Tuesday’s roundup

The developer behind the Islamic cultural center and mosque planned near Ground Zero said it never occurred to him that his project would stir up so much controversy. Sharif El-Gamal has quite a checkered past, according to the AP, with arrests for disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated, petit larceny, patronizing a prostitute, and trespassing. A former tenant also says El-Gamal roughed him up in 2005 when the tenant was a month late on the rent. “I regret many things that I did in my youth,” El-Gamal said in a statement. A new poll finds that 71 percent of New Yorkers want the Park51 project moved further away from Ground Zero.

COMMENTARY: The way forward is not an escape from troubled times

(RNS) I grew up as a city boy in a farm state. I drove by fields of row crops and imagined waking each morning to the land, my roots deep in the rich Indiana soil. I learned, however, that the romance of farming looked better from the roadside than from the milking station or harvester seat. The same, I suspect, can be said of those who feel the drain of techno-modernity and dream of simpler venues, where people turn off cell phones, go offline, read books and watch sunsets. I read much lately about people feeling overwhelmed by nonstop intrusions (cell phones, e-mail, social media) and an overload of information.

Obama churching up?

According to the latest Newsweek poll,
24 percent of Americans think Obama is either Muslim or a follower of
Islam. And 31 percent think it’s definitely or probably true that he
“sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to
impose Islamic law around the world.” I’m guessing that the Obamas will
be joining a church in Washington after Labor Day.

Presbyterian pastor to appeal gay-marriage verdict

(RNS/ENInews) A retired Presbyterian pastor who was formally rebuked by a church court for marrying same-sex couples in California will appeal the ruling. The Rev. Jane Spahr was found guilty of violating her ordination vows and the rules of the Presbyterian Church (USA) last Friday (Aug. 27). A court of the Redwoods Presbytery in Napa, Calif., rebuked Spahr for repeatedly disobeying a church law that says pastors can conduct same-sex blessings but not represent them as marriages. Spahr, a self-described “lesbian evangelist,” has said she wed at least 16 couples from June to November 2008, when gay marriage was legal in California.

Ex-leader of Belgian Catholics urged victim to keep silent

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Secret audio recordings show the former head of the Belgian Catholic Church asking a sex abuse victim not to expose the crimes of his assailant, a bishop who was the victim’s uncle. The tapes, whose contents were published in Belgian newspapers on Saturday (Aug.28), were recorded in April of this year. They show Cardinal Godfried Danneels urging a 42-year old victim to remain silent about the years of sex abuse he suffered as a child and adolescent at the hands of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges — at least until after Vangheluwe’s expected retirement the following year. “The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait,” says Danneels, who retired in January as the archbishop of Brussels. “I don’t think you’d do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.”

New Orleans marks Katrina anniversary with grief, hope

(RNS) With a light rain falling, hundreds of New Orleanians gathered at St. Louis Cathedral on Sunday (Aug. 29) afternoon to remember Hurricane Katrina in “grief, gratitude and hope,” in the words of New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. A 45-minute ceremony in the cathedral on Jackson Square attracted clergy and members of eight world religions in New Orleans, each offering a short prayer from his or her own tradition. In various ways, participants mourned the loss of nearly 1,500 New Orleanians five years ago today.

Five years after Katrina, New Orleans takes stock

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) With prayers and the tolling of bells, but also with second-line parades and Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleanians on Sunday (Aug. 29)took stock of their rebuilt lives in the five years since the worst event in the region’s history and promised to keep the recovery going. Observances of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its levee failures entailed a complicated daylong inventory conducted as a light, steady rain drenched the landscape. The day was filled with gratitude, mourning, frustration and hope in the face of a mammoth rebuilding job not yet complete. “We are not rebuilding the city that was; we are rebuilding the city that is to be,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the audience at the city’s official event at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, where the anniversary commemoration turned into a fiercely joyous celebration of New Orleans culture.

Monday’s roundup

President Obama marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Sunday with a visit to the recovering city and a quote from the Book of Job. “`There is hope for a tree if it be cut down that it will sprout again, and that its tender branch will not cease,’ ” Obama said, drawing from Job 14. Fortunately, he stopped there, because the rest of the chapter, like a lot of Job, is pretty grim. For example, a following verse says that, unlike trees, “man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” In his first comments on the polls that showed nearly 20 percent of Americans believe he is Muslim, Obama told NBC Nightly News, “the facts are the facts” and blamed the mistaken rumours on “a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly.”

Muslims go `green’ for Ramadan

JERUSALEM (RNS) When Mohammad Rabah prays during the holy month of Ramadan, he makes a special effort to conserve water during ritual purifications. When his family breaks the monthlong sunrise-to-sunset fast, Rabah tries to consume healthy food grown close to his home in the northern Israeli town of Um El Fahem. Rabah, the director of his region’s environmental equality unit for the Arab sector, aspires to live the way he asks others to live: mindful of the environment. In 2008, with help from the Israeli government, Rabah organized a conference aimed at helping imams — Muslim spiritual leaders — improve the environment in their communities. Rabah created and distributed educational materials, including CDs with quotes from the Quran, Islam’s holiest book, which underscore the importance of moderation, conservation and environmentalism.

Beck’s Old-Time Gospel Hour

What’s up with Glenn Beck? The Washington media were shocked by the
religiosity of his “Restoring Honor” rally last Saturday–but what do
you expect from a press gang that only knows how to fight the last war. It overlooked last year’s Beck rally–and so hyped this one as Beck’s Second Coming. (See Douthat, Ross). But according to
the professional crowd counter hired by CBS, less than 100K showed up.

Step up, ADL

Since it covered itself with obloquy by taking a stand against the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, the ADL has been eager to put some distance between itself and its co-opponents. Franklin Graham, for example, who seized the occasion to issue his latest denunciation of Islam in general:President Bush and President Obama made great mistakes when they said
that Islam is a peaceful religion. It is not. There is no evidence in
its history. It’s a religion of hatred.

Church court convicts pastor on gay marriage charges

(RNS) A Presbyterian court on Friday (Aug. 27) found a retired California pastor guilty of violating church rules and her ordination vows by performing same-sex marriages while it was briefly legal in the state in 2008. The Rev. Jane Spahr, 68, did not deny presiding at as many as 16 ceremonies, even though her denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), prohibits ministers from stating, implying or representing same-sex unions as marriages. The Napa, Calif.-based Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of the Redwoods found Spahr guilty by a 4-2 vote, concluding she persisted in a “pattern or practice of disobedience.” Sphar’s penalty is a formal rebuke, pending her possible appeal.

Poll: Muslims give Obama highest approval ratings

WASHINGTON (RNS) More than three-quarters of U.S. Muslims support President Obama, a distinctly mixed blessing for a White House trying to combat rumors that Obama is a secret Muslim. A new Gallup Poll shows that Obama got his highest approval ratings from U.S. Muslims, at 78 percent, for the first half of 2010. That’s down slightly from 86 percent over the same period last year, but still higher than any other American religious group. Obama scored the lowest approval ratings from Mormons, at 24 percent, who tend to be Republican. Obama’s ratings were 43 percent among Protestants, 50 percent among Catholics, 64 percent among Jews and 63 percent among the nonreligious, atheists and agnostics.

Man sues Mormon church over baptism back injuries

(RNS) A Las Vegas man is suing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for medical expenses after he injured his back in 2007 performing baptisms for the dead. In a civil suit filed in 3rd District Court on Wednesday (Aug. 25), Daniel Dastrup claims he suffered a severe herniated disk in his lumbar spine after performing about 200 proxy baptisms on Aug. 25, 2007. The then 25-year-old claims some of the young men and women he completely immersed in water in the name of the dead weighed as much as 250 pounds.

Judge rejects proposal to return child to faith-healing parents

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) An Oregon judge again rejected a proposal on Thursday (Aug. 26) to return 8-month-old Alayna Wyland to her parents who face charges of failing to provide adequate medical care for her. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, of Beavercreek, Ore., pleaded not guilty to first-degree criminal mistreatment in July after the state Department of Human Services received tips about a hemangioma — an abnormal mass of blood vessels — on the infant’s eye that had not been treated. The Wylands are members of the Followers of Christ Church, a congregation that shuns most medical care in favor of faith healing.