Thursday’s Religion News Roundup: Iraq war ends; 2011’s top religion story; “menor

The killing of Osama bin Laden and the reactions it provoked in faith communities was the top religion story of the year, according to a Religion Newswriters Association survey. Congress’s hearings on radicalization among American Muslims was voted the No. 2 story, followed by the indictment of Catholic Bishop Robert Finn of K.C. on charges of failing to report the sexual abuse of a child. In one of the top stories of the decade, the U.S. military declared the end of the Iraq war on Thursday. Whether or not the mission was accomplished, it’s now officially over.

How much ‘Tebowing’ is too much?

(RNS) Along with politics, it is one of two things we don't talk about at parties: sports and religion. Football has always been a religion to some. But now, thanks to Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, sports and religion have become the topic du jour. Arguments over Tebow's path to the Hall of Fame can be waged, but he is surely the only proper noun (Tebow) that can become a verb (Tebowing) by dropping to one knee. “Tim is who he is,” said Brent High, the associate director of athletics for spiritual formation at Lipscomb University, who saw an event sell out when Tebow was a guest speaker there.

Tuesday’s Godbytes

CNN offers story on professional Christian Soccer teams, proving once again that God is probably the only entity that can make Americans care about soccer: “The team was established in 1993 after a ‘sports junkie fell in love with God,’ Eagles co-founder Brian Davidson says. But if he was going to continue being involved in soccer – where he saw players cheating and sneaking fouls past referees – he needed to find a way to live out his faith on the field. He had two goals for his ministry. First, teach men to live for God on the field by playing fair. The second: Send team members into the community – both locally and ‘to the ends of the earth’ – to teach impoverished children and refugees about soccer and to use the sport to attract people who wouldn’t normally visit church.”

Championship coach talks God and gridiron

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) After Auburn University’s football win over Clemson last season, coach Gene Chizik declared, “It’s a God thing.” After the national championship game win over the University of Oregon, he told a national TV audience, “God was with us.” Chizik sees the hand of God working in his life, even in the outcome of college football games. “The faith part is what’s really important in my life,” Chizik said in a telephone interview from Maine, where he was spending time on a lake with his wife and three children.

Orthodox basketball play allowed to cover her arms

JERUSALEM (RNS) The international basketball federation has decided to permit an Orthodox Jewish basketball player to cover her arms during competitions in accordance with her religious beliefs. FIBA made the decision several weeks after point guard Naama Shafir, a member of the Israeli national women’s basketball team, said she would be unable to play in the sleeveless regulation jerseys worn by all players. Shafir, who studied at the University of Toledo, helped the Ohio university’s Lady Rockets win the 2011 Women’s National Invitation Tournament last April. She has dressed modestly throughout her college career, and the team accommodated her religious needs, from kosher food to Sabbath observance. FIBA will permit Shafir to wear skin-colored sleeves under her jersey.

Muslims, FBI search for answers after aborted Oregon terror plot

CORVALLIS, Ore. (RNS) The damage from a fire at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center early Sunday (Nov. 28) did not amount to much in material loss. But the symbolic wound went far deeper. Fire was apparently set to the mosque just a day after one of its on-again, off-again members was arrested in connection with the attempted bombing of the annual Christmas tree lighting in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Author finds faith and fanaticism in South’s football god

AUBURN, Ala. (RNS) Chad Gibbs has been on a pigskin pilgrimage throughout the South, searching for spiritual truth in Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge, Gainesville and Fayetteville. He grew up a fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide and switched allegiance to his alma mater — and the University of Alabama’s archrival — Auburn University. For a while, Gibbs became so fanatical that he wondered if football had replaced God as his god. “I wondered about how much I could care about football before it starts to hinder my faith,” said Gibbs, a 2002 Auburn graduate who lives less than a mile from the school’s famed Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Tuesday’s roundup

A judge sentenced a Tennessee mother of three to 42 months in the clink for taking money and services for five years to battle breast cancer — which she never had. Filmmaker Oliver Stone angered Jewish groups by seeming to defend Hitler, and also digging up the old Jews-control-the-media trope (he later says he’s sorry). Robert Duvall discusses faith on film with NPR. Actor Will Smith wants to play original bad-boy Cain (Adam and Eve’s wayward murderous son) in “The Legend of Cain” where Cain, it turns out, is a vampire. Speaking of brought back from the dead, former President Jimmy Carter said the endorsement of Texas pastor Jimmy Allen in 1976 helped him win the White House and no longer be a “a forlorn, woeful, forgotten, hopeless candidate.”

U.S. nun creates impromptu oasis to heal Haitian bodies and souls

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (RNS) Wearing a bright, floral blouse and pink shorts, Mita Jean Louis stares into a mirror, unmindful of the people around her. She is smiling, and someone asks if she’s smiling because she sees the reflection of such a beautiful young woman. The smile vanishes. “I don’t know,” says the 19-year-old, instantly shy. She puts the mirror away in a makeshift cabinet, and lowers herself onto her bed.

Church coach accused of bribing refs

ENOLA, Pa. (RNS) A Pennsylvania church-league basketball coach has been accused of trying to pay a $2,500 bribe to two basketball officials to throw games, state police said. Michael Kman, 45, of Enola, is the coach for the Our Lady of Lourdes team in the Harrisburg CYO youth league. Kman is accused of sending several text messages to two basketball officials, asking them to officiate specific games and offered $2,500 per game to fix certain games, police said. He has been charged with solicitation to rig a public contest and harassment.

COMMENTARY: Into the great hereafter

(RNS) In the hothouse world of a high school gymnasium, one basketball player in my class seemed to float through the air. He was tall, thin, elegant, with an imperturbable expression on his face. Game after game, in a city and state where basketball meant so much, a full house shouted his praise. Although I never knew him, I knew the game was winnable if he was on the floor. After graduation, our paths diverged — they had never really connected in the strange world of 1960s integration.

Spring marks the opening of the `Church of Baseball’

(RNS) Megachurch pastor Rick Warren stood on the mound at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., last Easter Sunday and delivered his pitch. “Baseball is a game of numbers in which every player falls short of perfection,” said the best-selling author and evangelical powerhouse. “Similarly, in life, while we have all had a few hits or scored a few runs, we strike out a lot.” Whether we’re superstars or benchwarmers, God’s our biggest fan, Warren concluded. To the 50,000 people who watched Warren’s “Sermon on the Mound,” the striking similarities between baseball and religious life were clear as a summer Sunday.

COMMENTARY: The virtue of virtue

(RNS) Last winter, while on a trip to Southern California, theologian N.T. Wright spent some time strolling through Laguna Beach, the seaside village I happen to call home. He wandered into one of our many charming boutiques — he called it, perhaps more accurately, a “junk shop” — and saw a sign that piqued his interest theologically. It read: “There are times I think I’m doing things on principle, But mostly I just do what feels good. But that’s a principle, too.” “Doing what feels good” would be “easy to caricature …

COMMENTARY: The Christmas gift you can give to yourself

(RNS) The following is an actual exchange, unedited, except to remove the profanity. The setting: Mid-morning at a suburban gift boutique. The time: The week before Christmas. The players: The pleasant store clerk, a 40-something soccer mom-type and me (browsing for stocking stuffers). Enter the frazzled soccer mom.

Church scores with men on a football Sunday

EAST ORANGE, N.J. (RNS) The Rev. Dwight Gill figures if there is one thing that will bring more men to church, it’s football. So Sunday (Nov. 29) at New Hope Baptist Church, NFL didn’t stand for National Football League, but rather for New Found Life — as in the church’s annual NFL service and celebration. The service drew nearly 2,000 people, including a bevy of newcomers who were in for a worship service that was anything but ordinary. “There’s more to it than just a church service,” said Michael Carrington, 48, of Newark.