All posts from “December 2008”

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December 31, 2008

Most Read of 2008

Want to know what your fellow CT Politics Blog readers enjoyed as well? Here are the top 10 most read blog posts from 2008.

Keep in mind that Christianity Today started the politics blog in July, so this is in no way an indication of what stories were the most important. Obviously, readership shot up around the election, but it's an interesting review of what piqued your interest.

1. The Death of Joe Biden's Wife -- An Honest Crisis of Faith

2. The Evangelical Electoral Map (Updated)

3. Vendors asked to leave Values Voter Summit

4. Readers say Washington Post cartoon lampooned their faith

5. Obama's Fascinating Interview with Cathleen Falsani

6. Reaction to Bristol Palin's pregnancy

7. How Obama Helped Calif.'s Prop. 8 (Updated)

8. Can Obama Call Himself a Christian?

9. An Obama administration, in the eyes of Focus on the Family Action

10. The Awesome Blue God -- How Obama Forged A New Faith Coalition

December 31, 2008

Atheists File Suit to Block Inaugural Prayer

Led by a California atheist who has tried to remove the phrase "under God" from the pledge of allegiance, a group of atheists filed suit in federal court Tuesday (Dec. 30) to block prayers and mentions of God at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan 20.

Michael Newdow, joined in his complaint by 11 atheist and humanist groups, filed similar, unsuccessful suits in 2001 and 2005, when President Bush was sworn in. He has also tried to remove the reference to God in the pledge of allegiance, arguing that it constitutes an illegal government endorsement of religion.

The suit names Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will swear in the new president, as well as California megachurch pastor Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who will deliver the invocation and benediction, respectively, and other inauguration planners.

By adding the words "so help me God" to the oath of office, as Supreme Court chief justices and presidents have done since at least 1933, Roberts would "infuse the inaugural ceremony with purely religious dogma," the atheists charge. The atheists also object to the place of the Bible in the ceremony -- Obama has asked for the copy used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 -- and the delivery of opening and closing prayers.

The atheists are not suing Obama, however, because he, "like all other individuals, has Free Exercise rights," the suit says, referring to the Constitution's protection of religious expression. The problem would come if Roberts "prompts" Obama to recite the phrase, according to the atheists.

"The use of sectarian prayer and religious phrases during the inauguration not only violates a clear reading of the First Amendment, it serves as a justification for the breach of church-state separation in other areas," said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association.

Warren's inclusion in the ceremony has also been criticized by liberals, particularly gay rights groups, who object to his vocal denunciations of same-sex marriage.

In a video sent to members of his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Warren fired back at his critics, accusing them of "Christophobia" and "hate speech," according to Associated Baptist Press.

"Some people feel today that if you disagree with them, then that's hate speech," Warren said. "If you disagree with them, you either hate them or you're afraid of them. I'm neither afraid of gays nor do I hate gays. In fact I love them, but I do disagree with some of their
beliefs."

December 31, 2008

Can a pastor get some peace? LA Times reports on Warren’s Christmas Eve sermon

So it's come to this for the Rev. Rick Warren, and the once exceptional Los Angeles Times: Southern California's waning news leader, which today devoted two inches to the butchering of 189 Congo villagers, assigned not one but two reporters to find out what Warren was going to preach about on Christmas Eve. It wasn't that interesting:

Warren told the 3,100 people who packed the church's cavernous worship center about some plans that had not turned out as anticipated. "President-elect Obama's plans for a noncontroversial inauguration - right out the door," he said, drawing a round of applause from the congregation.

The prominent minister also delivered a sobering message for Christmas.

"You may be going through a change in plans right now," he said. "You hadn't expected to be laid off or to be financially tight right now. And when that happens, you're asking, ?Why me, why now??

"Jesus said you don't understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later. That's the . . . thing you have to learn when God changes your plan. You have to learn to trust him."

The article goes on to mention what Warren said the previous weekend at the annual conference of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which I reported on last Tuesday.

I know the pastor - the author of "The Purpose-Driven Life" and a rising voice in politics, evangelical and beyond - generated controversy when President-elect Barack Obama asked him to say the prayer at the Jan. 20 inauguration, and I know that the media is still suffering from its Jeremiah Wright hangover and the absence of Sarah Palin, but Warren isn't Wright and Obama's selection really wasn't as surprising as some want to portray it.

(Originally published at The God Blog.)

December 29, 2008

It's a Boy!

Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, gave birth to a boy on Saturday, People magazine reports.

Bristol, 18, gave birth to Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston who weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces, the magazine reports.

Baby Tripp takes his surname from his dad, Levi Johnston, an apprentice electrician and former Wasilla High School hockey player who has been dating Bristol for three years.

Bristol Palin is currently residing in Wasilla and completing her high-school diploma through correspondence courses.

Johnston is studying to become an electrician. He told the Associated Press in October that he and fiancée Bristol plan to wed in 2009 and raise the child together.

Bristol's pregnancy became national news after liberal bloggers floated rumors that Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy. Several conservatives quickly came to Palin's defense for encouraging her daughter to carry the baby to term.

December 29, 2008

Mr. Obama Goes to Church--Rarely

Barack Obama has made a point of telling anyone who will listen how important faith is to him. The president-elect speaks the language of faith fluently, for the most part, and he has made a special effort to reach out to evangelicals. But a report in his hometown Chicago Tribune notes that Obama has scarcely appeared at Sunday worship since his famous falling out with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. According to the Trib, "he has not attended a public church service since before being elected, a departure from the actions of his two immediate predecessors."

Noting that he doesn't want to make a commitment to a church before moving to the nation's capital, and worrying about his possibly disruptive presence with other worshipers, Obama says he relies on pastor friends and his own private prayer in the interim.

Yet the president-elect says he will find a church once the move is complete. "We frankly haven't thought about it yet," Obama told the Tribune, "because right now we're just trying to make sure that we don't lose anything in the move, including our children."

Another Obama predecessor cited concerns that he would be a disruption as a factor in his own spotty church attendance as president. His name was Ronald Reagan.

December 24, 2008

Bush Signs Anti-Trafficking Bill

Religious leaders hailed President Bush's signing of a bill that continues U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking across the globe.

In an Oval Office ceremony on Tuesday, Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.

"This is a piece of legislation we're very proud to sign and to see that it's authorizing funding for fiscal years ... 2008 through 2011," White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto told reporters before the signing ceremony. "And this program has been very effective around the world in trying to stop trafficking in persons in Africa and Asia."

The law aims to prevent and prosecute trafficking of humans in foreign countries and assist its victims.

"This bill will significantly assist the United States government in impeding the trafficking of women and child for sexual purposes," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a statement to Baptist Press, the denomination's news service. "It's a tremendously important new tool available to law enforcement officials in prosecuting those who traffic in human flesh. It will make a real difference to the victims of sex trafficking."

Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, said the legislation will help eliminate "a horrific crime" in the United States and abroad.

"President Bush has done much to elevate public awareness about human trafficking and should be thanked for his leadership," said Wester, of Salt Lake City, Utah. "It will be important, however, that the new administration and new Congress remain vigilant and continue to work to end this abominable practice."

The bill, which passed both houses of Congress on Dec. 10, is named after William Wilberforce, a 19th-century British abolitionist.

December 24, 2008

Wanted: Inaugural Sermons

If you hear a sermon during Inauguration Week that you consider memorable, the Library of Congress wants to know about it.

With the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president, its American Folklife Center hopes to add sermons and speeches from an array of houses of worship and secular settings to its spoken-word collection, the center announced Tuesday.

``In anticipation of citizens' efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009,'' the center states on its Web site. ``It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The American Folklife Center is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible.''

(Originally published at Religion News Blog.)

December 23, 2008

Rick Warren Responds to Criticism

Rick Warren remains prominent in the news this week after he agreed to give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20.

Here's a bullet-point roundup of the latest:

-- Warren posted a three-part video to his church's website responding to the backlash over his selection.

"The media never gets it 100 percent correct. I've never seen an in-print article that gets everything right," Warren says, adding, "The media lives for conflict. If there's no conflict, then somebody's going to create it."

In the series, Warren insisted he wasn't equating gay marriage with incest or child molestation referring to Steve Waldman's earlier interview.

"I have in no way ever taught that homosexuality is the same thing as a forced relationship between an adult and a child, or between siblings," Warren said in the video. "I was trying to point out I'm not opposed to gays having their partnership. I'm opposed to gays using the term marriage for their relationship." Waldman posts his response here.

-- Several bloggers, including Gary Stern of The Journal News, pointed out that the church removed a part of its website on the Bible and homosexuality.

A Saddleback spokesman, Kristin Cole, told me that the section "has not been permanently removed, but rather repurposed for clarity." Saddleback Associate Pastor Tom Holladay will post an audio clip titled, "What Does the Bible Say About homosexuality ? is it a sin?"

-- Warren will be the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service in Atlanta the day the inauguration.

Over the weekend, he spoke at the Muslim Public Affairs Council at its convention in California Saturday night. The L.A. Times reports that recognizing the potential for controversy, Warren said near the beginning of his speech: "Let me just get this over very quickly. I love Muslims. And for the media's purpose, I happen to love gays and straights."

Dan Gilgoff interviewed Muslim Public Affairs Council executive director Salam Al-Marayati about Muslim-evangelical relations.

We don't know the percentage [of evangelicals] that Robertson or [Focus on the Family founder] James Dobson represents. They're certainly significant but they are two voices. The rise of people like Rick Warren and Chris Seiple and Joel Hunter has changed that in the last 10 years.... It's a much needed and refreshing phase in terms of Christian-Muslim relations that we're in right now.

-- Just about everybody has an opinion about whether Obama should have chosen Warren.

It's particularly fun to read headlines if you click the "Rick Warren" tag on the Huffington Post:

Rick Warren Announcement Is Slap In The Face To GLBTQ Army
Obama's Pastor Warren Pick; A Bridge Too Far
Barack, Get a Klue
Right Message, Wrong Messenger
Dump Rick Warren - Letter to President-elect Obama
Rick Warren: What Was Obama Thinking?

However, Bil Browning, longtime LGBT activist writes, "Calm down. Rick Warren is not a big deal. This tempest in a teapot will only harm our community."

-- Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press wrote a piece yesterday about how Warren has battled complaints from fellow evangelicals that he isn't nearly conservative enough.

"The comments from many of the evangelicals further to the right of him are often critical for his lax stance on their passionate issues," said Scott Thumma, a professor at Connecticut's Hartford Seminary.

However, some conservative evangelicals such as Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham have jumped to Warren's defense lately.

Michael Paulson at The Boston Globe writes that CNN's The Situation Room has an interview with Pat Robertson today. Robertson also praises Warren, and says, "All he's been asked to do is give an invocation. He isn't asked to endorse Obama. He's going to stand up there on the steps of the Capitol and he's going to say, God, please bless this country. And he will do that very well."

On a side note, Robertson told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux that he is "remarkably pleased" with Obama.

"I had grave misgivings about him. But so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently. He's picked a middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great president."

-- Finally, a CNN poll suggests that public opinion on same-sex marriage has not changed in the last six months. In June, 44 percent of those surveyed said that gay marriages should be recognized by law as valid, and 53 percent said they should not. A poll release today showed that 55 percent oppose gay marriage.

December 23, 2008

The Lincoln Bible Obama Will Use

Dan Gilgoff, formerly of Beliefnet, briefly interviewed Clark Evans, the Library of Congress's head of reference services, rare books, and special collections division about the Bible Barack Obama will use at the inauguration.

Before the election, we cross-posted several posts from Gilgoff when he was politics editor at Beliefnet. He has moved to a new role at U.S. New & World Report and has an excellent new politics & religion blog.

In the interview, Evans tells Gilgoff that the Bible has an inscription.

On the back flyleaf, you find the seal of the Supreme Court and a record of the event written out by William Thomas Carroll. What jumps out at you is that the Supreme Court justice at the time [who administered the oath to Lincoln] was Robert Taney, who had written the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that permitted slavery to spread into the territories. There was a palpable tension between the justice and the president.

December 23, 2008

Franklin Graham: Obama/Warren Criticisms Ludicrous

Evangelist Franklin Graham knows a thing or two about getting flack for praying at an inauguration. He took heat after praying in Jesus's name at President Bush's inauguration in 2001. I just spoke with Franklin Graham, who gave his take on Obama's decision to ask megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We have also compiled our coverage of Warren over the years in a special section.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

[Obama] is including evangelicals at his inauguration, but I don't know if he'll include them in his administration. Time will tell. But Rick Warren will have Obama's ear on important issues.


Does Warren's acceptance of the invitation give an implicit nod to Obama's administration?

For anybody to be upset at Rick Warren for offering a prayer to almighty God, asking God to give wisdom and guidance to the Obama administration, is ludicrous.

Should Rick Warren pray in the name of Jesus at the inaugural?

I would hope he does because he's a minister of the gospel. There's no other way to pray. A Muslim should not be offended. [Warren] has no other way to pray than in the name of Christ. No one should be offended, because Rick Warren should be who Rick Warren is, and that's a minister of Jesus Christ.

I know you said a month ago that your father would not be serving as a spiritual adviser to Barack Obama.

He's 90 years old. He's just happy to get up in the morning.

Do you have any advice for Rick Warren?

My advice to Rick is to stay true to your convictions, and don't back up one step. I don't think he will. When you have the far left and the gay advocates mad at you, you must be doing something right.

December 23, 2008

GSUSLVSU, and so does the driver of this car

In South Carolina, a district court has temporarily halted the production of state-sponsored license plates that declare "I Believe" and feature an illustration of a cross superimposed on a stained-glass window.

In Vermont, meanwhile, an appeals court is mulling whether a vanity plate featuring John 3:16, the verse about Jesus saving the world, should be permitted on that state's roads.

And in Arizona, a court has ruled it's OK to give residents the option of having the words "Choose Life" on state plates.

The question is no longer, "What Would Jesus Drive?" Now, it's more likely to be, "What's on his license plate?"

Across the country, the small metal plates affixed to car bumpers have become the latest battleground for church-state disputes and questions of free speech.

"It's hard to draw a line between what is government speech and what is private speech when it comes to license plates," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington. "Some people want to use their license plate to proclaim their beliefs and that puts the state in an awkward position because if they allow one message then they have to allow others."

The South Carolina case is one of the more unusual -- and overt -- examples of religious speech on a license plate. The "I Believe" phrase and accompanying artwork were adopted unanimously by the state legislature, prompting a lawsuit by the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of Unitarian, Jewish and Christian clergy and the Hindu American Foundation.

"I know some may quickly label this as an anti-Christian suit and I don't think that that's what is at issue," explained Suhag Shukla, legal counsel for the Maryland-based Hindu group. "It was more the state endorsement of religion, and such a blatant endorsement of religion."

U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie sided with the religious groups in a Dec. 15 opinion, halting distribution of the plates while the legal process continues.

"... (J)ust as a reasonable, objective observer would likely conclude that the state of South Carolina was promoting tourism with the Web site address 'Travel2SC.com' on its standard-issue plate," she wrote, "that same observer could reasonably believe the state is promoting Christianity through its legislatively-created and DMV-designed and marketed `I Believe' plate."

Beth Parks, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, said the state has complied with the preliminary injunction, which directed the department to remove advertising about the plate from its Web site.

"The people who submitted the $5 pre-paid application ... are receiving refunds," she said.

Beyond disputes over state-sanctioned specialty plates, Vermont driver Shawn Byrne is waiting for an appeals court to decide if he can use letters and symbols on his own vanity plate to spread the gospel. He hopes to put "JOHN316," "JN316" or "JN36TN" on his vehicle.

"Everybody knows when they're driving down the road and they see a vanity plate that this person behind the wheel is speaking, not the state," said Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, who defended Byrne at a Dec. 8 hearing.

Already, courts have permitted individuals to speak through specialized plates with messages to "Choose Life" sponsored by organizations such as the Arizona Life Coalition.

Arizona officials had initially rejected a "Choose Life" license plate, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that policy amounted to viewpoint discrimination. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Arizona officials. More than a dozen states offer "Choose Life" plates and more are considering them.

Continue reading GSUSLVSU, and so does the driver of this car...

December 23, 2008

Obama to Be Sworn in Using Lincoln's Bible

Barack Obama will be sworn into office using President Abraham Lincoln's Bible, the first time it has been used since its original use in 1861.

Perhaps the news will snuff out the false rumors that Obama would choose the Koran. Or maybe it will distract people from the Rick Warren pick for a few minutes.

The press release from the transition team about the Bible is after the jump.

Continue reading Obama to Be Sworn in Using Lincoln's Bible...

December 23, 2008

Bogus Bogus Trend Story?

Slate's media watchdog Jack Shafer thinks he's got the NYT dead to rights for Paul Vitello's December 14 story on how the recession is boosting worship attendance, at evangelical churches in particular. Not so, clucks Shafer, citing Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport's marshalling of evidence that there has, in fact, been no increase in church attendance in these hard times. Weekly attendance, saith Newport, has remained around 42 percent for months and months.

Unbeknownst to Shafer, however, is the bogosity of Gallup's church attendance numbers. What Newport doesn't say is that his company's surveys have shown church attendance to be in that exact numeric neighborhood ever since they began asking the question 60 years ago. As sure as death and taxes, two in five Americans will say they attend church weekly.

But for over a decade, sociologists of religion (and those who read them) have known that 1) a lot of those supposed weekly attenders are fibbing; and 2) more of them are fibbing now than used to. The evidence for this comes from multiple sources, including time-usage studies, on-the-ground observation of parking lots, church attendance records, interviews with clergy. These days, the real number for weekly attendance is in the low 20 percent range. (Here's a citation for one of the more important articles on the subject: C. Kirk Hadaway, Penny Long Marler and Mark Chaves, "Overreporting Church Attendance in America: Evidence That Demands the Same Verdict," American Sociological Review, Vol. 63, No. 1 [Feb., 1998], pp. 122-130.)

So does this meant that Vitello's article is on the money? Could be. A bunch of phone calls to pastors is more likely to turn up something new in the going-to-church department than Gallup's invariant two-in-five. Don't expect the phenomenon to last, though. After 9/11, a host of stories tracked a bump in churchgoing, and then a host tracked the quick reversion to the norm. As Yoda might have said, "Backsliding always we are."

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 22, 2008

Pastor to the President

Once upon a time, presidents tended to choose their own pastors, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, to give the invocation at their inaugurations. The idea was: Here's the guy who presides over my religious life, the guy I go to for spiritual counsel, and so I'm going to honor him by letting him say the prayer over this latest ceremonial occasion of my life. Thus, John F. Kennedy gave the nod to Boston's Cardinal Richard Cushing in 1961 and, in 1981, Ronald Reagan tapped Bel Air Presbyterian pastor Donn Moomaw. From time to time, the invoking cleric would be chosen for symbolic reasons, as when Dwight Eisenhower selected Orthodox Archbishop Michael in 1957 and Reagan, in 1985, chose the president of Georgetown University, Father Joseph A. O'Hare S.J.

But over the past two decades, it appears that a new office has emerged--that of Pastor to the President. This emergence is a bit obscured by the fact that the only actual holder of that office has been Billy Graham. Graham gave the invocations at the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and both Clinton inaugurals, and was slated to do the same at George W. Bush's 2001 affair, but because of illness had to cede the job to his son Franklin. It is, I think, in this context that Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren needs to be seen. As has been widely noted, Warren bids fair to become the closest thing to Billy Graham that the country has today. At the moment, he's way more controversial than the now sainted Graham, but in his younger days, Billy was plenty controversial himself.

What's important to recognize is that the position of presidential pastor is not entirely bogus. It entails spiritual counseling, advice and friendship, pastoral care. Graham actually seems to have filled that role for Richard Nixon, which helps explain why Nixon tapped him for his first inaugural invocation. The Clintons are both attached to him; according to Burns Strider, who handled faith outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign, whenever Hillary was slated to make an appearance in North Carolina, she insisted on paying a call on the old man. And of course, George W. Bush has made central to his faith journey that walk on the beach with Billy. Even if that particular event is, strictly speaking, apocryphal, the personal connection seems real.

Rick Warren is of course the head of the Saddleback world, the crusader for AIDS, the best-selling author of popular religious books. But he also, from what I gather, has taken it upon himself to serve as spiritual counselor to the politically prominent. There is every indication that Obama has availed himself of his services. Amidst all the huffing and puffing about Warren's choice to give next month's invocation, hardly raised at all is the possibility that this was, for Obama, as much a personal as a political decision. His family is, famously, between churches, and his relationship with Jeremiah Wright can hardly be what it once was. Warren seems to have given the president-elect good reason to like him and value his advice; the two call each other friend. We may think whatever we want of either, but this may be more about them than us.

Update: In support of this view of Warren, here's an exchange with Steve Waldman from a recent interview:

Did you ever talk to President Bush to try to convince him to change his policy?

No. No.

Why not?

Never got the chance. I just didn't. In fact, in the first place, I'm a pastor, and people might misunderstand ? I don't deal with policy issues with Barack Obama or President Clinton or John McCain. I just don't. That's not my role. My role is to pastor these guys. As a leader I understand stress.

And even when I disagree with positions they hold, they've got plenty of political advisors. They don't need me to be a political advisor. I'm not a pundit. I'm not a politician and that's why I don't take sides. But I am a pastor. And I can deal with "how's your family doing? How's your stress level doing?"

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 22, 2008

New Congress Reflects Overall U.S. Religious Landscape

The religious makeup of the incoming 111th Congress roughly matches the overall American religious landscape, with overrepresentation among Jews and Mormons, according to new analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Just over half (55 percent) of House and Senate members who will take office on Jan. 6 are Protestants, compared to 51 percent of the U.S. population. The second-largest group, Catholics, make up 30 percent of lawmakers, compared to 24 percent of all Americans.

Among Protestants, Baptists lead in the House and Senate, at 12 percent, followed by Methodists (11 percent), Presbyterians (8 percent), Episcopalians (7 percent) and Lutherans (4.5 percent).

Like the nation as a whole, the proportion of mainline Protestant members in Congress has fallen in recent decades. Methodists, for example, made up nearly one in five lawmakers in 1961. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have seen similar drops, while Lutherans have remained
relatively steady.

Catholics, meanwhile, have grown from 19 percent in 1961 -- the same year John F. Kennedy took office as the nation's first Catholic president -- to 30 percent today. Catholics make up a larger share of the Senate (37 percent) than the House (21 percent).

Jews make up 8.3 percent of the new Congress, compared to just 1.7 percent of the general population. Mormons, too, account for 2.6 percent of Congress but 1.7 percent of the general population.

The 111th Congress will see the return of two Muslims (Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana) and two Buddhists (Democrats Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) who were all elected to the House during the 110th Congress.

The Pew analysis said no Hindu has ever been elected to Congress, although a Sikh, Rep. Dalip Singh Saund, represented California for three terms beginning in 1957. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is a professing nonbeliever; five members did not specify a religious affiliation in data collected by Congressional Quarterly.

December 22, 2008

Kenneth Starr to defend gay marriage ban before state court

Most people remember Kenneth Starr from his days as the special investigator of Whitewater and President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. But for the last few years he has served as dean of the law school at Pepperdine University, which is affiliated with a conservative Christian denomination that I grew up in.

After rumors circulated last month, Starr was named today the lead counsel for the chief proponents of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment, passed last month by 52 percent of Californians, that would limit marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Legal challenges have been filed, and proponents are preparing for a battle.

"We are confident that the will of the voters and Proposition 8 will ultimately be upheld," said Andrew Pugno, General Counsel for ProtectMarriage.com and the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund. "The addition of Dean Starr to this legal conversation will provide useful guidance for the Court in resolving these important issues."

Starr, like me, grew up in the Church of Christ (not to be confused with the United Church of Christ, which resides on the other end of the theological spectrum). I'm curious as to how his faith shapes his practice of law. I couldn't find much online. The best window I got into Starr's Christian worldview comes from a comment he made during his speech at Christian Business Men's Committee in Washington. It appeared in a 1998 Washington Times article, no longer online:

"When you think of the blessed life that Jesus led on earth, think of his time utilization," Mr. Starr said. "He didn't waste a lot of time. Three years, that's the length of time . . . that this individual, human yet God, ended up shaping not just history, but each person who will say, ?I want to come to know Christ.? "

(Originally published at The God Blog.)

December 18, 2008

How Should Warren Then Pray?

California megachurch pastor Rick Warren will be preaching at 16 Christmas services and was not available for an interview with Christianity Today. However, he sent us a statement about his decision to pray at Barack Obama's inauguration, in response to the criticism Obama has received for inviting Warren.

"I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.

Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.

The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God’s blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America’s leaders during this critical time in our nation’s history."

Obama's pick also begs the question that David Waters asks in the Washington Post's On Faith section: "To Whose God Will Rick Warren Pray?"

Billy Graham used inclusive language when he delivered the Inaugural Invocation in 1989. "0 God, we consecrate today George Herbert Walker Bush to the presidency of these United States," he said. But four years later, Graham ended his invocation at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration this way: I pray this in the name of the one that's called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Amen."

Waters also reminds readers that in 2001, Franklin Graham ended his invocation with, "in the name of the father, and of the son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit." And Kirbyjon Caldwell ended with, "'We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ."

At the DNC, Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller ended his prayer with "I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice," putting a slight emphasis on I. Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter took a more unconventional approach during his benediction.

Now I interrupt this prayer for a closing instruction. I want to personalize this. I want this to be a participatory prayer. And so therefore, because we are in a country that is still welcoming all faiths, I would like all of us to close this prayer in the way your faith tradition would close your prayer.
So on the count of three, I want all of you to end this prayer, your prayer, the way you usually end prayer. You ready? One, two, three.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Let's go change the world for good.

Waters also asks another question: "Does it matter?" What do you think?

December 18, 2008

Obama Defends Rick Warren's Inaugural Invocation Plans

Barack Obama defended his choice of California megapastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at next month's Inauguration, responding to severe outcry from gay rights advocates and liberals.

"I am a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on in my presidency," Obama said at a news conference this morning. "What I've also said is that it is important for American to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues."

Gay rights advocates angrily denounced Obama's choice of Warren, who is an opponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

"Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans," the president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, wrote to Obama yesterday. "[W]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination."

To my knowledge, these groups didn't make a fuss when Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, who also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, prayed with Obama on Election Day and prayed at the Democratic National Convention. However, these groups are still stinging from California's decision to ban gay marriage, which Warren vocally supported.

December 18, 2008

Moral Majority Founder, Conservative Leader Paul Weyrich Dies

Paul M. Weyrich, who co-founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell in 1979, died this morning around 1 a.m. He was 66 years old.

Weyrich was the first president of The Heritage Foundation and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Weyrich wrote a piece for Christianity Today as part of a package on "Is the Religious Right Finished?"

Weyrich's last column was published this morning on the CNS News site where he writes on the Minnesota Senate race. Check back on our site for updates.

Update: Christianity Today has posted the obituary by Religion News Service.

December 17, 2008

Rick Warren to Give Invocation at Obama Inauguration

Rick Warren, senior pastor at Saddleback Church, will give the invocation at Barack Obama’s inaugural swearing-in ceremony on January 20.

The benediction will be given by Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, dean of the civil rights movement and co-founder with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Obama will be the first president since Harry Truman not to have a close relationship with evangelist Billy Graham. Franklin Graham told CT last month that although his father is praying for and would like to meet Obama, his role as counselor is ending. Could Rick Warren fill that role?

December 16, 2008

What about green evangelicals?

Richard Cizik's resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals prompted a letter from more than 50 evangelicals who support Cizik's attempts to broaden the evangelical agenda. More people are signing the letter here.

I wrote a story on CT's site today about those who are celebrating and lamenting his resignation and what it means for environmental advocacy.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found a statistically significant comparison from 2006 to 2008 that shows a 12 percent drop in evangelicals who said they believe that there is solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer. Many evangelicals debate over whether global warming is man-made, but the drop in this survey appears to come from those who believe that global warming is caused by natural causes.

Will Richard Cizik's resignation as NAE vice president affect evangelical creation care? You can vote today here or comment below.

December 15, 2008

Rick Warren's Dark Night of the Soul

Rick Warren is keeping a list, and checking it often. He'll have to memorize it because he can't count on having his Blackberry when he needs this list most. This is Rick Warren's list of questions for God.

In the course of a fascinating conversation last week with Beliefnet and our partner The Wall Street Journal -- click here for video of the full interview and here for a transcript -- Warren was stunningly candid about having doubts, even "dark nights of the soul."

"Oh absolutely. All the time."

"What do you mean 'all the time'?"

"I've never doubted God. But I've doubted why God does certain things....".

There are parts of the Bible, for instance, that he doesn't get -- "slaughters in the Bible and rules that don't seem to make sense and things that just don't seem to me, to be logical."

"And I still have doubts, I mean, I read the Bible and go 'whoa, why did God say that?'"

Continue reading Rick Warren's Dark Night of the Soul...

December 13, 2008

Sarah Palin's Church Damaged by Arson Fire

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's church was badly damaged in an arson fire last night, the Associated Press reports.

Damages to the Wasilla Bible Church were estimated at $1 million, authorities said today. No one was injured in the fire, which was intentionally set while people, including two children, were inside.

"This fire is definitely suspicious," said Central Mat-Su Fire Chief James Steele.

Pastor Larry Kroon declined to say if the Friday night blaze was politically based or directed at Palin, the failed Republican vice presidential candidate. He also declined to say whether the church has received any recent threats.

Rachel D'Oro writes that Palin stopped by the church this morning. Her spokesman, Bill McAllister, said in a statement that Palin told an assistant pastor she apologizes if the fire was connected to the "undeserved negative attention" the church has received with her previous vice presidential candidacy.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life compiled a report on how the media handled Palin's faith, and several stories focused on her church.

December 12, 2008

Vatican condemns popular infertility treatments

The Vatican's highest doctrinal body on Friday condemned advanced infertility treatments and contraception technologies and reaffirmed its strong prohibition of embryonic stem
cell research.

The long-awaited document, "Dignitas personae" ("The dignity of a person"), was released by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.

Church officials said the document was meant as an update to a 1987 statement under Pope John Paul II. While the two documents are complementary, the newer one covers 21st-centry medical advances that were not even on the horizon 20 years ago.

Like the 1987 document, the new 36-page statement condemns in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and all other techniques that involve "replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure."

Vatican officials know from long experience that their pronouncements on sexual and medical ethics are bound to generate controversy and resistance, and the response from the liberal wing of the U.S. church was swift and strong.

"There is little new in the statement, but it remains difficult to reconcile the Vatican's self-avowed pro-life approach with the rejection of in-vitro fertilization and embryo freezing, not to mention the condemnation of the potential of stem-cell research,'' said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, which supports abortion rights and access to contraceptives.

Cardinal William Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco who now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was not present at a press conference to announce the release of the document.

At the press conference, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, acknowledged that the document would encounter a variety of reactions, including indifference, ridicule, and accusations of "dark obscurantism that impedes progress and free
research."

In the document, church officials attempted to cast ethical and scientific debates in starkly human terms. An embryo is referred to as a "human being in his or her embryonic state,'' not a cluster of cells that is subject to "manipulation'' or "utilitarian treatment'' in a laboratory.

Moreover, the Vatican strongly states that reproductive technologies that may appear to be life-giving or life-affirming, such as IVF for infertile couples or stem cell research from discarded embryos, are actually destructive to the most nascent of human lives.

The Vatican appeared to give its blessing to treatments like Viagra and other measures that "assist the conjugal act, either in order to facilitate its performance or in order to enable it to achieve its objective once it has been normally performed.''

But included on the Vatican's prohibited list:

-- Newer forms of birth control, including the "morning after" pill (which prevents implantation of a fertilized egg) and RU-486 (which eliminates an already implanted embryo). Both "fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral." Those who seek or prescribe such methods "generally intend abortion,'' the document said.

-- Genetic testing of embryos before their implantation through IVF, which the Vatican called tantamount to abortion and an "expression of a eugenic mentality."

-- Research that uses stem cells derived from embryos because the removal of those cells "invariably causes the death of the embryo."

-- Fertility treatments that involve the creation of multiple embryos that may or may not be used in seeking pregnancy. The "number of embryos sacrificed, even in the most technically advanced centers of artificial fertilization, hovers above 80 percent," the document said.

Yet on the delicate question of what should happen to those unused embryos, the document offers few clear answers. So-called "prenatal adoptions,'' in which one couple would "adopt'' another couple's excess embryos, is unacceptable because it would involve unnatural procedures, the congregation concludes. The Bush administration has supported such efforts.

"Abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved," the document states, quoting a statement by John Paul II that "there seems to be no morally licit solution" to the problem.

The Rev. Robert A. Gahl Jr., an American who teaches ethics at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said the church is still debating the proper response to excess embryos.

His own proposal is to "release them from their frozen captivity," so that they can be cared for by their natural or adoptive parents until their natural deaths a few days after thawing.

Yet at the end of the day, Gahl said one of the document's most significant contributions is its definition of a human embryo as possessing the "dignity proper to a person."

"This is an even more forceful rejection of the arguments that (Vice President-elect Joe) Biden and (Speaker of the House Nancy) Pelosi were making this summer, that the church is undecided about the status of the fetus," Gahl said. "From now on, those sorts of opinions are off the map."

December 12, 2008

Supreme Court declines to hear 'candy cane' speech case

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal in a case involving a Michigan fifth-grader who tried to sell candy canes with a religious message at his school.

The high court on Monday denied the petition that the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund filed on behalf of Joel Curry.

Curry was 11 in 2003 when he made candy cane-style Christmas ornaments with notes that school officials considered "religious literature." The notes attached to the ornaments, titled "The Meaning of the Candy Cane," referred to Jesus six times and God twice.

Curry copied the message from an ornament at a Christian bookstore. He made the ornaments as part of a class project in which students developed and sold products. He faced no discipline, though school officials told him to remove the message, and received an `A' on the assignment.

Now a 15-year-old high school sophomore, Curry said he was disappointed in the high court's ruling, but the incident happened "a long time ago" and he doesn't "think about it much" anymore.

"They should have heard it because it's an important issue involving the Constitution and people's First Amendment right to freedom of speech," he said.

The Alliance Defense Fund had asked the high court to "consider whether a fifth-grade student's religious expression on a classroom project may be categorically identified as `offensive' and therefore legitimately censored by state school officials."

ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Saginaw School District and Curry's principal in 2004, claiming that the principal violated the Constitution's equal protection clause because, in the past, she allowed other students to sell religious-themed items.

In September 2006, a federal judge ruled that the principal violated Curry's First Amendment rights. A three-judge panel for the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed that decision.

December 11, 2008

Richard Cizik Resigns from the National Association of Evangelicals

Richard Cizik resigned last night as vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Christianity Today
has posted a news story on its main site, an interview with Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, and relevant portions of the National Public Radio interview, which started it all.

December 10, 2008

State panel urges same-sex marriage for New Jersey

New Jersey should enact a law allowing gay marriage and waste no time passing it because the state's civil unions law fails to adequately protect same-sex couples, a report to be released Wednesday said.

The final report of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission says it gathered "overwhelming evidence" that the civil union law not only fails to provide the same protections as marriage, it also has created economic, medical and emotional hardships for gay couples.

The state panel concluded that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is as unjust as government imposing racial segregation laws against African-Americans.
"Separate treatment was wrong then and it is just as wrong now," said the report.

The 79-page report is the work of a 13-member panel created to evaluate the impact of the 2006 civil union law, which was supposed to provide the rights and responsibilities of marriage under another name. It will be forwarded to Gov. Jon Corzine and state lawmakers.

"The report is a sweeping indictment of the failure of the civil union law," said commission vice chairman Steven Goldstein, head of Garden State Equality, which is campaigning to legalize same-sex marriage. "The report asks Governor Corzine and the Legislature: Do you want equality or not? If so, there is only one way to go."

About 3,353 couples have entered into civil unions, according to Goldstein. He said his organization has received 1,502 complaints about civil unions.

Corzine could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. He has said previously he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but wanted to deal with the issue after the November presidential election so a possible backlash would not be exploited by conservatives for political gain.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, a Democrat, said the report "should spark a renewed sense of purpose and urgency to overcoming one of society's last remaining barriers to full equality for all residents. As I have said many times before, same-sex marriage in New Jersey is only a matter of `when,' not `if."'

John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage and a leading opponent of gay marriage, pledged to make it an issue in next year's state elections.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states that issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. California did until last month, when voters approved a proposition outlawing same-sex marriage.

The commission's interim report in February found civil unions are "not clear to the general public" and confer "second-class status" on the couples who form them.

Three months ago, representatives of the state's Catholic bishops, the Knights of Columbus and other groups held a press conference to denounce the commission as biased, and demanded that it be scrapped and reconstituted.

December 10, 2008

Bush Gives Presidential Medal to Chuck Colson

President Bush gave Charles Colson the Presidential Citizen Medal today.

He was one of 24 people honored today with the second highest honor for a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Colson was the first member of the Nixon administration to serve prison time for Watergate-related offenses and founded Prison Fellowship in 1976.

"For more than three decades, Chuck Colson has dedicated his life to sharing the message of God's boundless love and mercy with prisoners, former prisoners and their families," the White House said in the citation. "Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society."

Colson is also a columnist for Christianity Today.

December 10, 2008

Obama: Illinois Governor Should Resign

President-elect Barack Obama urged Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign from office, Obama's spokesman said in a statement today.

"The president-elect agrees with Lt. Governor Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the Governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Reader Brad Flora sent me this link from the Windy City about how members of the Eastern Orthodox church aren't excited to be linked to Blagojevich. Here's a portion from Kate Shellnutt:

Today, though, Serbian Americans - and even more broadly, members of the Eastern Orthodox church - aren't pleased to see the non-stop news reports about the country's only Serbian Orthodox governor.

Blagojevich now lives in Ravenswood Manor, but he said during an interview for his run for governor that he currently doesn't attend a single church regularly. Still, as the son of Serbian immigrants to Chicago, he remains an icon for the Serbian-American population and remains active in their religious community.

December 9, 2008

ABC Interview with Bush Reveals More About His Faith

A new ABC interview with President Bush reveals more about his faith, and views on a literal interpretation of the Bible and evolution.

Stepping on some hot topics, Bush said the Bible is "probably not" literally true and believes that God created the earth and in evolution. Here's the interview excerpt:

MCFADDEN: Is it literally true, the Bible?

BUSH: You know. Probably not ... No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament, for example is ... has got ... You know, the important lesson is "God sent a son."

MCFADDEN: So, you can read the Bible...

BUSH: That God in the flesh, that mankind can understand there is a God who is full of grace and that nothing you can do to earn his love. His love is a gift and that in order to draw closer to God and in order to express your appreciation for that love is why you change your behavior.

MCFADDEN: So, you can read the Bible and not take it literally. I mean you can -- it's not inconsistent to love the Bible and believe in evolution, say.

BUSH: Yeah, I mean, I do. I mean, evolution is an interesting subject. I happen to believe that evolution doesn't fully explain the mystery of life and ...

MCFADDEN: But do you believe in it?

BUSH: That God created the world, I do, yeah.

MCFADDEN: But what about ...

BUSH: Well, I think you can have both. I think evolution can -- you're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president. But it's, I think that God created the Earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty, and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution.

The entire article is worth a read, but here's another portion:

In the interview, Bush also spoke at length about his personal faith and how it has informed his presidency. The president said that his relationship with God has grown over time, and began when he decided to stop drinking.

"It is hard for me to justify or prove the mystery of the Almighty in my life," he said. "All I can just tell you is that I got back into religion and I quit drinking shortly thereafter and I asked for help -- I was a one-step program guy."

When asked if he thought he would have become president had it not been for his faith, Bush said, "I don't know; it's hard to tell. I do know that I would have been -- I'm pretty confident I would have been a pretty selfish person."

Bush said he is often asked if he thinks he was chosen by God to be president.

"I just, I can't go there," he said. "I'm not that confident in knowing, you know, the Almighty, to be able to say, 'Yeah, God wanted me of all the other people.' My relationship [with God] is on a personal basis trying to become as closer to the Almighty as I possibly can get. And I've got a lot of problems. I mean, I got, you know, the ego ... all the things that prevent me from being closer to the Almighty. So, I don't analyze my relationship with the good Lord in terms of, well, you know, God has plucked you out or God wants you to do this. I know this: I know that the call is to better understand and live out your life according to the will of God."

After he leaves the White House, Bush told ABC that he will try "to stay on the walk to the last day on the face of the Earth." He said, "I've come to this conclusion -- maybe I'm wrong, I don't know -- that the full understanding of Christianity is going to take a full lifetime of study."

December 9, 2008

How Big the Tent?

John Boehner bubbles that Ahn Cao, Vietnamese-American congressman from New Orleans, is the future of the Republican Party. Likewise Newt Gingrich: "This is the opposite of red-vs.-blue, base-mobilization politics." Meanwhile, African-American RNC chair wannabe Michael Steele rages against GOP conservatives who, in shutting him out, would shut out moderates:

They have been beating me upside the head with it and let me give it to you straight on: Wake up people. I mean what are you going to do? Are you going to kick these folks out of the party? I have watched this party self disintegrate for the last four or five years. I've watched this party isolate itself from itself.

Stay tuned.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 9, 2008

Spiritual Lagniappe

One associates Louisiana politics with many exotic things, but Asian Catholic Republicans are not among them. Now there are two. The first is Bobby Jindal, born to Indian immigrants, who abandoned the Hinduism of his youth and converted to Catholicism. In 2007, he became the first Indian-American governor in the nation's history. Then, over the weekend, Joseph (Anh) Cao defeated the disgraced William Jefferson to become the nation's first congressman of Vietnamese antecedents. Before becoming a lawyer, he spent some time in a Jesuit seminary studying to be a priest.

Jindal and Cao both deserve to be considered Catholic intellectuals, but there the resemblance ends. A graduate of Brown University and a Rhodes Scholar, Jindal quickly established himself as a culture warrior. Here he is writing on "Atheism's Gods" in the Catholic apologetic magazine This Rock in 1995:

The wave of political correctness, which has affected universities at every level, has also infected religious and philosophical thought. Whereas Western universities once existed to train clergymen and educate others in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, modern centers of higher learning are much more secular and skeptical toward anything remotely religious.

Currently being touted as presidential material, Jindal is a favorite of the social conservative elite.

Cao, by contrast, appears to be anything but a social conservative ideologue. According to Adam Nagourney's profile in today's NTY, he has spent most of his adult life as a political independent--an existential choice perhaps related to his fondness for Camus and Dostoevsky. While studying to be a priest he worked with the poor in Mexico and in Vietnamese refugee camps in Hong Kong, then decided to work for social change via politics, helping his community as a lawyer in post-Katrina New Orleans. "Politics and religious life," he told Nagourney, "don't mix."

If anything, Cao seems most akin to fellow freshman congressman-elect Tom Perriello (D-Va), a "common good" Catholic who has spent much of his legal career working for international nonprofits dedicated to improving the lot of the least among us. It will be interesting to see how Cao fares in the House Republican conference.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 8, 2008

Praying for an Auto Bailout

It's not very often you'll see an S.U.V.'s at the altar, but that's where they sat at a church in Detroit, where the congregation prayed to save the auto industry.

The Wall Street Journal
put together a slideshow, and Nick Bunkley wrote about a Pentecostal church for The New York Times.

Greater Grace, the largest church in Detroit, invited officials from the United Automobile Workers union to speak before Bishop Ellis gave his sermon, titled "A Hybrid Hope."

The S.U.V.'s on the stage, a Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Escape and Chrysler Aspen on loan from local dealerships, were all gas-electric hybrids, and Bishop Ellis urged worshipers to combat the region's woes by mixing hope with faith in God.

"We have done all that we can do in this union, so I turn it over to the Lord," General Holiefield, a U.A.W. vice president for Chrysler, told the crowd. A vice president for the parts suppliers, James Settles Jr., asked those present "to continue your prayers, so we can see a miracle next week."

(h/t Eileen Flynn)

December 8, 2008

Montana Okays Doctor-Assisted Suicides

A state judge has ruled that doctor-assisted suicides are legal in Montana, the Associated Press reports.

"The patient's right to die with dignity includes protection of the patient's physician from liability under the state's homicide statutes," Judge Dorothy McCarter wrote in the ruling late Friday.

The state attorney general's office had argued that intentionally taking a life was illegal, and that the issue was the responsibility of the state Legislature.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Anders had argued the state has no evaluation process, safeguards or regulations to provide guidance or oversight for doctor-assisted suicide. The state also said it was premature to declare constitutional rights for a competent, terminally ill patient because the terms "competent" or "terminally ill" had yet to be defined.

Amy Beth Hanson writes, "McCarter's ruling makes Montana the third state after Oregon and Washington to allow doctor-assisted suicides. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that terminally ill patients have no constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide but did nothing to prevent states from legalizing the process."

December 8, 2008

Newsweek's Religious Case for Gay Marriage

Newsweek's cover story attempts to tackle gay marriage from a biblical perspective.

"In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call 'the traditional family' are scarcely to be found," Lisa Miller writes. Here's her opening paragraph:

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel - all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments - especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple - who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love - turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

To those who believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, Miller says there are two obvious responses:

First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage - theirs or anyone else's - to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes.

Mollie Hemingway has promptly taken the article to task at GetReligion. CT posted a classic today in response: What God Hath Not Joined | Sorry, Newsweek: the Bible is in fact quite clear on why marriage was designed for male and female.

December 4, 2008

Poll: Religion Drove Calif. Gay Marriage Ban Votes

A new poll suggests that religion and economic status played a driving force than race and age in determining whether voters would approve a ban on same-sex marriage in California, Lisa Leff reports for the Associated Press.

The ban drew its strongest support from both evangelical Christians and voters who didn't attend college, according to results released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Age and race, meanwhile, were not as strong factors as assumed. According to the poll, 56 percent of voters over age 55 and 57 percent of nonwhite voters cast a yes ballot for the gay marriage ban.

People who identified themselves as practicing Christians were highly likely to support the constitutional amendment, with 85 percent of evangelical Christians, 66 percent of Protestants and 60 percent of Roman Catholics favoring it.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides a graph of how Americans' opposition to same-sex marriage has varied over the years. A 2007 survey showed that 55 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage while 36 percent were in favor of it. Evangelicals in California (85 percent) voted for the ban slightly higher than the percent of evangelicals overall who oppose gay marriage (81 percent).

December 3, 2008

Atheists Sue Over Ky. Law Tying Homeland Security to God

The American Atheists have sued the commonwealth of Kentucky after learning that a law requires the state's Office of Homeland Security to declare its reliance on God for safety.

The New Jersey-based atheist group filed suit Tuesday in a Kentucky court seeking a ruling that a 2002 law stating that "the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on God" is unconstitutional.

The atheists are particularly concerned about a 2006 law that calls for the divine-reliance wording to be spelled out on a plaque at the entrance of the state's Emergency Operations Center.

"It's part of the law to publicize that God is necessary for homeland security," said David Silverman, spokesman for American Atheists. "That's part of the law and it's patently unconstitutional. It's so offensive, not just from an atheistic point of view but from an
American point of view because these people are trying to bring the
religious debate into homeland security."

The laws were both sponsored by Democratic delegate Tom Riner of Louisville, Ky., who also is a Southern Baptist minister.

"It's a frivolous lawsuit that American Atheists has launched to attempt to censor and suppress the publication of a key law that acknowledges divine providence," said Riner, pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church.

He said the laws did not get much attention when he sponsored them. But he's getting attention now, and the state is being sued, after the Lexington News-Leader wrote a story about them in late November.

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but added: "There's a law in place and it's our intent to follow the law."

December 3, 2008

Planned Parenthood Offers $25 Gift Certificates for Abortions

Oh my insensitivity:

This year, for the first time, Planned Parenthood of Indiana is offering holiday gift certificates for that certain someone in your life who may want a breast exam, a pap smear or perhaps not want another life in their life.

Calling them an "unusual yet practical gift this holiday season," the organization is selling gift certificates in $25 denominations, redeemable at any of the group's 35 statewide locations for their services, including health screenings, birth control and abortion services.

A Planned Parenthood website page notes that a standard women's health exam costs $58 while abortions in the first trimester can run from $350 to $900.

There's even an online page to order the certificates if you know someone in Indiana who desires such services.

According to Ms. magazine, an official of the Hoosier Planned Parenthood group explained:

"People are making really tough decisions about putting gas in their car and food on their table, so we know that many women especially put healthcare at their bottom of their list to do."

I'm speechless. Really. This is the most mindblowing marketing maneuver I have ever heard of.

Your comments are welcomed.

(Originally published at The God Blog.)

December 2, 2008

Evangelicals Heart Mormons

Well, they do now. A year ago, it was a different story. Here's what's new.

December 2, 2008

Zoo Drops Creation Museum Partnership

The Creation Museum and the Cincinnati Zoo have broken up a partnership after the zoo, which receives public support through a tax levy, received angry calls and e-mails.

Dan Horn of The Enquirer reports that a ticket deal offered $25.95 tickets to both the zoo Festival of Lights and the museum's Bethlehem’s Blessing, which features a live nativity and the streets of Bethlehem.

Adelle M. Banks writes this story for Religion News Service:

The Cincinnati Zoo has dropped a business arrangement with the nearby Creation Museum after it received numerous complaints about a joint Christmas promotion.

Officials at the museum expressed disappointment that their plans to offer a reduced price on a package of tickets to both attractions had ended after less than three days.

"I am ... personally saddened that this organization I esteem so highly would find it necessary to back out of this relationship," said Ken Ham, founder and president of the museum in Petersburg, Ky. "At the same time, I have learned that the zoo received hundreds of complaints from what appear to be some very intolerant people, and so I understand the zoo's perspective."

The Cincinnati Enquirer
said zoo officials found themselves embroiled in a debate between creationists who support the museum and evolutionists who oppose it after agreeing to a deal that would reduce entry to the zoo's "Festival of Lights" and the museum's "Bethlehem's
Blessings."

"It's not about us endorsing them or them endorsing us," said Chad Yelton, a spokesman for the zoo, told the newspaper. "That's wasn't the intention of anything we were doing."

December 2, 2008

Organization and City Clash over Billboard

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has responded to a removal of the organization's billboard promoting a world without religion. Not surprisingly, they're suing Rancho Cucamonga and the city officials who encouraged the billboard operator to take it down:

"It does appear that the city was engaging in this officious intervention and has violated our free speech and our establishment clause rights," said foundation co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "They used their intimidation powers against the billboard company, I believe."

The billboard, which bore a stained-glass motif and the Wisconsin-based group's name and Web address, went up around Nov. 13 and was taken down a week later, Gaylor said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Rancho Cucamonga.

The foundation contemplated suing the billboard firm, General Outdoor Co., which violated a two-month contract. The group, however, said it didn't want to antagonize billboard companies. The foundation is more focused on state involvement in religion, Gaylor said.

"It's much more serious for the government to censor than for private entities to censor," she said.

To be sure, religion is ensconced in Inland Empire public life - not just presidential elections. I've mentioned before an article I wrote when I was at The Sun about how local government's were responding to a court decree that they not open municipal meetings with prays that invoke a specific deity. Praying to God was deemed OK. But Jesus or Allah or Buddha - that's off limits.

But there is no way to prevent it, and many city officials have no interest in doing so.

(Originally published at The God Blog.)

December 2, 2008

Frozen Chosen

Steve Waldman poses a question that has been gnawing at those of us who spend way too much of our time poring over exit polls by religious category; namely: Why didn't any more white mainline Protestants vote for Barack Obama? Like Steve, I expected Obama to make real inroads among his co-religionists, a onetime heartland Republican constituency that had been trending Democratic in recent elections. In the event, they voted (according to Pew's account), 55-44 for McCain (as opposed to 56-44 for George Bush in 2004.) Meanwhile, Obama reduced the Republican margin among white evangelicals, whom he wasn't supposed to be making headway with, by a full 11 points. What gives? Here's the best I can manage by way of an answer, based on currently available data.

Mainliners were the only Judeo-Christian grouping whose vote for Bush decreased from 2000 to 2004. And that decline occurred solely among those who attended worship frequently (once a week or more), to the tune of 8 percentage points. Bush actually picked up one percentage point among the less frequent attenders. (These data, worked up by John Green for an article in Religion in the News, can be found here.) We don't yet have the crosstabs for religious traditions by frequency of attendance in 2008, but we do know that among white Protestants, the evangelical portion of the vote increased (by three points), while mainliners dropped by a point. And in the overall attendance categories, there was a drop in turnout only among the more-than-weekly attenders. I'm guessing that the part of the mainline community that had not been in motion--the less frequent attenders--remained in place as it had in 2004, while among those who had been in motion--the frequent attenders--all that changed was that a small number decided not to vote for president this time around.

OK, but so what? My hypothesis is that 1) lukewarm mainliners have for the past decade been frozen into their partisan commitments in a way that may have more to do with where they live and what particular denomination they belong to than with their identity as generic mainline Protestants; and 2) worshipful mainliners reached a new partisan equilibrium in 2004, such that in 2008 just a few were sufficiently torn between conflicting impulses (economic conservatism, anti-Palinism, whatever) that they crossed their arms and stayed at home. Bottom line: White mainliners are now kind of like white Catholics--modestly more Republican than Democratic but less likely to shift around.

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

December 2, 2008

Non-Evangelicals Didn't Move to Obama

About two months ago I sagely predicted that mainline Protestants would flood to Obama and white evangelicals (thanks to Obama's positions on abortion, Sarah Palin and other factors) wouldn't go anywhere near him.

It looks like I got it pretty much exactly backward. I've written elsewhere why I think evangelicals did move to Obama in meaningful numbers, but I'm absolutely stumped by this: according to an analysis by the Pew Religion Forum, non-evangelical Protestants didn't move to Obama at all. Kerry got 44%. So did Obama.

Given that just about every other religious group shifted to the Democrat, I'm scratching my head as to why these folks didn't.

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)

December 1, 2008

Law Requires Kentucky's Homeland Security to Credit God

A Kentucky lawmaker is frustrated that the state's Homeland Security office doesn't currently mention God in its mission statement or on its website.

John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes:

Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God's benevolent protection in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister, tucked the God provision into Homeland Security legislation as a floor amendment that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved two years ago.

As amended, Homeland Security's religious duties now come before all else, including its distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and its analysis of possible threats.

December 1, 2008

Bush: 'I am a lowly sinner seeking redemption'

As a promotion for StoryCorps' National Day of Listening, President Bush and his wife, Laura, talked about their time in the White House, Bush's parents, and (notably for CT readers), what role faith has played in the president's day-to-day life.

"I've been in the Bible every day since I've been the President, and I have been affected by people's prayers a lot," Bush said. He continued:

I have found that faith is comforting, faith is strengthening, faith has been important. ... I would advise politicians, however, to be careful about faith in the public arena. ...In other words, politicians should not be judgmental people based upon their faith. They should recognize -- as least I have recognized I am a lowly sinner seeking redemption, and therefore have been very careful about saying (accept) my faith or you're bad. In other words, if you don't accept what I believe, you're a bad person.

And the greatness of America -- it really is -- is that you can worship or not worship and be equally American. And it doesn't matter how you choose to worship; you're equally American. And it's very important for any President to jealously protect, guard, and strengthen that freedom.

The President's sister, Doro Bush Koch, also asked Bush how he would like to be remembered. "I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process," his answer began.

Part of the interview aired on NPR on Thanksgiving. The White House website has excerpts.