Why are American churches losing the less educated?

CLEVELAND (RNS) Hundreds of United Methodists are meeting in Huron, Ohio, this week in an uphill bid to make their 12 million-member denomination more gay-friendly. Activists are gearing up for next year’s General Conference meeting in Tampa, Fla., where they plan to fight once again to change the church’s official position that homosexual activity is a sin. Unlike other mainline Protestant denominations in the United States that have moved to allow openly gay clergy and bless same-sex unions, United Methodists prohibit sexually active gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions. “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible to Christian teaching,” reads a section in the Methodists’ Book of Discipline. But the nearly 700 people expected to attend the four-day conference at Sawmill Creek Resort that opened Thursday (Aug.

Jonah, Hah!

Jonah has long been my favorite book of the Bible, so it is some (not unmixed) pleasure to discover that it is also the favorite of Harold Bloom, Yale’s preeminent literary critic. Bloom’s thoughts on the book, from his new literary appreciation of the King James Bible, appear over at the New York Review blog, and very worth reading they are.Jonah is the Bible’s own critique of the prophetic personage, delivered with great narrative skill, huge literary panache, and the best evidence the Tanach has to offer that God really does have a sense of humor. Jonah himself is a loathsome character who first tries to evade his divine mission, and then is almightily pissed off when it succeeds. He tells the people of Nineveh to repent, they repent, and yet he’s upset?Bloom’s explanation: “Either Nineveh will ignore him and be destroyed, making his mission
needless, or, if it takes him to heart, he will prove to be a false
prophet.” I don’t think that’s quite right.

Quake-damaged National Cathedral faces millions in repairs

WASHINGTON (RNS) The iconic Washington National Cathedral, already struggling with financial problems, faces millions of dollars in repair costs from the damage inflicted by Tuesday’s (Sept. 23) East Coast earthquake. And nothing is covered by insurance, according to a church official. Clergy and a team of architects and engineers spent the day after the magnitude 5.8 quake assessing the cathedral, and found significant damage, including fallen carved angels on the church’s roof, cracks in flying buttresses, and missing finials from the pinnacles of the central tower. “We run a very tight budget here at the cathedral and we have had our financial challenges that we’ve worked through very well,” the Very Rev. Samuel Lloyd, dean of the cathedral, said Wednesday.

`King Arthur’ fights the law, and the law wins

LONDON (RNS) A self-styled druid who likens himself to a king in ancient Britain has lost his bid to rebury a set of prehistoric human remains at a sacred pagan burial site. John Timothy Rothwell — who changed his name to King Arthur Pendragon in court documents — lost his court battle to win custody of the cremated remains from a team of experts at Sheffield University. Justice Wyn Williams of London’s High Court threw out Pendragon’s claim, ruling Tuesday (Aug. 23) that scientists had not acted unreasonably three years ago when they dug up the remains of more than 40 bodies, which are thought to be more than 5,000 years old. The forensic experts are now allowed to keep the ashes for study and analysis until 2015.

WednesdayâÂ?Â?s Religion News Roundup

Aftershocks in the wake of Tuesday’s East Coast temblor (a word Atlantic seaboard scribes would never miss a chance to use) tend toward the biblical rather than the geological: Ricky Twyman, founder of the Pray Without Ceasing Political Party, plans an “emergency vigil of hope” outside the White House on Wednesday at the very time the earthquake hit, 1:51 pm. He is demanding that President Obama and congressional leaders return from their “plush” vacations to pass a “jobs bill” or, he warns, “we need another earthquake in Congress and the White House.” Supporters of the National Cathedral of Washington, which suffered “significant damage” in the quake, might support Twyman’s agenda but prefer that he hold off on invoking any earth-shaking until the church is stabilized. (Photos of damage here.) Jonathan Turley, tongue in cheek (sort of), notes that the quake’s epicenter was in the Virginia district of House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who irked seismologists by trying to cut funding for the United States Geological Service (USGS). “My greatest concern is that Cantor also defended cuts in the National Weather Service and NOAA – and there is a hurricane approaching Washington.”

9/11 gives birth to new generation of assertive Muslims

(RNS) Under a cloud of suspicion and distrust after the 9/11 attacks, there were stories of men named Muhammad who started going by “Mo,” mosque leaders telling their flocks to lie low and women leaving their headscarves at home. And then there was Asma Mangrio. “My husband was nervous with me driving alone with my scarf on after 9/11,” said the 37-year-old mother of three. “But I said I’m not taking it off. I’m not going to let something like this stop me.”

After 9/11, curiosity over Islam leads to conversion

BOSTON (RNS) Like a lot of other people in the haze and confusion of the 9/11 attacks, Johannah Segarich asked herself: “What kind of religion is this that could inspire people to do this?” She had studied other religions, but never Islam. So she bought a copy of the Quran, wondering if her notions of Islam as a patriarchal and now seemingly violent religion, would be confirmed. Then she got to the first chapter, with its seven-line message about seeking guidance from a merciful creator. She finished the Quran a few weeks later, then started reading it again.

10 years later, Muslims divided on improving negative image

(RNS) After all the books, speeches, seminars, Facebook posts and mosque open houses to teach Americans about Islam in the wake of 9/11, Americans say they now know more about Islam than they did 10 years ago. The problem, pollsters say, is that Americans don’t seem to like what they’re learning. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who say they know some or a great deal about Islam climbed from 38 percent immediately after 9/11 to 44 percent in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, Pew polls report, the percentage of Americans with favorable views of Islam dropped, from 41 percent to 30 percent in the past five years. That has left many Muslims exasperated with Islamic advocacy organizations, and sometimes divided over the best ways to use scant resources in hopes of improving American perceptions of Islam.

National Cathedral suffers `significant damage’ in quake

(RNS) The earthquake that rumbled up the East Coast from Virginia on Tuesday (Aug. 23) “significantly damaged” the central tower of Washington National Cathedral, shaking carved stone finials from atop the iconic church. The quake also left cracks in the flying buttresses that support the cathedral, an Episcopal church that serves as a religious focal point for the country and a “house of prayer for all people.” Cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg said there were about 200 people, staff and tourists in the cathedral and adjoining offices when the 5.9 magnitude quake struck at 1:51 pm, but no one was injured. “There’s been significant damage to the central tower,” Weinberg said.

On 9/11, preachers find no easy words

(RNS) Standing in the pulpit on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, what do you say? For clergy called upon to preach that day, which falls on a Sunday, the challenge can be connecting with a congregation that might have already moved beyond the tragedy. But in many congregations other realities will dominate: people in the pews who lost family on 9/11; Muslims who have suffered a backlash since the attacks; soldiers who are still fighting wars set off by the events of that crisp September day. At the Islamic Society of Orange County (Calif.), the traditional Friday services two days before the anniversary will include a family that lost a son at Ground Zero. Imam Muzammil Siddiqi said he plans to acknowledge that family’s suffering, and then all who grieve a relative or friend who died in the attacks.

Vatican summons traditionalists to Rome

(RNS) The Vatican has summoned the head of a traditionalist group to Rome to assess the results of a two-year doctrinal dialogue between the schismatic group and the Holy See. Monsignor Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), will meet on Sept. 8 with top officials who are trying to normalize relations, including American Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In June, Fellay said the church is “full of heresies,” and the group ordained its own set of bishops in the United States, Switzerland and Germany without Vatican approval.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Ramadan helps Libyan and Syrian rebels, by encouraging the sort of thoughtful mindset it takes to carry out regime change, and providing the social gatherings rebels need to organize their government-toppling efforts, according to CNN. Sri Lanka is conducting its first census of wild elephants, and may tame some of them to work in Buddhist or Hindu temples. A mayor in Indonesia is trying to block the construction of churches on streets with Muslim names, the latest example, critics say, of growing religious intolerance in the nation. Though the Libyan transitional government hasn’t secured the country yet, its draft constitution makes Islam the official religion of Libya, but allows non-Muslims to practice their faiths freely. Rio de Janeiro gets its first mosque.

9/11 marked crucial turn in Vatican-Muslim relations

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pope John Paul II invited Muslim leaders to an interfaith prayer summit in Assisi, Italy, the site of a dramatic interreligious peace gathering he had hosted 15 years earlier. In the shadow of 9/11, John Paul said, the world needed to hear from Muslims and Christians that “religion must never be a reason for conflict, hatred and violence.” Catholic-Muslim dialogue took on a new intensity and sense of urgency. And then came the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in 2006. Speaking in his native Germany on Sept.

COMMENTARY: Change or die: evolution is a fact of life.

(RNS) Institutions might think themselves eternal, but evolution is their life — and failure to evolve their death. Don’t believe in evolution? Look at churches. Better yet, look at personal computing. It took one generation — 34 years — to go from the first mass market PC to what is now called “the end of the PC era,” as signaled by Hewlett Packard’s decision to jettison its hardware operations.

Catholic Charities and the best interests of the foster child

Judge John Schmidt didn’t have to ponder very hard to decide that the state of Illinois is within its rights to terminate its orphan and foster care contracts with Catholic Charities in Southern Illinois. As he wrote, “The fact that [Catholic Charities] have contracted with the state to
provide foster care and adoption services for over forty years does not
vest [them] with a protected property interest. No citizen has a recognized legal right to a
contract with the government.” Nor should the fact that a religious organization has a free exercise right to behave according to its own standards of morality (up to a point) make it eligible for a state contract if those standards conflict with the state’s rules for equal treatment. Who would object to the state declining to contract for foster care services with a religious body that refused to put children of one race under the care of parents of another?