed reports out of Italy and Russia that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has either a) converted to Christianity; b) was a closet Christian all along; or c) was not, is not and will not be a Christian. Gorbachev visited the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi and supposedly spent 30 minutes in silence or prayer or maybe both. “It was through St. Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb,” he apparently said.

Pennslyvania On My Mind

With Pennsylvania’s upcoming contest looming (April 22), attention has turned to winning over one of the state’s crucial religious blocs. No, its not the Quakers, but the Catholics who are being courted by Obama and Clinton. Recent polls have Clinton leading among Catholics, but Obama is not conceding this crucial Keystone constituency. Some are speculating that Clinton’s lead might be due to an overlap with other traditionally Catholic demographics in her base such as Hispanics and bluecollar voters. Nevertheless, Obama is trying to cut into this lead with Catholic surrogates touting his credentials.

Still a Christian

Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to his Christian faith in Greensboro, NC yesterday. When a member of a town hall meeting asked the Senator about the role Jesus plays in his life, Obama said “I’m a Christian. What that means for me is that I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins, and, uh, and, and, uh, his grace and his mercy and his power, through him, I can achieve everlasting life.” Senator Obama then went on to reach out to voters of other faiths. “I think it’s very important to think that you do not have to have the same faith as me to be a moral person – there are a lot of Jewish people who are as moral, or more moral than I am, there are a lot of Muslims who are decent kind people,”Obama said. “I don’t think they are any less children of God.”

Post Speech Poll

A new NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll has some interesting numbers. Besides showing that Americans are reticent to elect AARP members president, the poll revealed strong insight into the Rev. Wright fallout. First, most Americans followed the Rev. Wright controversy somewhat or not too much (37 and 19). Thirty five percent of respondents said that Wright’s comments disturbed them a great deal and twenty percent said it disturbed them somewhat. About half (46%) watched Obama’s speech and another quarter of respondents learned about it from the news.

Two Martins

In the public intellectual department, gray eminences are pretty few and far between these days, but two of them, Martin Marty and Martin Peretz have weighed in on the Obama/Wright affair, both in the cause of the defense. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty paints a sympathetic portrait of Wright, his former student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Peretz, from his New Republic home, brings his own shul-going experience to bear on the Obama-Wright relationship. Amidst all the hollering, I haven’t seen any brief for the prosecution of similar thoughtfulness and gravitas. Does such exist?

Interview with head of United Church of Christ

It’s been a tumultuous last six weeks or so for the Rev. John Thomas, who heads the United Church of Christ, and his 1.2-million member denomination. There’s the IRS looking into the church’s possibly improper politicking on behalf of UCC-member Sen. Barack Obama, the brouhaha surrounding controversial sermon bits from UCC-pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. All this on top of a denomination that’s still facing internal squabbles over its support for gay rights. I spoke to Thomas recently. Here’s part one of a transcript of our conversation.

40 years later, King’s legacy back in focus

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was a brand new pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. From that pulpit, King, with other like-minded pastors and activists, would launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott and lead a renewed civil rights movement that would transform the South and challenge the conscience of a nation. It’s a legacy whose wins _ and losses _ are still measured, still contested, still struggled with. Forty years after King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, his legacy and the nature of the black church are again contentious topics as a firestorm of controversy engulfs the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama.

10 minutes with … John Thomas

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Even by the standards of his frequently controversial church, it’s been an eventful few weeks for the Rev. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ. In February, the UCC announced it was the subject of an Internal Revenue Service investigation over a speech by presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama at a church convention last summer. This month, controversy erupted over sermons delivered by Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who led a predominantly black UCC congregation in Chicago for 36 years. Thomas talked about Wright’s sermons and the IRS investigation.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Poll: Pope unknown to most Americans WASHINGTON (RNS) Most Americans hold a favorable opinion of Pope Benedict XVI, but the vast majority confess they don’t know much about the pontiff, according to a new poll. Just weeks before Benedict’s first trip to the U.S. as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, 58 percent of Americans say they have a favorable or “very favorable” opinion of him. But when asked how much they know about the 80-year-old German, 52 percent said “not very much,” and nearly 30 percent said “nothing at all.” Benedict and Americans will have a chance to get to know one another better April 15-20, when the pope celebrates Masses, greets interfaith leaders, and visits heads of state in New York and Washington, D.C. Forty-two percent of Americans said they’d like to attend one of Benedict’s public appearances, according to the survey, which was conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and financed by the Knights of Columbus. Sixty-six percent of Catholics said the same.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service GRANDVILLE, Mich. _ The Rev. Rob Bell hops up onto the circular stage in his tennis shoes, his headset microphone in place. “Hi,” he says. “Good morning.

Conversions and conversations

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Just days after a prominent Muslim journalist publicly converted to Christianity, the king of Saudi Arabia called for interfaith dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews. Two events: one dangerous, one hopeful. At the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI baptized Magdi Allam, deputy editor of Italy’s most important newspaper, Corriere della Sera, and a longtime critic of Muslim extremism.