Monday’s Religion News Roundup

Hope our Protestant friends had a lovely Reformation Sunday. Today, of course, is Halloween; or Samhain, if you’re into that kinda thing. Or, perhaps you’re celebrating Jesus Ween. Whether it’s tricks or tracts your after, be sure not to don a cross-gender costume in Utah, says an LDS bishop. Trying to resist the temptation to eat another bag of candy corns?

U.S. seminaries consider radical changes

(RNS) Reports last month that Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. have enflamed animosity between the two Muslim powers, and raised concerns that violence could mar this year’s hajj pilgrimage that starts on Friday (Nov. 4). More than 1.7 million pilgrims have already arrived in Mecca, the Saudi city where Islam was founded 1,400 years ago. A record 2.8 million pilgrims performed the hajj last year, including more than 14,000 Americans and almost 100,000 Iranians. Saudi authorities expect similar numbers this year.

Iowan evangelicals

Kudos to the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll for asking respondents the Born Again/Evangelical question. Not so much for failing to put up charts with cross tabs. Still, the paper has provided enough in the way of information to determine how evangelicals are breaking in their preferences for the Republican caucuses two months hence.The main news is not surprising, but nonetheless important. With evangelicals, all candidates except Mitt Romney do as well as or better than they do with the GOP electorate as a whole. Romney, however, does much worse: 22 percent overall but with only nine percent of evangelicals.

At Virginia Tech

I’m at Virginia Tech to participate in a symposium on the Judeo-Christian tradition and yesterday had a chance to visit the memorial erected to the victims of the April 16, 2007 massacre perpetrated on campus by Seung-Hui Cho, a mentally disturbed student. The memorial sits at the head of the the Drillfield, the large open space so named because VT has long been a military school, now counting some 1,000 cadets among its undergraduates. There’s are 300-pound gray dolomite “Hokiestones” for each victim, arranged in a semi-circle, some with pebbles on top that have been left by visitors in a custom most familiar from Jewish cemeteries.I picked up the pamphlet describing the memorial featuring photos and brief bios of the 32 who died, accompanied by “We Remember Them,” a poem identified as coming from Gates of Prayer. That’s the new Reform Jewish prayer book, and the poem turns out to have been written by Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, who was the first Jewish chaplain to serve in the Marine Corps, and who became famous for ministering to the troops at Iwo Jipril, the university celebrates Jewish Awareness Month. It seems that the Judeo-Christian tradition is alive and well in Blacksburg.

Friday Godbytes

So, yes, some Christians are debating whether or not to celebrate Halloween. But you know what’s also this Sunday? That’s right – Reformation Sunday! Scott Alan at The Christian Century makes the case for celebrating the little-known holiday, and Christian scholar Diana Butler Bass is getting jazzed about the festivities as well. Heck, Killing the Buddha even has a some suggestions for a Reformation Sunday party (complete with a theses-nailing station!).

Bishops again blast nun’s popular book about God

(RNS) The nation’s Catholic bishops again condemned a prominent nun’s book about God, in a move that may further fray relations between the hierarchy and Catholic theologians. Given the popularity of Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s, “Quest for the Living God” in parishes and universities, the bishops’ renewed criticism may not help their, credibility in the pews, either. The 11-page statement issued Friday (Oct. 28) by the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine reaffirms a March declaration that Johnson’s book “does not sufficiently ground itself in the Catholic theological tradition as its starting point.” Johnson, a professor of systematic theology at Fordham University in New York and a member of the Congregation of St.

Historic London cathedral reopens and moves to evict protesters

LONDON (RNS) London’s historic St. Paul’s Cathedral reopened its doors to visitors Friday (Oct. 28) for the first time in a week, as authorities moved to evict hundreds of camped-out protesters. The church and the London entity that governs the area will ask a court to force the removal of 200 or so Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters, who have demonstrated at St. Paul’s since Oct.

Crystal Cathedral endorses offer to end its bankruptcy crisis

(RNS) Crystal Cathedral officials have endorsed an offer from a nearby California university to purchase the glass-walled megachurch and end its bankruptcy crisis. Despite their decision, church leaders say they are still hoping for a miracle that will prevent the sale, which could move forward in mid-November. “Nothing is final until November 14!” said Sheila Schuller Coleman, senior pastor of Crystal Cathedral, in a Wednesday (Oct. 26) statement.

Lawyer charges Catholic University with civil rights violations

WASHINGTON (RNS) A famously litigious lawyer has filed charges against the Catholic University of America (CUA) for not providing Muslim students with prayer rooms that are free of Catholic iconography. John F. Banzhaf III, a law professor at George Washington University who had earlier filed charges over CUA’s switch to same-sex dorms this summer, filed the new 60-page complaint with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights. “It shouldn’t be too difficult somewhere on the campus for the university to set aside a small room where Muslims can pray without having to stare up and be looked down upon by a cross of Jesus,” Banzhaf told Fox News. Banzhaf complained that CUA does not sponsor a Muslim student association, even though it sponsors a Jewish one. He also claimed the single-sex dorm policy discriminates against female students.

Work-time prayer a struggle for U.S. Muslims

(RNS) Dr. Syed Malik is a devoted Muslim who tries, and mostly succeeds, to pray five times per day, as demanded by his Islamic faith. He is also an accomplished general surgeon in Orlando, Fla., who does complex operations that can last hours. Malik, 66, would never leave an operating table to pray. Instead, when surgery and prayer times conflict, he performs prayers before surgery or makes them up after. “I don’t care if this goes against what some scholars say, I feel very comfortable with how I approach prayers,” said Malik.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

Concerned about (real or imagined) sagging fortunes among Jewish voters, the White House has scheduled POTUS to address the Reform Jewish movement when it meets near D.C. in December. A law professor at GWU who’s never met a lawsuit he didn’t like has filed a complaint against Catholic University over the alleged inability of Muslim students to form their own (official) prayer groups. WaPo also warns of “ritual whiplash” as Catholics prepare to adjust to the first changes to the Mass in 40 years, starting the weekend after Thanksgiving. The Kansas City priest whose alleged possession of kiddie porn got his bishop slapped with a criminal indictment got his trial postponed until next summer. Religious and political leaders went shopping at a Capitol Hill Safeway yesterday, trying to see how far $4.50 a day in food stamps will get you.

Thursday Godbytes

We are apparently in the midst of a “Digital Bible Explosion,” according to the New Yorker. Floods might be wreaking havoc in Southeast Asia, but these pictures from the Atlantic indicate that Thai Dhammakaya monks are lending a helping hand. When I think Indiana, I think of Jewish life in the 1950s. Wait, you don’t? Well then you should pay a visit to the new interactive exhibit about 50s Judaism in Indy.

Pope convenes interfaith summit, but prayer is optional

ASSISI, Italy (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI hosted some 300 representatives of world religions here on Thursday (Oct. 27) for an interfaith summit on justice and peace, with distinct changes made to the event first convened 25 years ago by Pope John Paul II. Benedict, who had been critical of John Paul’s 1986 event, welcomed a small group of agnostics and, in a bid to avoid the impression that all religions are identical, made prayer private and optional. Benedict traveled the 100 miles from Rome by train, bringing with him delegates representing faiths from Anglicanism to Zoroastrianism. There were reminders of the color and variety that distinguished the 1986 landmark gathering.

Faith, political leaders find out how far food stamps go

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious leaders and members of Congress this week are getting a firsthand taste of what it’s like to eat on $4.50 a day as part of the “Food Stamp Challenge.” In the challenge, participants try to live for a week on the average amount received by people who use food stamps, now known as the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). “We do need to put ourselves sometimes in other people’s shoes so we can really feel what they have to go through every day,” said Donna Christensen, a Democrat who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands as a nonvoting delegate. The Food Stamp Challenge is part of Fighting Poverty with Faith, an annual interfaith initiative endorsed by 50 national religious organizations. This year is a particularly critical one for the cause, faith leaders said, because Congress is considering significant cuts to the more than $64 billion program.

Bishops warn Congress on threats to `freedom’

WASHINGTON (RNS) U.S. Catholic bishops dispatched their new point man on religious freedom to warn Congress on Wednesday (Oct. 26) that religious people risk being labeled as “bigots” without greater conscience protections. Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops have been vilified for their religious beliefs against abortion, gay marriage and birth control. “If the label of `bigot’ sticks to our church and many other churches — especially in court, under the Constitution — because of their teaching on marriage, the result will be church-state conflicts for many years to come,” Lori told the House Subcommittee on the Constitution. Lori was one of three witnesses called to testify on the state of religious liberty in the U.S. While all three agreed that religious liberty in America is threatened, they differed over whose religious liberty is most at risk.