N.J. pastor named to head Progressive National Baptists

(RNS) A New Jersey pastor has been elected the next general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The Rev. Walter Parrish III, senior pastor of Union Baptist Church in Montclair, N.J., was chosen for the position during the historically black denomination’s annual meeting, which concluded Aug. 8 in Louisville, Ky. Parrish, 50, will succeed the Rev. Tyrone Pitts, who is retiring. When he begins his post on Jan.

N.J. pastor named to head Progressive National Baptists

(RNS) A New Jersey pastor has been elected the next general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The Rev. Walter Parrish III, senior pastor of Union Baptist Church in Montclair, N.J., was chosen for the position during the historically black denomination’s annual meeting, which concluded Aug. 8 in Louisville, Ky. Parrish, 50, will succeed the Rev. Tyrone Pitts, who is retiring. When he begins his post on Jan.

Outspoken Catholic bishop steps down after stormy tenure

(RNS) A Pennsylvania Catholic bishop whose public scoldings of politicians — including Vice President Joe Biden — created a stir nationwide resigned on Monday (Aug. 31), citing stress and lack of confidence in his leadership. Bishop Joseph Martino was appointed in 2003 to head the Diocese of Scranton, a heavily Catholic corner of northeastern Pennsylvania. His relatively brief tenure was marked by battles with local parishes, a teachers union, college administrators and a number of politicians, particularly over abortion rights. “For some time now, there has not been a clear consensus among the clergy and the people of the diocese of Scranton regarding my pastoral initiatives or my way of governance,” Martino said Monday at a press conference.

Muslims to pray in D.C. for `soul of America’

(UNDATED) Tens of thousands of Muslims plan to pray “for the soul of America” outside the U.S. Capitol in September in what is being described as a first-of-its-kind event. The event, spearheaded by the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., will not include political speeches or placards, just prayer, said Hassen Abdellah, president of Dar-ul-Islam and a main organizer of the Sept. 25 event. “Most of the time, when Muslims go to Washington, D.C., they go there to protest some type of event,” Abdellah said. “This is not a protest.

The blinking cursor

William Wan, the new religion reporter over at WaPo, had an intriguing story over the weekend about a seemingly trivial part of the Facebook phenomenon: Religious views. I suppose theologians and Ph.D. candidates could spend endless hours chewing over the difference between “religion” and “religious views,” but for now, let’s just say that Wan has uncovered something that turns out to be a moral and theological conundrum for many of Facebook’s 250 million users worldwide. (For the record, users who stop by my Facebook page will find my categorization of my own religious views: “That’s complicated,” quickly followed by my political views: “I’m not supposed to have any.” ) From Wan’s story: Amid the endless trivialities of social networking sites — the quotes from Monty Python, the Stephen Colbert for Prez groups, the goofy-but-calculatingly-attractive profile pics — the tiny box has become a surprisingly meaningful pit stop for philosophical inquiry. Millions have plumbed their innermost thoughts, struggling to sum up their beliefs in roughly 10 words or less.

After `Da Vinci,’ Opus Dei cautiously optimistic about new film

(UNDATED) Three years after “The Da Vinci Code” sent Opus Dei scrambling to counter the film’s depiction of a masochistic, murderous cabal, members of the Catholic organization have cautious hopes for a biopic of their founding father, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. “There Be Dragons,” which is currently filming in Argentina, is helmed by Oscar-nominated director Roland Joffe, whose previous works include “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields.” The film is produced by Ignacio G. Sancha, an Opus Dei member who stresses that the film’s $30 million budget comes from a range of investors, including several atheists. “There are all kinds of ideologies and people involved,” he said.

Ciao, Martino

David Gibson sees today’s abrupt resignation of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino as a heave out the door by the powers-that-be that portends a significant blow to the take-no-prisoners wing of the American hierarchy. Of course, as Gibson’s rehearsal of the prelate’s run of controversies makes clear, Martino often seemed out of control, if not off his meds. But there seems to have been more to it than that. As Whispers notes, the lone top aide to Martino not reappointed was the Rev. Kevin McMahon, appointed only last month as episcopal vicar for “Catholic Doctrine, Identity and Mission.”McMahon used to work for sometime St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke–who last year was hastily removed from his post to become the Vatican’s chief canon law justice (so to say).

Health Reform, voucherized

Not so long ago, religious conservatives were vigorously making the case that the way to respect the Establishment Clause (i.e. separation of church and state) while permitting government funding of religious primary and secondary schools was through vouchers. Sure, the government should not directly fund educational institutions that did religious indoctrination, but by subsidizing education (a worthy public function) via the provision of vouchers to needy families, the government was putting the decision on whether religion could be included in a child’s education in the families’ hands. The principle of separation of church and state would thus be respected by making the decision to fund religious education a purely private one. Those who might be adamantly opposed to having their tax dollars go to support instruction in any religion and in some particular religion would just have to live with it. And, in the 2002 case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court said OK.Now comes health reform, and religious conservatives are vigorously making the case that no tax monies should be permitted to pay for abortions (or at least no more than are presently being done via Medicaid payments for abortions in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant woman).

You don’t have to be Jewish…

…to join the Messianic Jews. According to today’s Kansas City Star, the FBI is investigating a study group of them that included Scott Roeder, the accused murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Said Roeder of his 1992 conversion:”I converted, born again to Christianity,” he said. “I guess you could
say Messianic, or turned to Jesus, Yeshua, as my Savior.” He said
Messianic believers such as himself had gone “back to our Hebrew roots.”How this Christian Hebraizing fit into Roeder’s worldview remains to be seen (as does the possibility that he may have had some co-religious collaborators).

Kennedy’s Catholic send-off

Unsurprisingly (to me, anyway), the Catholic church got it together to give Ted Kennedy the big good-bye, with Cardinal Sean O’Malley showing up to preside at the funeral and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick doing the same at the graveside. There can be no doubt that there was something hesitant and withholding in this. O’Malley’s participation was announced only on Friday. According to the Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, conservatives lobbied hard for him to deny his presence to the famously pro-choice, pro-same-sex-marriage politician. On America’s In All Things blog, Jim Martin praises O’Malley for performing an act of spiritual generosity: “his simple presence at the funeral shows his support of forgiveness,
compassion and that quality perhaps most missing in today’s church: mercy.”

Jews blasts WCC leader on Israel comments

GENEVA (RNS/ENI) The American Jewish Committee on Friday (Aug. 28) denounced the World Council of Churches’ outgoing general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, for his declaration that Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian territories is “a sin against God”. “Rev. Kobia parrots the same hypocritical statements regarding Israel that the WCC regularly issues, ignoring the root causes of Israel’s presence in the West Bank,” said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs. On Wednesday, during his final address to the WCC’s Central Committee, Kobia said, “Occupation, along with the concomitant humiliation of a whole people for over six decades, constitutes not just economic and political crimes but, like anti-Semitism, it is a sin against God.” Jewish groups have repeatedly criticized the WCC for its Middle East policy, which they say heavily favors the Palestinians and ignores Israel’s desire to live in peace and security.

Exit, stage right, for Martino?

Speculation is at a fever pitch that Catholic Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., will step down on Monday. Who cares? Well, Vice President Joe Biden for one, I’d suspect, and probably Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey for another. Martino, 63, has become one of the most outspoken Catholic bishops in the U.S. on the issue of pro-choice (i.e., Democratic) candidates and abortion. Casey, it should be noted, has a pretty solid pro-life record (on most, but not all, issues) Martino has said statements and documents produced by the U.S. Catholic bishops don’t apply in his diocese, and the more he speaks, the more caustic he generally gets.

N.J. bishops begin campaign against gay marriage

(RNS) Catholic bishops in New Jersey have begun a campaign against same-sex marriage in anticipation of a possible vote on the issue by state legislators after November’s gubernatorial election. The bishops directed Catholic priests throughout the state to distribute in parish bulletins a 2,300-word letter opposing same-sex marriage. The priests are also expected to speak about the issue from the altar after Labor Day. “The Catholic Church teaches today, and has always and everywhere taught for 2,000 years, that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” the letter reads. ” …

Episcopal presiding bishop tries to clarify `salvation’ speech

(RNS) Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on Thursday (Aug. 27) tried to tamp criticism she received last month after she denounced the “heresy” of individual salvation. In a statement issued by church headquarters in New York, Jefferts Schori tried to clarify her remarks at the church’s General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., saying that individualism is “basically unbiblical and un-Christian.” “If salvation is understood only as `getting right with God’ without considering `getting right with (all) our neighbors,”‘ Jefferts Schori said in a statement, “then we’ve got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.” In her opening speech at the Anaheim convention, Jefferts Schori called the belief that “we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God,” the “great Western heresy.”