Daily Archives: December 28, 2007

Wilfred McClay: Elmer Gantry turns 80

You probably didn’t notice it, but that old rogue Elmer Gantry turned 80 this year. A surprising thought, perhaps, given what a fixture Sinclair Lewis’s 1927 fictional portrait of a bogus and amoral itinerant Midwestern preacher has become in both our speech and our imaginations. Was there really a time when we didn’t have Elmer to kick around–or to kick others with? It is hard to imagine. No less than the camp meetings on the frontier or the Scopes Trial or the stadium revivals of Billy Graham, the character Elmer Gantry has shaped the world’s impressions of American religion.

A crude, profane, hard-drinking and oversexed football player from Paris, Kan., Gantry, using his histrionic gifts and his “arousing barytone,” latched onto the ministry because of the power it gave him over others. The book related Gantry’s picaresque wanderings from one ministry to another, always looking out for the main chance, always complicating his life with amorous dalliances, always ready to beat a hasty retreat, always emerging from his scrapes with ambitions undimmed.

His creator was a gloomy alcoholic Midwesterner with a personal life just as rootless and messy as Gantry’s. But Lewis (1885-1951) gave us a cultural icon whose name is invoked every time there is a scandal involving sex, money and a preacher.

Not many writers can claim similar success in adding to our storehouse of powerful archetypes–or our cupboard of easy clichés. But this is the chief consolation for a literary career that has otherwise faded into obscurity. Lewis’s reputation peaked in 1930, when he became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature. With this award and the invention of two cultural icons–Gantry and the crass businessman George F. Babbitt–Lewis has a secure place in the history books. But that does not mean that, except as cultural artifacts, his books are much worth reading today.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Church History

Kenneth Jackson: A Colony With a Conscience

THREE hundred and fifty years ago today, religious freedom was born on this continent. Yes, 350 years. Religious tolerance did not begin with the Bill of Rights or with Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786. With due respect to Roger Williams and his early experiment with “liberty of conscience” in Rhode Island, this republic really owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document that was signed by some 30 ordinary citizens on Dec. 27, 1657.

It is fitting that the Flushing Remonstrance should be associated with Dutch settlements, because they were the most tolerant in the New World. The Netherlands had enshrined freedom of conscience in 1579, when it clearly established that “no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of his religion.” And when the Dutch West India Company set up a trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1625, the purpose was to make money, not to save souls. Because the founding idea was trade, the directors of the firm took pains to ensure that all were welcome.

For example, while the Massachusetts Bay Colony was enforcing Puritan orthodoxy, there were no religious tests in the Dutch colony. So open was New Amsterdam that at least 16 languages were being spoken there by the 1640s; by 1654, the first Jews in what is now the United States had been able to settle there peaceably.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture

Some couples find success in religious-based family-planning method

Christmas has had a good run at the Antenucci house, where the glistening tree and framed family photos with Santa went on display even before Thanksgiving.

It’s mere coincidence that the red-and-green charts in the bedroom perfectly complemented the home’s festive theme, but an appropriate one, considering that the White Plains couple credits the fertility-tracking diagrams for their greatest gifts: 2-year-old Matteo and 5-month-old Olivia.

“Now, we have our two angels for Christmas,” said Michelle Antenucci, 33, smiling as her baby daughter grabbed at the folded spreadsheets.

The colorful charts illustrate their use of the Creighton Model – one of the Natural Family Planning techniques that are the Catholic Church’s only permitted form of birth control – because it allows a couple to remain open to the possibility of creating new life. In recent years, the Archdiocese of New York and local instructors say these traditionally faith-based methods have started appealing to couples motivated by scientific results, despite skepticism from their doctors.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Sexuality

Is England's former PM on the road to ruin?

Never let it be forgotten that the Roman Church is headquartered in a tiny state, called the Vatican.

Its Pope is a head of state, who aspires to influence world affairs and he has interfered in the domestic affairs of many countries. In my own land, the Roman Catholic Church flies the Vatican flag, alongside our own national flag, outside its places of worship, on special occasions, starkly illustrating divided loyalties.

The Roman Church makes the outrageous claim that it is the one true Church. Christian people in other denominations must never cease to refute that claim.

I travelled to Rome and received the blessing of John Paul II. I can accept that there is much that is good and true in the Roman Church, in spite of its errors. I have no problem in attending Mass and worshipping with fellow Christians of that tradition. At the same time, as a conscientious Protestant, I cannot and will not stand idly by and allow the errors of Rome to go unchallenged.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

From the Belfast Telegraph: Churches careful not to start attendance row

In a flurry of rather out-of-date statistics, the Sunday Telegraph led off its front page with the daring cry that ‘Britain is a Catholic country’. The explanation appeared to lie in Sunday Mass attendances exceeding Anglicans’ average Sunday attendances. Anglicans were nettled, but clearly recognised it would be unseemly openly to go to war.

“It isn’t a competition,” declared the Rev Graham Cray, supremo of those who report on Anglican evangelism. “I’m delighted,” said he with a diplomatic and vaguely ecumenical clearing of the throat, “to see all Christian denominations flourishing.” But is this the whole story? Regrettably, in the real world, churches find themselves very much in competition, however they seek to deny it; and, history being what it is, that competition – in England at least – reaches its apotheosis between Canterbury and Rome.

This is awkward, for the churches are at their least attractive when they allow the wine of triumphalism to go to the head. Seeking to throw one’s weight about, asserting that ‘we are the top dogs’, seems somehow out of kilter with the stainless sage who sought out simple fishermen on the shores of Galilee.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Global Anglicans Face Test of Strength

Many conservative bishops will boycott Lambeth due to the fallout over The Episcopal Church’s actions supportive of GLBT clergy and couples, TEC’s rejection of global accountability, and its re-interpretation of core scriptural teachings.

TEC’s ambiguous response to the Windsor Report and its refusals to follow the guidance of Anglican primates meeting in Tanzania in early 2007 to end gay ordinations, same-sex blessings, and property litigation against conservative parishes have undermined Anglican unity worldwide.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Global South Churches & Primates

Notable and Quotable

So yes, I can still campaign. Not as freely as in the past, but I don’t intend to be intimidated by those who threaten to kill me. And I see that in every event where there is a threat to one’s core interests, national interests, people send their young men and women to give their lives. America sends their young men and women to Afghanistan where they risk death. No one says don’t send our boys because somebody may kill you. So where there is a cause that is larger than oneself, one has to take the risks.

–Benazir Bhutto in an interview on the Lehrer Newshour, November 2007, a section of which was reaired last evening

Posted in * International News & Commentary, Asia, Pakistan

Why boomer converts make the switch

The Roman Catholic Church has a new member, but he’s far beyond the age of any would-be altar boy.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s conversion to Catholicism in a private ceremony in London last Friday wasn’t a surprise to most Britons. He had been edging away from his Anglican roots for years, attending mass on Sundays with his four children and wife, Cherie, who are all baptized Catholics.

But the 54-year-old joins many others who have made the decision to convert later in life. Middle age, some experts say, is a time when many people begin to question their faith ”” or lack of it.

“A lot of it has to do with confronting death,” said Rev. Daniel Donovan, a priest and professor of theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

While young people may reflect on their spirituality, those thoughts are often shoved aside by immediate pressures such as childcare, career and paying the rent, he said.

“When you’re older, and some of the pressure is relieved, you can kind of think, where do I want to end up?” Father Donovan said.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Canada, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Marriage & Family, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

The New York Times Article on the Bhutto Assasination

Angry supporters rioted in her home city, the southern port of Karachi, The Associated Press reported, shooting at police officers, setting tires and cars on fire and burning a gas station.

In a brief televised address, President Pervez Musharraf called for support from the Pakistani people and declared three days of mourning. “This is a great tragedy which I cannot describe in words,” he said, according to a report on state-run media.

He blamed terrorists for the attack, saying “Pakistan and the nation faces the greatest threat from these terrorists.”

Condemnation of the assassination flowed in from around the world. President Bush called it a “cowardly attack by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy.” The White House said Mr. Bush called Mr. Musharraf early Thursday afternoon.

In a statement on the United Nations Web site, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, called the killing “an assault on stability.”

Ms. Bhutto’s death is the latest upset in Pakistan’s treacherous political situation, and leaves her party leaderless in the short term and likely to be unable to effectively compete in hotly contested parliamentary elections that are two weeks away, according to Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani political and military analyst.

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Posted in * International News & Commentary, Asia, Pakistan

Lawsuit filed against Green Bay by Madison atheist group

Green Bay’s controversial nativity scene came down from City Hall Wednesday.

Madison’s Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit to keep it from ever going up again.

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the city did something unconstitutional and “really in your face.”

She wants a court order barring Green Bay from doing the same thing next year. They also want financial damages.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

One in five C of E bishops faces sack

More than a fifth of the Church of England’s bishops could face the axe under new proposals being drawn up by its leaders.

Secret documents discovered by The Daily Telegraph reveal that the Church Commissioners – the financial wing of the Church of England – are considering reducing traditional funding for the hierarchy.

The proposals come in the wake of criticism that the Church is top heavy and the bishops too costly, while congregations are shrinking and parishes are strapped for cash.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

Cristina Odone: A confident faith willing to fight God's corner

When I was editing the Catholic Herald in the early 1990s, we thought we were living through the most momentous times for the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

We were witnessing the conversion of such Establishment figures as the Duchess of Kent, Ann Widdecombe and the Telegraph’s Charles Moore, but we never dreamed that one day an ex-prime minister would himself cross the Tiber. Or, indeed, that this news would be overshadowed by an even more important development: that for the first time since Henry VIII, there are more Catholics than Anglicans in this country.

This is not because the prayer for the conversion of “Mary’s Dowry” (England), with which Catholic children used to begin their school day, has been answered. Rather, Catholic immigrants, from eastern Europe as well as Africa, have filled the once-empty pews of Catholic churches across the country.

After more than 500 years of being a suspect minority, forced to convert, driven underground or abroad, the Church is now triumphant.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

'Refreshing’ Archbishop is Anglican of the Year

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has been named “Anglican of the Year” by members of the Church of England.

Dr Sentamu, the Ugandan-born Archbishop who won international plaudits after he cut up his clerical collar on live television in protest at the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, beat the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, into second place.

The third-most-popular Anglican among members of the General Synod, the Church’s “parliament”, was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE)

USA Today: In 2007, Faithful find controversy within ranks

In 2007, believers took their principles into the streets and the political arena. And sometimes, they found themselves opposing fellow believers. USA TODAY’s Cathy Lynn Grossman recaps key events and controversies….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture

Chicago Area Episcopal church closing its doors

129-year-old Episcopal congregation on the South Side will be disbanded after worship Sunday.

Attendance at the Episcopal Church of the Mediator, which is in the Beverly/Morgan Park area, has declined to about 30 people. At its peak, it had 250 members, church leaders said.

“It’s been coming,” said Mary Reich, a parish leader. “You can’t run a parish on 30 people. Most of our members are over age 55.”

The final service will be at 9 a.m. Sunday at the church, 10961 S. Hoyne. After worship and a time of socializing, a letter from the bishop of the Chicago Episcopal Diocese will be read.

The Rev. Michael Stephenson, a diocesan official, said the letter officially “secularizes” the building. Future use of the property will be determined by the bishop, he said.

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