Play examines South’s black church arsons

WASHINGTON (RNS) For playwright Marcus Gardley, the theater is his pulpit and plays are his sermons. His latest production, “every tongue confess,” seeks answers to the questions that swirled around the spate of arsons that hit black churches in the South in the 1990s. “How deep does your forgiveness go?” Gardley asks in an interview. “Do you have the capacity to forgive someone even if they burn down the church?”

Happy Thanksgiving

Religion News Service is taking a break from the Roundup to eat turkey (or Tofurky), visit our families, and give thanks for all the blessings we enjoy. We hope you’re doing the same, if that’s your thing, and look forward to seeing you back here on Monday. Cheers, RNS

Navy honors Puritans with religious intolerance

The Puritans had many good qualities, but a commitment to religious tolerance was not exactly their forte. Particularly obnoxious to them were the Quakers, whose understanding of an “inner light” in all people ran seriously afoul of Calvinist ideas of original sin. Quakers were therefore banned from all the New England colonies except Rhode Island, and in Massachusetts, several were put to death for refusing to remove themselves from that holy commonwealth.So on the day when we commemorate Puritan Gratitude it is appropriate to note that  the U.S. Navy is currently honoring this local tradition by persecuting a Quaker in these parts. The Quaker in question is Michael Izbicki, an officer in the submarine corps in New London, who since graduating from the Naval Academy has come to the conclusion that he cannot support war, applied for conscientious objector status, and joined the Quaker meeting in Westerly, RI. In his application for CO status, Izbicki has received the support of various clergy, including a tough-minded Navy chaplain who normally takes a dim view of sailors wishing to get out of the service after receiving a free education at Annapolis.

Blasphemy resolution passes U.N. committee

(RNS) A resolution combating the “vilification of religions” was adopted Tuesday (Nov. 23) by a United Nations committee, but religious freedom advocates who oppose the measure say support for it continues to diminish. The resolution by Islamic countries is scheduled to be considered by the U.N. General Assembly in December. The vote — 76 yes, 64 no, and 42 abstentions — received fewer affirmative votes than last year, said Freedom House, a human rights group that has worked against the resolution. “We are disappointed that this pernicious resolution has passed yet again, despite strong evidence that legal measures to restrict speech are both ineffective and a direct violation of freedom of expression,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House.

Muslims prepare halal turkey Thanksgiving feast

(RNS) Garlic wafts in the air while sauce bubble on the stove. The kitchen clamors with young cooks preparing South Asian dishes. The women are in headscarves while the men wear hairnets covering dark curls. Some cooks layer carrots and peas into a mountain of basmati rice while others coat chickpeas in spices to create chana masala. Just before guests arrive, the workers gather in a circle for a pep talk and a prayer to Allah.

Vatican, China clash over bishop’s ordination

HONG KONG (RNS/ENInews) Vatican and Hong Kong cardinals criticized the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association for organizing the ordination of a Catholic bishop in northeastern China without Vatican approval. On Wednesday (Nov. 24), the Vatican called the ordination a grave violation of the freedom of religion after the state-approved Catholic Church ordained the bishop without the prior approval of Pope Benedict XVI. The Rev. Joseph Guo Jincai was ordained Nov. 20 amid tight security at the Pingquan church in Chengde city.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Moral theologians, health care workers, and other Catholics continue to try to parse Pope Benedict XVI’s condom comments. Conservatives are generally taking the nothing-new-to-see-here-move-along-folks line, while more progressive Catholics call the comments a “game changer” for the church. “It’s a mess,” the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center tells the AP’s Rachel Zoll. The Washington Post takes a look at how the Vatican’s arguments on contraception have shifted over time. In other news from B16’s new book, the pope laments that the Vatican acted “slowly and late” in addressing sexual abuse and other scandals in the conservative Legionaries of Christ order.

For year’s top religion stories, a major case of deja vu

(RNS) The calendar may have said 2010, but for Pope Benedict XVI and much of his global flock, it looked and felt a lot like 2002. For the second time in a decade, damning charges of child molestation at the hands of Catholic priests dominated headlines, this time reaching the highest levels of the Vatican, as critics questioned whether Benedict himself mishandled abuse cases. The Roman Catholic Church wasn’t the only institution battling a sense of deja vu, as some of the most controversial religion stories from the past 20 years returned to the headlines. A 1994-style fight over health care reform not only pitted Republicans against Democrats, but also Catholic bishops against Catholic nuns. Lingering questions about President Obama’s Christian faith morphed into a belief among one in five Americans that he’s actually a Muslim.

COMMENTARY: Being thankful is always in style

(RNS) Calling it a “beloved American tradition” in his official proclamation this week, President Obama reminded us that Thanksgiving is an opportunity “to focus our thoughts on the grace that has been extended to our people and our country.” Thank you, Mr. President. I needed to hear that. Surely 2010 has been a year of great blessings and much grace, but as we head into the holidays, many of us — myself included — are feeling a bit lean (and not necessarily around the waistband). Money is tight.

COMMENTARY: Hanukkah 101

(RNS) This year I am imposing a personal restriction on my family and friends. They may not attend Hanukkah parties, light the festival candles or receive gifts unless they can first pass a holiday exam. Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of light, begins at sunset on Dec. 1. Special prayers are said each night as the colorful candles are lit in the synagogue and at home.

Catholic Right very unhappy

Heads are exploding all over the Catholic Right (boom, boom, and boom) not because Pope Benedict has altered official Catholic teaching on condoms. (There is no official Catholic teaching on condoms per se.) It’s because (as the estimable Austin Ivereigh makes clear) Pope Benedict has countermanded what the Catholic Right would have you believe is official Catholic teaching on condoms. By indicating that the use of a condom to prevent deadly infection could be a significant step in the right moral direction, he has not only aligned himself with mainstream Catholic moral theology, but also opened for public discussion a subject that the Catholic Right has managed to strangle for some years. Boom!”Oh dear, oh dear!” worry the white rabbits of the right. Ordinary Catholics will simply not be able to fathom the nuances of such non-black-and-white reasoning. “This is admittedly a difficult distinction to grasp,” George Weigel told the AP.

Palestinians claim ownership of Western Wall

JERUSALEM (RNS) The Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, is actually a Muslim shrine, according to an official report published Monday (Nov. 22) by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information. The document, which was written by Al-Mutawakei Tahad, a senior ministry official and respected writer, states that the Wall — long considered the sole surviving piece of the Second Jewish Temple built atop the Temple Mount more than 2,000 years ago– is actually part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on Haram al-Sharif, the Arabic name for the Temple Mount. Archeologists maintain that Al-Aqsa was built atop the ruins of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Muslims did not capture Jerusalem until 638 A.D. The report claims that Jews have lied about the wall’s age, and that they never worshipped there prior to 1917. “Al-Buraq Wall is in fact the western wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Taha wrote, according to the Jerusalem Post, which broke the story on Monday.

London warns British Muslims on Shariah in schools

LONDON (RNS) The British government has warned a network of Islamic schools in the wake of a BBC investigation that claims extremist Shariah law is being taught to thousands of Muslim students. The televised report, by the BBC’s Panorama program, said as many as 5,000 pupils are being taught that thieves should have their hands cut off as punishment and that Jews are working to dominate the world. The investigation, which aired Monday (Nov. 22), said young Muslims are being instructed in Shariah law that also preaches that non-believers in the Islamic faith are condemned to “hellfire.” Britain’s coalition government swiftly issued a statement warning that “we will not accept any proposal where we have concerns about the people behind the proposal, or if we think the school will undermine British democracy.”

Controversial bishop threatened with ouster over neo-Nazi lawyer

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A Holocaust-denying bishop whose readmission to the Roman Catholic Church provoked an international outcry last year now faces expulsion from his ultra-traditionalist group for hiring a lawyer with neo-Nazi ties. Bishop Richard Williamson was one of four bishops in the Society of Saint Pius X whose 1988 excommunications were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2009, as part of the pope’s effort to reconcile with the schismatic group. Jewish organizations were outraged after Williamson told a television interviewer that no more than 300,000 Jews “perished in Nazi concentration camps … not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.” Benedict subsequently condemned Holocaust denial several times, most forcefully in remarks at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in May 2009.

Talking turkey (and God)

President Obama took some heat last year for not mentioning God enough in his Thanksgiving proclamation. In this year’s proclamation, he appears to go out of his way to avoid that critique (see full text below). Now about that poor turkey … THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release November 23, 2010 THANKSGIVING DAY, 2010 – – – – – – – BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA A PROCLAMATION A beloved American tradition, Thanksgiving Day offers us the opportunity to focus our thoughts on the grace that has been extended to our people and our country. This spirit brought together the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe — who had been living and thriving around Plymouth, Massachusetts for thousands of years — in an autumn harvest feast centuries ago.