Kibbutz-style living fills a void for young Jews

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (RNS) Raychel Bone, Sam Selker, Naima Cohn and Taliesin Haugh sat on their front porch and mulled the surprising successes of the venture that teaches young Jews how to live together, laugh together, split the rent and, above all, share the faith. Movie night in the backyard brought over the neighbors. The sushi how-to session stocked the Sabbath meal. The wine-and-painting party not only drew a flash crowd, it filled the living room with wonderful art. “Everyone comes with their own experiences and skills, and we learn together,” said Bone, an artist who moved into the house in January.

COMMENTARY: Seeing beyond today, dreaming into tomorrow

(RNS) As politicians dig into Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s graduate school writings to find ammunition against her Supreme Court nomination, I shudder at their deceitful quest. As St. Peter told the people of Jerusalem, the young are supposed to “prophesy” about a world they barely know and “see visions” of a future for which they aren’t yet accountable. I feel sorry for any young adult who isn’t ranting about the world, building cloud castles, exploring ideas, and speaking certainty before accepting ambiguity. How else do we find our center except by exploring our edges?

Tuesday’s roundup

The Obama administration has sided with the Vatican in a lawsuit over abuse claims, saying that the law that protects foreign governments from liability lawsuits trumps abuse claims. The head of the Italian bishops conference is asking Catholic families to “trust” the church to do the right thing in handling the abuse scandal. Victims’ advocates don’t like that a former Massachusetts bishop has moved from a treatment center for troubled priests into a retirement facility in Washington. Catholic officials in Vermont will sell church headquarters and 32 lakefront acres in Burlington to help funds a massive sex abuse settlement. The Vatican wrapped up talks with a Michigan-based order of progressive nuns as part of its wide-ranging probe of American religious communities. Harlem churches are struggling to hold on to their congregations as the historically black neighborhood gentrifies, but the new residents aren’t finding spots in the pews.

Six Scotus Recusals?

Let’s suppose, hypothetically, that you were a municipal court judge in a small town, and someone sued the, oh, Baptist church you belonged to for monetary damages. You’d recuse yourself from hearing the case, wouldn’t you?Well, the Obama Administration has now filed a brief in Doe v. Holy See, an Oregon case that seeks to sue the Vatican for its role in the sexual abuse crisis. Both the Federal District and Appeals courts have said the case can go forward; the administration’s brief asks that the case be sent back to the Appeals Court for a rehearing. There’s a very good chance that the Supreme Court will either do that or hear the case itself. It’s hard to imagine that the Catholic justices–who now constitute two-thirds of the court’s membership–would recuse themselves in Holy See.

Faithless Democrats

Yesterday, WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein drew back the veil on the Democratic Party’s much vaunted commitment to religious outreach and revealed, whoops, that the Democratic National Committee has no vestments. Howard Dean donned them, not only to considerable fanfare but also, in important races around the country, to considerable effect. You’d have thought that Tim Kaine, the Catholic ex-governor of Virginia, would possess at least as well developed a sense of the importance of connecting to voters by religion as Dean, a pretty secular guy from Vermont (currently the least religiously affiliated state in the nation). But no, that’s not how they roll at Kaine’s DNC. What gives?Take a close look at these graphs:When Obama took office, he made a point of expanding the faith office established by President
George W. Bush, which includes branches in a dozen federal agencies and a
core staff that communicates with faith leaders about policy issues.

Ga. removes Orthodox dominance on kosher labeling

(RNS) Prompted by an ACLU lawsuit, Georgia has repealed its religious food labeling law and replaced it with legislation that doesn’t define kosher by solely Orthodox standards. The state’s previous Kosher Food Labeling Act had prevented non-Orthodox rabbis from certifying food. Similar laws have been amended in other states, most recently in New York after a 2002 court ruling, due to the same concerns about religious freedom and alternative interpretations of Judaism. “The state should never be in the position of deciding which religious beliefs are `legitimate’ and which are not,” said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “The state legislature did the right thing by making clear that the power to define what is religiously acceptable should never rest with the government.

Unitarians move investments over Sudan conflict

(RNS) The Unitarian Universalist Association is moving its retirement plan from Fidelity Investments to TIAA-CREF because of differing views on the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. The church’s estimated 2,800 retirement accounts — totaling $173 million in investments — will be moved to TIAA-CREF, a company with similar business values to the Boston-based UUA, said treasurer and chief financial officer Timothy Brennan. “It stems from the controversy over investing in companies that support the genocidal regime in the Sudan,” Brennan said. “About three years ago, there were several articles … pointing out that Fidelity had investments in several companies, the largest of which were PetroChina and Sinopec, which, through their royalty payments, were supporting the regime in the Sudan that was perpetrating the genocide in Darfur.”

German Protestant churches investigate abuse claims

GENEVA (RNS/ENInews) In the wake of sexual abuse allegations in Germany’s Catholic Church, two regional Protestant churches say they are investigating abuse allegations filed against pastors or church workers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover reported five new cases of the sexual abuse of minors dating back several decades, the German Protestant news agency EPD reported on May 19. “We want to deal with this as openly and as transparently as possible,” acting Hanover Bishop Hans-Hermann Jantzen said, according to ENInews. “Any case is one too many.” The North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church said it is investigating allegations of sexual abuse by a pastor, who is now retired.

Gallup: Opposition to gay marriage shows slight decrease

WASHINGTON (RNS) A slight majority of Americans continue to oppose same-sex marriage, but their opposition has decreased slightly in recent years, according to a new Gallup Poll. Fifty-three percent of Americans polled oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who favor it. But the opposition tied with the lowest rate ever measured by Gallup, from 2007. In 1996, when Gallup first asked about the legality of gay marriage, 68 percent of Americans were opposed and 27 percent supported it. In the most recent poll, Americans who said religion is “very important” in their lives opposed legal same sex marriage by 70 percent to 27 percent.

Blacks, mirroring larger U.S. trend, `come out’ as nonbelievers

WASHINGTON (RNS) Standing before a room full of fellow African-Americans, Jamila Bey took a deep breath and announced she’s come out of the closet. Her soul-bearing declaration is nearly taboo, she says. “It’s the A-word,” said Bey, 33, feigning a whisper. “You commit social suicide as a black person when you say you’re an atheist.” Bey and other black atheists, agnostics and secularists are struggling to openly affirm their secular viewpoints in a community that’s historically heralded as one of America’s most religious.

Firing squad sparks talk of Mormon `blood atonement’

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) After convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner announced his intention to be executed by firing squad, national and international reporters suggested it was a throwback to the wild, wild West. Some Utahns, though, had a different explanation for why such an anachronistic execution technique remained an option in the 21st century: “blood atonement.” The term refers to an arcane Mormon belief that a murderer must shed his own blood — literally — to be forgiven by God. Since Mormon pioneers first arrived in 1847, most formal executions (until recent decades) have been by firing squad, which is a lot bloodier than hanging or lethal injection. When state Rep. Sheryl Allen began proposing eliminating the firing-squad option in the late 1990s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself did not object.

Monday’s religion roundup

An Australian Catholic bishop blamed the sex abuse scandal on the Catholic Church’s focus on “sin and forgiveness rather than crime and punishment.” A Polish priest has turned himself into police in Brazil after authorities said transformed his rectory into an “erotic dungeon.” The AP says Maronite Christians in Cyprus (AP photo, left) see the pope’s upcoming visit as a shot in the arm to rejuvenate their beleaguered clan. WaPo asks what became of the Democrats’ faith-based outreach: “These days, the Democratic National Committee’s faith staff of more than a half-dozen has dwindled to one part-time slot. Its faith issues Web site led this week with greetings for Passover (which was in March) and Rosh Hashanah (which was in September).”

Suing the Pope

Take a look at John Allen’s recent recapitulation of the Vatican’s response in O’Bryan vs. the Holy See, the Kentucky case in which the plaintiff is seeking to prove that American bishops are employees of Rome, and were following Vatican orders in covering up cases of sexual misconduct by priests. And that therefore the Vatican is liable.Like more of Allen’s recent work that one likes to say, it represents subtle apologetics for the Roman point of view. This is not only because he says what the Vatican is saying without putting the plaintiff’s side on display. It’s also because the account comes wrapped in an argument that the claims of the lawsuit actually work to undermine the ability of Rome to deal with the current crisis.

Is there an app for this?

Because of a rash of suicides, Apple’s giant Chinese manufacturer Foxconn has hired 30 Buddhist monks to free the souls of those who killed themselves from Purgatory. As for working hours, they’re staying the same.

Malawi church welcomes sentence for gay couple

BLANTYRE, Malawi (RNS/ENInews) A Presbyterian church in Malawi has welcomed a 14-year jail sentence for two Malawian men who held a traditional engagement ceremony in a country where same-sex relationships are a crime. “As a church we don’t support homosexuality or same-sex marriages. That is both un-African and un-Christian,” the Rev. Levi Nyondo, general secretary of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Livingstonia Synod, told ENInews. “We are happy they have been sentenced to 14 years in jail.” A magistrate’s court sentenced Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga to the maximum 14 years in prison on Thursday (May 20) after convicting them of buggery (sodomy)and gross indecency.