Feminist pioneer challenges Orthodox patriarchy

JERUSALEM (RNS) Tova Hartman opens the door to her apartment with a warm smile, speaking softly and casually dressed. With her down-to-earth femininity, she doesn’t exactly look like a rabble-rouser within Orthodox Judaism. Which, perhaps, is precisely what makes her so effective. The 53-year old psychologist and Jewish scholar has used her decidedly feminist Orthodox synagogue to mount a formidable challenge to the male bastion of religious orthodoxy. “I don’t think that feminism is against the Jewish tradition,” she said.

John Paul’s casket unearthed for beatification

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The casket of the late Pope John Paul II was exhumed Friday (April 29), in preparation for the late pontiff’s beatification ceremony on Sunday. John Paul’s casket was removed in the early morning hours from its tomb in the Vatican Grottoes, under St. Peter’s Basilica, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. At 9 a.m., a brief prayer service at the opened tomb was attended by several Vatican officials, including the church’s No. 2 official, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Jews, evangelicals search for ways to discuss Israel

WASHINGTON (RNS) American Jews and evangelicals need a formal mechanism to discuss their differences and similarities on support for Israel, leaders from both sides said Thursday (April 28) at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum 2011. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, spoke alongside Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a board member of Christians United for Israel, about Jewish groups’ concerns over evangelical support for Israel. Much of the concern, Schonfeld said, has centered on theological beliefs — that “the current state of Israel is part of the (biblical) end of days scenario,” according to Christians, while Jews “value life in its present tense,” she said. In addition, while Jewish groups value evangelicals’ strong support for Israeli security, the two sides tend to differ on such issues as rights for women and gays, and religion in the public sphere. The differences also extend to how to support Israel.

Huck Huck

Not to toot your proprietor’s clairvoyance or anything but, OMG OMG!!, Mike Huckabee is now letting the Beltwayans in on the secret that HE MAY ACTUALLY BE RUNNING. 

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

The word of the day is “betwixt,” from the high-church vows pronounced between Wills and Kate this morning at Westminster Abbey. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his fly-away eyebrows presided over the pomp and circumstance, assisted by the Dean of Westminster and the Bishop of London (sermon here, and the prayer the happy couple composed for the big day). And, if you’re wondering, here’s why Kate got a ring, but Wills did not. The Christian Brothers order, which runs many a Catholic school in the U.S., has filed for bankruptcy over sexual abuse claims. Black Catholics in Chicago fear what will happen if the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the white pastor of the South Side’s St. Sabina Parish, quits the priesthood.

Acceptance grows for autistic kids in church

CALDWELL, N.J. (RNS) Halfway through a Mass in Caldwell College’s campus chapel, Chase Keith rose to his feet for one of the most challenging parts of a challenging day. It required the boy from Basking Ridge, N.J., to offer his hand to strangers in the traditional sign of peace. With his mother whispering in his ear and guiding his arm, the 7-year-old stuck out his small hand toward a fellow parishioner. “How you? Peace,” Chase said.

Ceremonies to the Rescue

In the Great Ecclesiastical Bake-Off of 2011 between the Royal Wedding and the Papal Beatification, the historian in me can only say that it’s terrific to see Westminster Abbey and St. Peter’s Basilica elbowing each other for pride of place in the public eye. And don’t the two look fabulous!Both events have been arranged to put some shine on a couple of pretty tarnished institutions. The fairytale of Kate and Will will presumably enable the British Monarchy to limp well into the 21st century as a living reminder of what England used to be. Of course, the fact that it took a commoner to rescue the House of Windsor from endless tawdry scandal might suggest to the Brits that it would be a lot less bother just to let the royal line live on at Madame Tussaud’s.And speaking of endless tawdry scandal, John Paul II’s Excellent Posthumous Adventure seeks to return the papacy to the glory days of the last century, when its escutcheon read Liberator of Poland, not Shield of Pedophilia.

The president’s (born-again) birth certificate

(RNS) So, according to the long-form birth certificate released by the White House on Wednesday (April 27), Barack Hussein Obama II was born at 7:24 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961 at Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital, 6085 Kalanianaole Highway, Oahu, Honolulu, Hawaii. Phew! Glad that’s settled. Or at least it seemed to be settled for about 10 seconds before rabid “birthers” began shrieking into the void of cyberspace about how the document is probably a forgery.

Evangelical icon David Wilkerson dies in car crash

(RNS) Evangelist David Wilkerson, who wrote the popular book “The Cross and the Switchblade” and founded New York’s Times Square Church, died in a traffic accident Wednesday (April 27). Wilkerson, 79, died after his car slammed into a tractor-trailer on a highway about 95 miles southeast of Dallas, according to The Associated Press. His wife, Gwen, was also injured but is expected to recover. Wilkerson was known most for his outreach to street gangs, which he started after viewing a photo in Life magazine of New York City teens charged with murder. He founded Teen Challenge, a ministry to young gang members and drug addicts, in New York in 1959.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

Evangelical icon David Wilkerson, founder of New York’s Times Square Church and Teen Challenge anti-drug programs and author of “The Cross and the Switchblade” was killed in a car accident in eastern Texas (photo at left). Over at Christian Broadcasting Network, David Brody is continuing the lovefest for The Donald because “he FORCED this White House into releasing the birth certificate.” The Southern Baptists’ Richard Land, meanwhile, calls birthers “irrational and a little imbalanced.” The always charismatic Father Michael Pfleger has been suspended in Chicago for declining a transfer to a Catholic high school; Pfleger, you’ll remember, caused headaches for his pal Barack Obama for mocking rival Hillary Clinton in the primaries. And here’s another reason why POTUS will likely never find a permanent church in DC: the pastor of the church he visited on Easter Sunday has received 100+ threats after Sean Hannity broadcast clips of a speech in which the pastor said Jim Crow “doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.”

Panel cites Egypt for religious freedom violations

WASHINGTON (RNS) A religious freedom watchdog panel has added Egypt to its list of the worst violators of religious liberty, citing attacks on Coptic Christians that occurred surrounding the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. “The Egyptian government engaged in and tolerated religious freedom violations both before and after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which released its report Thursday (April 28). “In his waning months, religious freedom conditions were rapidly deteriorating and since his departure, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that these conditions have improved.” Members of the independent commission also continued their criticism of the Obama administration for not making religious freedom a higher priority.

Naming saints isn’t an easy or quick process

NEW YORK (RNS) Pope John Paul II will move one step closer to sainthood when he is beatified during an elaborate Vatican ceremony on Sunday (May 1). While the Roman Catholic Church has held up heroes, patrons, intercessors and spiritual companions for centuries, the path to sainthood is never easy or quick. “The lives of the saints show us that God makes holiness out of all sorts of different materials,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “My Life with the Saints.” While many religious traditions honor people who are considered especially holy, the Catholic Church has a uniquely complex system for declaring someone a saint. The multi-step canonization process has evolved since the 13th century.

Hot off the Press!

The latest issue of Religion in the News is now online, with a veritable cornucopia of piquant pemmican. The cover story is Andrew Walsh’s definitive recapitulation of the past year’s Islamophobic extravaganza, accompanied by an excursus on America as Christian Nation. And for the word on Shariphobia, check out Marc D. Stern’s examination of what happened in last fall in Oklahoma. Your editor weighs in with a review of Pope Benedict’s Big Condom Blow-out, and together with John Green takes the latest measure of the God Gap. Also in the political mode is a portrait of Christine O’Donnell’s 15 minutes of would-be senatorial fame, wherein Shannon Smith shows how the un-witch was like other recent GOP headliners.Anthea Butler then traces the fall from grace of Bishop Eddie Long, while Ronald Kiener tells the disgraceful tale of the ultra-orthodox promotion of anti-gentile discrimination in Israel.

Churches form ‘circle of protection’ around poor

(RNS) Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, black and Latino Christian leaders have formed a “Circle of Protection” against U.S. cuts to poverty-fighting programs, gearing up for a high-stakes budget battle when Congress reconvenes next week. While recognizing the need for “fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice,” the 50 leaders argue that Christian values require them “to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.” “Every budget decision has to be assessed on whether it protects or threatens human life or dignity,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic policy committee. “The central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the least of our brothers and sisters, the needs of those who are hungry or homeless, those who are without work, those who live in poverty.” The Circle of Protection campaign will range from lobbying elected officials to mobilizing grass-roots efforts in the pews, and includes representatives from the National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Catholic Charities USA.

Gingrich talks of journey to Catholicism

WASHINGTON (RNS) Tilting toward a run at the presidency, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich traced his spiritual journey from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic at a Catholic prayer breakfast here on Wednesday (April 27). “People ask me when I decided to become Catholic,” said Gingrich, who formally converted in 2009. “It would be more accurate to say that I gradually became Catholic and then realized that I should accept the faith that surrounded me.” The twice-divorced former Georgia congressman has labored to assure conservative Christians of his fidelity to traditional values. Just 11 percent of white evangelicals, and 16 percent of white Catholics, favor Gingrich as the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, according to a March Pew Research Center poll.