Cradles of democracy

It’s a seasonal tradition in America to argue over the propriety of nativity scenes in the public square. But craftsmen in Naples, Italy, have no qualms about bringing the public square into their nativity scenes, in the form of political creche figurines representing Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and others.

I can get it for you wholesale; or

If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart? In one of the dopier letters to the editor I’ve seen in the New York Times, American Jewish Congress executive director David Harris takes the Gray Lady to task for emphasizing Bernard Madoff’s Jewishness:Yes, he is Jewish. We get it. But was this relevant to his being arrested for cheating investors, or so key to his evolution as a businessman that it needed to be hammered home again and again? Harris goes on to contrast this with the Times’ account of the season’s other great figure of scandal:I have read several accounts in The Times of the shenanigans of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, yet have no clue what his religion is, nor, frankly, do I care.

McCurrying Favor

My oh-so-good (if sometimes intemperate) twin Pastordan can’t seem to stop fretting about Mike McCurry’s (and my, and now Adventus’) readiness to acknowledge something like the standard narrative of a Democratic party gone increasing secular if not a- or anti-religious over the past generation. Let me just add a couple of points to a discussion that may by now be trying readers’ souls. So OK, it is a mistake to buy into the journalistic shorthand that Democrats/progressives abandoned public religion in the post-Vietnam era. The sanctuary movement of the 1980s, the ongoing community organizing of the Industrial Areas Foundation (where Obama got his start), were nothing if not faith-based. And there have been prominent politicians ready, willing, and able to wear their faith on their sleeves.

Pastor to the President

Once upon a time, presidents tended to choose their own pastors, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, to give the invocation at their inaugurations. The idea was: Here’s the guy who presides over my religious life, the guy I go to for spiritual counsel, and so I’m going to honor him by letting him say the prayer over this latest ceremonial occasion of my life. Thus, John F. Kennedy gave the nod to Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing in 1961 and, in 1981, Ronald Reagan tapped Bel Air Presbyterian pastor Donn Moomaw. From time to time, the invoking cleric would be chosen for symbolic reasons, as when Dwight Eisenhower selected Orthodox Archbishop Michael in 1957 and Reagan, in 1985, chose the president of Georgetown University, Father Joseph A. O’Hare S.J. [Correction: make that Timothy S. Healy S.J.]
But over the past two decades, it appears that a new office has emerged–that of Pastor to the President. This emergence is a bit obscured by the fact that the only actual holder of that office has been Billy Graham.

Warren picked for inauguration

WASHINGTON _ President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration shows one man reaching out and the other reaching new heights. The choice demonstrates that Warren is the next Billy Graham, succeeding the evangelist who prayed at many previous Republican and Democratic inaugurations, according to some evangelicals. Other observers say it shows Obama is serious about evangelical outreach. “Aside from the chief justice, Billy Graham was the mainstay at the inauguration,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston. “This is sort of seeing …

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2008 Religion News ServiceVatican calls for homosexuality to be decriminalizedVATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Friday (Dec. 19) called for the decriminalization of homosexuality, but said a proposed United Nations declaration on gay rights is vague and excessively far-reaching.The statement by the Holy See’s UN delegation was a response to the “Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” presented to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.“The Holy See appreciates the attempts made in [the declaration] to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge states to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them,” the statement said.But the Vatican said that the UN declaration “goes beyond this goal and instead gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human rights norms.”The Vatican specifically objected to the declaration’s use of the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which it said had no established meaning in international law.According to an editorial in the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, these terms “imply that sexual identity is defined only by culture,” and their use in the declaration are part of an attempt to “equate same-sex unions with marriage and to give homosexual couples the chance to adopt or `procreate’ children.”The paper argued the declaration would endanger “other human rights,” such as “liberty of expression … thought, conscience and religion,” since it might limit religions in their freedom to teach that homosexual behavior is morally wrong.The non-binding declaration, which was sponsored by France and backed by the 27-member European Union, received 66 votes in the 192-member UN General Assembly on Thursday. Aside from the Holy See, opponents included China, Russia, the United States, and the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.Homosexual behavior is against the law in dozens of countries, and punishable by death in several.According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, homosexual acts are sinful and “contrary to the natural law,” but persons with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies …

Keeping St. Nick, the man not myth, alive

c. 2008 Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly(UNDATED)`Tis the season of Christmas and Santa Claus, it seems, is everywhere. Children anxiously await his gift-bearing arrival, but some Christians are worried that most of those children _ and their parents _ don’t know who “jolly old Saint Nicholas” really was.“St. Nicholas was a real person. Not a fairy, not someone who’s flying through the sky with reindeer, but an actual person who lived and worked and died and had a full life,” said Canon Jim Rosenthal.

Huge nativity scene graces Ohio family room

Over the years, Doris Weaver of Painesville Township, Ohio, has created a nativity scene in a big way in her condo, reports columnist Susan Condon Love in the Plain Dealer. What started with a small fence 75 years ago has become an 800-piece extravaganza of figurines and accessories that takes over her family room each Christmas season. “I’ve always been in love with nativities,” the 80-year-old Weaver said. “It’s just grown and grown.” “And grown,” adds her teasing husband, Bill, also 80. To see more photos of the collection-including “a pregnant Mary, a post-delivery Mary and the baby Jesus” as well as sheep, kings and angels-click here.

Jews Rule, Unaffiliateds Drool

That is, according to the Pew’s new toting up of the religious identities of members of the next Congress, Jews are the most overrepresented, with 8.4 percent of the representatives and senators as opposed to just 1.7 percent of the U.S. adult population. That beats out those pillars of mainline Protestantism, the Anglican/Episcopalians and the Presbyterians. Pentecostals are badly underrepresented, with 4.4 percent of the population but only .5 percent of Congress. However, they do a lot better than those who claim no religious affiliation. The latter weigh in at 16.5 percent of the population but zero percent of Congress.

Dialogue on Divorce

Over at Religion in American History a few days a ago, Matt Sutton was inspired by the Newsweek brouhaha to put up a post calling out evangelicals for taking the hard line on gay marriage while being pretty squishy (these days) on divorce. Matt’s point is that if evangelicals are going to to nix the former on biblical grounds, they had better do the same with the latter. (Jesus and Paul turn thumbs down on divorce except in a couple of specific cases.) The post has elicited a lively exchange, thanks to a defense of current evangelical marriage hermeneutics and politics by an anonymous commenter. What’s comes through is 1) how insubstantial the moral argument against divorce is; and 2) how much the argument against same-sex marriage rests on its implicit sanctioning of proscribed sexual acts. Anyway, the exchange is worth checking out.

Architect of religious right passes away

c. 2008 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Paul Weyrich, a man who worked away from the limelight to galvanize conservative Christian political advocacy, died Thursday (Dec. 18). Weyrich, 66, co-founded the now-defunct Moral Majority with the late Jerry Falwell and served as the first president of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank. “He was key behind the scenes in establishing the religious right,” said Jerry Falwell Jr., who succeeded his father as president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

Black churches struggle to blend youth, tradition

c. 2008 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ A battle between good and evil, God and Satan, is taking place at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Halloween night. In the front of the sanctuary, teenage dancers act out a story of young people overcoming the temptations of the streets. One by one, they resist drugs, sexual advances and violence. It is the first night of a weekend Youth Explosion, and a band blasts contemporary gospel music in the church on Cleveland’s East Side.

Focus on the Family’s special delivery to Bush

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and readers of his ministry’s CitizenLink publication have thanked President Bush for his anti-abortion stand by sending the White House more than 4,500 expressions of gratitude. The online version of CitizenLink reports that two binders of e-mails from readers were delivered to the White House on Wednesday, along with a personal note from Dobson. “It is important for the president to see how much support he has across the nation,” said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, who hand-delivered the binders to the White House. “His pro-life efforts have reserved his place in history. This is his legacy.” Photo credit:

Call to worship

Unless BlackBerry acts fast, this prayer book application could lock up the practicing-Catholic smartphone market for the iPhone. Of course, as Umberto Eco observed long ago, Catholics tend by nature to be Apple people.

Now let every tongue adore thee

The new head of the Vatican’s liturgical office, known in his native Spain as the “Little Ratzinger,” has praised the traditional practice of receiving Communion on the tongue while kneeling-a practice that Pope Benedict has made the norm at papal liturgies. According to Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, receiving Communion this way “means adoration … respect … and an attitude of faith,” whereas receiving it in the hand while standing “is not the same … as doing it with respect.”