Interim leader named permanent head of Russian Orthodox Church

(RNS) Metropolitan Kirill, interim head of the Russian Orthodox Church since the death of Patriarch Alexy II last month, was elected to the permanent position on Tuesday (Jan. 27). Kirill, 62, will be formally enthroned in Moscow next Monday. An overwhelming majority of about 700 clergy and lay representatives from more than 60 countries voted for Kirill in Tuesday’s election. “I accept and thank the local Church Council for my election as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” Kirill said.

Pope, under fire, expresses solidarity with Jews

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Seeking to quell an international uproar over his rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the Nazi genocide of “millions of Jews” and expressed his “full and indisputable solidarity” with the Jewish people. Benedict spoke Wednesday (Jan. 28) at the conclusion of his weekly general audience at the Vatican. His words were apparently a response to controversy over his decision last week to allow leaders of the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) back into the Catholic fold. Jewish groups have voiced outrage that one of the four leaders, Bishop Richard Williamson, recently told Swedish television that “historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”

Churches free this year to broadcast Super Bowl

(RNS) Churches can hold parties to watch the upcoming Super Bowl with fewer restrictions this year. The Rutherford Institute, which joined members of Congress in challenging the National Football League’s previous rules, has reminded churches that they can host viewing parties on Sunday (Feb. 1) on large-screen televisions in their buildings. “As long as they follow the basic guidelines set forth by the NFL, churches can now rest assured that they are free to have football parties and show the Super Bowl game,” said John W Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based civil liberties organization. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals face off in Super Bowl XLIII in Tamp, Fla., on Sunday.

Workplace discrimination claims on the rise

(UNDATED) Complaints of religious discrimination in the workplace are on the rise, but civil rights advocates say that may not be such a bad thing. That’s because a likely reason for a steady rise in reported incidents has nothing to do with intolerant corporate cultures but rather religious minorities who are more aware of their rights and more willing to exercise them. “Before, somebody might have prayed kind of quietly at work and hoped nobody would stop them and didn’t really want to ask permission,” says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “Now they state openly: `Yes, I’d like permission. Is there an open room where I could pray?”‘ Between 1992 and 2007, claims of religious discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission more than doubled, from 1,388 to 2,880.

200 years later, Lincoln’s faith remains an enigma

WASHINGTON-Seven score and four years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and said North and South alike must suffer for the sin of slavery. “If God wills that (the war) continue until … every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, so it still must be said `the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,”‘ Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, quoting the Psalms. Called “Lincoln’s Sermon on the Mount,” his 1865 address has been deemed the most religiously sophisticated presidential speech in American history. It was delivered by a backwoods lawyer with just one year of formal schooling who never joined a church. As the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth approaches on Feb.

10 minutes with … Robert Bellah

(UNDATED) Though he has written numerous books and articles, Robert Bellah knows he will always best be known as the author of “Civil Religion in America.” The seminal 1967 essay, which popularized Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion of shared cultural ideas, illuminated the subtext beneath cherished American myths and ideals. Chief among these, Bellah argues, is that human rights are God-given, and America’s leaders are obliged to carry out God’s will. Bellah talked about Abraham Lincoln, President Obama’s inaugural address, and why former President George W. Bush didn’t get (civil) religion. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

COMMENTARY: Time to get a grip

(UNDATED) The sudden storm over Pope Benedict XVI’s lifting the excommunication of four schismatic bishops reignites the slander that the Catholic Church-or the pope himself, or God forbid, all Catholics-is rife with anti-Semitism. Somehow a comment by one of the bishops-he doubts the gas chamber murders of millions of Jews were a “deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler”-has exploded into worldwide accusations against the church. Let’s get a grip here. The schismatic bishop in question, British-born Richard Williamson, is a 68-year-old Anglican convert who also thinks the 9/11 attacks were staged by the U.S. government; believes conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination; and objects to women wearing trousers. I would think anyone would be happy to see him under Rome’s control, not out there on his own.

Haggard’s wife knew of his struggles

Former evangelical pastor Ted Haggard’s wife says she knew about his struggles with same-sex attraction for years and felt he was “winning the battle” before a scandal involving a male prostitute triggered his downfall in late 2006.

Advice from on high

Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that its getting harder for Catholic journalists to do their jobs. Moneyquote: The work of Catholic journalists, says the pope, “anchored in a heritage of principles that have their roots in the Gospel, … is even more arduous today. To your characteristic sense of responsibility and spirit of service, you must add an ever great professionalism, and a capacity for dialogue with the ‘lay’ world in the search for shared values.” He also told journalists that “you will be listened to more readily when the testimony of your own lives is coherent.”

Stimulus bill has faith-based funds

Religion Clause has the story. Moneyquote: “Among the many items in the proposed economic stimulus bill, HR 1, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is a provision for funding of $100 million for grants to faith-based organization through the Compassion Capital Fund. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the purpose of Compassion Capital Fund grants is ‘to expand and strengthen the role of faith-based and community organizations in their ability to provide social services to low-income communities.'”

China casts late Tibetan monk as ally

China is marking 20 years since the death of the second-most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism by lauding him as an enemy of separatism in the restive region as it enters a year laden with tense anniversaries.

Lawn care?

So Tony Perkins is at it again, unleashing his hyperbolic doomsday rhetoric over the economic stimulus package currently making its way through Congress. In his most recent Action Alert from the Family Research Council, Perkins bemoans the package’s “$200 million for lawn care in Washington, D.C., $360 million to potentially be used to put on transsexual beauty pageants and erotic art shows.” Translation: that’s $200 million to refurbish the shabby National Mall (I guess you could call that “lawn care”) from years of wear and tear. As far as I know, it does not mean someone is going to come mow my lawn on Capitol Hill on Uncle Same’s dime. And the $360 million for “transexual beauty pageants”?

Big game mixes faith and football

This year many players on both teams preparing for Sunday’s Super Bowl aren’t hesitating to invoke the name of God as they prepare to play a violent game where there will be no mercy shown on either side.

Rick Warren goes quarterly

He has written one of the best-selling books in history. But can pastor Rick Warren sell a magazine? The test starts this week, with the debut of Purpose Driven Connection, a quarterly publication from Reader’s Digest Association to be sold as part of a bundle of multimedia products its backers hope will connect Christians to each other and God. A subscription includes access to a Facebook-like Christian social-media Web site and DVD guides for leading a prayer group.

Russian Orthodox Church elects new leader

he interim leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, seen as a modernizer who could seek a historic reconciliation with the Vatican and more autonomy from the state, was overwhelmingly elected patriarch Tuesday.