New bill would outlaw San FranciscoâÂ?Â?s circumcision ban

(RNS) A new bill would make San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban illegal before the city even votes on it. The bill, filed this month by State Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angelos Democrat, would prohibit any California city or town from outlawing circumcision. Gatto’s bill requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for passage and the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown. It would then take effect immediately. Proponents of the circumcision ban have collected the more than 7,168 signatures needed to place the measure on the city’s Nov.

Town clerk in N.Y. resigns over new gay marriage law

GRANBY, N.Y. (RNS) Ruth Sheldon was knee-deep in work. As town clerk in Granby in upstate Oswego County, she was busy with the census of the town’s dogs. Workers were going door to door, counting canines and letting people know that every dog over 4 months old needs a license. As the project progresses, piles of paperwork land on Sheldon’s desk for processing. And then there were those phone calls.

Campus Crusade ditches name for `Cru’

(RNS) Campus Crusade for Christ is out. “Cru” is in. The 60-year-old evangelical ministry announced its new name at a staff conference in Fort Collins, Colo., on Tuesday (July 19), saying the old name had become problematic. “We’ve been having issues with two words in the name — campus and crusade,” said Steve Sellers, a vice president who oversees the ministry’s U.S. operations, in an interview. Though the Orlando, Fla.-based organization began on campuses in 1951, it has expanded to more than two dozen ministries focused on topics such as families, athletes, the military and inner cities.

Senators debate bill to recognize gay marriages

WASHINGTON (RNS) Senators wrestled with issues of faith and religious freedom on Wednesday (July 20) as they debated a new bill that would allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Respect for Marriage Act, which was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and endorsed by the Obama administration. If passed, the bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and allows states not to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. While much of the discussion concerned the legal implications of the proposed bill, witnesses and lawmakers frequently cited their faith as informing their position. Thomas Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family, said he opposed any repeal of DOMA because of his desire to “build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design” so that heterosexual parents can “raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.”

Christian leaders call for Holy Land protection

LONDON (RNS/ENInews) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Tuesday (July 19) ended a conference on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land, saying, “We cannot wait for politicians to sort things out. We have got to make a difference ourselves.” Williams hosted the two-day conference with Roman Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols, England’s top Catholic leader, at his official London residence, Lambeth Palace. The meeting attracted more than 60 Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious and political leaders from the Middle East, Europe and North America. Williams called the meeting to consider the decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land and how these communities could be assisted to remain.

State Dept. tries to raise visibility of religion

WASHINGTON (RNS) Often accused of ignoring religion as they craft foreign policy, the White House and State Department are trying to show that religion is a rising priority for U.S. diplomacy. The most recent case in point: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Istanbul last week (July 15) promoted a new U.S.-backed international agreement to protect freedom of speech and religion, an accord described by her department as a “landmark” change. “These are fundamental freedoms that belong to all people in all places,” Clinton said, “and they are certainly essential to democracy.” Elsewhere in the State Department, its school for Foreign Service officers rolled out a new course last month on how diplomats can practice “religious engagement.” And the National Security Council is touting a new partnership with the White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which represents a “renewed focus on the intersection of religion and foreign policy across the United States government,” faith-based director Joshua DuBois wrote in a July 11 blog post.

What’s behind China’s hard line against Catholics?

VATICAN CITY (RNS) When China’s state-run Catholic Church ordained a new bishop for the Diocese of Shantou last Thursday (July 14) without the Vatican’s approval, it represented the latest step back from years of progress in a complex relationship. Yet the main causes for the shift may have little to do with Rome, experts say, and instead lie in momentous geopolitical events in other regions of the globe, and deep social changes within China itself. For more than half a century, China’s 12 million to 15 million Catholics have been divided between the officially approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and an “underground” church of Catholics loyal to the pope. Each side fiercely rejects the other’s legitimacy. But in recent years, the Vatican and Beijing have been in engaged in a slow and gradual process of compromise and mutual accommodation.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Irish priests are worried that the government won’t give them an exemption for confession under the rules that make it mandatory to report child abuse. The government says the law is the law. The priests say confession is confession. Pope Benedict XVI will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and longtime former leader Helmut Kohl when he visits his native Germany in September. On that same trip, he will also visit with Jewish and Muslim leaders.

Tuesday’s Godbytes

Welcome back to Godbytes, the Tuesday edition. The Harry Potter train (broom?) just keeps on rolling (er, flying?), keeping the blogosphere under its spell. (because he’s a wizard, get it?) Betsy Shirley at Sojourners God’s Politics Blog wonders aloud what a Harry Potter prayer sound like: So as I watched the final Hogwarts Express depart from Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II this past weekend (slightly teary-eyed, I confess), I started to wonder: What might it sound like to pray in the language of Harry Potter – language that clearly resonates with folks around the world? Would it be cheesy? Probably.

Watkins re-elected president of Disciples

(RNS) The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted to re-elect the Rev. Sharon Watkins as head of the denomination, capping off a weeklong assembly that mixed mundane church business with hot-button issues such as homosexuality, immigration and anti-Muslim hate speech. Watkins, who already completed one six-year term as general minister and president, spoke before the vote and reflected on her previous leadership and laid out a vision for the future of the church as it struggles with internal debates. “We need to talk honestly about the gospel message as it relates to race and sexual orientation in our church,” she said. “We’ve been at a stalemate for too long.” During the five-day (July 9-13) assembly in Nashville, Tenn., church delegates also voted to pass several resolutions, including an overture denouncing anti-Muslim hate speech.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Big news today from the City of Brotherly Love, where Cardinal Justin Rigali, under fire for allegedly allowing priests accused of abusing children to remain in ministry, is resigning, the Vatican announced. Rigali will be replaced by Archbishop Charles Chaput, formerly of Denver, who knows his way around the public square. NCR has a loooong interview with Chaput, in which the 66-year-old says he hopes he has the strength and energy to deal with Philly’s many challenges and calls gay marriage “the issue of our time.” Episcopalians in New York would surely agree, as they face a tic-tac-toe situation in which local bishops allow gays and lesbians in Brooklyn and Queens to get married, but not in Staten Island, Manhattan or the Bronx. A Fox News host said that Mitt Romney is “not a Christian,” the second time recently that the network has questioned/ridiculed the candidate’s Mormon faith.

COMMENTARY: Life goes on … we hope

SALINA, Kan. (RNS) My wife sealed the envelopes as I affixed the postage stamps (white roses) and out went the rehearsal dinner invitations for our middle son’s wedding in California. Already a year in the planning, the upcoming August wedding is a reminder that, for all the blather of our hyper-partisan politicians, life goes on. People join their lives. Families meet and hope to get along.

Chaput will upend convention in the most conventional of cities

(RNS) The most obvious reason that Pope Benedict XVI sent Archbishop Charles Chaput from Denver to take over the prestigious Archdiocese of Philadelphia was the same one that has shaped almost every major development in American Catholicism over the past decade: the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Chaput replaces Cardinal Justin Rigali, a consummate church insider who was appointed to Philadelphia in 2003. Rigali, 76, is the latest and most senior churchman to fall under the shadow of scandal after a grand jury report accused him and his administration of failing to pursue claims that priests sexually abused children. Despite Rigali’s ignominious exit, however, the pope’s Tuesday (July 19) choice of the 66-year-old Chaput was actually about much more than the abuse crisis. In fact, Chaput’s appointment may portend a pivot away from the crisis-management era of the past 10 years toward the kind of assertive and even combative stance that was Chaput’s signature style in his 14 years in Denver.