Just asking

Is it the height of chutzpah for the Congress to pass a resolution: “Expressing sympathy to the victims, families, and friends of the tragic act of violence at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York (Rep. Hinchey – Oversight and Government Reform)” And do nothing about gun control?

Fortune’s fool

Four years into his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI has made his share of PR blunders, many churchwatchers agree. He’s angered Muslims by denigrating the role of reason in their faith and Jews by welcoming a Holocaust-denying bishop back into the church. But while the short-term consequences of those actions were terrible, they have led to some positive developments, argued an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday. John Berwick, the religious affairs correspondent of DW-TV, Germany’s international state broadcaster, says without the Muslim blooper, there would not be the ongoing high-level dialogue between Muslim and Catholic theologians. And the Jewish blunder led to an increased appreciation and focus on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican document that declares God’s covenant with the Jews to be eternal and exculpates the Jews from any charges of deicide.

COMMENTARY: Spreading the Good News, one tweet at a time

(UNDATED) A week ago, I had little firsthand knowledge about Facebook and other “social networking” tools. I had read a lot about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. I had opened accounts. I occasionally clicked “Yes” when friends invited me into their networks. But otherwise, I had little direct experience with this burgeoning Web phenomenon, in which people connect with each other through groups, discussion boards, resume sharing, mass postings and one-on-one dialogue, as well as pages describing their lives.

Tight economy puts the squeeze on death rites

NEW YORK — When Leonard Horowitz died at Putnam Hospital recently (April 20), the 92-year-old developmentally disabled man left behind no family, no friends, no savings and no final requests. Nevertheless, Horowitz was buried with full Jewish rites at Staten Island’s Mount Richmond Cemetery, where Rabbi Shmuel Plafker recited blessings as two workers lowered Horowitz’s plain pine casket into the muddy ground. The brief ceremony, which concluded within 20 minutes and with Plafker the only mourner present, was the second of the morning for the Hebrew Free Burial Association, a nonprofit organization founded in 1888 to provide funerals for underprivileged Jews. The financial downturn has contributed to a jump in requests for the association’s services in the past four months, officials said, while donations and investment income have dropped about 15 percent since last year. “Regardless of the socioeconomic situation, our mission is to see that a Jew should be buried properly,” said Plafker, the association’s cemetery chaplain.

Mighty Righty

A decade ago, conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas won some liberal props for criticizing the religious right in Blinded by Might, a book he wrote with Grand Rapids megachurch pastor Ed Dobson. Thomas and Dobson were old comrades-in-arms of Jerry Falwell–Thomas VP of the Moral Majority and Dobson associate pastor of Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. The book charged MM and the religious right generally of succumbing to the blandishments of power, and without backing off conservative social values, opened the door to a wider vision. Here’s a Wallis-esque passage from an essay of theirs based on the book (available here) that gives the flavor:Both the religious left and religious right go wrong when their theologies and their practices are selective. They take from God those things that seem to bless their political agendas and reject or ignore those things that won’t raise money or that make them feel uncomfortable.

Foxman says Middle East, economy fueling anti-Semitism

CLEVELAND (RNS) Violence in the Middle East and worldwide economic distress have combined to produce “the biggest explosion of anti-Semitism globally that we have witnessed since World War II,” according to the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Abraham Foxman, who has led the New York-based ADL since 1987, told an audience at the City Club of Cleveland on Friday (April 24) that he wants to know where the outrage is over this bigotry against Jews. “I don’t hear it,” he said. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor recognized for his leadership combating bigotry, said the absence of outrage echoes a question he has about the Holocaust. “Why was the world silent?

Berlin defeats move to mandate religion in school

TRIER, Germany (RNS/ENI) Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit has accused Germany’s highest Protestant cleric of polarizing voters during a city referendum on Sunday (April 26) that would have reintroduced religious instruction in public schools. The referendum, which was soundly defeated, was promoted by a group called Pro-Reli that was supported by both Catholic and Protestant churches, the Central Council of Jews, a Turkish Muslim umbrella body and community groups. In a Monday interview on German radio, Wowereit welcomed the measure’s defeat, saying he believed it strengthened integration, but remained critical of Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who chairs the Evangelical Church in Germany. “The churches themselves should debate whether the course of polarization, set by especially Bishop Huber of the Evangelical Church in Berlin, was right,” Wowereit said. “I believe that the churches were altogether damaged.

Obama team seeks progressives’ support on poverty

WASHINGTON (RNS) Members of President Obama’s domestic team addressed more than 1,000 Christian progressives at an anti-poverty meeting Monday (April 27), asking for their help to accomplish the president’s agenda. “It is shameful that we live in a country where hundreds of thousands of kids experience hunger over the course of the year and there’s no reason why we can’t address that,” said Martha Coven, a White House poverty expert, who drew applause during a panel discussion at the Mobilization to End Poverty hosted by the social justice organization Sojourners. Coven, who directs the White House Office of Mobility and Opportunity, thanked the crowd for its support of Obama’s proposed budget that includes programs to help first-time mothers and combat child abuse and neglect. Van Jones, a White House special adviser on “green jobs,” said the president’s plan for increased employment in jobs such as solar panel installment will help employ those adversely affected by the current economy and address global warming. But he said calls to Congress are needed for such plans to take hold.

Glendon declines Laetare Medal from Notre Dame

(RNS) A former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and respected bioethicist told the University of Notre Dame on Monday (April 27) that she will not accept the prestigious Laetare Medal because of President Obama’s scheduled commencement address. Mary Ann Glendon said she had been “profoundly moved” when she was first told of the honor last December, but said Notre Dame’s decision to invite Obama and give him an honorary degree caused her to change her mind. The university has come under withering criticism from conservatives, including nearly 50 U.S. bishops, who say the school is ignoring the bishops’ guidelines that Catholic universities should not honor politicians who support abortion rights. Glendon, who teaches at Harvard Law School, said she had tried to revise her planned remarks after Obama’s invitation became public, but decided she didn’t want to engage in a war of words on the commencement platform. “It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision …

So much for the moral majority …

This just in, from the Dept. of My, How Times Have Changed. The late Jerry Falwell built his career by building the Moral Majority, which he more or less disbanded in 1989, saying it had accomplished its goals. Even without the actual organization, Falwell and others always claimed that there was a Nixonesque silent majority out there who support traditional Judeo-Christian values. Obviously a lot has changed since then, but in a sign of just how much, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler is now talking — openly — about a “Moral Minority.”

GUEST COMMENTARY: In search of the 32 lost sheep

WASHINGTON — The new “Faith in Flux” study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life will draw groans from many Catholics when they read that “Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in the process of religious change.” No surprise there. With one in 10 Americans a former Catholic, some say that ex-Catholics comprise the second-largest religious group in America. The Pew study notes that those who have left the Catholic Church as adults outnumber 4-1 those who join in adulthood. However, the same report says that 68 percent of people who were Catholics as children remain Catholic in adulthood.

Presbyterians defeat move to allow gay clergy

(UNDATED) The Presbyterian Church (USA) has defeated a move — for the third time in 12 years — that would have allowed partnered gay and lesbian clergy, but gay rights groups cheered what they called a “historic shift” in the number of Presbyterians who supported the measure. Sixty-nine of the Presbyterians’ 173 presbyteries, or local governing bodies, voted to rescind a church rule that requires clergy to abide by “fidelity in marriage … or chastity in singleness,” according to the denomination’s news service. A simple majority of at least 87 votes was needed for passage, but as of Monday (April 27), 88 presbyteries had rejected the measure. The final tally may not be known until June 28, the deadline for presbyteries to turn in their votes.

Study probes reasons for leaving Catholic, Protestant faiths

WASHINGTON — Think former parishioners have left the pews because of sex scandals? Or because they no longer believe in God? While some have departed for those reasons, the vast majority of former Catholics and former Protestants who are now unaffiliated with any faith have “just gradually drifted away,” the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported Monday (April 27). The new analysis, called “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.,” found that 71 percent of both former Catholics and former Protestants said their decision to leave happened over time, unprompted by any one-time event. “For many people, religious change is not a decision that’s reached at a particular point in time after careful deliberation of the pros and cons,” said Greg Smith, research fellow at the Washington-based Pew Forum.

Lipstick on a pig

An Israeli official is insisting that the swine flu virus that has killed 100 Mexicans should be renamed “Mexican flu” in deference to Jewish and Muslim sensibilities, according to the AP. The AP reports: “Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions. Both Judaism and Islam consider pigs unclean and forbid the eating of pork products. Scientists are unsure where the new swine flu virus originally emerged, though it was identifed first in the United States. They say there is nothing about the virus that makes it “Mexican” and worry such a label would be stigmatizing.”