High-level compensation

Last week we reported on the spat at Riverside Church in Manhattan over the reported $600,000 compensation package for new senior pastor Brad Braxton. The package was so high that it prompted a lawsuit by Riverside members seeking to stop Braxton’s installation on Sunday. The judge refused. Braxtron responded from Riverside’s pulpit on Sunday, and the New York Daily News reports that he got a standing ovation.

The Prince and the Pontiff

Prince Charles and his wife had an audience with Pope Benedict today, and contrary to advance reports in at least one British newspaper, the touchy subject of divorce does not seem to have come up in any form.

Religious dropouts

In today’s release of the follow-up to its 2007 Landscape Survey, Pew offers an answer to the intriguing question: Which major Christian tradition is most likely to have its members drop out of religion. (Pew calls these folks “unaffiliated,” we at ARIS call them Nones–I won’t argue the point here.) The answer, in the immortal words of the Rev. Lovejoy, is that they are all, in this regard, pretty much the same.Pew asked a sample of its unaffiliateds what their childhood religion was and the answers were 27 percent Catholic, 22 percent Evangelical, and 17 percent Mainline Protestant. Pew’s numbers for the strength of those groups were, respectively, 24 percent, 26 percent, and 18 percent–which is to say, each contributed roughly its share of the U.S. population to the dropout pool. As usual with Pew, there’s a tendency to give the Catholics the needle. In the Executive Summary, the first table has a “Raised Catholic, now Protestant” line but no “Raised Protestant, now Catholic.”

Little Faith-based

Over at CT Politics, Douglas Koopman is unhappy with the Obama administration’s faith-based initiative so far. A political science prof at Calvin College, Koopman is one of those center-right evangelical types who was disappointed at the politicizing of the Bush effort but nevertheless remains an enthusiast of the approach. His is not the clearest exposition ever committed to writing, but the bottom line is that he thinks DuBois and company have been distracted by extraneous responsibilities like whomping up the OFANP advisory council and finding the Obamas a new church (how’s that going?). And then there’s that annoying hiring issue.Koopman thinks the Obamaites underestimated Democratic opposition to following the Bush rules on permitting religious groups to limit government-funded hiring to their own kind–and expects that the new lawyer-run approach will chip away at what he calls their “rights to use religious criteria in hiring decisions.” I’m inclined to agree.

Steven Curtis Chapman’s emotional victory

Steven Curtis Chapman, the contemporary Christian musician who has won more Gospel Music Association Dove Awards than anyone else, was named artist of the year in Thursday’s Dove Awards ceremony in Nashville, Tenn. During the show, which aired live on the Gospel Music Channel, he performed his hit “Cinderella,” which he wrote in honor of his daughter Maria, who died last year at age 5 in an automobile accident in her family’s driveway. “There’s a lot of reasons that are unique this year, probably why I’m standing here,” said Chapman, standing with his wife, Mary Beth, as he accepted the artist of the year honor. “This last year, we’ve been given opportunities we never, ever would have signed up for or asked for to communicate the hope that we have.” Other Dove Award recipients in general categories were: New Artist of the Year: Tenth Avenue North Song of the Year: “Give Me Your Eyes,” written by Brandon Heath and Jason Ingram Songwriter of the Year: Steven Curtis Chapman Male Vocalist of the Year: Brandon Heath Female Vocalist of the Year: Natalie Grant Group of the Year: Casting Crowns (Photo credit: Gospel Music Association)

New Orleans archbishop boycotts commencement over abortion issue

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) New Orleans Catholic Archbishop Alfred Hughes has told Xavier University of Louisiana he will not attend its upcoming graduation ceremonies because he objects to the university’s decision to award an honorary degree to Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic political strategist who supports abortion rights. Hughes told Xavier President Norman Francis of his decision about the May 9 commencement by letter, expressing his disappointment with the university, even as he acknowledged its legacy of education among African-Americans. In response, a statement from the Catholic university said, “From the founding of Xavier 84 years ago, our institution has promoted respect for the dignity, well-being and the protection of life for all persons.” The controversy arises a month after Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Ind.) announced he will boycott President Obama’s scheduled commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame because some of the president’s policies contradict church teaching. Brazile, a Catholic and a native of Kenner, is a familiar advocate on behalf of Democratic issues, working at the national level in support of Democratic values that include defense of abortion rights and pursuit of embryonic stem-cell research.

Joseph’s Tomb vandalism decried by Jewish leaders

JERUSALEM (RNS)Joseph’s Tomb, the traditional burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph, has again been vandalized, according to Israeli authorities. A group of 500 Jews who arrived Wednesday (April 22) at the ancient domed tomb, which is located in the Palestinian-ruled city of Nablus in the West Bank, discovered boot marks and swastikas at the site. “We saw a drawing of a Star of David with a boot stamping on it on one wall,” David Ha’ivri, one of the worshippers, told The Jerusalem Post. “Putting your foot on something is the ultimate insult in the Arab world,” added Ha’ivri. “It is sad that is the way they treat a holy site.

Berliners’ votes to decide on option of religion, ethics classes

PARIS (RNS) Once divided by communism, Berliners are now split over faith as they head to the polls Sunday (April 26) to consider whether to offer public school students the choice of taking religion or ethics classes. Until now, ethics courses have been mandatory for students in the German capital, thanks to a 2006 measure introduced out of concern about Muslim radicalism after an honor killing of a Turkish girl the year before. By contrast religion classes have been optional, making Berlin an exception in Germany, where most states include them in the public school curriculum. The “pro-reli” lobby is pushing voters to change the system and offer students the choice between religion or ethics classes. Supporters argue greater knowledge of religion fosters greater tolerance.

Italians, Israelis, Palestinians run together in `peace marathon’

JERUSALEM (RNS/ENI) Former Italian volleyball world champion Andrea Zorzi was one of 50 Italian runners who joined about 100 Israelis and Palestinians in the sixth annual Pope John Paul II Peace Marathon on Thursday (April 23) that concluded in Jerusalem. Some of those watching noted the structure of the run indicated the divided nature of the two main communities participating — Israelis and Palestinians, Ecumenical News International reported. “I am an athlete and I believe in the importance of sport as a way of bringing people together,” said Zorzi about the noncompetitive marathon that aims to continue the legacy of Pope John Paul II for peace, brotherhood and interfaith dialogue. It was held in advance of the scheduled pilgrimage in May to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict XVI. The marathon is an initiative of the Israel Ministry of Tourism and CSI, the Italian Sports Association.

For financial guru Dave Ramsey, sour economy has an upside

EDMOND, Okla. — In a gloom-and-doom economy, Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey fashions himself as a prophet of hope. Part stand-up comedian, part economics professor, Ramsey built a multimillion-dollar business by dispensing simple financial advice: Live on a budget. Don’t spend more than you make. Start an emergency fund.

Is the Center the New Left?

You’ve got to admire the Audacity of Jim. As Ted Olsen over at Christianity Today Politics details in chapter and verse, Wallis of Sojourners has made a career of keeping his distance from the Religious Left–portraying himself, like God, as someone  who stands at the radical center. So now to have a minion send around an email (reproduced after the jump) proclaiming him Presider at “the first big mobilization of the Religious Left in the Obama era…filling the hole created by the decline of the Religious Right but now we have
the political power and ear of the White House”–wow! While Pastordan is left sputtering, what strikes me is how very like the Religious Right’s this approach to the powers-that-be is. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from an email sent by the then chair of the Christian Christian Coalition, Sadie Fields, to her members after the GOP captured the Georgia state house in 2002.I received a
call from the Governor’s transition team last week requesting a meeting with
me to discuss and plan how to best implement a pro-family agenda over the
course of his administration.

Christians accused of trying to convert Obama’s Muslim grandmother

NAIROBI, Kenya (ENI-RNS)– A row is simmering between Christians and Muslims in Kenya over reported attempts to convert President Obama’s grandmother, Sarah Obama, to Christianity. “We had invited her to grace our meeting in Kisumu which was to mark the end of a three-week convention, but although she had prepared, she did not attend,” Lewis Ondiek, an official with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kenya, told Ecumenical News International. Some family members stopped Sarah Obama from attending the service, which was led by an Australian evangelist, John Jeremic. Apart from stating that she is a Muslim, they said she had a knee injury and they could not guarantee her safety. Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa, secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, said “Mama Sarah should not be forced by anybody to join Christianity since she is a Muslim.

Obama remembers Holocaust, urges action in face of injustice

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama used a ceremony recalling the Holocaust on Thursday (April 23) to urge Americans to avoid silence in the face of injustice. “During this season when we celebrate liberation, resurrection and the possibility of redemption, may each of us renew our resolve to do what must be done,” he said in an event at the U.S. Capitol that featured Holocaust survivors, rescuers and their families. “And may we strive each day, both individually and as a nation, to be among the righteous.” He noted that one of his predecessors, Dwight Eisenhower, “understood the danger of silence.” When American troops liberated a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, Eisenhower, a general at the time, ordered Germans from the closest town and journalists to witness the “evil” that had occurred there.

Blair calls for continued fight against Islamic extremism

(RNS) American diplomacy must be accompanied by a defeat of religious extremism in the Muslim world, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Chicago on Wednesday (April 22). Speaking at a forum sponsored by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Blair pointed out the shortcomings of peaceful negotiation. “President Obama’s reaching out to the Muslim world at the start of a new American administration is welcome, smart, and can play a big part in defeating the threat we face,” he said. “But it will expose, too, the delusion of believing that there is any alternative to waging this struggle to its conclusion.” Blair said negotiation may solve short-term political issues, but the world must be prepared to fight deep-rooted religious extremism.

Obama finds Sermon on the Mount elevates speeches

WASHINGTON — In a 2006 speech here, then-Sen. Barack Obama said Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was so “radical” the Defense Department wouldn’t survive its application. Earlier this month (April), the new president suggested the economy couldn’t get along without it. In the middle of a nuts-and-bolts speech at Georgetown University on economic policy, Obama overtly cited the sermon’s parable of two men, one of whom builds his house on rock, the other on sand. “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand,” the president said. “We must build our house upon a rock.”