All posts from “March 2009”

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March 31, 2009

Tony Dungy to Join Faith-Based Council

The White House has invited recently retired NFL Coach Tony Dungy to join the Advisory Council for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Dan Gilgoff reports.

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Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in 2007. Known for his strong Christian faith commitment to family, Dungy retired to spend more time with his family and in volunteer work. He has long been involved with groups like Family First, All-Pro Dad, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Prison Crusade Ministry, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the United Way.

Christianity Today's Stan Guthrie recently interviewed Tony Dungy (listen here). CT also covered Dungy in "A Kinder, Gentler Coach" and "Christian Coaches Face Off for Super Bowl XLI."

March 31, 2009

Top 10 from March

March 30, 2009

Less Religious New England States Create Same-Sex Marriage Buzz

New England states are weighing same-sex marriage legislation, especially where religious presence may be lacking, according to USA Today analysis.

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"A USA TODAY analysis finds that states where the percentage of "nones" - people who say they have no religion - is at or above the national average of 15% are more likely to push expanding the scope of marriage, civil unions or same-sex partner rights," write Cathy Lynn Grossman and Jack Gillum.

Vermont's legislature is expected to vote on a same-sex marriage bill later this week, and the AP outlines other debates going on in the Northeast.

Continue reading Less Religious New England States Create Same-Sex Marriage Buzz...

March 27, 2009

Obama and Religious Higher Education

The University of Notre Dame invited President Obama to be the keynote speaker and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at commencement on May 17. The invitation has created an uproar from conservative Catholics, since the President has taken executive actions that oppose the Catholic Church's teachings on life ethics. I interviewed Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University who is spending a year as a visiting professor at Notre Dame.

I also posed similar questions to administrators who would be considered experts in religious higher education. Here are some more responses:

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary in California

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My own sense is that commencements are for students and their families, and controversies should be avoided on those occasions. As a frequent commencement speaker, I am very much aware that people do not attend to hear the speaker, and that the best one can hope for is that the speech might have a line or so that sticks with the folks who attend. But they don't need political controversy.

I am all in favor of having speakers on our campuses with whom we disagree. In the evangelical schools, we rightly insist on a kind of orthodoxy on the part of faculty - which means that for students to be exposed to in-the-flesh people with whom the school disagrees, guest lecturers are an important part of the educational process. But commencements ought not to have to carry that kind of baggage.

The wrinkle in this case, of course, is the fact that the proposed speaker is the President of the United States - and one who symbolizes an important positive step forward for a nation (and a Christian community!) that needs to work diligently at healing the racial wounds of the past. But President Obama bears significant responsibility for this controversy. He had given those of us who support the right-to-life cause some hope that he would work to decrease the polarization on this and related issues. Instead this administration has taken an "in your face" approach on abortion and stem cell research - issues that are of great importance in Catholic and evangelical communities.

As someone who still has great respect for Mr. Obama, I am deeply disappointed in him on this particular set of policy questions. If I were the president of Notre Dame, I would withdraw the invitation to him as a commencement speaker and invite him to speak his mind on anything he wants to discuss in a public forum on dealing with divisive moral issues in a pluralistic society.

David S. Dockery, President of Union University

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I am sure that the Notre Dame administration has thought through these things carefully prior to extending the invitation. Notre Dame has been inviting presidents to speak at their graduation ceremonies for several decades. When a university invites an outside speaker to such a special event, it is almost always the case that the speaker is invited to speak "to the university community" and not to speak "for the university community." I think that is a very important distinction to make. All of us from time to time have special speakers for special events who do not embody the mission and identity of the university.

Continue reading Obama and Religious Higher Education...

March 27, 2009

More March Madness

Sen. Robert Casey, Democrat of Pa., has backed out of giving the commencement address at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. The college, where former President George W. Bush gave the address (and stirred a lot of his own controversy) two years ago, is headed by Jim Towey, Bush's former director of the Faith-based Initiative.

What, you thought the headline referred to basketball?

(Originally published at Religion News Service's blog.)

March 26, 2009

Sarah Palin: Couldn't Find McCain Staffers to Pray With

Sarah Palin told a group of Alaska Republicans last week about preparing to go on stage for the vice presidential debate. "So I'm looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra," she said. "And the McCain campaign, love 'em, you know, they're a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray."

McCain staffers have taken umbrage at the suggestion that they're not the praying types.

The rest of the anecdote (starting at the 4 minute mark) is actually quite charming. She asks her daughter Piper to pray that God gives her strength and "speaks through me." Little Piper responds, "That would be cheating!"

What's politically interesting is that Palin could easily have told the Piper anecdote without dissing the McCainiacs. You can see why religious conservatives love her: unabashed about her faith and her contempt for McCain staffers.

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

March 26, 2009

Members of President's Bioethics Council Voice Objections

Ten members of the President’s Council on Bioethics have issued a statement raising concerns about President Obama’s decision to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

They criticize Obama's characterization of what actually took place in 2001, since President Bush never banned embryonic stem cell research. "The aim of this policy was not to shackle scientific research but to find a way to reconcile the need for research with the moral concerns people have," they say.

The council members say that pluripotent stem cell research has eclipsed embryonic research. They argue, "Because producing them does not require human ova, and because they are patient-specific stem cells that are less likely to be rejected by their recipients, they also have distinct scientific advantages.

The authors write that Obama's decision would encourage cloning human embryos that then must be destroyed. "We cannot believe that this would advance our society’s commitment to equal human dignity," they write.

(h/t Emily Belz)

March 26, 2009

Donald Miller Added to Faith-Based Office Task Force

Author Donald Miller, who campaigned for President Obama, will be on a task force for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Miller became involved with the Obama campaign after he gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. He then traveled with the campaign to Christian colleges, including Calvin and Hope Colleges in Michigan. He writes about his new role with the office on his blog but doesn't go into details.

I’ll be meeting with the CFBCI about twice a month, when I’m able to sit on on the conference call, and I’ll keep you informed of their progress. It all sounds really good to me and I’m honored to be one of the people they’ve asked for input. I assure you I’m a small fish on the phone. Perhaps the smallest.

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Evangelicals on the office's broader council include Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, Frank S. Page, president emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention, Joel C. Hunter, pastor of Northland, a Church Distributed, and Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners.

Director of the office Joshua DuBois told me earlier this week that the rest of the members have been chosen and will be announced soon.

Continue reading Donald Miller Added to Faith-Based Office Task Force...

March 25, 2009

Vermont Gov. to Veto Gay Marriage Bill

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas said he will veto a state bill to allow same-sex marriage if it makes it to his desk.

The Vermont state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill earlier this week, and the House is expected to vote next week. Here's more from WCAX:

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The governor told reporters he doesn't typically announce his intentions like this so far ahead of time, but said he thinks it's the only way to stop speculation about what his move may be, to refocus lawmakers' attention on the state budget.

"I'm announcing I will veto this legislation when it reaches my desk," Douglas said.

Explaining same-sex marriage is a deeply personal issue that crosses political lines, Vermont's Republican governor said he will not sign a bill into law allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

"I believe marriage has always been and ought to remain the union of a man and a woman," Douglas said. "I believe the civil unions law has offered equal rights and benefits under state law to same-sex couples and that should suffice."

March 25, 2009

Obama Notre Dame Speech Draws Fire

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President Obama's planned commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame continues to spark controversy, as the local Catholic bishop said he will boycott the event because some Obama policies contradict church teaching.

Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Ind.) said Tuesday that "as a Catholic university, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth."

"President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," D'Arcy said, "and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life."

The young Obama administration has upset Catholic leaders by opening federal funding to international family planning groups and embryonic stem cell research, as well as proposing to rescind conscience protection rules for health care workers that were instituted by the Bush administration.

Continue reading Obama Notre Dame Speech Draws Fire...

March 25, 2009

Conservatives Talk Abortion Reduction with White House

Leaders from several prominent conservative Christian groups met Tuesday with the head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to discuss ways to reduce abortions.

Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright sought the meeting with Joshua DuBois, executive director of the revamped White House office.

"It was cordial and there's an opportunity for future meetings," Wright said after the meeting, which lasted more than half an hour. "He did seem interested in the kinds of programs that are helping women and children."

Conservative Christian groups have criticized the Obama administration for early policy actions such as opening federal funding to embryonic stem cell research and international family planning groups, and moving to rescind conscience protections for health care workers.

Wright, who called the freedom of conscience "fundamental to the American way of life," said she brought up the conscience issue with DuBois and several White House staffers who attended the meeting. They also discussed programs that encourage men to be good fathers.

Continue reading Conservatives Talk Abortion Reduction with White House...

March 25, 2009

Philanthropist Leaves GOP

Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson has announced that he has left the GOP to become a Democrat.

"The Republican Party of the State of California seems to have decided to narrow itself down to one article of faith, which may be described as NTESEBREE: No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever," he writes in a column.

This is how Time described Ahmanson in their cover story on the top 25 evangelicals: "Money makes the Word go round, and this wealthy, conservative Republican couple takes a dizzyingly ecclectic approach to funding evangelism ... The couple, both 55, now are warning powerful conservative Christians about the pitfalls of hubris in the aftermath of their victories over liberals last November."

CT included the Ahmansons in a 2002 story on the "Patrons of the Evangelical Mind."

(h/t Rod Dreher)

March 25, 2009

Planned Parenthood to Honor Hillary Clinton

Even though her job description focuses on foreign affairs, Hillary Clinton will participate in a domestic political event to receive an award from Planned Parenthood Friday night.

"The 2009 Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) Margaret Sanger Award, the organization’s highest honor, will be presented to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been a champion of women’s health and rights throughout her public service career," according to the release.

Politico's Ben Smith says it signals a "continuing the Obama administration's forceful, if understated alliance with abortion-rights groups."

March 24, 2009

Obama Responds to Charity Complaints, Defends Stem-Cell Decision

President Obama defended his plans tonight for a healthcare overhaul that include a lower tax deduction for wealthy who donate to charities.

"Those of us who are a little bit fortunate are going to have to spend a little bit more," Obama said at tonight's press conference.

Politico's Mike Allen asked him if he's "confident that charities are wrong" that this will hurt giving, and he responded: "yes."

The Washington Time's Jon Ward asked Obama whether he wrestled with the ethics of funding embryonic research.

Continue reading Obama Responds to Charity Complaints, Defends Stem-Cell Decision...

March 24, 2009

Obama honoris causa

I've always thought it was dopey for Catholic institutions of higher learning to bar on-campus appearances by prominent people who are pro-choice--sort of the spiritual equivalent of sticking your fingers in yours ears and shouting la-la-la-la. But it's not clear to me that giving President Obama an honorary degree, as Notre Dame proposes to do, is the same thing. An honorary degree is, well, an honor--in a way, to cite Tom Reese's example, that Cardinal Egan's invitation to the Al Smith dinner is not. As a non-Catholic, I can think of various reasons for Notre Dame to honor Obama. And I can think of reasons for it not to. There is, in short, something here to fight about. And they're fighting about it.

(Originally posted at Spiritual Politics.)

March 24, 2009

Vermont Moves to Legalize Gay Marriage

The Vermont state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday to allow same-sex marriage, putting the state one step closer to becoming the first to approve same-sex marriage by legislative means.

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The Democratic-dominated state Senate voted 26 to 4 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democrat, predicted to USA Today that a majority of the House would also vote in favor.

Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, has said he opposes the bill, but has not indicated whether he would veto the measure.

If the measure is approved, Vermont would become the third state (following neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut) to allow same-sex marriage. Vermont was the first state to grant civil unions in 2000.

If approved, the law would replace Vermont's civil-unions law starting September 1. Civil unions performed in the past nine years, however, would still be recognized, according to The New York Times.

Opponents say changing state laws to allow same-sex marriage is both unnecessary and morally questionable.

"Same-sex marriage in Vermont can offer only one benefit to Vermont's gay population: Hopes of increased social acceptance," said the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council. "All legal experts agree that civil unions already provide every legal benefit and protection Vermont can give."

March 23, 2009

Quote of the Day: Messiah Complex

"He can't be here tonight, because he's busy getting ready for Easter," Vice President Joe Biden joked about President Obama at Saturday night's Gridiron dinner. "He thinks it's about him."

(h/t Dan Gilgoff)

March 20, 2009

Special Olympics and Obama's Teachable Moment

Late last night, I was reading the news wires when the news of President Obama's comments on The Tonight Show about bowling and Special Olympics caught my eye.

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It's too bad that the president's bowling game isn't better than he claimed, but it's amazingly inappropriate for him to compare himself to Special Olympics bowling. Actually, Special Olympians are pretty good bowlers.

I know that for a fact.

My son, Mathias Dudley Morgan, soon to turn 11, will start his annual SO bowling program any day now. Mathias is a person with Down Syndrome. He bowls, swims laps, runs, ice stakes, square dances, plays softball, basketball, shoots pool. He has never met a ball he didn't like. Ask his teachers and therapy team at Bower Elementary School in Warrenville, Illinois. Ask his two sisters, or his mom.

Mathias and the WDSRA Wildcats (his basketball team) recently completed their season -- it was their best ever. Mathias scored his first points in competition three of the four last games of the season. (Photo: Mathias, far left, and team-mate receive their tournament medals from Coach Bob.)

This morning, Tim Shriver, head of the national Special Olympics program, spoke on Good Morning America and said that President Obama personally had called him from Air Force One to apologize for what the president had said.

Shriver was very good about accepting this apology, but did note the emotional pain that the president had caused. (Which is true.) Then, Shriver took it to a new level. He said the president had provided Americans with "a teachable moment."

But my big question is this:

Continue reading Special Olympics and Obama's Teachable Moment...

March 19, 2009

One Cheer for Jim Wallis

Sojourners spokesman worries about linking health care reform with abortion.

At First Things, Keith Pavlischek writes:

Jim Wallis has announced in a public interview:

Making abortion provisions part of healthcare reform will kill healthcare reform. . . There are a number of people who believe this is an issue of deep moral conviction and conscience and there are firewalls that if they are breached will really destroy common ground.

"You have to know a little bit about Wallis to understand why this might be important. This past weekend, the New York Times has reported that President Obama has carefully cultivated relationships with at least five influential ministers - all described as evangelical "centrists" - for private sessions of prayer and occasional political advice. One of these is Jim Wallis. As Joe Loconte says in his Weekly Standard article, "Obama's Prayer Warriors", the label "centrist" is not entirely accurate."

March 18, 2009

Abortion Remains Dividing Point for Obama Observers

President Obama wants to reduce the "need for abortion", but one of his cheerleaders David P. Gushee published a column with USA Today titled, "Mr. President, we need more than lip service":

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"Mexico City, conscience clause, Sebelius, embryonic stem cells. In each case, I have been asked by friends at Democratic or progressive-leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing these moves, but instead to support them in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life. I mainly refused."

David Gibson calls Gushee's column "buyer's remorse."

Christian conscience requires me to make this case even if it has no chance of prevailing in American society. And if we lose on abortion, as it appears we will lose for a long time to come, Christian conscience requires me to ask the government not to require citizens to pay for procuring services that violate their sacred beliefs.

... And if we lose there, then the entire relationship between religious faith and American society will move into a period of profound crisis.

President Obama, we need more than lip service on these crucial issues. Bring the transformational change your promises led us to hope for.

Gushee isn't the only one dealing with frustration. Frank Page, a member of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships' council, said he hasn't been pleased with some of Obama's policies.

Continue reading Abortion Remains Dividing Point for Obama Observers...

March 18, 2009

Obama to Name Special Envoy for Sudan

President Obama, according an anonymous source speaking to wire services, expects to name a Special Envoy to Sudan, today, March 18. Here's one report:

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US President Barack Obama will on Wednesday name retired Air Force general Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan to confront what Washington sees as a "horrendous" situation in Darfur. The President "will be naming Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan," an Obama administration official said on condition of anonymity. The announcement will come as the United States ratchets up pressure on the government of Sudan's President Omar al-Beshir following his expulsion of international aid groups from Darfur that worsened the humanitarian crisis.

CT news is following this story closely and will update this report soon. Scott Gration, of course, is a fascinating choice from my perspective. He was born in DR Congo and his parents were missionaries.

See this Wikipedia entry for details.

The situation in Sudan continues to go from bad to worse even if that seems impossible to imagine. After President Bashir pledged to kick out 13 agencies for their alleged support for the International Criminal Court, the president has now said he wishes to "Sudanize" all aid coming into the nation.

March 17, 2009

Obama Meets with Cardinal in Oval Office

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President Obama met today with the nation's top Catholic bishop, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, after weeks of growing tension over policy changes in the young administration.

George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Obama for 30 minutes to discuss "important opportunities for the government and the Catholic Church to continue their long-standing partnership to tackle some of the nation's most pressing challenges," the White House said in a statement.

Neither the White House nor the bishops' conference would elaborate about the meeting beyond their short statements.

It was the first time Obama and George have met in person since the November election, according to the White House, though they have spoken twice on the phone.

Continue reading Obama Meets with Cardinal in Oval Office...

March 16, 2009

Understanding Obama's Pastors

Our coverage of T.D. Jakes, Kirbyjon Caldwell, Jim Wallis, and Joel Hunter.

Saturday's New York Times reported that President Obama, in lieu of finding a D.C. church home, "has quietly cultivated a handful of evangelical pastors for private prayer sessions on the telephone and for discussions on the role of religion in politics."

Christianity Today has extensively covered four of the five pastors. (Well, we may have articles on Otis Moss deeper in the non-digitized CT archives. We'll keep looking.)

Links to our coverage after the jump.

Continue reading Understanding Obama's Pastors...

March 12, 2009

Michael Steele Takes Heat after Abortion Remarks

RNC Chairman Michael Steele is creating a big fuss after his interview with GQ where he said women have the right to choose abortion.

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Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?
Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice.

You do?
Yeah. Absolutely.

Are you saying you don't want to overturn Roe v. Wade?
I think Roe v. Wade - as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?
The states should make that choice. That's what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?
Absolutely!

Politico's Ben Smith reports that Steele put out this statement:

I am pro-life, always have been, always will be.

I tried to present why I am pro life while recognizing that my mother had a "choice" before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life. The strength of the pro life movement lies in choosing life and sharing the wisdom of that choice with those who face difficult circumstances. They did that for my mother and I am here today because they did. In my view Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed. I realize that there are good people in our party who disagree with me on this issue.

But the Republican Party is and will continue to be the party of life. I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment. It is important that we stand up for the defenseless and that we continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen so that we can welcome all children and protect them under the law.

Charmaine Yoest, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life Action responded:

"I think it is very troubling for a public figure, of either party, particularly one who presents himself as pro-life, to describe the abortion issue as being a matter of 'individual choice,'" That is language straight out of Planned Parenthood's messaging playbook," Yoest said she hadn't heard from the RNC. "There are millions of pro-life Americans, Republican and Democrat, who are looking for leadership on the life issue and they will find Mr. Steele's comments disturbing and demoralizing."

Steele also called homosexuality and individual choice, but his comments on abortion are taking the most heat.

Do you think homosexuality is a choice?
Oh, no. I don't think I've ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there's a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can't simply say, oh, like, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being gay." It's like saying, "Tomorrow morning I'm gonna stop being black."

So your feeling would be that people are born one way or another.
I mean, I think that's the prevailing view at this point, and I know that there's some out there who think that you can absolutely make that choice. And maybe some people have. I don't know, I can't say. Until we can give a definitive answer one way or the other, I think we should respect that.

March 11, 2009

The New York Times Picks up Ross Douthat

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Columbia Journalism Review is reporting that the Atlantic’s Ross Douthat will be picking up where Bill Kristol left off at The New York Times. I spoke with Douthat, who is Catholic and in his late 20s, just before the election about where evangelicals fit in the Republican Party. Here's the NYT memo:

Folks:

Some exciting news. We’ve hired Ross Douthat, currently of Atlantic. Ross will be joining the Times staff in mid-April and will be based in the Washington bureau. He will start out primarily online, but will soon be writing with increasing frequency, and then regularity, on the Op-Ed page, in the Monday slot opposite Paul. At some point, he’ll also resume his work as a blogger, which I highly recommend.

If you don’t know Ross, you’ll find him funny and smart and sharp. He’s going to be a great addition to our team. I know you’ll make him welcome.

Andy

By the way, if you stumble over his name like I do, it's "Dow-thut."

March 10, 2009

Stem-Cell Reversal VIPs

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Conservatives aren't happy about President Obama's reversal on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown writes.

And Dan Gilgoff reports on the faith-based VIPs at President Obama's stem-cell research signing yesterday.

- Maureen Shea, Episcopal Church USA, Director of Government Relations
- James Winkler, United Methodist Church, Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society
- Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
- Rev. Welton Gaddy, Interfaith Alliance
- Nancy Ratzan, National Council of Jewish Women
- Nathan Diament, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations
- Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism

The Associated Press' Eric Gorski breaks down some of the religious debates surrounding the issue. And Chris Good writes that Rick Warren won't be making a statement on Obama's decision, but last time I checked, Warren doesn't really make many public statements.

In an analysis piece for The New York Times Nicholas Wade writes that while President Obama's reversal of the stem-cell policy will make accounting easier for researchers, research on embryonic stem cells, "though still important, has been somewhat eclipsed by new advances."

Continue reading Stem-Cell Reversal VIPs...

March 9, 2009

Obama Overturns Bush's Policy on Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

President Obama just lifted the Bush administration’s limits on human embryonic stem cell research.

Obama also said that the government will never open the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. "It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society," he said.

Yesterday, Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, debated Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, over what Charmaine calls "the research of the past."

Around 60 percent of Americans agree with using stem cells derived from human embryos for medical research and 61 percent consider such research morally acceptable, according to Gallup. However, the question of the poll can impact the responses. Gallup asked whether it was morally acceptable or morally wrong to use stem cells from human embryos for medical research.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life asked respondents: All in all, which is more important, conducting stem cell research that might results in new cures OR not destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in this research. About 50 percent said conducting research was more important and 35 percent said not destroying embryos was more important. Only 31 percent of evangelicals favored research while 57 percent favored not destroying embryos.

March 9, 2009

Opinion: Stem-Cell Ideology

Bush-era compromise removed in the name of "science."

Today President Obama is expected to lift the existing ban on federal funding for research using new lines of stem cells taken from human embryos. Here's how CBS and the AP introduced the news:

President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order and memo Monday in an East Room ceremony that will end a divisive policy decision by his predecessor, while sending a clear signal that science - not political ideology - will guide his administration.

So much for objectivity. Actually, President Bush announced the ban in 2001 as a compromise position so that researchers could continue using existing stem cell lines (from which the embryos had already been destroyed), while prohibiting taxpayer money from paying for research that destroys human embryos. In the eight years since the ban was announced, research on human embryos has remained fully legal if funded privately.

It has not been very productive, however. While dozens of treatments using adult stem cells (from which no embryos are destroyed) have been produced for conditions ranging from Parkinson's to autoimmune disorders, the results of research using human embryos have been scarce at best--and sometimes downright scary.

Further, with new research showing that pluripotent cells can be produced from adult stem cell lines, the supposed scientific necessity to destroy human embryos to advance research would seem to be removed. And yet President Bush's compromise is deemed anti-science as all funding restrictions are swept aside (pending the institution of some ethics guidelines), forcing taxpayers to pay for research that many find deeply morally objectionable.

Just who is being ideological, anyway?

March 6, 2009

Obama to Reverse Embryonic Stem-Cell Funding Ban

President Obama plans to overturn Bush-era policy Monday that limited federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research, according to The Washington Post.

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His executive order will overturn President Bush's August 2001 order that barred the National Institutes of Health from funding research on embryonic stem cells. Bush also vetoed legislation that would have expanded federal funded research.

Advocates for embryonic stem-cell research say it would allow scientists to find cures for diseases like Parkinson's. Opponents believe that creating them involves the destruction of human life and they argue that using adult stem cells is good alternative.

Rob Stein writes that Congress is also likely to consider legislation that could prevent any future presidents from creating restrictions.

Picture of Da Vinci's study of cells and a fetus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

March 6, 2009

California Court Likely to Uphold Gay Marriage Ban

Surprising headline from the San Francisco Chronicle: "Justices seem to be leaning in favor of Prop. 8."

I don't find it surprising because I thought Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that amended the the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman. Legal challenges were inevitable, but Prop. 8's constitutional defeat was not. I'm just surprised the Chronicle's already started the 10 count.

Here's the story:

"There have been initiatives that have taken away rights from minorities by majority vote" and have been upheld by the courts, said Chief Justice Ronald George. "Isn't that the system we have to live with?"

George wrote the majority opinion in the court's 4-3 ruling in May striking down California's ban on same-sex marriages - which voters, in turn, reversed in November by approving Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Another member of last year's majority, Justice Joyce Kennard, said the challenge to Prop. 8 brought by advocates of same-sex marriage involved "a completely different issue" from the court's ruling that the marriage laws violated gays' and lesbians' rights to be treated equally and wed the partner of their choice.

"Here we are dealing with the power of the people, the inalienable right, to amend the Constitution," Kennard said. Speaking to a lawyer for same-sex couples, she said those who want to overturn the voters' decision "have the right to go to the people and present an initiative."

There were some indications of divisions among the justices on the validity of Prop. 8 during the hearing, which lasted more than three hours at the court's San Francisco headquarters. But on a separate issue, all seven appeared to agree that the 18,000 same-sex couples who married before Prop. 8 passed would remain legally wed.

The Los Angeles Times says more of the same. Something that's different and worth reading is this article that Mollie Ziegler Hemingway wrote for Christianity Today before Thursday's California Supreme Court hearing. Here's the lede:

Continue reading California Court Likely to Uphold Gay Marriage Ban...

March 4, 2009

What a Campaign Will Do to Win

Remember how Elizabeth Dole lost her North Carolina Senate race after launching a "Godless" ad against her opponent?

Dole's campaign manager Marty Ryall writes for Politics Magazine thinks the two shouldn't be linked together, and he why they took the Hail Mary approach. Ryall's explanation has little to do with religion or faith and everything to do with poll numbers.

The second ad is still on YouTube:

Ryall explains how they debated over what graphics and voiceovers to use for the ad.

The ?rst draft of the "Godless" ad had a picture of Kay Hagan at the end with a graphic that read "What was she thinking?" and a voiceover that said "There is no God." I objected to that because it looked like we were answering the question for her, and that she was thinking there is no God. The group agreed. The next version dropped the graphic, but still had the voice saying, "There is no God." The voice in the ad is the executive director of the Godless American's PAC on a TV appearance with Bill O'Reilly.

It was never an attempt to fake Kay Hagan's voice, or imply that she thinks there is no God. The intention was to provide an exclamation to the ad, showing how radical this group is. In hindsight, that voiceover should not have been in the ad. It gave her another avenue of counter-attack to discredit it.

In the end, he writes, the ad had little impact on the election results.

The risk was huge and not worth taking until it was evident we could not win without it, and that was not clear until about 10 days out. Had the ad run about 20 days out, it may have made it closer, but the data we had at that time did not warrant taking such a large gamble. However, in the end the ad had very little impact if any, in the defeat of Elizabeth Dole.

March 3, 2009

Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a high school football coach who was banned from bowing his head during student-led team prayers.

Without comment Monday, the nation's highest court ended Coach Marcus Borden's efforts to overturn a township decision that as a public employee, Borden cannot mix religion with his work as a coach.


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The high court's decision leaves intact a federal appeals court's April decision that Borden's desire to bow his head and take a knee during team prayer is an endorsement of religious activity at a public school.

Neither Borden, who has been the football coach at East Brunswick High School since 1983, nor his attorney, Ronald Riccio, could be reached for comment.

Borden has been fighting for the right to bow and kneel in prayer with his team since November 2005, when he filed a federal lawsuit arguing the school district's regulations were overly broad. He won a U.S. District Court ruling in July 2006 in which a judge decided those rules were unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed at the appellate level.

Continue reading Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach...

March 3, 2009

Pennsylvania Buys Bibles


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The Pennsylvania state General Assembly spent $13,700 this year on 220 Bibles and other religious texts for legislators for taking oaths, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

All but seven of the 203 House members received one, with 72 picking the New American Catholic Bible, making it the most popular choice.

State Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester) got a copy of the Quran. He said yesterday that he took the Jan. 6 oath on his own Bible, but ordered the Muslim holy book because he had always wanted to read it.

State Rep. Dan Frankel also got a Quran, but it was an ordering mistake. He traded it in for another copy of the Torah - the sixth he has received from taxpayers since first being elected in 1998.

After it was announced that President Obama would use Abraham Lincoln's Bible, Noreen Malone wrote for Slate about how after Grover Cleveland, it turned into BYOB, where presidents would often bring a family Bible.

(h/t Howard M. Friedman)

March 3, 2009

Presidential Prayer Effort Proves to be Bipartisan

A national grass-roots network that came together after the 9/11 terrorist attacks for the sole purpose of praying for the president has lost more than 25,000 members since Barack Obama's election last November.

But in that same time, more than 41,000 have signed up.

For John Lind, president of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Presidential Prayer Team, those figures indicate that the ministry that aimed to be nonpartisan when it began in 2001 has lived up to its mission.

"The only ... president we've been under has been (George W.) Bush, so you've got to be realistic and say, `Wow, this could be a substantial dip in our database,' but it wasn't," he said in an interview. "I think it's a positive. It's almost two-to-one new member to unsubscribed."

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That doesn't mean it's been a smooth transition for all of the nearly half-million members who receive weekly e-mail updates guiding them in how to pray for the president. Some have sent the ministry messages saying that it has been "very difficult" to move from praying for Bush to praying for Obama.

"I did not want to pray for Obama because I didn't vote for him, but then I realized that I had to pray for him, and it has literally changed my life to pray for him," wrote a woman who only signed her name as "Betty."

"God really changes our hearts if we allow him to do so. So, thank you for your part in getting us all together."

Other team members, like Barbara Brown from Foresthill, Calif., said they realized that they needed to put prayer ahead of politics after Election Day.

Brown was quoted in a recent profile on the ministry's Web site: "I still have to remind some of my Democrat friends that no, President Obama did not inherit all of our nation's problems from President Bush's administration, and I have to remind some of my Republican friends that even though we did not vote for President Obama, he is now our president and he deserves our respect, honor and prayers as commanded by God."

Lind said since the ministry went online in 2001 it has had 1.7 million people take part in its initiatives, which include praying for not only the president and his administration but military members and grandparents.

The site featured several "40 Days to Pray the Vote" projects leading up to the election and "77 Days of Prayer" between Election Day and Inauguration Day. The latest initiative is "Praying Through the 1st 100 Days" of the Obama presidency; more than 31,500 people have signed up for a daily e-mail that provides them with a verse of Scripture and a short prayer at the start of each day.

Continue reading Presidential Prayer Effort Proves to be Bipartisan...

March 2, 2009

Gingrich to Convert to Catholicism

Buried in an large New York Times Magazine profile of Newt Gingrich is a little nugget of information: A Baptist since graduate school, Gingrich said he will soon convert to Catholicism, his wife's faith.

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At a moment when the role of religious fundamentalism in the party is a central question for reformers, Gingrich, rather than making any kind of case for a new enlightenment, has in fact gone to great lengths to placate Christian conservatives. The family-values crowd has never completely embraced Newt, probably because he has been married three times, most recently to a former Hill staff member, Callista Bisek. In 2006, though, Gingrich wrote a book called "Rediscovering God in America" - part of a new canon of work he has done reaffirming the role of religion in public life. The following year, he went on radio with the evangelical minister James Dobson to apologize for having been unfaithful to his second wife.

The Rev. G. Avery Lee, a longtime pastor of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans who died earlier this year, wrote to The Times-Picayune about Gingrich's faith.

"He was not a member of any church," Pastor Lee wrote in a 1994 letter to The Times-Picayune. "He said that in his study of political theory he noted how much influence the church had had on political theory and asked if I could explain."

After their initial conversation, "We talked often. Newt began coming to church. To make it short, I baptized him (by immersion) into the membership of the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church.

"He found there a liberal approach to both theology and sociology. . . . Whether our teachings had any effect or not, he was at least exposed to the basic Baptist principle of freedom: personal freedom before God, an open mind before an open Bible, the separation of church and state, and compassion toward other people as sinners saved by the grace of God.

"He also may have learned that we Baptists fuss and fight a lot with each other. It has been suggested by some that in baptizing him, I didn't hold him under long enough."

Update: A Focus on the Family employee emailed me to note that Dobson is not a minister as Matt Bai describes him for The New York Times. Dobson founded a ministry called Focus on the Family.

March 2, 2009

Kathleen Sebelius & Obama's 'Abortion Reduction' Challenge

In the fight over whether to confirm Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services, traditional pro-lifers will focus on Sebelius's views on late term abortion and other legal restrictions.

Interestingly, pro-life Democrats have continued with an argument they began raising during the campaign: that what matters is not whether one supports legal restrictions but whether one reduces the number of abortions. Catholics United, a liberal pro-life group has launched a pre-emptive strike praising her for cutting the abortion rate by 10%.

Pro-life progressives pushed this line during the campaign, earning both the mockery of traditional pro-lifers and, apparently, the votes of some pro-lifers (a surprising number of whom voted for Obama.)

Here's the rub: abortion rates seem to be most influenced by economic factors. Abortions go up during hard economic time. That means the number of abortions will likely go up under Obama. If Democrats set up abortion reduction as the standard, what will they say if the numbers go up under Obama?

UPDATE: Abortion seems to be shaping up as a big element in the Sebelius fight.

Operation Rescue here attacks her links to the "abortion cartel"

Faith in Public Life and other pro-life clergy praises her for reducing the number of abortions in Kansas

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

March 2, 2009

Let's Rewind