Friday’s Religion News Roundup

POTUS said gay couples deserve “the same legal rights” as everyone else, but stopped noticeably short of using the “M” word. New York lawmakers will be back at it today in a last-ditch attempt to figure out what they’re going to do on same-sex marriage. The trial of the Methodist lesbian pastor ended with a whimper, not a bang, with the Rev. Amy DeLong put on suspension for 20 days but allowed to stay in the pulpit. The lead researcher on the Catholic Church’s recent sex abuse report says neither she, nor church leaders, ever attempted to “blame Woodstock” for the abuse crisis that spiked in the 60s and 70s. Harold Camping, the doomsday preacher who said the world would end on May 21, is losing his daily radio show after suffering a stroke earlier this month.

Pawlenty leads in informal poll of evangelical leaders

WASHINGTON (RNS) Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the top Republican pick of evangelical leaders, according to an informal survey, with 45 percent saying he would be their choice for GOP nominee in the 2012 election. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which conducted the survey, said the results weren’t surprising since Pawlenty “is so often identified as an evangelical.” But Anderson, Pawlenty’s longtime pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., noted that the outcome of the larger evangelical vote remains uncertain. “Like the rest of the nation, there are still many undecided,” he said. “With more than a year before the national nominating conventions, a lot can change.”

Lesbian minister suspended for 20 days

(RNS) A United Methodist minister was suspended for 20 days by a church court in Wisconsin on Thursday (June 23) for performing a same-sex union in 2009, a breach of denominational rules. A 13-member jury of local United Methodist clergy voted 9-4 to suspend the Rev. Amy DeLong, 44, of Osceola, Wis., according to gay rights activists witnessing the trial. The jury also ruled that DeLong should write a report on issues that break the “covenant” between UMC clergy or be suspended for one year, said Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for gay rights in the denomination. DeLong admitted during the three-day trial to performing a “holy union” ceremony for a lesbian couple in 2009, and would not pledge to stop the practice, which is banned by the church. “I can’t imagine doing that,” she testified on Wednesday, according to United Methodist News Service.

Raelians seek to reclaim swastika

(RNS) A UFO sect that believes human beings were created by extraterrestrials will host World Swastika Rehabilitation Day on Sunday (June 26) in an attempt to reclaim the swastika from the Nazis as an emblem of peace. Raelians, whose symbol consists of a swastika that intertwines with two overlapping triangles to form a star, say the controversial emblem has been “hijacked by the Nazis,” and that their goal is to “return the swastika’s true meaning of peace and harmony.” While the day is led by Raelians, organizers say that the event also includes Buddhists and Hindus because their traditions have also used ancient versions of the swastika in religious imagery. Organizers hope the Sunday event, which was launched last year by Raelian leaders, will attract “hundreds, or, hopefully, thousands of people” in cities including New York City, Toronto and Mexico City. Raelians, also known as the International Raelian Movement, were founded in 1974 by Claude Vorilhon, a former singer-songwriter and race car driver now known as Rael.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

With apologies to Fyodor, today’s roundup is officially titled “Sex Crimes & Punishment.” To wit, Americans would rather catch politicians with their pants down than with their hands in the cookie jar, according to a new RNS/PRRI poll. And when it comes to sex scandals, it’s the lies and cover ups that bother people more than the hanky-panky, the survey says. White evangelicals were most likely to say that private sins should disqualify pols from public life. Then again, evangelicals as a whole say their influence in the U.S. is waning, according to a new Pew poll.

Muslims to meet on response to Islamophobia

(RNS) With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 looming, attendees at North America’s largest Muslim gathering next month will be told that the best way to deal with Islamophobia is not to lay low, but get involved in politics, interfaith work and community affairs. That’s the message that leaders of the Islamic Society of North America want to send to the roughly 40,000 U.S. and Canadian Muslims expected to attend ISNA’s 48th annual convention over the July 4th weekend in Rosemont, Ill. “Our conventions in the past years have changed. You’ll see more questions dealing with interreligious cooperation and understanding,” said Mohamed Elsanousi, ISNA’s director of community outreach. “We are opening the convention more to people of other faiths.”

Study says Jews volunteer, but not because of `Jewish’ values

(RNS) Young Jewish Americans volunteer enthusiastically for a multitude of causes, but the vast majority do not connect their service to their Jewish identity, Jewish institutions or Israel. These findings, from a survey released Thursday (June 23), both hearten and concern Jewish leaders. “The good news is that this is an idealistic, motivated population,” said Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World, the New York non-profit that sponsored the study and promotes Jewish volunteerism. Rosenberg billed the report as the most comprehensive to date on young Jews and volunteerism. Seventy percent of the 951 young adults surveyed said they had volunteered at least once in the past year, though much of that service was episodic, with 40 percent of respondents serving less than once a month.

Evangelicals see declining influence in U.S.

(RNS) Are U.S. evangelicals losing their influence on America? A new poll released Wednesday (June 22) from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life seems to say just that, with the vast majority — 82 percent — of U.S. evangelical leaders saying their influence on the country is declining. At the same time, their counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America are far more optimistic. “There’s both a huge optimism gap and a huge influence gap in terms of the way these folks perceive things,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 leaders invited to attend the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, last year.

Churches call for U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (RNS) As President Obama prepared plans to bring a limited number of U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, a group of 40 religious leaders called for the president to “bring the war in Afghanistan to an end.” Signers of an open letter, including high-profile religious leaders like Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, expressed frustration over the “deteriorating” state of affairs in Afghanistan and the rising military and civilian death toll, saying “the military situation is at best a stalemate.” The Tuesday (June 21) letter acknowledged that “legitimate ethical and moral issues are at stake” in Afghanistan, including U.S. national security and women’s rights, but said “there is a better way than war to address these important issues.” Developmental aid provided by nongovernmental organizations was championed as an alternative to war, with the signers saying “it is time to transition toward a plan that builds up civil society and provides economic alternatives for Afghans.” The letter admitted that some signers initially supported military action in Afghanistan as a “justified response” to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but said the representatives are now “united in the belief” that the war should end.

Leaving God out of Pledge tees off Ohio congressman

WASHINGTON (RNS) NBC’s decision to edit the word “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance during last weekend’s coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament has teed off an Ohio congressman, who wants the U.S. Golf Association to reconsider its relationship with the television network. “When we silence the name of God, we dim the light of freedom that defines us,” Rep. Jim Renacci wrote in a letter sent Tuesday (June 21) to association Executive Director Mike Davis. “That is why this matters.” The words “under God” were edited out of a patriotic montage that featured children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance; announcer Dan Hicks later apologized to viewers, saying, “It was not done to upset anyone, and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.” “Although I was pleased to see that NBC has apologized for its role in this unfortunate incident, as an avid fan of the sport and as an American, I would ask that USGA consider reviewing its relationship with NBC in advance of any future events,” Renacci’s letter continued.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

As President Obama prepares to speak tonight about withdrawing some troops from Afghanistan, a group of mostly liberal faith leaders are calling on him to bring them all home and end the Afghan war. “The past ten years have shown that we cannot broker peace in Afghanistan by military force,” the leaders say. On the home front, 52 national groups sent a letter to Obama urging him to lift an executive order issued in 2002 that allows faith organizations that receive government funds to use religious criteria in hiring staff. Religious charities received nearly $100 billion in donations last year, according to Reuters. Some conservatives wonder if Tim Pawlenty’s pastor may be too moderate for the red-meat Republicans who typically turn out for primaries.

Americans distinguish between politicians’ financial, sexual failings

WASHINGTON (RNS) Americans are tougher on politicians for their financial misdeeds than their sexual ones, but men are more willing than women to tolerate sexual misbehavior in their elected officials. The findings, released Wednesday (June 22) in a detailed survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that Americans across religious groups consider it worse for a politician to cheat on taxes or take bribes than to commit adultery or send sexually explicit messages to someone who’s not their spouse. “There’s a dramatic difference when people are evaluating public officials’ financial versus sexual misbehavior,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “A significant number of folks think they can separate public officials’ personal and public lives,” and tend to think of sexual misbehavior as personal and therefore private. More than nine in 10 Americans say it’s an “extremely” or “very serious” moral problem for a public official to take a bribe, and more than eight in 10 say the same for a politician who cheats on taxes.

Critics push Obama to change faith-based hiring rules

WASHINGTON (RNS) A group of clergy and lawmakers is trying to overturn a nearly decade-old policy that allows faith-based organizations that receive federal funds to hire and fire employees on the basis of religion. Critics say President Obama has reneged on a campaign promise to repeal the policy, which was put into place by President Bush in 2002. “It is shocking that we would even be having a debate about whether basic civil rights practices should apply to programs run with federal dollars,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. “There is just no justification for sponsors of government-funded programs to tell job applicants, `We don’t hire your kind.”‘ Scott has sponsored legislation to repeal the policy. But advocates for the change say the most effective route would be for Obama to issue a new executive order to overturn Bush’s, Scott told reporters on Tuesday (June 21).


As the same-sex marriage bill goes down to the wire in the New York legislative session, the pro side is chanting “Two-four-six-eight, separate the church and state!” I, meanwhile, am separating myself from the American mainline for a couple of days on an island off Woods Hole. There will be time to enough to comment on what will have transpired when I return. 

Romney v. Susan B. Anthony Pledge

Mitt Romney’s refusal to sign the “Pro-Life Presidential Leadership Pledge” cooked up by the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List looks like smart politics to me. The pledge is nowhere near as straightforward as the the quadrennial Republican Party platform’s abortion plank, which for a generation has called for a constitutional ban. Rather, it’s a carefully calibrated political document that tightens the screws on presidential appointments and the use of public funds, and promotes a new “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” I’d say it was designed to be acceptable to any GOP candidate capable of winning the nomination, while serving as an effective wedge in the general election.By choosing to discern problems with the pledge while insisting on his pro-life cred, Romney has managed to demonstrate his independence from his party’s interest groups, cuddle up to GOP moderates, and differentiate himself from (most of) the rest of the presidential field. In contrast to 2008, he actually looks like a guy with backbone.