Female Muslim journalist faces trial for wearing pants

(RNS) Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein will face trial Sept. 7 for wearing trousers in violation of government decency statutes derived from Sharia law. If convicted, she faces 40 lashes and a fine. But it’s the Sudanese government, not Hussein, who wants the trial to go away. “This is a turning point.

Vatican says layman cannot lead Maryknoll order

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has forbidden a Catholic missionary group to install a layman as the leader of its American branch, insisting that the job be reserved for a priest. The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, a U.S.-based Catholic foreign mission society, voted in May to make Brother Wayne Fitzpatrick its U.S. regional superior. But the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples has refused to approve Fitzpatrick’s election, following a church policy that lay members may not lead religious orders that include priests. Fitzpatrick, a former secretary general of Maryknoll, is a lay brother, meaning that he has not received holy orders and cannot celebrate Mass or administer the sacraments. “There’s still a hierarchical sense in which having a brother over a priest is a problem,” the Rev. Ed Dougherty, Maryknoll’s superior general, told the National Catholic Reporter.

School officials face trial for breaking pledge not to pray

WASHINGTON — Two Florida school officials will be in court next month to answer charges that they violated a court order when they prayed in public after a school secretary was cleared on similar charges. The case, which defense attorneys say is an unprecedented display of government intrusion into the right of personal religious expression, pits the American Civil Liberties Union against two Christian school employees. Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman of Santa Rosa County, in northern Florida, agreed to a settlement last January after the ACLU filed suit on behalf of two students who alleged improper proselytizing. “There were some of the most egregious First Amendment violations you’ll see,” said Will Matthews, a spokesman for the ACLU. The lawsuit alleged four separate violations of improper mixing of church and state: prayer at school, staging a religious baccalaureate service, school events held at churches, and general proselytizing and promoting of the teachers’ personal religious beliefs at school.

Measure for Measure

Q: What do Quentin Tarantino, Eric Holder and Abdel Baset al-Megrahi have in common? A: They have all forced us, in the last week, to consider the boundaries of vengeance. Tarantino’s new movie “Inglourious Basterds,” follows a troop of Jewish soldiers who take Nazi scalps during WWII. Our own Nicole Neroulias says the movie is part of a trend (think “Munich” and “Defiance”) in which Jews are portrayed as avengers rather than victims. Neroulias writes: “Anne Frank is no longer hiding in the attic; the fate of Judaism no longer depends on benevolent Gentiles like Oskar Schindler. “In short, the Jews are fed up.

Ethicist: Beware, Baptist birthers

Baptist ethicist Robert Parham has weighed in on the “birthers” movement that continues to question whether President Obama was born in the U.S., warning Baptists should avoid getting caught in the fray. He points to a story in the Mohave Daily News, which reports that Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said at a town hall meeting he was considering suing Obama over the birth certificate issue. Parham notes that Franks, a member of a Southern Baptist megachurch, joins fellow Baptist and former House Majority Speaker Tom DeLay in questioning the place of the president’s birth. DeLay called for Obama to produce his birth certificate on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” Says Parham: “If Baptist Republicans walk and talk like birthers, does that make them racists? No.

In ‘Basterds,’ vengeance is ours, saith the Jews

(UNDATED) Talk about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked new film “Inglourious Basterds,” Brad Pitt and his merry band of Jewish soldiers bash Nazi soldiers’ heads with a baseball bat and collect their scalps in a bid to avenge their people and stop the Holocaust. At its roots, Tarantino’s World War II fantasy and its orgy of violence are little more than cartoonish savagery and perhaps a cathartic experience for some Jewish viewers. It’s a sort of reverse form of Schadenfreude: Jews giving Nazis the ultimate taste of their own medicine. Yet the film also represents a growing genre of Jewish-themed films in which the victims become the victors.

COMMENTARY: This is really important. No, really.

(UNDATED) It happened two weeks ago — Information Overload Awareness Day — but I missed it. Too much information got in the way, I guess. But it isn’t too late to worry about the estimated $900 billion that “information overload” costs the U.S. economy each year, or to spend $898.50 on the event sponsors’ “Information Overload Report Library.” Each 24 hours brings us an estimated 1 billion new Web pages, 100 billion e-mails (94 percent of them spam), 1,000 new books, and individual exposure to 3,000 advertisements. No wonder futurist Alvin Toffler warned of “information overload.”

Age and same-sex marriage

Referring to the Lax/Phillips paper on same-sex marriage in the states I cited (in re: Catholic populations) a month ago, Ryan Sager dramatizes the age gap by noting: “If people over 65 made the laws, 0 states would have gay marriage; if people under 30 made the laws, 38 states would have gay marriage.”Now consider this: Mainline Protestantism skews older than any of the other large American religious traditions–by a lot. According to the 2008 Trinity ARIS survey, the proportion of mainliners under 30 is roughly half the proportion of Catholics, white evangelicals, and African American religious folk (11.1 percent versus 21.3 percent, 20.7 percent, and 25.5 percent respectively). And whereas 58 percent of mainliners are over 50, the percentages for Catholics, evangelicals, and African Americans are 40.6, 41.7, and 34.5. (These data have not yet been published.)And yet, old as they are, mainliners are the American Christians who favor full ecclesial equality for same-sex marriage partners: The United Church of Christ first, now followed by the Episcopal Church USA and (last week) the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Call it the triumph of values over age.

Why evangelicals support Israel

There’s been some back and forth on TPM lately on the nature of evangelical support for Israel, and specifically the extent to which it rests on millennialist expectations–the need for an in-gathering of the Jews in order to prepare the way for Armageddon, the Second Coming, etc. In fact, it’s hard to put a clear number on this. Whereas such expectations have been part of the theological armory of conservative evangelicalism for more than a century, evangelicals need not, and often do not, refer to them as the basis of their support for the Jewish State. They also cite the fact that the Bible says (for example, in Gen. 15) that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews.In a 2003 survey conducted by John Green (see “Evangelicals and Jews: A View from the Polls,” in Mittelman, Johnson and Isserman, eds., Uneasy Allies?, 35-36), 84 percent of evangelicals said they sympathized with Israel because of the covenantal gift, while 75 percent cited biblical prophecy–i.e. millennialist expectations. In other words, evangelicals’ support for Israel is biblically overdetermined.

WaPo calls torture torture

If only in light of the persistent reluctance of leading media outlets (including the New York Times) to use the word “torture” to describe what the Bush administration sanctioned and conducted under the name of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” today’s WaPo editorial is noteworthy:The real culprits in this sordid story are those higher-ups, starting
with former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard
B. Cheney, who led America down the degrading path of state-sanctioned
torture and left the next administration to cope with the fallout.But also: Because the editorial gives the thumbs up to AG Holder for appointing a special prosecutor to look into possible crimes committed by CIA interrogators, this certainly implies, without saying it in so many words, that prosecutorial attention should be paid to those higher ups–something the AG seems to have ruled out. Isn’t it the business of a criminal investigation to go after the “real culprits.”

Lutheran churches blast ELCA for gay clergy policy

(RNS) The leaders of two conservative Lutheran denominations blasted the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for approving a measure on Friday (Aug. 21) to allow non-celibate gay clergy. Both the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod said the ELCA’s new policy goes against Scripture by condoning a practice that they say is sinful. “We are saddened that a group with the name Lutheran would take another decisive step away from the clear teaching of the Bible, which was the foundation of the Lutheran Reformation,” said the Rev. Mark Schroeder, president of the 390,000-member Wisconsin Synod. The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, president of the 2.4 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, told ELCA delegates on Saturday that the new policy threatens to expand the division between the two churches into a “chasm.”

18 churches aim to share one building in Hamburg

TRIER, Germany (RNS/ENI) Eighteen Christian denominations in Hamburg have launched an effort to share a single church building in a new seaside “Harbor City” residential development. “It’s intended to serve the inhabitants of the Harbor City development, as well as tourists and people who work here, offering a place of silence and giving them the possibility to get in touch with God,” the Rev. Antje Heider-Rottwilm told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper. The 18 churches in “The Bridge” project decided to pool their resources in one ecumenical center. Participants include Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Old Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches. There is currently a square glass-and-wood temporary building run by Heider-Rottwilm and her husband, Martin Heider.

Lutherans cautious on split after gay vote

(UNDATED) The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had debated lifting its ban on non-celibate gay clergy for years, with tensions flaring at each biennial Churchwide Assembly. Still, when the ban was finally lifted late Friday (Aug. 21), it came as a surprise — and an unwelcome one at that — to some conservatives in the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination. “The first reaction is that they are stunned,” said the Rev. Jonathan Jenkins, who addressed the new clergy policy at his Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lebanon, Pa. “We’ve been talking about this as a possibility for some time, but I think most of our people did not expect this to happen.”

The Vatican remembers Paul is Dead

The livelier feel of L’Osservatore Romano over the last three years owes much to the Vatican newspaper’s expanded and increasingly friendly coverage of contemporary secular culture — or at least Baby Boom culture — including pop music. In the latest example, an entire page of tomorrow’s edition is devoted to the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. According to the pope’s newspaper, that album and the group’s subsequent break-up marked the “end of an era,” as rock music ended its existence as a form of cultural rebellion and took up its current role as a frankly commercial enterprise.

And now with the weather, here’s Charlie Crist

Oh, for the days when Pat Robertson could claim credit for diverting hurricanes from the Eastern seaboard at will … Robertson, it seems, has some new competition: Flordia Gov. Charlie Crist, who is musing aloud whether the main reason the Sunshine State has been hurricane-free is that God is answering his prayers. Yes, people, this is a man who is frequently touted as the future of the Republican Party. From the Associated Press: Crist said he isn’t trying to take credit, but he told a group of real estate agents Friday that he’s had prayer notes placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem each year and no major storms have hit Florida. Crist noted that just before his election in 2006, Florida had been affected by a total of eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.