COMMENTARY: Nobody ever said love was easy

Staub(RNS) People often say that love is the solution to all our societal problems. They could learn a thing or two from Leo Tolstoy, who could write and say such wonderful things about love but was unable to love even his own wife. The tragic story is well documented and retold in the recent film, “The Last Station.” In the final days of his life, Tolstoy renounced his wife Sophia’s rights to his literary legacy and secretly left her in the dead of night. Days later, bedridden with a fatal case of pneumonia, he refused to see her. (She finally saw him in his dying moments as he slipped into a coma).

Episcopal bishops demand Philadelphia bishop resign

(RNS) The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops called Tuesday (Sept. 21) for the “immediate and unconditional resignation” of Bishop Charles Bennison of Philadelphia, who had been charged with not reporting his brother’s relationship with an underage girl. “As the House of Bishops, we have come to the conclusion that Bishop Bennison’s capacity to exercise the ministry of pastoral oversight is irretrievably damaged,” the bishops said in a resolution passed overwhelmingly during their meeting in Phoenix. Bennison was removed from ministry in 2007 after being charged with “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.” He was found guilty in 2008 for failing to investigate or discipline his younger brother and fellow priest John Bennison for an affair with an underage parishioner in the 1970s.

Prominent Atlanta minister named in three abuse suits

(RNS) Bishop Eddie Long, a prominent Atlanta-area megachurch leader, has been sued by three young men accusing him of sexual misconduct. Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., has denied claims of sexual abuse and gifts of cash, cars and overnight trips by the men. After two suits had been filed on Tuesday (Sept. 21) by a 20-year-old and a 21-year-old, Long spokesman Art Franklin told CNN the minister “categorically and adamantly denies these allegations.” On Wednesday, the Bernstein Firm of Atlanta announced a third man, age 23, had sued with similar allegations.

Scholar: Israelites beer drinkers, too

(RNS) Ancient Israelites drank not only wine but also beer, according to a biblical scholar at Xavier University in Louisiana. “Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotaling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer — and lots of it,” said Michael Homan, in his article for the September/October issue Biblical Archaeology Review. While English translations of the Bible do not mention beer, the original Hebrew does, he said. Homan, an archaeologist, said the Hebrew word “shekhar” has been mistranslated as “liquor,” “strong drink” and “fermented drink,” but it translates as “beer” based on linguistic and archaeological research. Confusion over whether the ancient Israelites drank beer also stems from the difficulty of identifying and finding archaeological remains of beer production in Israelite artifacts.

Regressing the Culture Wars

While we’re on the subject of the relationship between religion and social views, I’ve just received a pre-publication copy of a paper written by University of Southern Illinois sociology prof. Darren Sherkat and a couple of colleagues analyzing the connections between religion, partisan politics, and views of same-sex marriage. Yes, it”s a gnarly regression-analysis-laden exercise that will appear later this year in the journal Social Science Research–but it provides an excellent window into the structure of the culture wars in our time.The paper looks at the two-decade period between 1988 and 2008, during which same-sex marriage went from being opposed by two-thirds of the American adult population to less than one-half. In 1988, opposition was more or less the same among Democrats and Republicans, and among the various species of Christians. Now there’s a substantial divergence between “sectarian Protestants” (evangelicals) and Republicans on the one hand and everyone else on the other. In a word, the sectarians and the Republicans have shifted far less towards acceptance of same-sex marriage than the rest of the population.What Sherket et al.’s regressions show is that Republicanism as well as evangelicalism operate as independent variables: Both push their members toward opposition to same-sex marriage.

Vice Versa

I wish Christine O’Donnell had campaigned against witchcraft and dabbled into masturbation.

We interrupt this broadcast …

We hope y’all enjoy the RNS Religion Roundup as much as we enjoy bringing it to you (well, most days at least). We’re going on a brief hiatus while the RNS staff decamps for Denver for the annual Religion Newswriters Association meeting. We’ll see you back here — same time, same channel — on Monday.

10 minutes with … Mark Massa

(RNS) For generations, thousands of Catholics — from archbishops to people in the pews — saw the Catholic Church as eternal, timeless, and unmoved by the tides of history. But the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s unleashed a sea of changes — none more significant than the recognition that Catholicism has, and continues to be, shaped by historical events, argues the Rev. Mark Massa in a new book. Massa’s intellectual history, “The American Catholic Revolution: How the `60s Changed the Church Forever,” describes how celebrating the Mass in English, butting heads with the pope on birth control, and priests protesting the Vietnam War opened new possibilities — and controversies — in the church. Massa, dean of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, spoke about his book; some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: Why should American Catholics care what happened in the 1960s?

Spirituality meets consumerism at Joyce Meyer conference

ST. LOUIS (RNS) The scene near the concession stands resembled something closer to a strip mall on Black Friday than the hour preceding a worship service. Hundreds of women lined up outside a temporary “boutique” with displays of $25 T-shirts and $40 hoodies emblazoned with messages like “Love Revolution” and “Think Happy Thoughts.” A staff member controlling the flow of shoppers wondered aloud whether a bullhorn would help. Nearby, a crush of women lined up three deep to pick up copies of DVDs and books, most bearing the smiling face of Joyce Meyer, the woman they’d all paid an average of $55 to see and hear.

Bible study asks, `What Would Andy Do?’

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (RNS) Say a group of immigrants want to build a mosque in Mayberry, right next to All Saints Church. WWAD: What Would Andy Do? The question, of course, never surfaced in the beloved “Andy Griffith Show” that chronicled life in the bucolic town of Mayberry, untouched by the battles of civil rights and war that festered in the 1960s. Tucked somewhere into the cool green hills of North Carolina, Sheriff Andy Taylor mediated minor feuds in the largely homogeneous hamlet, guided his son, reined in the excitable Deputy Barney Fife, and set an example for common sense leadership that still inspires today.

Religion doesn’t matter much

Last week’s Pew survey on the influence of religion on Americans’ policy views is notable for revealing how little influence there is. The only areas where religion appears to play a significant leading role in influencing opinion are same-sex marriage, abortion and the death penalty. Sixty percent of pro-lifers and 45 percent of those opposed to same-sex marriage cite religion as the most important reason for their position, while 32 percent of those opposed to the death penalty do the same. But only 12 percent of those who support additional government assistance to the poor cite religion as the most important reason.Dan Schultz has a good analysis of what this glum news means for pastors who would like to think that what they have to say about the issues of our time. What I’d like to have seen included in the poll is a question on tolerance of other faiths.

Vatican bank under scrutiny for possible money laundering

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican expressed its “perplexity and astonishment” after an Italian court took the unprecedented step on Tuesday (Sept. 21) of freezing $30 million in Vatican funds pending an investigation for money laundering. The court acted after prosecutors charged the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), commonly known as the Vatican Bank, with violating Italian law by attempting to transfer funds from one of its accounts in an Italian bank to two other banks, one of them in Germany. In a statement, the Vatican insisted on its “full transparency” regarding IOR operations. According to the statement, the IOR sought to move the funds to its own accounts in other banks, and had already supplied the required information to Italian authorities.

Pastor at center of Quran burn could face $200,000 bill

(RNS) The Florida pastor who abruptly called off plans to burn hundreds of Qurans could still face a $200,000 bill from law enforcement agencies that were called in to provide security at the protest. Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., pulled the planned protest on Sept. 11 after pressure from top U.S. and world leaders, including President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office each expect to bill Jones’ church about $100,000 each, in addition to an expected bill from the City of Gainesville, according to The Gainesville Sun. Police officials told The Sun that nearly all of their 286 officers worked security on Sept.

Justice Department: FBI erred in targeting interfaith center

WASHINGTON (RNS) A Department of Justice inspector concluded that the FBI improperly targeted U.S. advocacy organizations for surveillance, including the Thomas Merton Center, an interfaith group focused on nonviolence. “We found that the FBI’s investigations related to the Merton Center and its statements describing the basis for that investigation raised the most troubling issues in this review,” stated the report issued Monday (Sept. 20) by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. FBI surveillance of an anti-war rally of the Pittsburgh-based center was the subject of “inaccurate and misleading information,” the report said. As a result, FBI Director Robert Mueller incorrectly testified about the center at a congressional hearing.