Harry Jackson in the spotlight

Bishop Harry Jackson from suburban Maryland crossed over into Washington yesterday to advocate against a pending City Council resolution that would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, styles himself as the de facto leader of the black conservative/evangelical movement, and despite his low-key national profile, he probably is the de facto leader. People for the American Way has a new report out on Jackson, and it isn’t kind. No response yet from Jackson that I’ve seen.

Back pain recovery may help British cardinal’s sainthood

The recovery that Jack Sullivan, 70, has been describing for almost eight years, a drama that unfolded in August 2001, is on the verge of being deemed a miracle by the Catholic Church, and the unassuming church deacon and father of three is at the center of a campaign to make the late British Cardinal John Henry Newman a saint.

10 minutes with … Francis Collins

WASHINGTON — A year after stepping down as director of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins is embarking on a new venture, one that may be even harder than deciphering DNA. Collin’s new BioLogos Foundation, which launched on Tuesday (April 28), aims to be a bridge in the debate over science and religion and provide some answers to life’s most difficult questions. Through an interactive Web site, gatherings with pastors and scientists, and possibly developing science curricula for Christian schools, Collins aims to tell others about the deep compatibility he sees between Christianity and science. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: What led you to this new project?

Someone get this man a halo

With all the hubbub over Mary Ann Glendon saying “no thanks” to the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, Jim Martin up at America magazine has a modest proposal: give the honor to him. Among his many qualifications (according to him): — I would accept it. I mean, if someone’s going to give me an award the very least I can do is accept it, whether or not I agree with what they’re doing or not doing. It’s just common courtesy. — I’m Catholic.

Doctrinaire

Today’s Gallup poll on The First Hundred Days suggests that Obama has shrunk his religion gap. Whereas 41 percent of weekly worship attenders and 61 percent of seldom or never attenders supported him just before the election, now the numbers are 69  57 percent and 57 69 percent respectively. Thus the gap between the two groups has narrowed from 20 points to 12 points. Since Obama has improved his numbers markedly with both groups, the best way to understand this is to say that of those who didn’t support him six months ago, he has gained 27 percent of the weekly attenders as compared to 21 percent of the seldoms and nevers. What explains the differential?In my view, it’s that Obama has succeeded in calming the fears of religious folks sufficiently to enable a disproportionate number of them to support him for other reasons–mainly economic.

Friedmania

Defending the Obama approach to torture, Tom Friedman claims that 1) prosecuting the malefactors (up to and including George W. Bush) would “rip our country apart”; and 2) torturing was justified because only torture was capable of deterring al Qaeda, an enemy like no other we have ever had. The first claim is guesswork, but no doubt prosecuting the former president, if it came to that, would be a divisive undertaking. As to the second, however, it rests on an assumption for which Friedman makes not the slightest attempt to give evidence; namely, that the torturing actually did deter al Qaeda. The best evidence so far available is that not only did it fail to generate significant new, or otherwise unobtainable intelligence but also that it strengthened al Qaeda by helping recruit of new members. In short, Friedman’s deterrence argument is at best unproven, at worst nonsensical.

Pot priests will not get hearing in Canada’s top court

HAMILTON, Ontario (RNS) Two self-styled ministers who say that smoking marijuana is a church sacrament have lost their bid to use and distribute marijuana while they are free on bail and appealing their drug convictions. Michael Baldasaro, 59, was sentenced to two years, and Walter Tucker, 75, received a one-year sentence, after they were convicted in late 2007 of trafficking marijuana; they sold $70 worth of pot to a plainclothes police officer. The two men from Hamilton, located 60 miles northwest of Buffalo, N.Y., describe themselves as reverend brothers in the Church of the Universe, where they worship the Tree of Life: marijuana. The Supreme Court of Canada on April 23 declined to hear their appeal of any restrictions on their religious freedoms. As is its custom, the court did not give a reason for its decision. The government also seized and sold the church headquarters, a house with an estimated value of $98,000 Cdn ($80,000 U.S.).

Forget the swine flu. Beware of klismaphilia.

The House is set to take up debate this week on hate-crimes legislation that would, for the first time, add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (along with race, color, religion, national origin, gender) to the list of criminal motivations that are subject to additional prosecution. Gay rights groups have long made the hate-crimes bill a top priority, and conservatives have, until now, been largely successful at defeating it. That may change this time around, given the heavy Democratic dominance in the House and Senate, and a president who has said he would sign the bill. The American Family Association would like you to know about what other “sexual orientations” are covered — they say House Democrats refused to define the term (I’m not exactly sure why they’d need to), which means that it’s open to any and all interpretations. The AFA’s list is here, but fair warning — this is not for the easily offended or those who blush at the slightest mention of a term like “Telephone Scatalogia.”

Day in the life

So what does a Dalai Lama do all day? The Times of London asked him. Hint: there’s a lot of meditation, some study and even some time on the treadmill (he prays/meditates while he jogs). Read it all here. In other news, Fox caught up with the Dalai Lama while he was traveling through California last week.

Shopping till they drop

Perhaps President Obama is reading up on yesterday’s survey that tried to tease out why Americans float from one church to the next as he and the first family keep shopping for a D.C. church home. (For the record, by our unofficial count, he’s only visited one D.C. church since moving into the White House, and that was for Easter services at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The inaugural prayer service at National Cathedral doesn’t count.). Michelle Boorstein and Krissah Thompson over at WaPo have a story on the agressive lobbying campaigns by the city’s black churches.

Pope visits Italian quake victims

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI visited homeless earthquake victims and damaged buildings in central Italy on Tuesday (Apr. 28). “The whole church is here with me, beside your suffering, a participant in your pain,” Benedict told tent-dwelling survivors outside the city of L’Aquila, about 70 miles east of Rome. A 6.3-magnitude earthquake, which struck in the early morning hours of April 6, killed almost 300, left more than 65,000 homeless, and damaged historic churches and artwork in medieval L’Aquila and nearby. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican Secretary of State is the No.

Southern Baptists’ baptisms dip to lowest in two decades

(RNS) The number of baptisms by Southern Baptists — who consider the rite a gauge of their evangelism success and a key element of their faith — has dropped to the lowest rate in two decades. The denomination, which also saw a slight decrease in membership numbers, recorded 342,198 baptisms in 2008, a decrease of 1.1 percent from the previous year, according to LifeWay Christian Resources, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention that compiles annual statistics. The baptism rate is the lowest for Southern Baptists since 1987 and represents the fourth consecutive annual decline, demonstrating a continuing challenge for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. “The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, in an April 23 announcement of the new statistics. “I pray that all of our churches and our entities will become totally focused on obeying Christ’s commission so that our convention will truly experience a Great Commission resurgence.”

Methodist court rejects moves to support gay marriage, OKs Bush library

(RNS) The United Methodist Church’s highest court has ruled that clergy may not officiate at same-sex unions, even in states where such marriages are legal, and gave the final OK for the George W. Bush Library to be built at Southern Methodist University. The church’s nine-member Judicial Council rejected separate resolutions passed by the California-Nevada and California-Pacific Conferences that voiced support for clergy who officiate at such unions. Last year, the 8.3 million-member church upheld rules in its Book of Discipline, or constitution, that Methodist churches cannot be used to host same-sex unions and clergy are prohibited from officiating at them. The latest court ruling rejected a California-Nevada resolution that supported retired clergy who volunteered to conduct gay weddings, and a California-Pacific resolution upholding the “pastoral need and prophetic authority” of clergy to do so. Between May and November, 2008, California allowed same-sex couples to marry until voters banned the practiced with a constitutional amendment.

Rather than fight bishops, Reiki teacher steps down

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — To Jan Atwood, Reiki is all about healing, not theological battles. That’s why the teacher and practitioner of the Japanese healing technique has resigned from a retreat center run by Dominican nuns after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told Catholic institutions they should not be practicing it. Atwood will step down Friday (May 1) as coordinator of bodywork at the Dominican Center at Marywood spirituality center. She says she does not want to fight the bishops’ claim that Reiki is incompatible with Christian teaching.