Poll: God has better approval ratings than Congress

WASHINGTON (RNS) More than half of U.S. voters approve of God’s job performance, according to a new poll, making God more popular than all members of Congress. The poll — which was conducted by the Democratic research firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) — surveyed 928 people and found that 52 percent of Americans approved of God’s overall dealings, while only 9 percent disapproved. Questions about God were asked as part of a larger survey assessing American opinions of congressional leaders in the midst of the ongoing debt ceiling debate in Washington. God’s approval rating exceeded that of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with each party receiving only a 33 percent approval rating. God also polled significantly higher than the scandal-ridden media baron Rupert Murdoch: only 12 percent of those polled viewed him favorably, compared to 49 percent who viewed him unfavorably.

Vatican recalls Irish ambassador over abuse report

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has recalled its ambassador to Ireland for “consultations” on the official church response to a government report that tallied how abuse cases were mishandled as recently as two years ago. The extraordinary move to recall the papal nuncio, Monsignor Giuseppe Leanza, is also meant to show “a certain note of surprise and regret regarding some excessive reactions” to the report, Vatican spokesman Rev. Ciro Benedettini said on Monday (July 25). The government’s Cloyne Report detailed sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne as late as 2009. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has criticized what he called the Vatican’s “calculated, withering position” on abuse, and accused the church of a persistent culture of “elitism and narcissism.” “The recalling of the nuncio,” Benedettini said, is “a measure rarely used by the Holy See” and “denotes the seriousness of the situation, and the desire of the Holy See to deal with it with objectivity and determination.”

Catholics offer $50 million for Crystal Cathedral

(RNS) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Calif., has offered $50 million to purchase the Crystal Cathedral, the famed Protestant megachurch that is attempting to recover from a bankruptcy crisis. The diocese — the nation’s 11th largest — does not currently have a cathedral. The offer, which includes an immediate deposit of $250,000 and a secondary payment of $750,000, could provide creditors with relief by the end of the year, Bishop Tod Brown said in a Friday (July 22) announcement. The diocese’s plan would permit the Southern California ministry to have a leaseback option for an interim period, and give it space for religious and administrative purposes on nearby diocesan property when that period concludes. Brown called Crystal Cathedral Ministries, founded by Robert H. Schuller, “a valued religious resource” and said he hoped it could continue under the diocese’s plan.

Poll: Americans want religious presidents, but are vague on details

(RNS) Americans want their presidents to be religious, but many have trouble identifying the faiths of President Obama and leading GOP contenders Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann, according to a new poll released Monday (July 25). A majority of Americans (56 percent) say it’s important for a candidate to have strong beliefs, even if those beliefs differ from their own, according to the poll conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. Yet the religious groups most firmly behind this point — white evangelicals (73 percent) and ethnic minority Christians (74 percent) — often falter when asked about politicians’ religions. For instance, just 44 percent of white evangelicals know that Romney is a Mormon. At the same time, more than 8 in 10 evangelicals say Mormon religious beliefs greatly differ from their own.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

People are poring over Norwegian nationalist Anders Behring Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, trying to uncover what might have led the self-described Christian “crusader” to scores of people on Friday. He pleaded not guilty on Monday, though he has confessed. Breivik calls himself a “‘Justiciar Knight Commander” for a modern-day Knights Templar, whose primary function would be to “act as a pan-European Crusader Movement for the banishment of Islam from Europe.” The NYT says the attacks focus attention on right-wing extremists across Europe, where opposition to Muslim immigrants, globalization, the European Union and multiculturalism has ignited tensions. The attacks also focus attention on American right-wingers.

Friday’s Godbytes

The Washington Post’s Under God blog reflects on presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty’s recent reference to Jesus as his “political hero”: Here at On Faith, we hear daily from Christian activists whose faith motivates them in the public policy realm –and often their causes cancel one another out. From religious clergy for abortion rights to Catholic priests working to end abortion, it’s clear that when it comes to what Jesus would do in the public square, things are not so clear. Running with the theme of faithful politicians, apparently giving props to the Almighty (a la presidential candidate Rick Perry) is a smart political move, according to Michelle Cottle at the Daily Beast: Speculation about Rick Perry joining the 2012 Republican primary smackdown spiked this week after the Texas governor’s sitdown with the Iowa press. “I’m not ready to tell you that I’m ready to announce that I’m in,” Perry teased the influential Des Moines Register. “But I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do.

Poll: Anti-Muslim sentiment grew after bin Laden death

(RNS) Many Muslim Americans had hoped that the death of Osama bin Laden would improve their image among other Americans, but according to a new survey, just the opposite has happened. Rather than being mollified, anti-Muslim sentiment has intensified since Navy Seals killed the al-Qaida leader in a May 1 raid in Pakistan, according to a new report by researchers from the Ohio State University School of Communication, Cornell University’s Survey Research Institute, and the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. In the weeks before bin Laden’s death, nearly half of respondents described Muslim Americans as “trustworthy” and “peaceful,” researchers said. After bin Laden’s death, that figure dropped to one-third of respondents. For Muslims, perhaps the most troublesome finding was that these negative shifts had occurred among political liberals and moderates, a constituency that had been seen as the most sympathetic to Muslims after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Willow Creek cuts ties with ex-gay Exodus International

(RNS) Willow Creek Community Church, a trend-setting megachurch in suburban Chicago, has quietly ended its partnership with Exodus International, an “ex-gay” organization. Willow Creek decided to sever ties with the Florida-based ministry in 2009, Christianity Today reported, but the decision only became public in June. Church officials described the move as a shift in approach rather than a change in belief. Susan DeLay, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek, said the church continues to welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex. “Willow Creek has a whole host of ministries for people dealing with these issues, and we would never intend for them to feel sidelined,” she told Christianity Today.

Friday’s Religion Roundup

An illustrated copy of the four Christian Gospels that belonged to Queen Zewditu, who ruled Ethiopia from 1916 to 1930, will be returned to Ethiopia this fall. Asked to examine the copy, Steve Delamarter, an Old Testament professor who specializes in Ethiopian texts, advised the collector to repatriate it. Christian leaders met with President Obama this week in an attempt to protect the poor by keeping upcoming budget cuts away from social safety net programs. Meanwhile, presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty called Jesus his political hero. The scuffle over circumcision continues in California as two lawmakers introduce a bill that attempts to pre-empt local governments from passing laws banning male circumcision. Ireland’s Catholics are confronting the Vatican, demanding that church leaders acknowledge their role in the recent sex abuse scandals.

La. monks win right to build, sell caskets

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) A federal judge on Thursday (July 21) said a state law that limits the sale of caskets to licensed funeral directors and establishments is unconstitutional. The ruling came in a case brought by the monks at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, La., who alleged the law amounted to unconstitutional economic protectionism for the funeral industry. The abbey opened a woodshop in 2007 to sell handcrafted cypress caskets for $1,500 to $2,000, which is cheaper than some caskets from a typical funeral home. The abbey hoped the sales would finance medical and educational needs for more than 30 monks.

Thursday’s Godbytes

Welcome back to Godbytes! Yes, we know you missed us yesterday. Alas, although the internet never sleeps, sometimes we do. First up, America Magazine’s “In All Things Blog” noticed that comedian and part-time Sunday School teacher (true story) Stephen Colbert jumped on the “It Gets Better” bandwagon: Colbert, who rarely speaks out of character, gets serious for a few minutes in this video. He addresses the bullying of gay teens, but also the power of language and the ways that bullies lose that power once victims refuse to acknowledge the hurtful words.

Imams trained to adapt Islamic finance to U.S. economy

(RNS) Abdullah Nana, an imam at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco, has a distinct advantage over many of his fellow imams in the United States. It’s not fluency in Arabic or training in Islamic jurisprudence. It’s his bachelor’s degree in business. American imams get asked about financial ethics more than any other topic, Nana said, yet he calls it the subject that they are least qualified to talk about with congregants. Nana was part of an inaugural group of 100 imams to go through a three-day training program sponsored by the newly established American Islamic Finance Project.

Blogosphere abuzz over Murdoch as `Bible mogul’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) The scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid empire continues to widen, bringing scrutiny to, of all places, western Michigan and the Zondervan publishing company. Among the major holdings in Murdoch’s News Corp is publisher HarperCollins, which owns Zondervan, the Christian publishing giant known for prominent Christian authors and numerous best-selling editions of the New International Version Bible. Murdoch’s Bible connections have set the blogosphere abuzz. The Zondervan connection to the still-unfolding scandal was first pointed out by Will Braun, former editor of Geez Magazine on his Holy Moly blog), where he described the 80-year-old Murdoch as a “Bible mogul.”

Churches press Obama to protect poor in budget talks

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Obama agrees with religious officials’ concerns about protecting the poor as Washington debates the nation’s debt ceiling crisis, according to leaders who met with him this week. A delegation representing Catholic and Protestant organizations met with Obama and high-level White House staffers for 40 minutes on Wednesday (July 20). “The president basically endorsed our concern for protecting the poor as we work on balancing the budget,” Galen Carey, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said after the meeting. The Rev. David Beckmann, president of the anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, supported the administration’s efforts to negotiate a budget that calls for spending cuts and revenue increases. “We applaud the president for acknowledging that any budget deal must protect programs vital for hungry and poor people,” he said in a statement.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in trouble with powerful Shiite clerics in his country who think he’s not working hard enough at enforcing the rules on women’s head scarves. Talk show host Glenn Beck is changing the site of his Aug. 24 rally originally planned for the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City. That plan, which he said was divinely inspired, will have to change because of security concerns at the wall, a site of much conflict over the centuries. Farther away, may at the Mount of Olives, would be safer, Beck said.