All posts from “April 2009”

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April 30, 2009

Miss California Becomes Spokeswoman for Ad Campaign

Liberty University offers a scholarship to the woman who said during a beauty pageant that she opposes same-sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage is promoting Miss California as a spokeswoman to oppose same-sex marriage.

Carrie Prejean told NBC's "Today show today that marriage is "something that is very dear to my heart" and she's in Washington to help save it.

Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. offered a scholarship to Prejean, who was visiting the conservative Christian school yesterday. Prejean told judge Perez Hilton that she opposed same-sex marriage during the April 19 pageant.

Yesterday, the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill allowing gay marriage. If the governor signs the bill, New Hampshire could become the fifth state to allow same-sex marriages.

April 30, 2009

Obama's First 100 Days

As President Obama marked his first 100 days in office yesterday, a new Gallup poll shows that 41 percent of weekly church attenders supported Obama before the election, but the number has jumped to 57 percent.

Dan Gilgoff offers a round-up of what's happened in the last 100 days, but most of Obama's focus has been on the economy and more recently on the swine flu.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land has worked with presidential administrations going back to Ronald Reagan's, but he can't remember any that has convened an advisory council composedised mostly of religious leaders, as President Obama has done. The council gives religion "an institutionally higher profile than under President Bush," says the conservative Land, who directs public policy for the nation's largest evangelical denomination. "No president that I've dealt with has had anything like it."

During his press conference last night, Obama was asked whether he hopes Congress sends him the Freedom of Choice Act soon, which Obama said was not not highest legislative priority.

Continue reading Obama's First 100 Days...

April 28, 2009

Specter To Switch Parties, Republicans May Lose Filibuster Power

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania caused a surprising turn of events for Washington today when he said he would switch to the Democratic party, possibly taking away enough Republican's Senate filibuster votes.

If Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next senator from Minnesota, and Specter successfully switches parties when he runs again in 2010, the Democrats will be able to advance President Obama's agenda more smoothly.

April 28, 2009

NYC Artist Cancels Obama-as-Jesus Portrait

Artist Michael D'Antuono was planning to unveil "The Truth" - a portrait of President Obama wearing a crown of thorns and holding his hands in crucifix form - tomorrow in New York's Union Square to commemorate Obama's 100th day in office, but decided to cancel after receiving thousands of angry e-mails about the portrait's religious overtones.

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The portrait, which shows Obama lifting a dark veil to reveal (or hide) the presidential seal, was not meant to offend Christians or make light of their beliefs, D'Antuono told Mark Hemingway of National Review Online. He explains:

The idea of the piece, or the reaction that I'd hoped for, was to highlight our nation's deep partisan divide and how our interpretation of the truth is really prejudiced by our political perspective and I think that to a large degree we are being manipulated by the media. I miss the old day when we just have the facts. Now we have pundits and spin and strategists.

I just thought that through that painting people would see different things. The right and the left would have different interpretations of it based on their political lens. But I have to admit I was very surprised that instead of that I got thousands of email[s] complaining on the religious front. And that was not my intent at all. I wanted to create a dialog politically but not religiously. I didn't mean to make fun of anybody's religion; maybe I did so naively but I didn't mean it that way. In the bible Jesus is The Truth and comparing Obama that way isn't something I meant to do at all.

Apparently, I've upset a lot of people. And I've decided that's not what I wanted to do and I'm not going to display it in the park on Wednesday ... art is meant to be somewhat provocative but the religious element went way farther than I had anticipated.

Continue reading NYC Artist Cancels Obama-as-Jesus Portrait...

April 27, 2009

Citing Obama Invitation, Catholic Lawyer Rejects Notre Dame Medal

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Citing the University of Notre Dame's decision to host President Obama at its May 17 commencement ceremony, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon has declined to accept the school's prestigious Laetare Medal and to speak opposite Obama at commencement. In a letter sent this morning to Notre Dame president John Jenkins, Glendon, a pro-life Harvard Law School professor, writes:

"A commencement . . . is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame's decision - in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops - to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice."

The "settled position" Glendon mentions is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 2004 request that Catholic institutions "not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" and that such persons "should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Glendon also expresses concern that Notre Dame's decision could set off a "ripple effect" among U.S. Catholic universities.

President Jenkins released a brief response Monday: "We are, of course, disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision. It is our intention to award the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient, and we will make that announcement as soon as possible."

Glendon's entire letter is below. See Francis Beckwith's response to Notre Dame's decision here, and Richard Mouw's and David Dockery's responses here.

Continue reading Citing Obama Invitation, Catholic Lawyer Rejects Notre Dame Medal...

April 24, 2009

Opinion: Faith-based Hiring Issue Proves Distracting

The faith-based office has become sidetracked on marginal issues.

In campaign 2008, candidate Barack Obama pledged an "all hands on deck" approach to meeting human needs. His improved approach would include a wider range of faith-related groups in more extensive policy deliberations and, pointedly, a stronger and "de-politicized" faith-based initiative.

At its maximum, "all hands on deck" implies aggressive work to provide all kinds of help – direct government aid, indirect government aid, and enhanced private aid – to the full range of faith-based groups. It would involve incentives for philanthropy and charitable contributions, and ways to get all forms of appropriate aid to any effective faith-related group. It would also involve encouraging faith-related groups to apply to the full range of social service programs available, not a smaller range of politically favored ideas. And, in regard to the hot-button hiring issue, it would mean figuring out ways to help those groups which wanted to keep their rights to use religious criteria in hiring decisions: Providing direct federal aid if the Obama administration deemed it appropriate; helping find sources of indirect aid if they ruled such discrimination inappropriate (as the campaign stated it would do).

So far, the pledge is not fully redeemed. Rather, the Obama Administration seems caught in the web of misunderstandings that always seems to follow the faith-based initiative.

Continue reading Opinion: Faith-based Hiring Issue Proves Distracting...

April 23, 2009

After Years of Rejecting It, Sojourners Claims the Religious Left Label (Updated)

Is the organization rebranding itself?

I received a surprising press release e-mail last night from Jason Gedeik, deputy press secretary of Sojourners:

I wanted to gauge your interest in the first big mobilization of the Religious Left in the Obama era - a signal of the shift in power dynamics. Sojourners is mobilizing over a thousand Christian activists and 70 religious and anti-poverty groups at a conference next week in DC to prepare a new poverty coalition for legislative battle this year. This is the Religious Left filling the hole created by the decline of the Religious Right but now we have the political power and ear of the White House - definitely a new trend and a "first" within this new political era.

What's fascinating isn't really the gathering of activists. That happens all the time. What's amazing is the repeated self-identification as "Religious Left."

For decades, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis has repeatedly argued that neither he nor Sojourners are part of the Religious Left.

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"There is a Religious Left in this country, and I'm not a part of it," Wallis told me last year.

And earlier this year, he told CT's Sarah Pulliam he didn't like the terms Religious Left or Religious Right. "I would not be happy with labeling anyone just right-wing. That's simplistic and reductionist," he said. "Labels are shorthand, sloppy ways to describe someone."

He told The Seattle Times in 2004 that there should not even be a Religious Left. "People of faith should not be in any party's pockets, any candidate's pockets," he said. "The religious right was a political party, not a religious one. There should not now be a religious left."

"But isn't there the perception that you're part of the religious left?" Times reporter Janet I. Tu asked.

"The media only sees that," he said. "The media thinks everything has only two sides. People are hungry for a moral center."

The Sojourners website has several other quotes from Wallis saying things like, "The alternative to the Religious Right is not the Religious Left. It's time to transcend the old polarities of our public life."

In fact, his most popular book was subtitled, "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It."

So is Gedeik off message by using the phrase? Or is Sojourners rebranding itself?

Update (9:30 a.m.): I just got off the phone with Gedeik, who said the use of the phrase is strategic.

"Part of that was to grab your attention and make you guys think," he said. "Regardless of how we want to be branded, the media likes to use phrases that are easily encapsulated. Progressive is the word Jim likes to use, but for the media progressive and Left or liberal are somewhat interchangeable."

Continue reading After Years of Rejecting It, Sojourners Claims the Religious Left Label (Updated)...

April 22, 2009

Clinton Drilled on Abortion, Torture

The House Foreign Affairs Committee took a turn today when Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about abortion.

Smith asked why she had recently praised Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, according to Emily Belz at World.

Smith: Sanger was an unapologetic eugenicist and racist who said "the most merciful thing a family does for one of its infant members is to kill it." And said on another occasion, "eugenics is the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems."

Clinton didn't respond to the Sanger quotes at first, but later in the hearing when questioned again on the matter, she said in all humans (she used Thomas Jefferson's slave holding as an example) "there are things we admire and there are things we deplore."

Smith asked whether the administration would be promoting abortion in places like Africa, under the umbrella of "reproductive health."

Clinton: We happen to think family planning is an important part of women's health - and that reproductive health includes access to abortion?.We are now an administration that protects the rights of women including the rights to reproductive health care.

Inglis asked Clinton why she didn't condemn forced abortions on her trip to China. "They heard me say it already," she said, referring to a trip 14 years ago.

Inglis: Don't we have to speak with moral authority when we engage countries like China?
Clinton: Yes, we certainly do. It is a broad engagement that we have with large and complex countries. There is always and must be a moral dimension to our foreign policy.
Inglis: When you're in China next, I hope you'll speak to these issues.

Farah Stockman at The Boston Globe reports that Clinton was also asked about torture.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, repeatedly asked Clinton whether the administration would declassify documents that former Vice President Dick Cheney has said paint the CIA interrogators in a more heroic light and show the important information produced from the interrogations.

Clinton said she had no knowledge of such documents. "It won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source," she said, to some laughter.

April 21, 2009

Miss California: Gay marriage answer cost me Miss USA crown

Support for Proposition 8 draws gay judge's ire.

Carrie Prejean, 21, says her honest answer about whether she supports marriage by homosexuals cost her an opportunity to win Sunday's Miss USA pageant. The question came from gay judge Perez Hilton, who apparently set her up.

In an appearance Monday on MSNBC, Hilton said he was absolutely "shocked and incredibly frustrated and disappointed" with Prejean's stance.

"That's not the kind of woman I want to be Miss USA," he said. "Miss USA should represent all Americans and, with her answer, she instantly alienated millions of gays and lesbians and their friends."

Earlier, Hilton had said on his video blog he would have run onstage and ripped the tiara off Prejean's head had she won the title.

And the blogger would not have been the only member of the Miss USA family to go apoplectic had Prejean advanced in the competition. Keith Lewis, executive director of California's Miss USA operations, said in a statement released to Hilton that "religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family."

Prejean Monday said she was raised in a way that you can never compromise your beliefs and your opinions for anything.

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Prejean said she has received 2,000 friend requests on Facebook since the weekend controversy began unfolding.

April 21, 2009

Jesus in Cuba

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In recent days, American foreign policy, President Obama, and Cuba have been in the headlines.

But honestly, the mainstream media is too pre-occupied about cell phone markets, tourism, and foreign policy to be thinking much about Jesus in Cuba (which has one of the world's highest concentrations of evangelical house churches).

I guess that's our job. CT has done two cover stories about Cuba in the past 16 years or so. And, we have talked about the three phases for religious freedom since the Cuban Revolution:

1. Persecution of the church and the faithful flock. (a dark and dangerous time)
2. Discrimination against faithful Cubans. (no jobs for open Christians)
3. Tolerance of Christian faith to the extent it does not actively resist rule by fiat from Fidel and Raul. (don't color outside the lines)

Here's the big question:

Do Cuba's Christian leaders fear lifting the embargo?

Recently we have talked with a few Cuban church leaders or those Christian leaders doing ministry in Cuba. To tell the truth, many are quite concerned about a sudden lifting of the embargo.

Those concerns include:

* Look at what happened in the former Soviet states after 1989. The free-for-all had harmful (and beneficial) results.

* Consider how local Cuban churches might be thrown into competition with each other for the flood of new faith-based money and Christian resources coming onto the island.

* Realize that lifting the embargo would introduce much more consumerism. In reality, the failed socialist experiment in Cuba has stimulated Cuban longing for a relationship with Christ.

As much as I might want to have the embargo lifted tomorrow and the Castro regime wiped out, these kinds of sudden changes often have a dark side.

Am I wrong to think that way? What's your point of view?

April 21, 2009

Justice Clarence Thomas: 'There are some cases that will drive you to your knees'

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was asked how his religious faith influenced his work on the court during a dinner honoring winners of a high school essay contest.

"I think that it really gives content to the oath that you took," Justice Thomas said. "You say, ?So help me God.' "

"There are some cases that will drive you to your knees," he added. "In those moments you ask for strength and wisdom to have the right answer and the courage to stand up for it. Beyond that, it would be illegitimate, I think, and a violation of my oath to incorporate my religious beliefs into the decision-making process."

(h/t Howard M. Friedman)

April 20, 2009

Some Pro-Lifers Like New NIH Guidelines on Embryos

Some anti-abortion religious leaders are welcoming new draft guidelines from the National Institutes of Health on embryonic stem cell research as a balanced approach to the controversial procedure.

The guidelines, issued April 17, permit federally funded research on stem cells derived from embryos that are no longer needed for fertility treatments.

Most embryos that are not planned to be used in fertility treatments are discarded or kept in a type of frozen limbo. The draft guidelines presumably would not allow federal funds to be used to create embryos solely for research purposes.

"They have hit the right balance by limiting funding to particular slated-to-be-destroyed IVF cells, yet expanding significantly the number of diseases that can be addressed by increasing the number and range of stem cell lines from which we can learn," said Joel Hunter, pastor of an Orlando-area megachurch. "These guidelines respect life from beginning to end."

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said "the new regulations embody caution and care that respect pro-life values."

Continue reading Some Pro-Lifers Like New NIH Guidelines on Embryos...

April 16, 2009

Obama Donates .3 Percent of 2008 Income To Faith-Based Charities

The President and his wife gave $172,050 - about 6.5 percent of his gross income - to charities.

President Obama and his wife gave $172,050 - about 6.5 percent of his gross income - to charities in 2008, ABC News' Jake Tapper and Karen Travers report. The Obamas gave $8,050 - or .3 percent of their gross income - to churches and faith-based charities, which represented nine of the 37 charities, according to his tax return.

Here's a breakdown of some of the faith-based charity donations from Dan Gilgoff:

* $500 to Apostolic Church of God
* $200 to Brookland Baptist Church
* $500 to Brown AME Church
* $1,000 to Catholic Relief Services
* $150 to Crusade of Mercy
* $100 to First Lutheran Church
* $5,000 to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity
* $500 to St. Leo's Residence for Veterans
* $100 to St Luke's United Methodist Church

Vice President Joe Biden reported an income of $269,256 last year -- after taxes that comes to $183,315, according to ABC News. The VP's office says: "The charitable donations claimed by the Bidens on their tax returns are not the sum of their annual contributions to charity. They donate to their church, and they contribute to their favorite causes with their time, as well as their checkbooks."

The list of Obama's donations comes after the jump.

Continue reading Obama Donates .3 Percent of 2008 Income To Faith-Based Charities...

April 16, 2009

Should Christians Participate in the Day of Silence?

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That's the question Warren Throckmorton and Laurie Higgins are grappling with on their websites. Tomorrow is the Day of Silence, when students in middle schools and high schools are urged to take a vow of silence in support of gay students who experience discrimination.

Throckmorton, who is a psychology professor at Grove City College, says yay:

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Without altering convictions about sexuality, I propose that evangelicals should have something more to contribute than a protest toward the elimination of hostility and aggression against gay people and other people who are viewed as different. Indeed, we should be leading the way to make schools safe and build bridges to those who often equate "Christian" with condemnation.

Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute says nay:

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If parents leave their children in school on the Day of Silence as Dr. Throckmorton recommends, they become complicit in the exploitation of the classroom for partisan political purposes. Dr. Throckmorton's misguided effort does nothing to restore political neutrality to public education. In fact, his effort will help to further institutionalize GLSEN efforts to use public education to undermine orthodox Christian beliefs on the complex and emotionally charged issue of homosexuality.

Throckmorton wants Christians students to carry cards referencing the Golden Rule: "I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated. 'Do to others as you would have them do to you.'" Higgins wants a walkout.

Another group, the Alliance Defense Fund, advocates for the Day of Truth. On April 20 students are asked to wear T-shirts and pass out cards that tell gay students they can alter their sexual orientation. The cards will say:

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I'm speaking the Truth to break the silence.
True tolerance means that people with differing -- even opposing -- viewpoints can freely exchange ideas and respectfully listen to each other.
It's time for an honest conversation about homosexuality.
There's freedom to change if you want to.
Let's talk.

April 15, 2009

Christian Conservative Groups Promote Tea Parties

At least 25,000 people turned out for tea party protests across the country today, according to the Atlantic, and groups like Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the American Family Association helped promote the demonstrations.

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The tea parties were initially promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, but Christian conservative groups quickly latched on.

CitizenLink: "The mainstream media largely have ignored the nationwide protests, even as Congress loads pork projects and stimulus bills on the backs of American taxpayers and their children."

Tony Perkins: "There is no justification for the countless billions that citizens will have to pony up this tax season to fund liberalism's reckless abuse of the federal treasury."

"The religious right's support for the Tea Parties is a partisan exercise, not a religious one. It will not help their cause," Dan at the left-leaning Faith in Public Life writes.

What do you think? Would you participate in the tea party ritual?

April 15, 2009

Conservatives Decry Homeland Security `Extremism' Report

Conservative Christian groups blasted a new report from the Department of Homeland Security on "rightwing extremism," calling it an example of "guilt by association" for linking anti-abortion activists with hate groups.

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The 10-page "assessment" from the department stresses that the report is not based on specific threats.

"The HDS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis ... has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," the April 7 report says, "but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues."

The report draws parallels between the "current national climate" with the 1990s, when there was evidence of "white supremacists' longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, interracial crimes, and same-sex marriage."

It cites the economic downturn and the election of the nation's first African-American president as potential "drivers" for recruitment by rightwing groups.

Continue reading Conservatives Decry Homeland Security `Extremism' Report...

April 14, 2009

Did Dobson Concede Defeat?

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is scheduled to appear tonight on Fox's "Hannity" to debunk an article from the London's Telegraph article titled "US religious Right concedes defeat."

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A CitizenLink alert says Dobson intends to "set the record straight about media reports indicating he has 'conceded defeat' in the so-called culture war."

Here's the Telegraph article Dobson plans to debunk.

"We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action," he said.

"We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles."

Here's how Citizenlink responds:

Continue reading Did Dobson Concede Defeat?...

April 14, 2009

Pulpit Made Rick Warren Sick

Mega church pastor Rick Warren canceled an appearance on ABC's This Week after he took heat for remarks on same-sex marriage.

"For those of you tuning in this morning expecting to hear from Pastor Rick Warren, we were too. But the pastor's representatives canceled moments before the scheduled interview, saying that Mr. Warren is sick from exhaustion," George Stephanopoulos told the audience on Easter Sunday.

Amy Sullivan responded with: Is Rick Warren Scared of George Stephanopoulos?

But Dan Gilgoff reports and a spokesperson confirmed with me:

Talking to a close Warren associate yesterday, I learned that the megapastor was not only too exhausted to tape a scheduled weekend interview for ABC's This Week - because of fatigue, Warren preached just six of a dozen planned Easter services on Saturday and Sunday - he was also a little nauseous.

That's because Fox News Channel, which carried a couple of Warren's Easter services, insisted that his Saddleback Church apply a fresh coat of varnish to the pulpit lectern before broadcast. The varnish was still drying when it was time for Warren to preach his next service, and the fumes got to him.

April 14, 2009

What would Jesus do about illegal immigrants and their children?

At noon today, rather than join friends at a baby shower with cake and cookies, I listened in during the press briefing concerning new research estimates on unauthorized immigrants (aka illegal immigrants) and their families.

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The report (click here) from the Pew Hispanic Center follows up on earlier research estimates and indicates there are 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the USA. (It is important to note that this is a projected estimate based on Census Data and other resources.)

Particularly fascinating to me is how the profile of the typical illegal immigrant has changed over time. It seems like, based on this research, a young dad with a young family, living in poverty without health insurance, and working in the AG sector of the US economy pretty much sums up the life and lifestyle of an illegal immigrant in 2009.

Here's the lede graphs from the Washington Post story:

The number of U.S.-citizen children born to illegal immigrants has dramatically increased over the past five years from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008, according to a study released today. The report by the nonpartisan, Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center also found that more than a third of such children were in poverty in 2007, compared with about 18 percent of those born to either legal immigrants or U.S.-born parents. Similarly, one in four U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants went without health insurance in 2008, compared with 14 percent of those born to legal immigrants and 8 percent born to U.S.-born parents. The findings suggest that the impact of the unprecedented spike in illegal immigration over the past three decades will continue to be felt for years to come, even as the size of the illegal immigrant population itself appears to have leveled off since 2006 at about 10.4 million adults and 1.5 million children.

(Photo: 2006, pro-immigrant protest)

During the press conference, reporters kept asking causal questions: Why has immigration leveled off? The bad economy or what? What is causing illegal immigrants to return home? What about the effects of new punitive legislation for those who hire illegal immigrants?

But the question rolling around in my head today is this:

What would Jesus do about illegal immigrants and their children?

Continue reading What would Jesus do about illegal immigrants and their children?...

April 13, 2009

Sebelius Received More Money from Abortion Doctor than Disclosed

Adding more fuel to the fire, President Obama's health secretary nominee Kathleen Sebelius received nearly three times as much money from an abortion doctor than she disclosed, according to the Associated Press.

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Sebelius has already angered conservatives for her pro abortion stances. She told the Senate Finance Committee that she took money from from George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider, who was acquitted last month of charges that he performed 19 illegal late-term abortions in 2003.

She told the committee that she received $12,450 between 1994 and 2001 from Tiller. But Erica Werner at the AP reports that Tiller gave at least $23,000 more from 2000 to 2002 to a political action committee while Sebelius was state insurance commissioner so she could raise money for Democrats.

The Finance Committee was expected to vote this month on forwarding Sebelius' nomination to the full Senate. There was no immediate indication from committee Republicans that her omission on the Tiller contributions would upset that timing.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which is opposing Sebelius' nomination, circulated the campaign finance documents showing the discrepancy in what Sebelius told senators. The records were reviewed Monday by the AP and their accuracy was verified by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

Continue reading Sebelius Received More Money from Abortion Doctor than Disclosed...

April 13, 2009

In Midst of Church Search, Obamas Spend Easter at St. John's

While aides scour the nation's capital for a new spiritual home for the first family, the Obamas spent Easter Sunday at an historic Episcopal church across the street from the White House.

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It took the presidential motorcade less than two minutes to drive from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to St. John's of Lafayette Square, a small, yellow Episcopal church with an impressive presidential pedigree.

Every U.S. president since James Madison has attended a worship service at St. John's, according to the church, which reserves a pew -- No. 54 -- whenever the chief executive attends. Former President George W. Bush, a Methodist, made St. John's his unofficial D.C. church home; John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and Franklin Delano Roosevelt also worshipped there, said Gary S. Smith, a historian at Grove City College in Pittsburgh.

Obama himself attended St. John's, sometimes called the "church of the presidents," for a pre-inaugural prayer service on Jan. 20; several days earlier, he visited Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of the city's oldest black churches.

Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the Obamas have "not made a decision yet on which church they will formally join in Washington, but they were honored to worship with the parishioners at St. John's Episcopal Church and at Nineteenth Street Baptist Church earlier this year."

Continue reading In Midst of Church Search, Obamas Spend Easter at St. John's...

April 9, 2009

Rick Warren Clarifies Same-Sex Marriage Remarks

Several writers have questioned whether Rick Warren backpedaled on his opposition to same-sex marriage. Earlier this week, I asked Warren when he told Larry King he did not campaign for Proposition 8.

The truth is, Proposition 8 was a two-year campaign in the state, and during those two years, I never said a word about it until the eight days before the election, and then I did make a video for my own people when they asked, "How should we vote on this?" It was a pastor talking to his own people. I've never said anything about it since. I don't know how you take one video newsletter to your own church and turn that into, all of a sudden I'm the poster boy for anti-gay marriage.

A spokesperson for Warren and his church sent me further clarification tonight:

Throughout his pastoral ministry spanning nearly 30 years, Dr. Warren has remained committed to the biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, for life -- a position held by most fellow Evangelical pastors. He has further stressed that for 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion has maintained this worldview.

When Dr. Warren told Larry King that he never campaigned for California's Proposition 8, he was referring to not participating in the official two-year organized advocacy effort specific to the ballot initiative in that state, based on his focus and leadership on other compassion issues. Because he's a pastor, not an activist, in response to inquiries from church members, he issued an email and video message to his congregation days before the election confirming where he and Saddleback Church stood on this issue.

During the King interview, Dr. Warren also referenced a letter of apology that he sent to gay leaders whom he knew personally. However, that mea culpa was not with respect to his statements or position on Proposition 8 nor the biblical worldview on marriage. Rather, he apologized for his comments in an earlier Beliefnet interview expressing his concern about expanding or redefining the definition of marriage beyond a husband-wife relationship, during which he unintentionally and regrettably gave the impression that consensual adult same sex relationships were equivalent to incest or pedophilia.

April 9, 2009

Obama, Islam, and Respect

Daniel Henninger says the Muslim world must be prepared to give it as well as receive it.

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal writes, "In short, the "respect" Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that." Henninger says the Muslim world can show its good will by treating Christians better. Here's a telling quote of the kinds of issues that he's talking about:

Continue reading Obama, Islam, and Respect...

April 9, 2009

Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston Battle Publicly

Levi Johnston and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have been publicly fighting over who's lying and who's not.

Levi Johnston told CBS that he moved into Palin's house a few weeks before her daughter gave birth to their child.

"We're disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship," Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton prior to his appearance Monday on the "Tyra Banks Show." "It is unfortunate that Levi finds it more appealing to exploit his previous relationship with Bristol than to contribute to the well-being of the child."

Asked if Palin was lying about him, Johnston said: "Yes."

What do you think? Does it matter?

April 9, 2009

Is Rick Warren Backpedaling?

Beliefnet Editor Steve Waldman responds to a CT interview with Rick Warren.

Finally, he's currently getting mocked for claiming to have not endorsed Proposition 8, the California amendment banning gay marriage. To be fair, in the Larry King interview he didn't actually claim that he hadn't endorsed Prop 8. Indeed, he actually acknowledged that he had supported Prop 8. Rather, he claimed he didn't "campaign" for it. A slight but meaningful difference.

April 8, 2009

Faith-based Advisers Petition Obama on Conscience Protections

Five members of President Obama's faith-based advisory council have joined the debate over his plan to rescind recent conscience protections for healthcare workers, but could not agree whether those rules should remain intact or be overturned.

Obama's Department of Health and Human Services has set a Thursday deadline for comments to be submitted on whether regulations former President Bush enacted in December should be overturned, as Obama plans to do.

The letter, signed by eight religious leaders and scholars, said upfront that some signers would urge HHS to retain the Bush regulations, while others would urge the Department to rescind them.

Continue reading Faith-based Advisers Petition Obama on Conscience Protections...

April 8, 2009

Obama Revives 'Hussein'

Barack Hussein Obama is back. His full name, that is.

As he fought rumors that he is a Muslim during the campaign, supporters of Obama rarely used his full name while conservative pundits frequently used his full name.

But Obama brought back his midde name Hussein during trips to France this week, according to Jonathan Martin at Politico

On Friday, at a town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France, he made an extemporaneous comment that would have been unthinkable on a campaign where female supporters wearing headscarves were once removed from a camera shot behind the candidate.

"I think that it is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now president and George Bush is no longer president, al-Qaida is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything is going to be OK," he told the audience.

Martin also writes that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeming to recognize the signal that using Obama's middle name sends, calling him "the distinguished president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama."

April 7, 2009

Vermont Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Vermont just became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage through the legislature. The legislature overturned the governor's veto. Vermont was the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions and the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage, following Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa.

Here's a story from Religion News Service by Kevin Eckstrom.

Nine years after becoming the first state to allow same-sex civil unions, Vermont on Tuesday became the first state to approve same-sex marriage without a court order.

At the same time, the District of Columbia took the first step toward recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, a move that some predict may ultimately lead to legalized gay marriages in the nation's capital.

Continue reading Vermont Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage...

April 6, 2009

Gingrich Speaks (A Little) of his Conversion to Catholicism

News of Newt Gingrich's conversion to Catholicism was buried in a large New York Times profile, and Gingrich isn't eager to talk about it.

But this is what the former House speaker had to say to "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace.

"I'm not talking about this much publicly, but let me just say that I found over the course of the last decade, attending the basilica ... reading the literature, that there was a peace in my soul and a
sense of wellbeing in the Catholic Church, and I found the Mass of conversion last Sunday one of the most powerful moments of my life."

Continue reading Gingrich Speaks (A Little) of his Conversion to Catholicism...

April 6, 2009

Faith-Based Council Doesn't Include Tony Dungy After All

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy will not be on the Advisory Council for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as previously reported. A White House source says he could only make two of the four scheduled meetings.

The announced council will certainly be diverse. The office added several more women, Charles Blake, who decried abortion in his address at the interfaith service at the Democratic National Convention, and Harry Knox from a LGBT lobbying group and political action committee. They're meeting tonight, so check back for more reports.

April 6, 2009

White House Announces More Members of the Faith-Based Advisory Council

The White House just announced additional members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Each member of the Council is appointed to a one-year term as part of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The religious leaders and scholars who were added have an asterisk by their names, and the members that were previously added are after the jump.

*Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies
Washington, DC

*Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)
Indianapolis, IN

*Anju Bhargava, Founder, Asian Indian Women of America
New Jersey

*The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President-Elect, National Council of Churches USA
Minneapolis, MN

*Bishop Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ
Los Angeles, CA

*Nathan Diament, Director of Public Policy, Orthodox Jewish Union
Washington, DC

*Harry Knox, Director, Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign
Washington, DC

*Anthony Picarello, General Counsel , United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Washington, DC

*Nancy Ratzan, Board Chair, National Council of Jewish Women
Miami, FL

Continue reading White House Announces More Members of the Faith-Based Advisory Council...

April 6, 2009

Hey, Turks!

The headline on President Obama's speech to the Turkish parliament is his statement that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, but for connoisseurs of religious politics, the real interest lies in this remark:

Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

Since its opening on the site of an ancient monastery on an island in the Sea of Marmara in 1844, the Halki Seminary was the main school of theology for the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople. Then, in 1971, the Turks closed the place, on the grounds that they didn't want religious institutions of higher learning to exist independent of the Turkish state. Oh, and the idea that this should become a center for education of world Orthodoxy didn't sit well with them either.

Continue reading Hey, Turks!...

April 3, 2009

Iowa Court Approves Gay Marriage, Vermont Passes Same-Sex Bill

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided today that a law declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, making its state the first in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage.

The rest of this article was posted to CT's main site.

April 2, 2009

Nearly 20 Percent of Evangelicals Thinks Obama is a Muslim

Ten percent of Americans still believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, the same percentage of those who believed the rumor during the campaign. As a group, evangelicals (19 percent) are the most likely to believe he's a Muslim, according to a new poll from the Pew Center for People and the Press.

Just 38 percent of white evangelicals and 46 percent of Republicans identify Obama as a Christian. During the campaign, Obama made frequent references to his Christian faith and fought smear campaigns that said he was a Muslim. But since he took office, Obama has made very few references to his faith.

Continue reading Nearly 20 Percent of Evangelicals Thinks Obama is a Muslim...

April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day (in Religion & Politics)

"Brace yourself," I thought, after reading almost every news story, blog post, Facebook message, and tweet today. April 1 is a day to be easily fooled, and Sojourners tried its hand at fooling.

"Video: Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Sojourners’ Mobilization to End Poverty"

Continue reading April Fool's Day (in Religion & Politics)...

April 1, 2009

NAE President Wades Carefully into Immigration Debate

The president of the National Association of Evangelicals took a rare step into the immigration debate Tuesday, saying that the long waiting period for citizenship must be
shortened.

"There are inconsistencies and many outdated aspects of immigration laws, and I think they are therefore unjust and unfair," said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The NAE consists of 79 different member denominations, which is one of the reasons Anderson said he is hesitant to make strong statements on immigration. The NAE is drafting a resolution on this issue, and Anderson said the first draft found support at a board meeting in March.

"There was a very positive response that this was an important issue, and I think that makes sense because so many of our evangelical denominations have significant growth through the Hispanic community, and the Hispanic community is increasingly a major part of the evangelical movement through the United States so of course we care about that," Anderson said.

Continue reading NAE President Wades Carefully into Immigration Debate...