Thursday’s religion round up

President Obama signed a hate crimes bill into law, angering conservative Christians, who called it “a very sad day for America.” Federal agents killed the leader of a radical Muslim group near Detroit. A Senator wants to feds to look into the sweat-lodge deaths. Washington residents are planning a religious service in support of same-sex marriage, prosecutors say a 38-year-old polygamist sexually assaulted a teenager at Yearning for Zion Ranch, the Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth will ordain its first female priest, and the church cited in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” won’t allow a Halloween wedding. MLK’s daughter is up for president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

COMMENTARY: Our longing for home is a longing for God

(RNS) When I was a child I lived in a small logging town in Southern Oregon. Bly had one paved road and the short walk down my dirt street ended in the woods. I remember a deer entering a clearing while I was sitting on a log next to my dad as he read. On occasion wild horses would stampede through town. When I was 5 we moved to Southern California, but I never forgot the wonder and wildness of the first place I called home.

A New Michael Steinhardt Award

In our day, a statement of such awe-inspiring obtuseness has been emitted by a Great Personage that it not only demands widespread notice but actually merits special recognition for all time. Therefore and herewith, I announce the b’rit milah (we Jews don’t do baptisms) of the Michael H. Steinhardt Award for Macher Dopiness, the first recipient of which is, of course, Michael H. Steinhardt himself.Steinhardt, for those of you who don’t know, is the billionaire founder of the Steinhardt, Fine, Berkowitz & Co. hedge fund and a Jewish philanthropist of no mean donations. These days, he is perhaps best known as having funded (with Charles Bronfman) Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has sent some 200,000 young American Jews on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. That’s a lot of trips.Now comes a good sociological study, by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, showing that the trips have markedly increased the likelihood that the young Jews who go on them will marry other Jews.

Blue Dog Bart Stupak will vote for health care reform…

…even if his abortion exclusion amendment fails, according to what he said recently in Cheboygan. There were members of the audience who were not happy. So why doesn’t Stupak make a better case for himself. Such as that it’s not a question of the federal government paying for abortions but helping subsidize the purchase of insurance policies that, with the addition of individual’s funds, could pay for abortion? In other words (in the broken record department), health insurance vouchers.

The New Israel Lobby

The state of the Israel Lobby is healthy. J Street, the new liberal alternative to the venerable neocon AIPAC, has concluded its first big DC shindig, having received the imprimatur of the Obama administration in the form of an address by National Security Advisor Jim Jones. True, New York’s U.S. senators, Schumer and Gillibrand, withdrew the hems of their respective garments, presumably having been read the riot act by their big Jewish backers. But as Nathan Guttman makes clear in a fine piece in the Forward, after a few bumps in the road, the organization seems to be establishing itself comfortably in the center-left portion of American Jewish opinion.What J Street has going for it is the fact that most American Jews are located right where J Street is–voting for Obama, supporting the Israeli softer line. The problem is that most of those folks are less involved–with Israel, with the big communal organizations–than the AIPACniks, including the big shots.

First female bishop elected to lead German Protestants

ULM, Germany (RNS/ENI) The Evangelical Church in Germany has elected Bishop Margot Kassmann to be its new leader, the first time a woman has become the highest representative of 24 million German Protestants. The decision was made on Wednesday (Oct. 28) by the EKD’s highest governing body, its synod, meeting in Ulm, southern Germany. Fifty-one-year-old Kassmann, who is divorced, is the youngest ever chairperson of the EKD council, and is the successor of Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who is retiring at the age of 67. The EKD is the umbrella organization for 22 regional Lutheran, United and Reformed churches.

Slain N.J. priest spoke of firing accused janitor

CHATHAM, N.J. (RNS) Two days before he was found stabbed to death in a church rectory, a New Jersey priest told a school principal a missing background check might force him to lay off the parish janitor, who was later charged in the priest’s slaying, according to court documents. Father Edward Hinds, 61, pastor at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Chatham, on Oct. 21 told Marianne Hobbie, principal of St. Patrick School, he might “let go” of 64-year-old Jose Feliciano because his employment record indicated he hadn’t passed a background check, according to the court records filed at district court in Wind Gap, Pa.

French court finds Scientology guilty of fraud

PARIS (RNS) For the second time this month, the Church of Scientology has won a battle against its dissolution in Europe, despite a stiff sentence handed down by a French court against its operations here. In a verdict delivered Tuesday (Oct. 27), a Paris court fined the church’s Celebrity Center and its bookshop in the French capital nearly $900,000 for defrauding former members. It handed suspended prison sentences to four church leaders and fined two others. But the court stopped short of banning the church’s operations in France, as demanded by the prosecution.

eBay blocks auction to raise money for accused killer

(RNS) The online auction house eBay has halted a proposed auction of items that aimed to raise funds for the defense of the man charged in the May killing of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. “Based on the details we know about the anticipated listings, we believe these would violate our policy regarding offensive material,” the company said in a Tuesday (Oct. 27) statement. “eBay will not permit the items in question to be posted to the eBay site, and they will be removed if they are posted.” Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines, Iowa, said he had hoped to auction items to raise money for Scott Roeder, who was charged with first-degree murder in Tiller’s death.

COMMENTARY: Halloween with all the trimmings

(RNS) Saturday will be my 10-year-old son Vasco’s first Halloween. He arrived in the U.S. from Africa just a few months ago, and as far as we can discern there is no Oct. 31 holiday in his native Malawi. But as a fourth grader here in Southern California, Vasco is all about Halloween. He’s been drawing skeletons and jack-o’-lanterns in art class, and his classmates are abuzz talking about what costumes they’ll be wearing when they go trick-or-treating this weekend.

Abuse settlement in New Orleans a surprise to some

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) When the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced last week (Oct. 20) it will pay $5 million to an undisclosed number of adults who claimed that as children they were beaten, berated and sexually molested at Catholic orphanages, it took some by surprise. The archdiocese announced a package settlement of 20 lawsuits, most of them filed by adults alleging that in the 1950s and 1960s they were abused at Madonna Manor and nearby Hope Haven, Catholic group homes on this city’s West Bank. “I hope these mediations and negotiations will bring some peace and reconciliation to those victims and all those involved,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said in announcing the settlements. But because settlement talks are not complete, the announcement caught plaintiffs’ attorneys by surprise.

10 Minutes with … Rabbi Arthur Schneier

(RNS) When Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to visit a U.S. synagogue last year, it was to meet with Rabbi Arthur Schneier at his Park East Synagogue in Manhattan. A Holocaust survivor, Schneier has spoken on religious tolerance throughout the world through his Appeal of Conscience Foundation. Schneier continues his interfaith outreach this week (Oct. 28), when he welcomes the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christianity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, to Park East Synagogue. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Wednesday’s religion round-up

Federal authorities charged two Chicago men with plotting terrorist attacks in Europe, including the offices of the Danish newspaper that published anti-Muslim cartoons several years ago. An anti-abortion activist is calling on people to burn effigies of Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid, e-Bay says it will block an auction to raise money for the man charged with killing abortion provider George Tiller, and a federal court dismissed a Christian adoption agency’s challenge to President Obama’s policy on embryonic stem-cell research. A Georgia court ruled that a breakaway Episcopal church in Savannah must cede property rights to the Diocese of Georgia. Franklin Graham paid Sarah Palin $1,664 to deliver food to western Alaska while she was governor of the state, and evangelicals are trying to convert those frosty secularists in New England. A former Home Depot cashier says he was fired for wearing a button reading “One Nation Under God.”

When pastors’ silent suffering turns tragic

HICKORY, N.C. (RNS) What kind of personal pain would cause a 42-year-old pastor to abandon his family, his calling and even life itself? Members of a Baptist church here are asking that question after their pastor committed suicide in his parked car in September. Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry.

Focus on the Family pays for abortions

That’s the burden of Amy Sullivan’s charge over on Swampland. She’s ascertained that Focus ensures its employees through Principal Insurance Company, which includes abortion services in its health insurance policies. Even assuming that Focus’ own group plan does not include abortion coverage, isn’t the organization still indirectly underwriting abortions? And how is that different from what Focus and its allies object to in current versions of health reform legislation?Actually, Focus et al. may have an answer.