RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Pope marks Easter with nod to Muslims, China VATICAN CITY _ Easter is the most sacred feast in the Christian calendar, when believers of all denominations celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. But for Pope Benedict XVI, this year’s Easter celebrations were fraught with significance for the Catholic Church’s relations with the non-Christian world _ particularly Islam and China. In his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” message on Sunday (March 23), addressed “to the city (of Rome) and the world,” Benedict appealed for peace in a half dozen countries or regions of Africa and the Middle East, most of them lands with Muslim majorities and beleaguered Christian minorities, including Darfur and Iraq. The references echoed Benedict’s plea from one week earlier, at the start of Holy Week, when he demanded an end to the “slaughters,” “violence” and “hatred” in Iraq.

Jim Martin’s Checking His Watch

Jim Martin over at America magazine asks the question that’s on every Catholic’s mind but no one is willing to voice. As somone who’s sat through the Vigil myself, I think he might be on to something: Last year I asked one of my relatives if she was going to the Vigil Mass. “Are you kidding?” she said. No matter how much I encouraged her to go, and no matter how much I touted the dramatic lighting of the Paschal Candle, the beautiful readings, the amazing spectacle of seeing adult baptisms, she was turned off by what she called (and I remember this word vividly) its “ridiculous” length.

Muslim country singer breaks all the stereotypes

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) He wears a mighty nice cowboy hat, hails from a small town in Oklahoma, and sings with a twang about wantin’ to hear the ayyyn-gels. He drove a pickup truck in high school and admits he used to take his dog hunting. And did we mention that he’s a devout Muslim? There have been Muslim comedians, Muslim runway models, Muslim sitcoms and even a Muslim punk band.

Packing Heat in Packed Churches

An update on an earlier story we brought you about the rising use of armed guards inside megachurches, prompted by last year’s shooting deaths at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and a missionary training center. The pastor of New Life, Brady Boyd, says all churches should have armed guards -just in case. You may remember that it was a church security who was packing heat who finally took out the shooter last December (she was actually Boyd’s body guard). “We just don’t want this to happen anywhere else,” Boyd said.

Lieberman Questions IRS Probe into Obama Speech

Sen. Joe Lieberman has joined the chorus of people questioning the IRS probe into a speech given by Barack Obama at the United Church of Christ convention last summer. Obama, you’ll recall, is a UCC member, but the IRS thinks his speech may have been improper church politicking. Why Lieberman? Two possible reasons: One, he’s been an ardent supporter of the place of religion in the public square. Two, the UCC speech was held in Hartford, Conn., his home state.

Clinton: I would Have Walked Out

Hillary Clinton says that if she had been sitting in the pew when Barack Obama’s pastor made his now-legendary remarks, she would have gotten up and walked out. Some have criticized Clinton-who has largely stayed out of the Obama/Wright flap-of going negative with her answer. But in all fairness, she was responding to a reporter’s question and didn’t bring up the issue herself.

The Hitch

Is it just me, or has Christopher Hitchens turned into a caricature of himself? Once upon a time, he was one of those Shakespearean fools whose license to speak truth to power was exercised in often brilliant puncturings of sacred cows and other pious beasts. Since his ascent to the office of national Atheist-in-Chief, he seems mostly to run around the public square in cap and bells, farting in the general direction of any religious personage who crosses his path. Some may be entertained at the blast he let loose the other day at Jeremiah Wright, his presidency-seeking parishioner, and a few others who happened to be standing in their vicinity. Others will find it merely noisome.

Interfaith Clinton Smackdown

This interfaith condemnation of Hillary Clinton’s poke at Barack Obama for sticking with Jeremiah Wright is pretty newsworthy. It reads, in part:Today, you took a new and disquieting step when you decided that it would be to your political benefit to wade into the waters of the issues surrounding Senator Barack Obama and his former pastor. This crosses the line and brings us full force into the zone of the politics of personal destruction.The signatories include several of the most important denominational figures in the black church: T. DeWitt Smith, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; Michael Battle, president of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary; Philip R. Cousin, Sr.,Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Stephen John Thurston, President National Baptist Convention of America. I’m a little surprised no religion reporter has done a story. Have I missed something?

More from Dean Snyder

On the jump is an extended passage from Dean Snyder’s Good Friday sermon that makes use of Jeremiah Wright’s “God damn America” line. It softens the application, making it more palatable–and obliquely identifies with the Obama critique. Pretty good use of Moltmann, I’d say. Worth a look. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann says Jesus’ death was not a “fine death.” The Gospel of Mark describes his dying as “greatly distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) Mark says he died with a loud incoherent cry.

Hillary’s Church

A number of readers (nice to hear from you) have written in to say they think Hillary Clinton’s current church is the Fellowship (or “the Family”), the rather secretive organization that for decades has run the National Prayer Breakfast and which sponsors various prayer groups for government officials and their spouses. Clinton joined up when she arrived in Washington as the First Lady in 1993 and apparently has since ascended to the most elite of its “cells.” It’s a basically evangelical operation (though non-evangelicals participate) and it forswears partisan politics even as it pushes towards the right. I once co-authored a book on the American Establishment (called The American Establishment), and what the Family mostly seems to me to be is one of those organizations that do do what establishmentarian organizations always do: provide the contacts and networks, the modes of understanding and accommodation, and the rites of entry and inclusion that enable elites to function and perpetuate themselves. The Family appears to be a right-wing example of the breed–rather more inclusive, by the evidence available, than, for example, most right-wing Washington think tanks.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Poll: Clinton leads Obama among most religious groups WASHINGTON (RNS) Sen. Hillary Clinton is leading Sen. Barack Obama among most religious groups, with the exception of black Protestants and those practicing non-Christian religions or no religion, a new Gallup Poll says. Clinton held a 56 percent to 37 percent lead among all Catholics and a 53 percent to 42 percent lead among non-white Catholics. Among Democratic voters surveyed, Clinton leads by more than 20 points among white Protestants, but Obama maintains a solid 45-point lead over Clinton among non-white Protestants, 70 percent to 25 percent. Overall, however, Protestant voters were almost equally divided between the two candidates, favoring Obama by only 3 percentage points.

Rest for the weary

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As colleagues and I snapped at each other under the pressure of Holy Week duties, I resonated with how a friend describes herself six months into starting a congregation: “Exhausted, run down and emotional.” I felt that state as we cycled through a full slate of complex liturgies, competing demands, and the constant pressure of turning our congregation toward growth and vitality. I was exhausted but too keyed up to sleep. I felt things more deeply, from city life to church life to home life, with rawness of emotion, not inner calm. Clergy wellness experts advise seeking exactly the opposite state, of course.

Girl’s death could test faith-healing law

c. 2008 Religion News Service PORTLAND, Ore. _ The case of a 15-month-old girl who died for lack of medical treatment could become the first test of a state law that disallows faith healing at the expense of a child’s life. Ava Worthington died March 2 at home in Oregon City from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection, according to Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner. Both conditions could have been prevented or treated with antibiotics, he said.

Girl’s death could test faith-healing law

c. 2008 Religion News Service PALERMO, N.Y. _ Members of the Gobind Sadan USA temple hurried with last-minute chores last Saturday morning (March 22) as they prepared to dedicate their new temple. Adults readied musical instruments and food, while children played with balloons on a floor covered with Oriental carpets and white sheets. And then, more than six years after arsonists destroyed their first place of worship on a November night, the new spiritual building was ready. A procession began through the doors.

Does the Pope keep kosher?

The Catholic Church has come a long way since members could fall afoul of the Spanish Inquisition by showing an aversion to pork, arousing suspicions that they were “judaizers” or “crypto-Jews.” An Italian Catholic website reports that Pope Benedict’s favorite pastries come from a kosher bakery in Rome’s historic Jewish Ghetto. According to the chef, Vilma Limentani, Benedict is especially fond of her cinnamon and almond cookies. “According to the precepts of our religion we cannot employ saturated animal fats,” Limentani explained to the Petrus website. “So we are talking about delicacies that might be a bit caloric but not unhealthy, and in particular, don’t raise your cholesterol.”