Daily Archives: September 10, 2007

Richard W. Garnett: Our real national pastime

With all due respect to baseball, America’s real national pastime is, and has long been, arguing about the place of religion in politics. In the USA, religious faith has always played a role in shaping policy and inspiring citizens, and those same citizens have always wondered, and sometimes worried, about this influence.

From the outset, we have believed that church and state are and should be distinct and also have known that faith and public policy are not and cannot be entirely separate. Finding and maintaining the right balance ”” avoiding both a reduction of religion to politics and an elevation of politics to religion ”” has been and remains a challenge.

One of the most important political stories of the past 25 years ”” one in which this challenge has been at center stage ”” is the emergence, energy and electoral success of the so-called Religious Right. This development unsettled what had become the comfortable consensus among many modern sociologists and suggested that their predictions of religion’s decline, like reports of Mark Twain’s death, were greatly exaggerated.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Religion & Culture, US Presidential Election 2008

New Anglican Church leader in Connecticut starting fresh

An Episcopal priest at odds with church leaders over many of their views, including on homosexuality, is breaking from the ranks by retiring Sept. 30 to start a new congregation, Christ Church Anglican.

The Rev. Gilbert Wilkes, rector of Christ and the Epiphany Episcopal Church in East Haven, said Saturday his new congregation will meet for the first time Oct. 14 with services at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. at a middle school in East Haven. His church will be part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America – or CANA – founded to offer disaffected Episcopalians a theologically friendly church structure.

“I hate to see him leave the Episcopal Church – he’s been an exemplary priest and pastor,” said Diocesan Bishop Andrew E. Smith. “We’ve always had a great relationship.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, CANA, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Connecticut

Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries

Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.

The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.

Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau’s actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Religion & Culture

Alabama Episcopal Diocese to tap suffragan bishop soon

The Diocese of Alabama plans to elect its suffragan bishop on Sept. 30 at 3:30 p.m. at Cathedral Church of the Advent. Whoever is elected will be consecrated and take office Jan. 12.

“From that point on, that person would be doing bishop work,” Burnette said. That includes voting in the House of Bishops, which takes stands on issues and helps set policy for the church. At its next meeting Sept. 19-25 in New Orleans, the House of Bishops is expected to respond to the Anglican primates, or archbishops, who asked for an apology.

“It’s all about what we deal with on a local level,” said the Rev. Robert Childers, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston and one of the candidates for suffragan bishop. “How do we deal with each other, how does our faith in Christ inform how we live together? And do we want to live together? I think we need to stay engaged with each other, that’s the key, stay in conversation, stay in fellowship, break bread together. The danger in our society is to walk away so quickly.”

The other candidates for suffragan bishop are the Rev. Alicia Schuster-Weltner, canon for congregational development for the Diocese of Atlanta; the Rev. Kee Sloan, rector of St. Thomas Church in Huntsville; the Rev. Pat Wingo, rector of St. Thomas Church in Birmingham; and the Rev. William Andrew Waldo, who is from Montgomery and is now rector of Trinity Church in Excelsior, Minn.

“It’s the first time we’re all together,” Burnette said. “The focus is discernment of what God is calling the diocese to do, rather than vying for power.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops

In Polygamy Country, Old Divisions Are Fading

For generations of rural religious polygamists like those Warren S. Jeffs once led, this was the big town and the citadel of sin all in one.

St. George, founded on the southern route to California in wagon train days, was the place to buy groceries or spend an occasional night out. But it was also the local fortress of mainstream Mormonism, which is vehement in its opposition to polygamy.

The polygamists, in turn, looked down on Mormons as apostates who lost their way more than 100 years ago by denouncing polygamy, and thus the teachings of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, in a political compromise to achieve statehood for Utah.

Now Mr. Jeffs is being tried on felony charges that he was an accomplice to rape in arranging polygamous marriages between under-age girls and older men, and the jury is being drawn from a pool of St. George residents.

The trial is expected to throw a sharp light on polygamy and on the culture of Mr. Jeffs’s group in particular, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is estimated to number about 10,000 people throughout the West. Jury selection began Friday, and Mr. Jeffs, 51, could face life in prison if convicted.

The old and bitter history of intra-Mormon relations hangs over everything here. But many people said the divisions were not what they once had been. Even as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is known, has cracked down on polygamy in recent years, an intermingling of cultures has begun to bubble up here, opening hearts and minds in greater understanding, if not quite tolerance.

Economics, not religion, is driving the change.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Law & Legal Issues, Mormons, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Congregation exits Episcopal Diocese of Chicago

The Rev. Scott Hayashi, a diocesan representative, read a letter from Bishop William Persell, who thanked the congregation for carrying out its decision “with grace and integrity.”

“We will continue to hold you in our prayers,” the letter said.

Afterward, Hayashi and Koch hugged.

Resurrection is a young, multi-racial congregation where hugs flow as easily as peals of laughter. Dress is casual, worship is informal. Often, members rest a hand on a neighbor’s shoulder when in prayer.

“We’re a close family,” said Catherine Clark, 66, of Batavia. “Anyone can come here — black, white, gay, straight — and be loved.”

Lynne Bowman, 59, a lifelong Episcopalian from Barrington, called the move bittersweet.

“We have tried to allow the love of God to be part of everything,” she said. “But it’s still painful.”

The new worship space was a quarter mile walk from the church. As the worshippers processed, a guitarist strummed, while others yelled Nigerian warrior cries.

Longtime members said leaving the Episcopal Church was tough but that the walk of faith is never easy.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of Uganda, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Parishes

Zimbabwe: Homosexuality Breaks Up Anglican Province

THE Anglican Province of Central Africa broke up yesterday following the withdrawal of Harare Diocese and expressions of intent to pull out by other dioceses that accused the province of failing to censure some bishops dabbling in homosexuality.

The Diocese of Manicaland also expressed its intention to quit the province along with one other Zimbabwean diocese.

Its bishop said he needed to report to his diocese first before going public, making it three out of Zimbabwe’s five dioceses.

According to the Standing Orders of the Province of Central Africa, once one diocese withdraws, the province becomes null and void and will have to be reconstituted under a new name and structure.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of Central Africa, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

James Button: Winds of change create a very different Britain

A huge experiment is under way in Britain, one not all the locals like, though it seems to be doing many of them good. It is the transformation of the country into one of the most open, globalised nations in the world.

Latest figures show that last year a record 574,000 people moved to Britain – nearly 1 per cent of the population. Australia, by contrast, took 130,000 migrants last year – 0.65 per cent of its population. And Britain is a much smaller island.

Britain’s figure does not count the 600,000 workers from Eastern Europe who have arrived since 2004, turning the lingua franca of farms, building sites and cafes into Polish. Catholicism may soon be Britain’s most popular form of worship again, after nearly 500 years in the sin bin.

But British immigration is countered by emigration. Last year a “staggering” 385,000 people left the country for good, according to Brits Abroad, a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research.

One in 10 Britons now lives abroad, a diaspora twice as large, proportionally, as the Australian one….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK

Andrew Sullivan: Valium Fred, the panacea of the people

People like Fred Thompson. So far as I can tell, that is currently the prime rationale for his candidacy for president of the United States. He doesn’t need to launch a media blitz to achieve this level of public fondness. His avuncular, crumpled tower of a personage is well known from many episodes of Law & Order.

In this year’s race, only one other Republican candidate has even minimal charm ”“ the obscure Mike Hucka-bee of Arkansas, who is obviously (and rather successfully) running for vice-president. Rudy Giuliani is many things, but likable isn’t one of them. Mitt Romney has failed to win over many conservatives despite an impeccable family life and a platform largely dictated by the far-right activist base. The slickness and eagerness to please seem to glide past any political traction. John McCain is too prickly to be cuddled. But good old Fred has the shtick down.

Last Wednesday he lolloped onto The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, skipping the Fox News Republican debate in New Hampshire, and announced for president. It was an unconventional entrance, disdained by even conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for its celebrity-driven aura. But it worked well enough.

The way Thompson drawls backwards into an answer, the manner in which he almost fails to finish his sentences because of boredom or his easy-going way, the gentle, inclusive humour, the effortless stage presence of an actor/lawyer: all these came across beguilingly. I’ll admit it: I like him. He’s been charming when we’ve met; and once you get over craning your neck upwards to see his lofty face, you find yourself wanting him to do well.

Of course, you’re not too sure what exactly he would do….

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Christopher Howse: What Richard Dawkins makes of Jewish morals

There is a strange triangle of forces between God, Richard Dawkins and his opponents. It is an unsymmetrical triangle, in that, although his opponents seem to hate Professor Dawkins and Professor Dawkins certainly hates God, God does not hate Professor Dawkins. That seems to stir the professor to ever greater efforts.

On Earth, Alister McGrath’s book The Dawkins Delusion has been riding high since February in the Amazon internet ranking, though not nearly as high as Professor Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Now a small but cheerful volume called Darwin’s Angel (Profile Books, £9.99) has been published, demolishing The God Delusion. It is by John Cornwell, who runs the Science and Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Apologetics, England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Theology

UK's First TV Commercial for Christianity is Launched

The UK’s first mainstream TV commercial for Christianity will be broadcast on Channel Four next week.

It will be shown on Wednesday night, September 12, at 10.10pm during ‘Brothers and Sisters’, a drama starring Calista Flockhart.

The advertisement will be seen by millions of people across the nation during the next fortnight. As well as being shown on Channel Four, it is also appearing 58 times on the E4 and E4+1 digital channels and on 2,200 cinema screens nationwide for a week, starting today (Friday, September 7).

The commercial will also appear on screens in hundreds of bars nationwide and hundreds of buses in London and Birmingham.

The 60 second advertisement is for the popular Alpha course now running in 7,000 UK churches of all denominations across the UK.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Media, Religion & Culture

The Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn Warns against an Undue Focus on the Same Sex Union Issue

From the Canberra Times:

”Even at home, by pressing this debate will it enable the voice of the gospel to be heard more widely in Australian society, to be respected more intensely, to be understood more thoroughly I think not.” Bishop [George] Browning said he did not mean the matter was not important, or that people did not have the right to strongly-held views. ”But will this debate open wider the gates that lead to everlasting life. I am afraid not.” He was speaking at the Synod Eucharist service in St Saviour’s Cathedral during the annual meeting of the synod of his diocese. He said those about whom Jesus had been extremely critical had taken a passage or passages of scripture and turned them into an idol. ”They had made their interpretation of the law of the Sabbath the litmus test by which virtue and righteousness was to be judged, indeed that by which all human behaviour, however virtuous or evil, was to be judged.” There were parallels today, with religious people taking a passage or passages of scripture and turning them into a litmus test for all. ”In our beloved Anglican Communion, a litmus test has been set and whether any of us like it or not, we are apparently to be judged by it.” In coming months, there would be an increasing commentary in the press about those bishops who were or were not going to next year’s Lambeth Conference. Those who would stay away if others attended, and those who would attend if others stayed away.

”All legitimate bishops in the Communion should attend the Lambeth Conference,” Bishop Browning said. ”We need to be challenged by one another and to try to understand each other.”

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Church of Australia, Anglican Provinces, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

Jay Bookman: Foreclosure damages not just homeowner

Unfortunately, foreclosures on such a large scale also do serious harm to completely innocent people who played no part in the transaction between borrower and lender, according to Dan Immergluck, an associate professor of city and regional planning at Georgia Tech.

Together with co-author Geoff Smith, Immergluck has conducted research on the social impact of foreclosures, based on a database of more than 9,600 property transactions in Chicago. That research found that as foreclosures increase, violent crime jumps significantly. An annual increase of 2.8 foreclosures per 100 homes “corresponds to an increase in neighborhood violent crime of approximately 6.7 percent,” their study found.

“It’s probably something related to the stigma of boarded-up buildings ”” the ‘broken windows’ theory of crime and the psychological impact of all that on the community,” Immergluck says.

Another study by Immergluck and Smith, using that same database, documented the impact of foreclosures on property values, a phenomenon already visible in many metro Atlanta communities. According to what they call a conservative estimate, a single foreclosure devalues every home within an eighth of a mile by an average of almost 1 percent. In Chicago in the late ’90s, a foreclosure would lower the value of surrounding homes by an average total of $159,000.

Multiply that number by the thousands of foreclosures occuring in Georgia, and you have a real problem. Among other things, as property values fall, tax revenue falls with it, forcing government to raise millage rates to stay even.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali: Let's not pass law against fatherhood

Policy on embryo research continues to zig-zag. Having first said it would outlaw the creation of animal-human hybrids for medical experimentation, the Government then decided to allow it. That position was endorsed last week by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

I hope that the Government will change tack yet again. I am deeply uncomfortable with the use of human embryos for research. The HFEA recognised the revulsion many feel at such use of human cells, but insisted that the benefits outweighed such feelings. The recent go-ahead for the creation of ‘cybrid’ embryos – created by the use of a human cell or its nucleus to fertilise an animal egg from which the nucleus has been removed – brings more dilemmas.

If the embryos are human enough to be of use in research, are they not human enough for it to be wrong to experiment on them – whatever the possible benefits?

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Life Ethics, Science & Technology, Theology

Father John Parker: Turning from God leads to eternity without life

Today, as in the days of Moses, we have two choices always set before us: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19ff). The choice, life or death ”” heaven or hell, is ours to make, in every living moment, and to our dying breath.

God never says, “Love me or I’ll kill you.” “Love me or you’ll burn in hell.” Rather, he describes the consequence of not choosing life: “You will surely die.” This already is true in our daily lives: Just look around.

Sadly, many choose such hell, and for two apparent reasons. First, the way to paradise, to heaven, to communion with God, is narrow, and few are they who find it. True life is work. It means crucifixion, forgiveness and endurance. It is definitely not the path of least resistance!

Second, since the devil is so clever, we are often quite well-convinced that hell is actually paradise.

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Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Eschatology, Orthodox Church, Other Churches, Theology