Muslims missing MJ

If President Obama can’t strengthen ties with the Islamic world, rest assured that Michael Jackson will take things over from here. Turns out the pop icon will be sorely missed in the Middle East, despite his sinful dance moves and antics. Rumored to have converted from Jehovah’s Witness to Muslim, those in the Middle East are grieving MJ’s death like one of their own. From the AP story: “A Bahraini royal mourned him publicly, young Lebanese held a candlelight tribute, Egyptian musicians hailed him as an inspiration. Beyond his global reach, Michael Jackson held a special place in the Muslim world, as one of the first major Western entertainers to break through cultural barriers in the 1980s.”

Obama picks a church, and it’s not in DC

The ever on-top-of-things Amy Sullivan over at Time magazine is reporting today that President Obama isn’t going to pick a D.C. church after all, and intends to follow George W. Bush’s lead and attend quiet Sunday services at Camp David. There’s no official word (yet) from the White House on all this, but I trust Amy’s reporting (as good as anyone’s) when she says that Obama has been quietly telling aides that he doesn’t want to get into the DC church circus. From Amy’s story: “A number of factors drove the decision – financial, political, personal – but chief among them was the desire to worship without being on display. Obama was reportedly taken aback by the circus stirred up by his visit to 19th Street Baptist in January. Lines started forming three hours before the morning service, and many longtime members were literally left out in the cold as the church filled with outsiders eager to see the new President.

Cutie’s not the only one

Now that “Father Oprah” has tied the knot (again, this time in an Episcopal church), Jim Davis down at the Sun-Sentinel talks to other formerly Catholic priests who left the church for love. From Davis’ story: “Given the stigma, studies of priest-women relationships are rare. But some numbers are available. “In 2002, the late sociologist Dean Hoge of Catholic University of America estimated that 20 percent to 30 percent of resigned priests left because they fell in love with women; 5 percent to 15 percent because they fell in love with men; and 20 percent to 30 percent because they rejected celibacy in general. “According to psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe, 25 percent of all American priests have had relations with women at one time or another since ordination.

On eve of closure, church becomes a tourist magnet

CLEVELAND — Sightseers are something new to members of St. Casimir Catholic Church. In fact, it’s been awhile since their landmark church drew any kind of attention at all. They’re doing what they can to accommodate the tourists who have descended since the bishop decreed St. Casimir will be shuttered in a bid to create a smaller, leaner local diocese.

Red State Hypocrisy

The big moralizing about Mark Sanford has begun–I mean, the kind of typically American penchant for reading Large Meanings into the latest celebrity example of old-time human frailties (cf. Simpson, O.J.). Who can resist? Certainly  not the moralists of the New York Times. On Saturday, there was liberal statistics op-ed guy Charles Blow with some charts showing that it’s not just Sanford who’s hypocritical but the preponderance of states that tend to vote Republican.

Camp (David) Meeting

Amy Sullivan has the scoop on the Obamas’ choice of church: Camp David’s Evergreen Chapel. A politic move, and probably a wise one: Not only do the Obamas seem to want to be together as a family at Camp David whenever possible (so where else go to church?), but it was going to be a circus if they chose any D.C. congregation.  What is Evergreen Chapel? Amy calls it a “non-demonational church,” which is not quite accurate. It’s a non-sectarian chapel, built with private funds raised by a planning committee of clergy from different faiths, and dedicated in 1991. The non-sectarian aspect of the place did not come without a struggle, as recounted by James Rudin, the rabbi who served on the committee in his capacity as the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious affairs.

Mark and David

I’m not so sure that it was such a good idea for Mark Sanford to justify not resigning as governor based on David’s retention of the Judean kingship after taking Bathsheba and having her husband killed. God, exceedingly wroth, imposed some pretty severe penalties (conveyed by Nathan the Prophet in II Samuel 12:10-14):

Now
therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou
hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be
thy wife. Thus
saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine
own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them
unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this
sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And
David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.

In his own words: Michael Jackson on childhood Sabbaths

(Editors: This essay was originally written by pop icon Michael Jackson and published by Beliefnet in December 2000. It is available for use by RNS subscribers. Please use the Beliefnet byline.) (UNDATED) In one of our conversations together, my friend Rabbi Shmuley (Boteach) told me that he had asked some of his colleagues — writers, thinkers, and artists — to pen their reflections on the Sabbath. He then suggested that I write down my own thoughts on the subject, a project I found intriguing and timely due to the recent death of Rose Fine, a Jewish woman who was my beloved childhood tutor and who traveled with me and my brothers when we were all in the Jackson Five. Last Friday night I joined Rabbi Shmuley, his family, and their guests for the Sabbath dinner at their home.

State Department appoints special representative to Muslims

(RNS) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has appointed a special representative to Muslim communities, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Thursday (June 25). Farah Pandith, who has worked in the State Department’s European Bureau, was appointed earlier in the week. “She was a special adviser for outreach to Muslim communities in Europe,” Kelly said. “The secretary has appointed her to more of a global role.” President Obama has made outreach to Muslims a priority, highlighted by his speech in Cairo in early June in which he quoted from the Quran and emphasized the importance of religious freedom.

Dalai Lama donates to Florida International University

ORLANDO, Fla. (RNS) Florida International University has announced a $5 million endowment campaign, seeded with an “unprecedented” $100,000 gift from the Dalai Lama, to save its department of religious studies. It is the first time the exiled Tibetan leader has given such a gift to a Western university, said Nathan Katz, a professor of religious studies who studied with the Dalai Lama as a graduate student in 1973 and has maintained contact with him since then. The Tibetan Buddhist leader also will speak at the university next year. “In our deeply interconnected world, understanding and appreciation of diversity of religions is critical in fostering a culture of genuine tolerance and peaceful coexistence,” a secretary to the Dalai Lama wrote to Modesto Maidique, university president.

Struggling Reform seminary opts against closing campuses

(RNS) Reform Judaism’s flagship institution will keep all three of its U.S. campuses open, despite its serious financial crisis, officials announced this week. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which trains 400 rabbinical students in New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Jerusalem, had announced in April that one or more campuses might be closed due to its projected $8 million deficit in the next two years. Although HUC is the only major Jewish seminary with campuses spread across four separate cities, the news had prompted outcry from alumni, religious and community leaders — particularly in Ohio, where the school was founded in 1875 — leading the school’s Board of Governors to give administrators seven weeks to come up with alternative ways to cut costs. The new plan calls for consolidation of administration, faculty, programs and research resources, along with efforts to encourage more distance learning, online resources and other technological options. “This direction calls for the unity and consolidation of our entire institution,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, seminary president.

German Muslims more numerous and integrated in public life, study says

TRIER, Germany (RNS/ENI) Germany has nearly million more Muslims than previous estimates, according to a new study. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Germany concluded that up to 4.3 million people– 5 percent of German’s 82 million people — are Muslims. More than half have German nationality and have integrated into German society more than had been expected, according to the study. For instance, nearly half belong to a German society or organization. Social, political, sport and even carnival life in Germany is predominantly organized by societies. The vast majority of the country’s Muslims — 98 percent — live in former West German territory, including Berlin, the current capital that was divided in the Cold War era.

True Baalers

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa says PETA and other animal rights activists are “worshipping animals.” In response to a question about those pesky activists who argue that sick cows should not be prodded with electric rods and made to live in cages, Grassley says: “they’re not interested in how good farmers treat their animals. You’ve got to realize that this is a religion with them. They’re worshipping animals. And from that standpoint, their goal isn’t just to have more equitable treatment of animals.

Questions and answers on celebrity worship

(UNDATED) When sex symbol Rudolph Valentino died at the age of 31 in 1926, riots broke out as tens of thousands of mourners tried to cram themselves into a public viewing in New York. It was, says Emory University’s Gary Laderman, “a new kind of sacred attachment, one based on fame and looks, personality and stardom.” Call it the birth of the First Church of Celebrity Worship. Laderman’s new book, “Sacred Matters: Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, the Living Dead and Other Signs of Religious Life in the United States,” probes America’s obsession at the altar of celebrity. Pop icon Michael Jackson’s death at age 50, he said, brings that faith into “sharp relief.”

Will Michael have a Muslim burial?

Wow, first Farrah, then the Gloved One; if and when C-3PO dies the 80s will official be over. Anyhoo, for all his ubiquity during most of his 50 years, Mr. Jackson was quite an enigma. For instance, his religion. He, and all the Jackson Five (and Janet, I think) were raised Jehovah’s Witness in Indiana. But Michael reportedly converted to Islam in 2008, changed his name to Mikaeel and even took to wearing a burqa in public.