Plans for interfaith seminary shelved

(RNS) When leaders of the nation’s oldest seminary and a Unitarian Universalist theological school began to dream of building a new partnership, they planned to create a futuristic model of religious higher education. But after more than a year of discussions, Andover Newton Theological School outside Boston and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago have canceled plans to jointly create a multifaith institution. Although the schools’ different religious identities were a key aspect of the negotiations, presidents of both schools said other matters-from finances to accreditation issues-prompted a halt to their talks. “We found ourselves in a stronger financial position in a stand-alone model than we would have been in the cooperative venture, and that meant that we had to look really hard at our own fiduciary responsibility to our own seminary,” said the Rev. Lee Barker, president of the Chicago school. The Unitarian Universalist seminary, which is transitioning to a nonresidential school, has about 130 students, most of whom only visit Chicago for occasional intensive classes.

Methodists give $50,000 for massacre memorial

NEW YORK (RNS/ENInews) The United Methodist Church is making good on a pledge to support a learning center at the Western site of an 1864 massacre of Native Americans led by a Methodist minister. The UMC’s General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns announced a $50,000 donation to the National Park Service for developing a center at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, near Eads, Colo. The donation will be used to fund research materials and other public education initiatives. The donation is the latest in a series of acts by which Methodists have apologized for the actions of Col. John Chivington, a Methodist minister who led an 1864 attack against members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes along the banks of Sand Creek.

Toxic Chinese drywall taxes Katrina relief groups

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Relief organizations whose volunteers built or repaired hundreds of damaged houses after Hurricane Katrina have found they installed toxic Chinese drywall in more than 200 buildings, requiring hundreds of low-income families to move out for months while the houses are gutted anew and rebuilt. For many families, it’s a return to stress, dislocation and helplessness more than five years after the storm-and long after they thought their ordeal was over. And for relief organizations, which have decided to shoulder the full cost of millions of dollars in repairs, doubling back to gut and rebuild old homes is a major budget setback that cuts into their future work. The saga of Chinese drywall is best known to thousands of families-especially in Louisiana, Florida and Virginia-whose new or repaired homes were ruined by defective drywall introduced to the U.S. market after 2006. In class-action suits in federal court in New Orleans, they described how sulfurous Chinese drywall emitted vapors that corroded electrical wiring; ruined the circuitry of air conditioners, appliances, computers and televisions; tarnished jewelry and other metals; pitted mirrors and sometimes made their homes stink of rotten eggs. Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities’ Operation Helping Hands and Rebuilding Together New Orleans have all launched programs to identify tainted homes, move homeowners out, sustain them for months and make the houses safe for occupancy.

Myth, martyrdom and the American Civil War

(RNS) “Are you a Yankee or a rebel?” That question, asked of me at recess by a ring of third- and fourth-grade boys on my first day of school in Fairfax, Va., was my introduction to the Civil War’s lasting imprint on modern America. “I’m from New Jersey,” I said, to many puzzled looks. “Well, you’re gonna have to choose sides.” Northern Virginia today is an artifact of urban sprawl, but in the mid-1960s, a century after the defining struggle, it was very much an old Southern province, with lingering, sometimes defiant Southern sympathies.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Evangelist Franklin Graham is backtracking on his Obama-birther nonsense, saying “I’ve never made this an issue, never have.” Until he did. The White House, meanwhile, released Obama’s “long form” Hawaiian birth certificate (left). Former Speaker Newt Gingrich headlined this morning’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (look for Dan Burke’s report later today), and explains his conversion to Catholicism in a piece for the National Catholic Register. Fellow Catholic Rick Santorum says he’s praying for his enemies.

Of course atheist chaplains

I suspect it’s only a matter of time before there are atheist chaplains in the U.S. military, and a good thing too. The justification for chaplains in the first place is that serving in the military restricts your First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. The government therefore has an obligation to make such free exercise possible, whatever your religion happens to be. It could be argued, as suggested in James Dao’s piece in today’s New York Times, that atheism is not a religion but an absence of religion, and therefore not entitled to consideration. That seems mistaken.

Using our gadgets against us

(RNS) So now we know that, behind the scenes and buried deep, clever technology is tracking our lives through the mobile devices we gush over and computers we depend on. Firms that we want to trust are tracking who we are, what we buy, what we search for, and where we go. They sell that data to advertisers and make it available to government snoops without much resistance. As a result, our personal data get poured into vast data pools, where shadowy firms with data-mining technology can sift, sort and sell virtually everything about us. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that cereal makers are selling computer games to children that actually are “advergames” hawking a product.

Former N.J. governor denied Episcopal ordination

NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey-who famously announced he was “a gay American” when he resigned in 2004-will not be ordained into the Episcopal Church priesthood in the near future. McGreevey has completed a master of divinity degree and worked with prison inmates and drug-addicted teens, but was denied in his first bid to become an Episcopal priest, according to the New York Post. The Post quoted anonymous sources who said church leaders had issues with McGreevey’s bitter divorce, not his homosexuality. McGreevey and his second wife, Dina Matos, endured a contentious and public divorce trial in 2008. McGreevey, 53, declined to comment on the report.

John Paul’s blood to be split between Italy, Poland

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A small quantity of blood from the late Pope John Paul II will be exposed as a holy relic during his beatification on Sunday (May 1), the Vatican has announced. The blood was taken during a medical test shortly before John Paul’s death in April 2005, and later divided into four containers, according to a Vatican statement released on Tuesday (April 26). Two of the containers were kept by then-Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s private secretary, who is now a cardinal in John Paul’s native Krakow, Poland. The other two containers were kept by Catholic nuns at Rome’s Bambino Gesu Hospital. The Rome containers have been placed in reliquaries, one of which will be “presented for the veneration of the faithful” during Sunday’s ceremony in St.

Miracles claimed from late pope’s intercession

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Jesse was just 10 days old in November 2009 when he was diagnosed with Herpes simplex, a virus often lethal to a newborn child. Doctors at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. told his parents that he had no better than a 50 percent chance of surviving, and at most a 25 percent chance of living without severe brain damage. As the Virginia boy waited for a possible liver transplant, his grandfather started praying to the late Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005 and will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday (May 1). Practically at once, Jesse’s vital signs began to improve. He went off dialysis a few days later, and was released the following month with a clean bill of health, after what the specialist in charge called a recovery ofunprecedented swiftness.

U.S., Canadian Anglicans await royal wedding festivities

(RNS) An ocean away from the pomp and circumstance of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s nuptials on Friday, parishioners at Grace Anglican Church in Brantford, Ontario, will host their own royal festivities, complete with a free continental breakfast and traditional wedding bunting. “Lent (is) over, so it will be time for a party,” said the church’s rector, the Rev. David M. Ponting, who said the church is inviting people to dress up as their favorite royal or British celebrity. “I haven’t decided if I will be the Archbishop of Canterbury or Elton John,” he joked. The Ontario church is one of a scattering of Episcopal churches in the U.S. and Anglican churches in Canada that are steeping the tea and toasting the crumpets in honor of their spiritual cousins across the pond. Canadian Anglicans and U.S. Episcopalians are the North American branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which grew out of the Church of England as the British Empire spread around the world.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

The White House “struck back” against Evangelist Franklin Graham, who repeated debunked birther claims and questioned President Obama’s faith on a Sunday talk show. Luke Skytalker, I mean, um, WH spokesman Jay Carney, said: “I think it’s unfortunate that a religious leader would choose Easter Sunday to make preposterous charges.” Just 17 percent of Egyptians want the Muslim Brotherhood to lead the next government, according to a Pew poll, but 6 in 10 want to institute Shariah law. State sanctioned pomp and a fab wedding gown won’t be the only fancy things on display at the royal wedding this week. The upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton will also showcase Britain’s unique and historic ties between church and state.

Spotlight on abortion activist makes some Catholics nervous

WASHINGTON (RNS) Anti-abortion activist Lila Rose has shared the stage with Sarah Palin, seen her exploits extolled on Fox News and drawn comparisons to heroic Gentiles who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. So why are some conservative Christians so uneasy about her work? The telegenic 22-year-old will address the seventh annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday (April 27) in Washington, along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. Rose, who converted to Catholicism two years ago, is founder and president of Live Action, which she calls “a new media pro-life organization.” The group has released dozens of covertly taped videos in which Rose and other activists pose as pimps or underage girls seeking abortions, birth control or exams from unwitting Planned Parenthood clinics.

Haley, We Hardly Knew Ye

So why has Mississipi Governor Haley Barbour, Establishment Republican Supremo, decided to drop out of the GOP presidential sweepstakes? Here’s Dan Baltz’s explanation:His decision not to enter the contest, he said in a statement, grew out
of his conclusion that he lacked the necessary fire in the belly. But
friends of Barbour, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share
insight about his decision, said he had come to the conclusion that
Republicans can win only if they are totally focused on serious issues
and not distracted by some of the side issues, such as Obama’s
birthplace, that have arisen in the early going. Push that just a sentence further and you get: And he realized that the only way he could win the nomination was by campaigning on the side issues–ick.Actually, for guys like Barbour, the side issues include things like abortion and gay marriage. Take a look at Charles Reagan Wilson’s account of his 2007 reelection race, where he was discombobulated by a Democrat who ran a Jesus-laced throw-the-money-changers-out-of-the-temple campaign.

Bill would limit military funeral protests

WASHINGTON (RNS) A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would make it harder for protesters from a fringe Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas, to protest outside military funerals. The Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans Act, introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 8-1 decision in March upholding the right of Westboro Baptist Church to picket military funerals. The bill would increase the “quiet time” before and after services from one hour to two hours, and expand the protest buffer zone around a funeral from 150 feet to 300 feet. The buffer zone around access routes to and from the funeral would also grow from 300 feet to 500 feet. Slain soldiers’ families “have earned the right to bury their loved ones in peace,” Snowe said in a statement.