Man of God

When does a “controversial” preacher become a public pariah? In Jeremiah Wright’s case, it was when he danced gleefully around the podium before dozens of cameras at the National Press Club. In John Hagee’s case, it was when an old audiotape seemed to suggest that he believed God had acquiesced in the Holocaust to hasten the ingathering of the Jews in the Holy Land. Never mind that a semi-respectable theological case could be made for what Hagee said. The tape proved to be the last straw for his endorsee John McCain, and McCain’s disavowal of the pastor meant that one and all were free to pronounce Hagee beyond the pale of respectability.

Over the Line?

Last week, Tacoma News Tribune political reporter Niki Sullivan wrote a story about an appearance by Washington State’s GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi at a meeting of the local chapter of the Christian Businessmen’s Connection. On the strength of an audiotape and a blogger’s post, Sullivan suggested that the not-for-profit had violated the IRS rules banning endorsement of political candidates by 501 (c) 3 organizations. Two days ago, Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote a letter to the IRS calling for an investigation. A prayer was said for Rossi’s campaign, and fundraising envelopes were left on the tables. As American Jewish Congress legal eagle Marc Stern points out in a forthcoming article in Religion in the News (out in a few weeks, keep your eye on this site), it is precisely through this kind of sequence of events that the IRS is as engaged as it is in scrutinizing not-for-profits.

Southern Baptists face wide-open leadership race

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When Southern Baptists meet for their annual convention in Indianapolis this June, they will have the opportunity to cast ballots for the highest number of contenders for president in the last three decades. At least six leaders with a range of experience _ in big churches, small churches and the mission field _ are expected to be nominated when some 9,500 Southern Baptists gather June 10-11. The wide-open nature of the race may indicate an opening for fresh leadership in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, observers say, or the graying of a generation of conservatives who have dominated the SBC since 1979, the last time there were so many candidates. Whoever is chosen will succeed current SBC President Frank Page, a South Carolina pastor who was first elected in 2006.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service Midwife to Amish wins court appeal HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) A Pennsylvania appeals court has said a state board was wrong to fine and shut down the practice of a Lancaster-area midwife who has delivered thousands for babies for the Amish. But it is unclear whether it’s illegal for Diane Goslin and other “lay midwives” to deliver babies, even with the May 23 decision by a panel of judges on the Commonwealth Court. The court concluded Goslin didn’t receive due process in facing charges of practicing midwifery without a license.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) I never thought I’d say the names Sharon Stone and John Hagee in the same sentence, but in this media age, the lines between bombastic televangelist and beauteous Hollywood celebrity are blurring. At a Cannes Film Festival press conference, there was Stone, in all her radiant glory, offering her views on the earthquakes in China. The insights we were all waiting for; who knew they would be theological? “Well you know it was very interesting because at first, you know, I am not happy about the ways the Chinese were treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else.

Conservatives warn of flood of gay marriage lawsuits

c. 2008 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ California’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage could “spawn lawsuits all over the country,” trampling states’ rights and limiting religious freedom, a coalition of conservative groups warned Thursday (May 29). The Washington-based Family Research Council issued that warning the same day it asked the California Supreme Court to stay its May 15 decision that allows gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot as soon as June 17. On Wednesday, California officials unveiled new marriage licenses that replace the traditional “bride” and “groom” applicants with “Party A” and “Party B.” In addition, New York Gov. David Patterson said his state will soon recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, including those sanctioned in California, Massachusetts and Canada. Ken Blackwell, senior fellow at the Family Research Council and a former Ohio secretary of state, said allowing gay marriage in California would “elevate” legal protections for homosexuals across the board, and would make it difficult, if not impossible, for religious groups to uphold policies that reflect disapproval of homosexuality.

Conservatives warn of gay marriage lawsuits

WASHINGTON -California’s approval of same-sex marriage could “spawn lawsuits all over the country” that may impact states’ rights and religious freedoms, a coalition of conservatives said Thursday. The Washington-based Family Research Council issued the warning the same day they asked the California Supreme Court to stay its decision, and a day after New York Gov. David Paterson said his state would soon recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.

Midwife to Amish wins court appeal

HARRISBURG, Pa. -A Pennsylvania appeals court has said a state board was wrong to fine and shut down the practice of a Lancaster-area midwife who has delivered thousands for babies for the Amish.

Collins to leave NIH post

WASHINGTON -Dr. Francis Collins, who helped decode human DNA and build bridges between scientists and religious believers, will resign as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute on August 1.

Few churchgoers tithe, study says

Linda Pateo of Gardendale, Ala., says she and her husband, Robert, try to give 5 percent of their income to their church and 5 percent to Christian charities, but it’s difficult with three children in college. “I have strong feelings that God expects first fruits,” Pateo said. “Sometimes we fall short. It’s something we are all called to do.”

COMMENTARY: There’s a storm a brewin’

I never thought I’d say the names Sharon Stone and John Hagee in the same sentence, but in this media age, the lines between bombastic televangelist and beauteous Hollywood celebrity are blurring. At a Cannes Film Festival press conference there she was, Sharon Stone, offering her views on the earthquakes in China. “And all these earthquakes and stuff happened and I thought: Is that karma … when you are not nice that bad things happen to you?” she intoned. A Hollywood celebrity moving into televangelist territory?

And the winner is …

We always knew Manya Brachear was a rising star among religion reporters, but now we have proof, courtesy of the American Academy of Religion. Brachear is the lead winner of the AAR’s annual journalism contest. Also taking home a plaque is our own Jeff MacDonald, although he entered for work published in the Christian Science Monitor. Other winners include Lee Lawrence of The Christian Science Monitor; Mohamad Bazzi, former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday; Yaroslav Trofimov of The Wall Street Journal; William McKenzie of The Dallas Morning News; Adam Parker of The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.); Brad A. Greenberg of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles; and Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen. From the AAR press release: Brachear submitted articles on the Jewish New Year and interpretations of the story of Abraham; the potential political challenges for Barack Obama as a member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ; debate over a revised edition of the Reform Jewish prayer book; a Catholic man’s pilgrimage to 365 churches in 365 days; and megachurch Willow Creek Community Church and its business model for surveying member satisfaction.

Tempest in a coffee cup

So perhaps you’ve heard about this kerfluffle over the keffiyeh involving quickie-dinner expert Rachael Ray, Dunkin Donuts and Yassir Arafat. No? Here’s the digest version: Ray (the creator of all those tasty 30-minute meals) is also the public face of Dunkin Donuts and recently taped an ad in which she was wearing a black-and-white scarf. But a scarf isn’t always a scarf. Conservative bloggers, led by Michelle Malkin, said it looked eerily similar to the traditional Arab headdress worn by Yassir Arafat and generations of Palestinian militant liberationists.

No love for `The Love Guru’

Just about every day when I sit down at my desk, there’s an email from Rajan Zed, a self-proclaimed “acclaimed Hindu leader” who is perhaps best known for his one-man crusade to offer Hindu prayers in state legislatures around the country. I’ve talked with him a few times, and he’s a nice guy, but can sometimes appear a little overly ambitious on hitting the “Send” button on his email. But I digress. Lately, Zed has been on a tear against “The Love Guru,” an upcoming Mike Myers film that also stars Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake. With little effect, he’s petitioned various film boards and federal agencies in the U.S. and Europe to put the brakes on the film, which he says is offensive to Hindus.

Father Mike

Father Michael Pfleger, the priest of the Chicago’s famous largely African-American Catholic Church St. Sabina’s, has been called the greatest white black preacher in America. Here, last Sunday, he did some major signifying as the guest preacher at, yes, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, wherein he makes some serious ugly fun of Hilary Clinton as an entitled white broad.Naturally, Barack Obama has been taxed with those remarks, and in response has therefore issued a statement saying he is “deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn’t reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause.” Significantly enough, Pfleger had the wherewithal to issue an apology for his performance. (Rev. Wright, not so much.)
One of the fabulous things about Chicago is the special connection between some inner-city Catholics and African-Americans.