Anglican prelates to meet in Ireland

(RNS) A handful of Anglican archbishops are boycotting a high-level meeting in Ireland this week (Jan. 25-30) to protest the Episcopal Church’s acceptance of openly gay and lesbian bishops. The Rev. Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, which includes the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, said that “seven or possibly eight” archbishops are boycotting the meeting near Dublin. Two more archbishops — known in the church as primates — will not attend for health reasons, and several more are unsure whether they will attend, Kearon told the BBC on Sunday. “Those primates who said they’re not coming as part of an objection to the Episcopal Church and other developments have reiterated their commitment to the communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury in their writing to me,” Kearon told the BBC.

Former UCC president suspended after affair

(RNS) The former president of the United Church of Christ has been suspended for one year and ordered to undergo a “program of growth” after he admitted last year to an affair with a former co-worker. An association within the denomination’s Ohio Conference will oversee a ministerial fitness review of the Rev. John H. Thomas, former general minister and president, the church announced. The Rev. David T. Hill, an association official, said Thomas’ ministerial standing had been suspended for at least a year, “with reinstatement of standing contingent upon completion of a prescribed program of growth.” Due to term limits, Thomas left office in 2009 after serving as president for a decade. In August 2010, the church announced he was divorcing his wife and said “he has formed a relationship with another woman with whom he worked” within the Cleveland-based denomination.

Israel trips for Jewish youths expand, including for disabled teens

(RNS) Jewish organizations are aiming to send more North American teens and young adults than ever to Israel this year, focusing on increasing current numbers and reaching out to new groups. Taglit-Birthright Israel, which takes 18- to 26-year-olds on its 10-day heritage tours, has been awarded a $100 million matching grant from the Israeli government for the next three years. The commitment will allow the organization to grow from 30,000 applications to 50,000 in 2011. Since 2000, the program has provided free trips to Israel for more than 260,000 young Jews from 52 countries. Wish at the Wall, a 10-day tour that has taken 150 teenaged cancer survivors to Israel since 2000, is offering its first trip for disabled and chronically ill Jewish youths this month.

Pope warns against false online profiles, friendships

VATICAN CITY (RNS) If you’re looking for the pope’s Twitter account, keep looking. There’s @Pope–Benedict, @popebenedictxvi, @Benedict XVI, @PopeBenedict XVI, @Benedict–XVI, @popebenedict–16, @JoeRatzinger and even @pope–benny–16, and none of them are officially sanctioned sites. So it’s fitting that the real Pope Benedict XVI on Monday (Jan. 24) cautioned against creating false online profiles on social networks that are now an “integral part of human life.” In the Vatican’s latest effort to come to terms with 21st-century technology, Benedict blessed the use of social networks but also warned that digital communication poses special dangers to Christian values and face-to-face relationships.

Why is Hollywood obsessed with Catholic exorcisms?

(RNS) For nearly 40 years, Hollywood has been obsessed with the possessed. Since the 1973 blockbuster “The Exorcist” unleashed a head-spinning, pea-soup spewing, foul-mouthed and demon-possessed girl on the American imagination, a host of films featuring exorcisms have hit the silver screen. And why not? To date, “The Exorcist” franchise — two sequels and two prequels — has grossed nearly $500 million worldwide, according to, which tracks box office receipts. “Exorcism is Hollywood's wet dream,” said Diane Winston an expert on religion and the media at the University of Southern California.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

Thousands of anti-abortion activists are expected in Washington today for the annual March for Life. The election of a Republican House has rejuvenated some abortion foes, but President Obama reiterated on the just-past anniversary of Roe v. Wade his belief that abortion is a constitutional right. Muslims in Rep. Peter King’s New York district say the congressman has turned from a friend into a bitter enemy, as he prepares Capitol Hill hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims. Two car bombs struck Shiite pilgrims Monday in an Iraqi holy city, killing at least 18 people as crowds massed to mark the end of a 40-day mourning period for the sect’s beloved saint, according to the AP. Egypt says it has “conclusive proof” that an Al Qaeda-linked Palestinian militant group orchestrated the New Year’s Day bombing outside a Coptic Christian church that killed 25 worshipers and exacerbated sectarian tensions across Egypt. Pope Benedict XVI told priests Saturday to do a better job counseling engaged couples and said no one has a “right” to a wedding.

Hating on the Judeo-Christian Tradition

Over at Religion Dispatches, Shalom Goldman is the latest Jewish writer to try to kill off “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” Inspired by a new “Judeo-Christian Voter Guide,” he resuscitates the claim that the phrase does little more than paper over the long history of Jewish-Christian animosity, subordinating Jewish distinctiveness to ecumenical public relations. In a study published over a quarter-century ago, I traced this claim as far back as 1943, but its prime exponent has been the late author and publisher Arthur A. Cohen, whose 1969 Commentary article, “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition” (redone in his 1970 essay collection of the same title) blacklisted the term, at least in certain circles. The article, which Goldman persists in calling “brilliant,” is a piece of agit-prop that fundamentally misconstrues how the JCT came into common usage. Goldman doesn’t do much better.Cohen asserted that the tradition “as such” originated among the German higher critics of the Bible, whose aim was to “de-Judaize” Christianity even as they acknowledged its Jewish roots.

The Al-Cosby Show?

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page had an interesting column this week, “It couldn’t hurt to have a Muslim ‘Cosby Show.” “It’s hard to be afraid of the people we see on TV sitcoms every week,” the Pulitzer Prize winner argued, explaining that television has the power to shape public perceptions and that something like a Muslim Cosby show would not only fight prejudice, but help Muslims feel more a part of America. Page’s column mentions at least one Muslim-related show, “Funny in Farsi,” that never made it on the air; he misses another, “Aliens in America,” which I wrote about in 2007. The show lasted one season before the CW network cancelled it in 2008. Aliens was about a dorky Wisconsin high-schooler who strikes up an unlikely relationship with a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan staying at his home.

Catholic media empire acquires National Catholic Register

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) EWTN Global Catholic Network, the Alabama-based international media enterprise founded by Mother Angelica in 1981, has signed a letter of intent to acquire the National Catholic Register newspaper. “I am very pleased and excited that the Register will now be a part of the EWTN family,” said Michael P. Warsaw, the Network’s president and chief executive officer. Warsaw said EWTN will provide “the stability that the Register needs at this time” and “give it a platform for its growth in the years ahead” after being run by the scandal-scarred Legionaries of Christ. Under the terms of the transaction, no cash will be exchanged between the parties.

Court says religious knowledge test improper in asylum case

(RNS) A Chinese Christian should be given another chance at asylum after an immigration judge thought the man couldn’t answer “basic questions” about Christianity, a federal appeals court has ruled. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said on Wednesday (Jan. 19) that Lei Li was improperly denied asylum after the judge was unsatisfied by his answers on whether Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday and the difference between the Old and New Testaments. Lei became a Christian in 1999 and was subsequently beaten, interrogated by Chinese authorities, and lost his job after hosting church services in his house. He arrived in the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2001.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

The good folks down in Alabama say their new governor probably could have chosen better words than saying non-Christians are not his “brothers and sisters,” but that doesn’t mean they disagree with him; the leader of the state’s largest synagogue says “all my concerns from this incident are put to rest.” Over at Fox, they’ve rejected a “Jesus Hates Obama” ad for the Super Bowl. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish Democrat from Tennessee, apologized (sort of) for invoking Nazi imagery during the health care debate, but says his words were taken out of context (JTA has all the various back-and-forth). Researchers over at Georgetown wonder why more parents aren’t naming girls Mary (Joseph is holding its own along with Matthew and John, while Luke is gaining popularity as Mark sinks). The murder charges stemming from the “house of horrors” abortion clinic in Philly are fueling a national debate on whether more coulda/woulda/shoulda been done to keep Dr. Kermit Gosnell in check.

Should tax-exempt churches pay “fees”?

(RNS) When a community needs to rebuild crumbling roads, should houses of worship pay fees for the number of times their congregants drive on them? That’s the question behind a recent suit filed by churches in the small city of Mission, Kansas, who argue the city’s new “transportation utility fee” is a tax they should not have to pay. With cash-strapped states and cities facing a slew of tough choices, there’s a growing debate nationwide about whether religious congregations should help foot the bill. “It makes no sense to tax churches and to limit their ability to provide their services, and it does damage to the constitutional separation between church and state,” argues Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing Catholic and Baptist churches in the city of 10,000. He acknowledges that church-state separation is generally not an argument made by his conservative Christian law firm; but in this instance, he says “there should be a separation here.”

Ala. governor apologizes for `brothers and sisters’ comment

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized to anyone who was offended with his inaugural day comments that non-Christians were not his “brothers and sisters.” Bentley met for an hour with members of Alabama’s Jewish community on Wednesday (Jan. 19), and afterward told reporters he meant no insult with his words. “What I would like to do is apologize.

Muslim seminary ends talks with Vatican over pope’s comments

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The most prestigious religious university in the Sunni Muslim world has suspended dialogue with the Vatican to protest statements by Pope Benedict XVI denouncing violence against Christians in Egypt. The move, on Thursday (Jan. 20), came only nine days after Egypt recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for the same reason. Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, and members of the university’s Islamic Research Center made the decision at an “emergency meeting” on Thursday, according to a statement released by the center. “Pope Benedict’s repeated criticism of Islam and his unjustified claim that Copts are persecuted in Egypt and the Middle East were behind the suspension decision,” said the statement, as translated on the Website of the Dubai-based Gulf News.