Obama, DADT, and The Family

In his State of the Union address, President Obama repeated his pledge to get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On Tuesday, the Pentagon will present Congress with recommendations on how to enable gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. On Thursday, according to the White House, the president will deliver remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.Obama’s appearance at the breakfast became a bit controversial earlier this month after it was reported that David Bahati, author of Uganda’s notorious anti-homosexuality bill, was going to be on hand at the invitation of The Family, the Jesus fellowship that sponsors the thing. Subsequently, Family spokesman Bob Hunter has been at pains to make clear that Bahati will not be on hand, and gone so far as to inform Box Turtle Bulletin, which has been bird-dogging the situation, that a whole bunch of other Ugandan supporters of the bill won’t be either. The Family has become very, very eager to make the issue go away, but is still on the hook.Obama shouldn’t let them off it.

Pope tells church judges to limit marriage annulments

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI on Friday (Jan. 29) urged church judges to limit the number of marriage annulments they grant by encouraging couples to stay together if possible. Benedict made his remarks to members of the Roman Rota, the church panel with the highest authority in marriage cases, at a ceremony marking the start of the judicial year. The pope told the judges that if they “glimpse hope” of a positive reconciliation, they should “induce the spouses to affirm if possible their marriage and reestablish their conjugal cohabitation.” “One must shun pseudo-pastoral claims that place the matter on a merely horizontal plane, where all that matters is satisfying subjective requests to obtain (an annulment) at all costs,” Benedict said.

Air Force builds worship space for Wiccans

(RNS) The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado will set aside a worship space for followers of “Earth-centered” religions such as Wicca and Druidism, according to an Air Force news release. A stone circle atop a hill on the base in Colorado Springs will likely be dedicated in a ceremony March 10, according to the release, and be available to cadets and other service members who live in the area. The base already has worship spaces for Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists, the release said. The Air Force has been accused of allowing evangelical officers to openly proselytize and pressure cadets of other faiths. In 2005, the Air Force issued new guidelines pledging to “accommodate free exercise of religion and other personal beliefs.”

Canadian Supreme Court declines Jehovah’s Witness death case

OTTAWA (RNS) The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a man whose daughter was a Jehovah’s Witness. Lawrence Hughes filed the action in 2004 against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Canada and others alleging the Witnesses’ policy against blood transfusions caused the death of his daughter, Bethany Hughes, from acute myeloid leukemia in 2002. She was 17. After she refused blood transfusions based on her religious beliefs, the province of Alberta took custody of the teen, in a move that triggered a debate on religious freedom versus human rights. Bethany Hughes died less than six months after she underwent 38 forcible blood transfusions performed under sedation at a Calgary hospital.

Mother defends choice in Ore. faith-healing case

OREGON CITY (RNS) Marci Beagley acknowledged Thursday (Jan. 28) that her son took a serious downturn about 12 hours before he died, and defended her family’s decision to “wait it out” rather than seek medical treatment. Nearly two weeks of testimony ended Thursday in the trial of Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, who are charged with criminally negligent homicide for failing to provide medical care to their 16-year-old son, Neil Beagley, who died in June 2008 of complications from a congenital urinary blockage. After closing arguments on Friday, the case will go to a jury. The family belongs to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church that relies on faith healing rather than medical care.

Faiths unite behind health care reform, even as details are vague

WASHINGTON (RNS) As Capitol Hill appears politically paralyzed over health care reform, the prescription from many faith leaders is firm: don’t abandon ship. “The faith community has worked for decades for comprehensive health care reform and this last year … many of them have put aside other policy priorities to take this over the finish line,” said the Rev. Linda Walling, executive director of Faithful Reform in Health Care, an interfaith coalition of more than 70 groups. “We would be very, very sad if we can’t finish it.” So, her Cleveland-based organization has kept up its grass-roots advocacy in recent days, with members of the California Council of Churches preaching sermons, Quakers sending letters to newspaper editors and Reform Jewish teens lobbying on the Hill.

Friday’s roundup

The man accused of killing Kansas abortionist George Tiller said he did it to save unborn babies. “I did what I thought was needed to be done to protect the children,” Scott Roeder said. “I shot him.” The judge also ruled out allowing Roeder to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. [UPDATE: Jurors found Roeder guilty after just 37 minutes of deliberation.] Brace yourself for a renewed front in the culture wars: Pentagon brass are expected to release a plan on Tuesday for how to integrate gays and lesbians into the military, essentially lifting the 1993 Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy.

Southerners love the government!

Well, government jobs anyway. According to a new Gallup poll, the South leads all other regions of the country in the proportion of people who would prefer working for the government than for a business. Nationwide, the number is 35 percent; in the South, it’s 42 percent. (The East comes in second, at 37 percent.) This is odd, given that the South is the most Republican region of the country, and that just 26 percent of Republicans, as opposed to 44 percent of Democrats, would prefer a government job. Or maybe not, given that Southerners have a long tradition of denouncing the gummint even as they feast on federal handouts.

Premeditated Murder

If ever anyone planned and carried out the killing of another human being, Scott Roeder’s testimony at his trial yesterday made clear that he did. He described taking his pistol to George Tiller’s church two times prior to when he actually got to the doctor, pressing the muzzle against his head and pulling the trigger. The killing had been something he’d been meditating, he said, since 1993. The Kansas City Star, has the story and the chilling video.The real news was not Roeder’s admissions, but Judge Warren Wilbert’s ruling that he would not permit jurors to consider a verdict of voluntary manslaughter–something he had left open as a possibility. A defense of voluntary manslaughter is only permissible if the accused acted to stop the imminent use of unlawful force.

After quake, Haiti’s missionaries ask: ‘Why (not) me?’

(RNS) Having survived a devastating earthquake during a 10-day mission trip to Haiti, Freedom Gassoway now savors every minute she spends at home with her family in Beaverton, Ore. But for this 33-year-old mother of two, some of life has also lost its sweetness. Meals no longer taste good, she said, since she’s always thinking about the thousands of homeless and hungry people in Haiti. Her closet seems to have “too many clothes,” she said, and she feels a duty — by virtue of her survival — to share Haiti’s suffering with other Americans. “I didn’t even know where Haiti was before this trip,” Gassoway said.

Mennonite college opts to play national anthem

(RNS) In a break with the past, a Mennonite college in Indiana will play an instrumental version of the national anthem before athletic events despite the song’s “militaristic” lyrics. Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., is owned by Mennonite Church USA, an historic peace church that advocates nonviolence. But in deference to its increasingly diverse student body and to visitors, the college will begin playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in March, Goshen administrators said in a statement. “Playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practice primarily because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language,” said Goshen President Jim Brenneman, and a special advisory council, in a statement. Brenneman said playing the anthem “in no way displaces any higher allegiances, including the expansive understanding of Jesus — the ultimate peacemaker — loving all people of the world,” the statement said.

Judge grants political asylum to German home-schoolers

(RNS) A U.S. immigration judge has granted political asylum to a Christian family from Germany that wants to home-school its children. The Home School Legal Defense Association, which defended the family, announced the Tuesday (Jan. 26) decision by Judge Lawrence Burman in Memphis, Tenn. “This decision finally recognizes that German home-schoolers are a specific social group that is being persecuted by a Western democracy,” said Mike Donnelly, an attorney and director of international relations for the Purcellville, Va.-based association. Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their five children left Bissingen, Germany, in August 2008 to live in Morristown, Tenn.

Church says three accused Irish priests served in Boston

BOSTON (RNS) The Archdiocese of Boston, under mounting pressure to address alleged ties to Irish priests accused of sexual abuse, acknowledged that three clerics on a list of 70 alleged abusers had in fact served in the Boston area. One of the accused, the Rev. Dennis P. Murphy received permission to celebrate Mass at St. Cecilia’s Parish in Boston during 1996 and 1997, according to an Archdiocesan statement released Tuesday (Jan. 26). Another, the Rev. Joseph T. Maguire, had permission to serve in Waltham between 1981 and 1985, and a third, the Rev. Brendan Smyth, was permitted to serve for two days in 1991 at St.

Author worries online communities are hurting real ones

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) When it comes to Facebook, Jesse Rice sees an immensely popular social networking site that’s great for sharing photos and keeping in touch with friends. He also sees something that encourages attitudes and behaviors that don’t work as well in real life. Rice, 37, is the author of “The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community.” A former worship leader an evangelical megachurch in California, he has degrees in organizational communication andcounseling/psychology and — just as important to his readers — a sense of humor.

As future looks uncertain, exhibit celebrates nuns’ colorful past

WASHINGTON (RNS) Ever since the first Catholic nuns set out for America nearly 300 years ago, their sisterhood has been besieged by pirates, attacked by Nativists, bullied by lumberjacks, swarmed by mosquitoes, harangued by bishops, robbed by bandits, hemmed in by black habits and laden with headgear the size of small birds. As a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution shows in vivid detail, the life of an American nun has seldom been easy. In eras when few women worked outside the home, Catholic sisters (as nuns who live outside cloistered communities are commonly called) founded scores of hospitals, schools and orphanages. They were pioneers in perilous times and places. “Catholic sisters built up the largest private health care system this world has ever known,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, “and did it at a time when there really weren’t any options for women.”