McHugh are you?

President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Army has a questionable record on church-state issues, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider the nomination of Rep. John McHugh, R-NY, today. In a letter to the committee, AU says, that as a member of the House, McHugh co-sponsored a bill to allow prayer in public schools and voted to allow government buildings and public schools to display the Ten Commandments. AU also says McHugh has voted to allow tax-exempt houses of worship to endorse political candidates and to support the practice of government-funded religious discrimination in social service programs. With all the tension around religious liberty in the armed services, senators should probe McHugh on his church-state views, AU says. “The reality is that today’s military includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, atheists and others.

White smoke or black?

This Saturday at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles southeast of Rome, Pope Benedict will receive participants in the FINA world swimming championships, presumably including Michael Phelps. Given Phelps’ now-notorious form of off-duty recreation, some observers may take this as the latest evidence that Benedict is truly a “green pontiff.” But anyone who thinks that is probably smoking something. UPDATE: AP is reporting that Phelps will skip his chance to meet the pope in order to rest up for the final of the 100-meter butterfly. Just imagine what the pious will say if he doesn’t end up winning …

Progressive Protestant power shift not without challenges

NEW YORK — When the Rev. Brad Braxton was tapped last year as the next senior pastor of Riverside Church, he was billed as an energetic and dynamic preacher with the power to reinvigorate the flagship pulpit of progressive Protestantism. Soon, however, those very qualities got in the way. Some parishioners found him a little too energetic. He talked a lot about Jesus, and perhaps a little too much about Scripture. Some critics even used the dreaded “f” word: fundamentalist.

COMMENTARY: Controversy doesn’t take a vacation

(UNDATED) Even though the “dog days” of summer are usually a slow news period, religion continues to make big headlines. Two recent stories — involving the Episcopal Church and the Syrian-American Jewish community — have drawn wide attention. I’ve always been interested in the Episcopal Church because my childhood synagogue in Alexandria, Va., was located just a half block from historic Christ Church where George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and other famous people attended services. My hometown is also the site of an Episcopal seminary and two church-sponsored prep schools. At the Episcopalians’ recent General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., delegates and bishops adopted a pair of controversial resolutions that essentially allowed gay bishops and permitted blessings for same-sex unions.

Now & Forever

Reports that Vinnie Barbarino, I mean, John Travolta, has broken with Scientology are false, according to People magazine, that well-known bible of religion news. “There’s no change in the relationship between the Church of Scientology and John,” says Trovolta’s rep. “He is a member and it’s as it was, now and forever.” In other news, the Los Angeles Times reports that Scientology is mounting a PR push after Scientologists were banned from editing Wikipedia and the St. Pete Times published this hard-hitting series this summer, which alleged abusive and violent behavior by Scientology’s top dogs. LAT columnist Dan Neil says: “the church didn’t get to be La-La Land’s Holy See for nothing.

Paul Stanley de la Rochefoucauld

Paul Stanley is the Tennessee state senator who resigned his office a couple of days ago when it was revealed that he was having an affair with a 22-year-old intern.Stanley acknowledged in an interview with WREC radio
host Ben Ferguson that he had an affair. He also defended statements he
had made condemning sex outside of marriage and a legislative record
that included backing a ban on adoptions by unmarried couples.”Whatever
I stood for and advocated I still believe to be true,” Stanley said. “Just because I fell short of God’s standard … doesn’t mean that
God’s standard is reduced.”But it does mean that he’s a hypocrite. Does he imagine that, having paid homage to virtue, he should get credit for it?

The government already pays for abortions

In recent days, the opposition to health reform legislation has been cranking up a pro-life meme, to the effect that the legislation will mandate government funding of abortions. I’ve addressed the elements of the charge here, and proposed a federalized solution to the issue here. But because the meme is being pushed so hard–as in this ad from Family Research Family Action–it’s worth making clear the extent to which “the government” is already paying for abortions. Since 1993, the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding of abortion has required that Medicaid pay for abortions in cases of rape and incest, and when the life of the pregnant woman is endangered. Beyond that, 17 states comprising over one-third of the U.S. population, provide funds of their own to cover abortions in all or most circumstances.

Clergy especially vulnerable for losing health insurance

WASHINGTON — While a sour economy and rising costs make it harder for small businesses to afford health coverage, one group of employees is especially vulnerable: clergy. Many denominations provide health care for clergy, but pastors of small and independent churches can be hard-hit by rising health care costs. Some clergy latch on to their spouses’ health care, or take a second job that offers insurance. But as the job market tightens, even those secondary solutions are hard to come by. For the clergy, health care reform has become personal.

$25 million later, Katrina relief groups say they’re half finished

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Leaders of a consortium of Katrina relief groups say they are approaching a milestone in recovery efforts, having distributed $25 million in money, muscle and construction material to about 1,000 families around New Orleans in the four years since Hurricane Katrina. Even so, they estimate the region’s recovery is only at the halfway point, at best. And as the big private donations that marked 2006 and 2007 taper off, the consortium of mostly church-related agencies is positioning itself to continue its work with upcoming state and federal grants. To be sure, $25 million is a small fraction of the total outpouring of private aid that flowed, and still flows, into the region since Katrina roared ashore in August 2005. An accurate calculation of the total private relief figure is largely unknowable, some relief managers say.

Concubines and RNS

What are the differences between a concubine and a wife? Well, if you attended the Religion News Service Roundtable with activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage dispute Thursday morning, you would know. This was just one piece of the wide-ranging discussion between the four panelists of varying religious backgrounds on the “Civil Rights and Sacred Rites” debate. Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, laid out his pamphlet on “Same-Gender Marriage & Religious Freedom,” with the words “a call to quiet conversations and public debate,” jumping off the front page. However, the other three participants did just the opposite.

Methodists defeat gay-related membership policy

(RNS) United Methodists have defeated amendments that would have made church membership open to all Christians regardless of sexual orientation and furthered the creation of a new, U.S.-only governing body, according to the denomination’s news service. Delegates at the United Methodist Church’s General Conference last year approved the sexual orientation amendment, as well as several others that would have changed how the international church is governed. But the amendments failed to gain support from two-thirds of the denomination’s annual conferences, as required by church law. The conferences voted in May and June. Twenty-seven of the 44 regional conferences that reported voting results rejected the amendment that would have made membership in local churches open to “all persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, and relationship in Jesus Christ,” according to United Methodist News Service.

Daw retires as head of Hymn Society

(RNS) The Rev. Carl P. Daw Jr., an Episcopal priest and renowned hymn expert, has retired as executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Daw served for 13 years in the post, the Episcopal Church announced. “The work of Carl Daw as writer of hymns has enormously enriched the worship life of the English-speaking Christian world. His poetry is rich, fresh and always singable,” said the Rev. Clayton L. Morris, staff officer for worship and spirituality for the Episcopal Church. “Carl’s work is a priceless gift to the church.”

10 minutes with … Shawn Francis Peters

(UNDATED) An Oregon jury acquitted two Oregon parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, on July 23 in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, who succumbed to pneumonia as the couple relied on prayer instead of seeking conventional medical help. Shawn Francis Peters, a faith-healing expert at the University of Wisconsin and author of “When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law,” followed the case closely and talks about what the case means for future clashes between religious law and civil law. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: What are the ramifications of the decision made in Oregon? A: It remains to be seen what the implications will be, both in Oregon and nationally.

Faith-based mutual insurers worry about health care reform

WASHINGTON — As Congress debates whether to mandate health insurance for all Americans, several Christian ministries whose members share each other’s medical costs are hoping the final version of health care reform doesn’t put them out of business. Officials of three major “health sharing” organizations say they are watching the Capitol Hill discussions closely, and suggesting legislative language to ensure they qualify if Congress requires a “mandate” that all Americans carry health insurance. “We don’t just want to be left out in the cold,” said Robert Baldwin, president of Florida-based Christian Care Ministry, which offers a “Medi-Share” program to its members. Generally speaking, members of health-sharing groups — all of whom are professing Christians — pay a monthly fee that can range from $285 to $450 a month for a two-parent family. That fee is either sent to the ministry, which in turn passes it on to other members with certain medical bills, or sent directly to members in need.

COMMENTARY: Money won’t fix health care as long as profits persist

(UNDATED) U.S. health care is a mess. Will a trillion dollars really make any difference? Tune in after the Congress returns from its August recess to find out. For several weeks, six key senators sat around a table drinking coffee and eating chocolate-covered potato chips, negotiating how to revamp the American health care system. The problem?