Can a Mormon be president?

Most New Yorkers, I have to believe, know very little about Mormons.

There were a lot of features about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on TV in 2002, when the Winter Olympics was held in Salt Lake City.

Jon Krakauer’s book, “Under the Banner of Heaven,” has probably affected how some people think about Mormons, even though the book is about breakaway fundamentalists who are NOT part of _the_ LDS church.

Everyone, however, will learn a great deal about Mormons and their church if Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seeks the GOP nomination for president, as he is expected to do. The Boston Globe reported a few days back that Romney — who will not seek reelection as governor — spent all or part of 212 days outside Massachusetts this year.

Romney (yes, that’s him) is a Mormon — or a Latter-day Saint, as church members prefer to be called.

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We’ve hardly gotten through the mid-term elections and there has already been a tremendous amount of analysis done on whether a Mormon can win the support of evangelical Christians, who have tremendous sway over everything Republican.

Until pretty recently, most evangelicals regarded the Mormon Church as a wacky, even dangerous cult. Things may have softened a bit, but evangelicals are still suspicious, at the very least.

Although Mormons insist they are Christians (they go by “The Church of Jesus Christ” and all), most traditional Christians think otherwise. This isn’t the time for Mormonism 101, but let’s say they have a number of untraditional beliefs: that God was once a man; that men can become god-like in the afterlife; that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate beings; that Mormons have an obligation to baptize their ancestors (in absentia, of course); that the church president receives ongoing revelations from God; and on and on.

The catch, though, is that on social policy, Mormons and evangelicals are very much in synch. Mormons are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, pro-family and generally conservative on all things (they even have their own welfare system so no one has to go to the government for hand-outs).

So the early, early question is whether evangelicals will support Romney, who is one of them on public policy matters, even though he is a Mormon. Romney has already met face-to-face with evangelical leaders, so he knows what he is up against.

“The Washington Monthly”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0509.sullivan1.html says Romney has evangelical problems.

“The National Review”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OGRiYzcxNmQ1MTZhN2YyODFkYTVjMDRiMzM3ZTM0OTc says he’ll be fine.

A group called “Evangelicals for Mitt”:http://www.evangelicalsformitt.org/ has apparently made up its mind.

This is only the beginning. Expect a lot of comparisons to what JFK went through back in the day.

Eat like a patriarch

Americans love to eat. Americans love their Bibles.

You got to love a cookbook based on the foods in the Bible. How come no one thought of it sooner?

The Rev. Rayner W. Hesse Jr. and his partner, Anthony Chiffolo, who live in Hartsdale, spent more than three years testing recipes based on what people eat in the Good Book (and how they spiced it). They came up with 13 recipes from the Old Testament and five from the New Testament, all gathered in their new book, “Cooking With the Bible: Biblical Food, Feasts, and Lore.”:http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Bible-Biblical-Food-Feasts/dp/0313334102

The book has been getting a lot of positive attention. The Los Angeles Times ran a “feature”:http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-cookbook25dec25,0,977601.story?coll=la-home-headlines about it on page one on Christmas Day. And CBS has bought the rights to develop a television show based on the cookbook.

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Hesse is the spiritual leader at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Rochelle. Chiffolo is editorial director of Praeger Publishers in Westport (which I have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, is publishing a book of mine in a few months).

They’re good guys who have really stumbled on something (on purpose, that is).

Their recipes include: Rice of Beersheba, Rebekah’s Tasty Lamb Stew, Date and Walnut Bread, Ful Madames and Scrambled Eggs, Pistachio Crusted Sole, Bamya, Goat’s Milk and Pomegranate Syrup Torte, Haroset a la Greque, Pesach Black Bread, Watermelon Soup with Ginger and Mint, Date Manna Bread, Oven-baked Perch with Tahini, Braided Challah with Poppy Seeds and Lemon, and Friendship Cake.

The Journal News/LoHud.com ran a feature about the book on Aug. 30 — the day it came out.

“When we wrote `Cooking With the Bible,’ we went to great lengths to be interfaith,” Hesse said then. “Cooking is a language of its own. Everyone we’ve talked to about the book of every faith and background finds it fascinating.”

Can’t (our faiths) all just get along?

What does it take for people of different faiths to get along?

It’s an age-old question, and the answer (if there is one) could be one of the keys to the universe, it seems.

Sunday’s Boston Globe gave five distinguished scholars of religion a “crack at it.”:http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2006/12/24/an_ideas_forum_on_the_challenge_of_interfaith_dialogue/ (It’s worth reading, but you may have to register with the Globe’s website, which only takes a few minutes.) Catholic neoconservative Richard John Neuhaus, evangelical historian Mark Noll, Muslim thinker Reza Aslan, and “pluralism” experts Diane Eck and Alan Wolfe all have some interesting things to say.

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of time spent on Islam and relations between Muslims and Christians.

Neuhaus says that whether Muslims and Christians can engage one another “on the basis of reason and mutual respect” may be “the most important question of this century.”

Wolfe concludes with:

“Religions differ greatly. People themselves do not differ that much. The more the conversation gets broadened, the more tolerance will be deepened.”

Of course, religion scholars don’t always get along. Neuhaus and Wolfe have been quite critical of one another’s writings and I’m pretty sure that Neuhaus doesn’t like Eck’s “Pluralism Project”:http://www.pluralism.org/ either.

Good news

It’s no secret that people always get on the media for being too negative.

The truth is, there’s a lot of bad news out there that we have to report on.

So it’s nice once in a while to report something that is plain old positive (and to even play a hand in it).

Last week, a priest I know let me know that the previous weekend’s collections had been stolen at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Mount Vernon. I wrote an “article”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006612210453 about the blow to the poor parish just before Christmas. CBS did a report, as well.

Sure enough, dozens of people “stepped forward”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006612230357 to help out. The church got significantly more than the estimated $6,000 that was stolen.

And I heard from a lot of people who really cared and wanted to do something. They weren’t lookiing for any credit. They just wanted to help out a poor church that was down on its luck at Christmas time.

Hey, it was nice to be a part of it. Everybody wins. Nobody was mad, for a change.

A Christmas sermon

If you’re interested in reading Bishop Mark Sisk’s Christmas Eve sermon at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, it’s right “here.”:http://www.dioceseny.org/index.cfm?Action=News.ViewAnnouncementDetails&NewsID=B948B19809196E9AA9765DB4E598F90F&returnURL=index%2Ecfm%3F

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The Episcopal Bishop of New York preached about the “complexity” of Christmas, on many levels. He covers a lot of ground.

A final word on holiday displays

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate Christmas. Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrated Hanukkah.

I was ready to let go of the “holiday display” war until next year — and who isn’t sick of the whole thing — but I’m giving a final word of sorts to Ken Woodward.

The former, longtime religion editor at Newsweek (he’s still a contributing editor there), Woodward is one of the senior religion journalists in the country. He’s also a Westchester guy who has been running a terrific lecture series at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor, where he is a parishioner.

Briarcliff is the village that removed its holiday display after a federal judge supported a resident who wanted to donate a creche.

Here’s Woodward’s take, which appeared a few days back in the Wall Street Journal:

“As a New Yorker, I no longer expect a white Christmas this time of year but it would be nice to get through a December without another round in the Christmas culture wars. This year the annual battle over religious symbols in the public square reached the village where I live. As it has in towns and villages across the country, the argument has taken a Talmudic turn: is a Christmas tree a Christian symbol? And if a menorah is added to a Christmas tree on public property, does that satisfy the putative requirement that holiday symbols be religiously “inclusiveâ€??

The trustees of my village have answered yes to both questions. But a Roman Catholic neighbor argues that the tree is no more religious than Santa’s reindeer. He even purchased a crèche for the village to set alongside the menorah and the tree. When the village trustees refused to accept his offer, my neighbor sued in federal court and won. Rather than bow to the decision, the trustees replaced both the tree and the menorah with a Grinch-like sign that says: “We disagree with the court.�

So what’s in a symbol? Christian cultures got along without a Christmas tree for sixteen centuries, and without a crèche for fourteen of those centuries. But there is a difference: The Christmas tree is pagan in origin and ambiguous in its symbolism while the crèche is a Nativity scene and scripturally based. And while I think an open society is better served by allowing explicitly religious symbols on public property on festive occasions like Christmas—the more, the merrier we might say this time of year—the routine use of Christmas trees in retail stores alone tells us that they no longer symbolize anything other than a season. A Yule tree is not a Christmas tree.

I suggest a solution. If inclusion is to be this society’s default value, let the tree be what it has become, the seasonal—and secular—symbol of choice for public property. Let Christians put up Nativity scenes on church grounds and Jews erect menorahs on temple lawns. And let Muslims, if they so wish, salute Christmas with displays of their own devising outside mosques.

The virtue of this arrangement is not merely a truce in the Christmas culture wars. It would signal the recognition that the tree as symbol, though associated for a time with Christianity, has—like the celebration of Christmas itself—reverted to its pagan meaning. Christmas is now a winter carnival of conspicuous spending and consumption, of giving, yes, but mainly of receiving. As such, it is open to Jews and other non-Christians to enjoy with an unencumbered conscience. No one should any longer worry about wishing others “Merry Christmas,� or about heading south for a week.

Christians, in particular, should welcome such a change. Historically, Christians have always been ambivalent about Christmas as a public celebration. The New England Puritans opposed it, as they did most celebrations. And in the nineteenth century, upper-class New Yorkers brought Christmas and its trees indoors–away from public drunkenness and into the womb of the Victorian family whose sentimental values Christmas came to represent. Read Dickens.

Serious Christians know that the story of Christ’s humble birth, as symbolized by the crèche, is a miniature gospel prefiguring his later life and death. They know, too, that the crèche cannot compete with the commercially driven largesse of presents under the Christmas tree. My argument is: why fight it? Perhaps it is time, if only for their children’s sake, that Christians surrendered the end of December to the marketplace that has made it what it has become, and established another day to celebrate the gift that the birth of Christ represents.”

The Catholic Channel is on satellite

I blogged yesterday about Cardinal Egan’s “interview”:http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=local&id=4865524 with Channel 7, which will air in full on Sunday at 11 a.m.

I forgot to mention that “The Catholic Channel”:http://www.sirius.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Sirius/Page&c=Channel&cid=1158082409509&s=prog kicked off on SIRIUS Satellite Radio a few weeks ago and that Cardinal Egan has a weekly program. It airs on Thursdays at noon and repeats on Sundays at 9 a.m. (right before Mass from St. Patrick’s Cathedral).

During his show, Egan answers questions submitted to info@thecatholicchannel.org.

I haven’t been thinking about The Catholic Channel, I suppose, because I haven’t heard it. I don’t have satellite radio and don’t think I know anyone who does.

I would love to hear the channel, the programming for which is produced by the Archdiocese of New York. I know that Joe Zwilling, the long-time spokesman for the archdiocese, worked hard all summer to get everything ready to go. The program director is Rob Astorino, a well-known radio personality in Westchester (where he also lives).

From the looks of it, there’s a lot of promising stuff. I’d like to hear Dave and Susan Konig’s show, Lino Rulli (“The Catholic Guy”), Father Paul Keenan and others. And I’d certainly like to know what Cardinal Egan thinks about the issues of the day.

I may have to bite the bullet and get SIRIUS. Not that I have a problem with satellite radio. It sounds great. But I hardly have any free time now and don’t know when I would get to listen to it.

I have no interest in Howard Stern, by the way. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been asked, probably 10,000 times, if I’m related to him. I’m not.

Interfaith family life

December is always an interesting time for interfaith families. For families with a Christian dad and Jewish mom (or vice versa), there’s a lot of balancing to be done.

The website InterfaithFamily.com does an excellent job of dealing with all the issues that come up. It’s written primarily for Jews married to Christians (and the Jews and Christians who love them).

The current online “issue”:http://www.interfaithfamily.com/site/c.ekLSK5MLIrG/b.307168/k.83F6/Interfaith_Relationships.htm includes articles such as: “Her non-Jewish husband decided not to do Christmas, but now she misses it” and “Hanukkah at home, Christmas at the in-laws. But what happens when the in-laws die?”

Will GOP respond to anti-Muslim letter?

Rep. Virgil Goode’s “letter to constituents,”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/docs/goode-letter/ in which he urged new immigration policies to keep Muslims out of the U.S., is drawing more criticism by the day.

Goode wrote: “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America.”

Democrats, of course, are taking the Virginia Republican on. But now the “Council on American-Islamic Relations”:http://www.cair.com/ is calling on state and national Republican leaders to repudiate his position. You have to figure that GOP leaders will have to say something.

But what?

They are unlikely to endorse anti-Muslim immigration policies. By staying quiet, they appear to be doing so. I would expect party leaders or even the White House to gently distance the party from Goode’s letter.

Episcopal talk at Christmas

Has the Episcopal Church started to fracture?

This is the question that many are trying to answer after nine churches in the Diocese of Virginia, including two historic parishes, voted Sunday to leave the Episcopal Church. They plan to affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, the U.S. missionary district of the conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria.

These churches, of course, feel they can no longer abide by the Episcopal Church’s gay-friendly attitude and overall leftward drift.

The American Anglican Council, which affirms Christian orthodoxy, “supports”:http://www.americananglican.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=ikLUK3MJIpG&b=675589&ct=3311949 the churches’ departure.

“The top leadership of the Episcopal Church is rapidly leading (the church) away from being a Christian church, and we strongly support churches that choose to leave in order to remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Word,� said the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, president of the council.

The Episcopal News Service, meanwhile, “notes”:http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_80654_ENG_HTM.htm that 30 or so members of one of the departing churches — a “large, viable remnant” — have chosen to stay in the Episcopal Church.

One of the hold-outs is quoted as saying that the issue of homosexuality was the “precipitating event but it has gone so far beyond that that I haven’t even heard that mentioned in probably the last year. The first year it was an issue, but not since. It has been: ‘We know the truth and we are telling it to you. If you don’t accept this truth then you really don’t belong here.’ ”

But schism isn’t the only issue on the minds of Episcopalians. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal leader of New York, posts on the Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith”:http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/mark_s_sisk/ site that: “Yes, as audacious as that claim is to make, I do believe that Jesus Christ was, and is, the Son of God.”

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Sisk, right, goes on to say:

“What that means, if it is true, as I believe it to be, is that God, the creator, source, and sustainer of all that is, from the smallest atomic particle to the vastness of the Universe, walked among us as one of us. This walking among us was not one simply of appearance, but it was also of substance. In turn, what that means is that God is not a disinterested observer of the Universe but has, rather, chosen to be identified with the created order in a direct and immediate way. As a consequence of this identification we can know that creation itself is holy, it is sacred, it is special in God’s sight. And therefore it should be holy in our eyes as well.”