The low road

I confess that we have been remiss here at RNS. We have not yet posted the video of the exciting car chase in which a 7-year-old leads police around Utah to avoid going to church. Before our media credentials are taken away, here it is. The best part is at the end, when the boy exits the car and runs to his house. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Weber County officers “saw a white Dodge Intrepid driving recklessly and pursued the car, which never exceeded 40 mph.

Obama awards Medal of Freedom to religious leaders

(RNS) Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a longtime U.S. civil rights activist, have been named recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Each has been an agent of change,” President Obama said of the 16 people who will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor. “Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.” Tutu was a leading opponent of apartheid in South Africa, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Lowery, a United Methodist minister who gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration, co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Tutu and Lowery will be honored Aug.

Rev. Ike, early proponent of prosperity gospel, dies at age 74

(RNS/ENI) The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, an early proponent of the prosperity gospel best known as “Rev. Ike,” died Tuesday (July 28). He was 74. Rev. Ike was among the first in the 1970s to harness the power of television for evangelizing and was fond of saying that his church was for the “do-it-yourself … the only savior in this philosophy is God in you.” He was a proponent of the belief that came to be known as the prosperity gospel, which holds that Christians should feel no guilt over obtaining riches.

Pope Benedict to cut album of songs and prayers

(RNS) Pope Benedict XVI has signed with a major record label to cut an album of songs and prayers to the Virgin Mary. Geffen Records, whose artists include Ashlee Simpson and Snoop Dogg, will release “Alma Mater,” featuring the pope’s chants and prayers along with eight original classical compositions, on Nov. 30. Benedict’s voice, in Latin, Italian, Portuguese, French and German, was recorded in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and during papal trips abroad.

Heaven? Sure. Hell? Not so much.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Just when it seemed to have cooled off, the topic of hell is back on the front burner — at least for pastors learning to preach about a topic most Americans would rather not talk about. Only 59 percent of Americans believe in hell, compared with 74 percent who believe in heaven, according to the recent surveys from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “I think it’s such a difficult and important biblical topic,” said Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. “There’s a big change that’s taken place as far as evangelicals not wanting to be as exclusive.”


I’ll be on vacation for most of the next few weeks. Prediction is sun with intermittent blogging.

Rev. Orsi v. Pope Benedict

Over the last few days there’s been some chatter (led by Terry Mattingly) about why the Catholic bishops haven’t been weighing in on health reform. This has been a big issue for them, so what’s up? Pretty clearly, they’ve been hamstrung by the abortion issue, having to deal on the right with the likes of Ave Maria Law School’s Rev. Michael P. Orsi, who thumps them as abortion-rights fellow travelers for refusing to attack health reform legislation. Actually, Orsi’s got the full conservative ideological agenda, and so attacks the whole idea (asserted previously by the USCCB) of health care as a basic right. Recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development released a
statement made to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate stating
that “health care is not a privilege but a right and a requirement to
protect the life and dignity of each person.”  They couldn’t be more
wrong.Having made his case, Orsi smugly concludes by citing Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate: In asserting a basic right to healthcare, the bishops have violated the pope’s principle of Truth.To promote health care as a right under the aegis of Catholic morality
by the USCCB is not the truth.  As a matter of fact, it is not even
charity because, as the Pope says, “Without truth, charity degenerates
into sentimentality.  Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an
arbitrary way.”Such carelessness with the truth, whether
intentional or unintentional, by the USCCB undermines both the Catholic
Church and American society.OK, so what does the pope himself say in that encyclical about health care?

Status quo on abortion coverage

Steve Waldman reports on what happened last night in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health care bill in re: abortion coverage. Both sides claimed to be aiming at preserving the status, but in the end only the amendment  of Lois Capps (D-CA) was left standing. Pro-choicers rejoiced, pro-lifers said bah. I predict that Congress will be going around the mulberry bush for some time on this one, trying to establish what preserving the status quo means. At least everyone claims to be fighting for the same principle.

Catholics, same-sex marriage…and the GOP

In response to my recent postings (here and here) on the correlation between Catholic presence and support for same-sex marriage (SSM), I’ve received an interesting (yet unpublished) paper from Darren Sherkat of Southern Illinois and some colleagues conjuring via regression analysis with a number of factors involved in the politics of the issue over the past two decades. The money finding is that whereas just about everyone was in the same place on SSM in 1988 (Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Protestants), now opposition has become locked into GOP identity. That is to say, the most Republican groups in American society (including those Sherkat et al. call “sectarian Protestants”–i.e. your basic white evangelicals) oppose same-sex marriage at the same rate that everybody did 20 years ago. The problem for the GOP is that everybody else has moved toward acceptance–including Catholics, most of whom continue to identify as Democrats.

Thought on the beer summit

Courtesy of A.E. Housman:    And malt does more than Milton can    To justify God’s ways to man.    Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink    For fellows whom it hurts to think:    Look into the pewter pot    To see the world as the world’s not.

Update: WWJD lawsuit withdrawn

(RNS) A Minnesota couple has abandoned its lawsuit against a debt collection agency that put the initials “WWJD” on collection letters after their ties to a rival company were discovered. Sara and Mark Neill of Becker, Minn., had received three letters from Bullseye Collection Agency, Inc. in 2008 with the letters “WWJD” — an acronym commonly understood to mean “What Would Jesus Do?” — printed on the upper right-hand corner. The Neills claimed the phrase invokes shame or guilt and portrays the debtor “as a sinner who is going to hell” and thus violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which outlaws abusive or harassing collection tactics. But Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom firm that represented Bullseye, filed a counterclaim against the Neills and discovered that Mark Neill is president of a Minnesota debt collection company that competes with Bullseye.

Father in faith-healing death tries to block sentencing

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) Defense attorneys for a father who was convicted of second-degree criminal mistreatment in the faith-healing death of his 15-month-old daughter are trying to block his sentencing, arguing that the court set too low a standard for conviction. In a motion filed Wednesday (July 29) in Clackamas County Circuit Court, attorney Mark C. Cogan said prosecutors should have been required to prove that Carl Worthington, who relied on faith healing to treat his daughter, knew that withholding medical care would cause her harm. Instead, the court instructed jurors to weigh whether Worthington was criminally negligent, a lesser standard, by not bringing Ava to a doctor when she developed a softball-sized cyst on her neck and then contracted pneumonia and a blood infection. Worthington, 29, was convicted last week of second-degree criminal mistreatment, a misdemeanor, but was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter.

IRS: `Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ church no longer under investigation

WASHINGTON (RNS) A Minnesota church that was involved in a “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” initiative that challenged a ban on politicking from the pulpit is no longer under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn., received a July 7 letter from the IRS saying the probe was closed due to a procedural matter. The letter added, however, that it “may commence a future inquiry.” The church was one of 33 that participated in the challenge last September, and sent copies of sermons to the IRS, said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund. His Arizona-based conservative Christian law firm hoped their actions — which included support or opposition of political candidates — would prompt IRS scrutiny and lead to a legal challenge of rules that date to 1954.

Buddhist business

The Dalai Lama has co-authored a book on business ethics, according to Reuters, in which he says, unsurprisingly, that happiness, not profits should be the bottom line. According to Reuters: In `The Leader’s Way,’ published this month by Broadway Books, the spiritual leader of Tibet wrote that both business and Buddhism attach importance to happiness and making the right decisions, and a company without `happy employees, customers and shareholders will ultimately fail.’ Citing Buddhist basics such as good intentions, a calm mind free of negative thoughts and a realization that nothing is permanent, the Dalai Lama and co-author Laurens van den Muyzenberg tackle timely issues such as corporate compensation, malfeasance and the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.” Meanwhile, in Nepal, Tibetan refugees are being pinched by economic recession and the increasingly Moaist Nepalese government, according to the Washington Post. An estimated 20,000 Tibetans live in Nepal, where the Buddha was born, the Post reports.

Presidential Medals of Freedom

President Obama is awarding the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to a couple of notable religious leaders. The Rev. Joseph Lowery and Archbishop Desmond Tutu will receive America’s highest civilian honor, along with 14 others who worked as “agents of change.” “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds,” President Obama said in a statement. “Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.” Their official bios: The Rev. Lowery has been a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s.