Calling every synagogue to address climate change

And the growing focus on environmentalism in the world of religion continues.

Several Jewish groups are calling on every synagogue in America to invite elected officials to talk about what can be done to halt global climate change.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Barbara Lerman-Golomb, executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, said this:

“Reading in the very beginning of the book of Genesis of the care with which God created the Earth, we are inspired to renew our efforts to address the challenges that threaten the world today. The new environmental initiative from the Religious Action Center, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs known as “Conservation Conversations: Invite Your Elected Official to Synagogueâ€? is designed to engage elected officials (such as U.S. Senators and Representatives, Governors, State Representatives, Mayors, and others) in meaningful conversation around the issue of climate change, discussing and debating the national, regional, state, and local actions that can be taken to curb this trend. Every synagogue is being asked, in the coming months, to invite national, state, and/or local elected officials to speak at their synagogues, addressing what we can do together to halt global climate change. We sincerely hope that this program helps synagogues create ongoing partnerships with public officials that will aid in our work to address the challenges of global climate change.”

Materials are available “here.”:

Jimmy Carter still swinging, now at Bush

It can’t come as a great surprise that Jimmy Carter doesn’t like President Bush.

Although analysts often point out that Carter, like Bush, was very honest about his Christian faith, the two men disagree on, well, just about everything.

Still, some “comments that Carter made”: a few days ago to Frank Lockwood, who writes the excellent Bible Belt Blogger for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, are pretty striking.

Carter called the Bush administration the “worst in history” when it comes to international affairs and America’s standing in the world. He also slammed Bush’s faith-based agenda, saying the current president has done great damage to the traditional separation of church and state. Carter told Lockwood:

“Individual churches and religious seminaries and other strictly religious organizations have their own lobbyists now in Washington to make sure they get their share of taxpayers’ funds. And, as you know, the policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion. Those things in my opinion are quite disturbing.

“As a traditional Baptist, I’ve always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one.�

Carter’s always been pretty comfortable saying controversial things. In recent years, though, it seems that he’s really let it all hang out. His recent book about the Middle East, of course, compared Israel’s policies with those of apartheid South Africa, drawing more than a little heat from Jewish groups and others.

It does seem that the former president is always selling something these days. He just released a second set of CDs of the weekly Bible lessons he gives in Plains, Ga.

If you zip over to “Bible Belt Blogger,”: you can read about some of the interesting reactions to Carter’s comments, including a rebuke from the Bush administration.

Lockwood, by the way, is something of a pioneer in developing a journalism-first religion blog. He’s built up a strong readership in the Bible Belt (where else?). It’s the same basic model that I’ve been trying to follow. Good job, Frank!

Long Island diocese ‘negligent’ in sex-abuse case

The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre (Long Island) today was found by a jury to be negligent in a high-profile civil case involving a former youth minister who raped and molested several teens.

The case was unusual because it went to trial instead of being settled out of court.

Here is the AP account:

Associated Press Writer

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A jury found the nation’s sixth-largest Roman Catholic diocese and a church parish negligent Friday in a case involving a youth minister who repeatedly raped and sodomized teenagers in his care over several years.
The jury awarded the two victims a combined $11.4 million in damages in one of the rare civil cases to go to trial in the wake of the nationwide Catholic sex abuse scandal that erupted five years ago.
The jury found that the Diocese of Rockville Centre, one of its churches and a pastor were negligent in the hiring and retention of the youth minister who carried out the abuse. The jury cleared the defendants of being negligent in the supervision of the minister.
The six-person jury reached its decision after deliberating over eight days. Continue reading

The pope’s preacher coming to White Plains

Talk about pressure.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the preacher to the papal household.

He preaches to the pope.

Each week during Advent and Lent, Cantalamessa offers a sermon to the pontiff and his top aides. And he’s been doing it since 1980.

benedetto01×150.jpgCantalamessa, a Capuchin friar, will be in Westchester next week and I hope to ask him if he feels any pressure. He must, right?

In every picture I’ve seen of him, he’s smiling as if he just heard a great joke. So maybe he’s not the kind of guy who feels pressure.

He is speaking on Monday evening from 7 to 8:30 p.m at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, 950 Mamaroneck Ave. It’s open to the public, although there is a $10 fee to cover expenses.

On Tuesday afternoon, he’ll address New York priests at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

On Cantalamessa’s “website,”: you can read homilies he’s given to the papal household. His Good Friday sermon from a few weeks ago went like this:

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala� (Jn 19: 25). Just this once, let us not be thinking of Mary, his mother. Her presence on Calvary has no need of any explanation. She was “his mother�, and this says it all; mothers don’t abandon a son, even one condemned to death. But why were the other women there? Who, and how many, were they?

The gospels give us the names of some of them: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joset, Salome, mother of Zebedee’s sons, one called Johanna and a certain Susanna (Mk 15: 40; Lk 8: 2-3). They had followed Jesus from Galilee; they remained by his side, weeping, on the way to Calvary (Lk 23: 27-28), on Golgotha hill they stood watching “from a distance� (in other words, they were as close as they were allowed to be) and in a little while they would accompany him from there, downhearted and sorrowful, to the tomb, with Joseph of Arimathea (Lk 23: 55). Continue reading

Sexuality anyone? NY region of ECLA to grapply with the usual questions

The New York region of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will hold its annual assembly today and tomorrow on Long Island.

Anytime a mainline Protestant body meets, regional or national, you know there will be talk of sexuality. And homosexuality. And who believes what. And why.

This is expected to be the case for the ELCA’s “New York Synod,”: which is made up of more than 230 churches from NYC up through Sullivan and Ulster counties.

Nationally, the ELCA — a pretty moderate mainline denomination with liberal and conservative contingents — is in the middle of a long, slow hammering out of what do to about the two big sexuality issues: blessings for same-sex couples and ordaining gay clergy.

The denomination started to officially study the issues in 2001 and is not scheduled to adopt a statement on sexuality until 2009. How’s that for slow?

In 2005, an ELCA “committee”: recommended that the denomination maintain its ban on gay clergy and same-sex blessings — but left room for pastors and congregations that disagree to act otherwise. The denomination’s regional bodies, called synods, have been trying to hash out what it all means ever since.

The New York Synod includes ministers and lay leaders on all sides of the questions. Several are expected to introduce resolutions on sexuality at the current assembly. We’ll see what comes out of it.

With synods meeting across the country, the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops recently adopted a statement to help guide them. It looks like this:

This pastoral message of the Conference of Bishops is offered as we prepare for upcoming Synod Assemblies and the Churchwide Assembly.

We remind this church that the 2005 Churchwide Assembly resolved that the “members, congregations, synods, churchwide organization, and agencies and institutions [of this church] be urged to concentrate on finding ways to live together faithfully in the midst of disagreements, recognizing the God-given mission and communion that we share as members of the body of Christ” (CA05.05.17).

This church is engaged in a careful study of issues related to human sexuality with the intention of adopting a social statement at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. We urge the members of this church to engage fully and faithfully in the study process as part of our “living together faithfully” during this time.

We trust the Holy Spirit to guide us and have confidence in the constitutional process that orders our conversation as we engage together in moral deliberation at Synod Assemblies and the Churchwide Assembly.
The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commits itself to faithful leadership as, together, we seek the mind of Christ on these matters.

Catholic bishops call for prayers and advocacy on behalf of immigration reform

The nation’s Catholic bishops have become increasingly vocal about the need for immigration reform.

And they are on the side of the immigrant, betraying the Catholic Church’s utterly simplistic reputation for being “conservative.”

The bishops are asking all Catholics to pray and advocate for immigration reform between May 20 and 26. Their campaign, called the “Million Prayers Initiative,”: has five “principles:”

To make family a priority in immigration law
To insist the worker programs contain protection for U.S. and migrant workers
To allow for an earned legalization program for the undocumented in the country
To restore due process protections
To respond to the economic, political, and social root causes of migration.

Many opponents of illegal immigration, who want better border patrols before other reforms are considered, have not been happy with the bishops’ position. They may not like “The Justice Prayer,” which the bishops are asking Catholics to say.

It goes like this:

Come, O Holy Spirit!

Come, open us to the wonder, beauty, and dignity of the diversity found in each culture,

in each face, and in each experience we have of the other among us.

Come, fill us with generosity

as we are challenged to let go and allow others to share with us

the goods and beauty of earth.

Come, heal the divisions

that keep us from seeing the face of Christ in all men, women, and children.

Come, free us to stand with and for those

who must leave their own lands in order to find work, security, and welcome in a new land,

one that has enough to share.

Come, bring us understanding, inspiration, wisdom, and

the courage needed to embrace change and stay on the journey.

Come, O Holy Spirit,

show us the way.

The secretary of state goes to church

Condoleezza Rice goes to church.

According to an immense cover story in The Atlantic:

“Like the president, Rice is a regular churchgoer who embraced religious practice later in life — in Rice’s case, after returning from Washington, D.C., to her teaching job at Stanford University, where she served as provost from 1993 to ’99.”

I don’t know what kind of church Rice attends or why she embraced religion later in life. But there you have it — one of the few things I learned from an 18-page opus.

200706.jpgI love the “Atlantic,”: but this feature, which analyzes Rice’s worldview and follows her on a recent diplomatic (and, by all appearances, meaningless) trip to Jerusalem, hardly told me a thing. The Middle East is a mess. Condi Rice seems ill prepared to help.

I get the feeling that David Samuels, the writer, did the best he could. But Rice is one of those people who speaks only in mind-numbing generalities. She may be tremendously bright, but she reveals nothing.

But she goes to church.

The Jerry behind the headlines

Everyone loves journalism that gets behind the headlines, especially when it comes to very public figures.

We’ve all read (and, in my case, written) what you would expect to read about Jerry Falwell. He got evangelicals into politics. He said far-out things. And on and on.

tjndc5-5etly8mvqbr1469tcgp7_layout.jpgDeborah Caldwell of Beliefnet, a terrific religion writer who used to work for the Dallas Morning News, has penned an irresistible piece about a day she spent with Jerry. There’s nothing like describing a personal encounter with someone.

It starts like this:

In the mid-1970s, as Jerry Falwell built his empire in Virginia, I was a child in rural Pennsylvania, a place often described as the northern Bible Belt. Many a night, my family drove along the back roads listening to AM radio as it picked up signals from all over. Sometimes we heard a New York talk show or a Boston baseball game—but usually we’d listen to the “Old Time Gospel Hour� and its preacher, Jerry Falwell.

The sermons became a family fascination. We were amazed at the invective he’d throw at anyone he deemed liberal. Astonished that he brazenly asked listeners for donations to build a fundamentalist juggernaut. We couldn’t believe he’d ever succeed.

Read it all “here.”:

Jail chaplain may get hearing on anti-Islamic tracts

The full-time Protestant chaplain at the Rockland County jail has now been suspended without pay and faces administrative charges for allegedly handing out anti-Islamic tracts.

White Plains lawyers Kevin J. Plunkett and Darius P. Chafizadeh investigated the allegations, first disclosed when the chaplain was suspended with pay last month.

But an attorney who represents the Rev. Teresa Darden Clapp “told my colleague”: Suzan Clarke that Clapp denies the charges.

Clapp has not talked to the press, which makes one wonder. If she didn’t denigrate Islam, why not say so?

She faces various misconduct charges and will likely get an administrative hearing within the next month.

If you go to the “website”: for Chick Publications, which produces the tracts that Clapp is accused of passing out, you can see the kind of stuff they write. A description of a comic book about the Prophet Muhammad includes this nugget: “Learn how the papacy helped start Islam, only to have this new daughter rebel against her.”

Adds a whole new dimension to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg speech, doesn’t it?

Episcopal bishops call for ‘reasoned’ look at Iraq

Episcopal Bishop of New York Mark Sisk is among more than 100 Episcopal bishops who have signed a letter to Congress that calls for a “careful and reasoned” debate over how to end the violence in Iraq.

No surprise there, given that Episcopal bishops signed a similar letter in 2002 in which they opposed going to war in Iraq.

“Now we write again to express our deepest concern for the situation in Iraq and for our servicemen and women,” the new letter says. “We are filled with sorrow as we witness how our worst fears of what might ensue from war in Iraq become reality.”

You can read the letter “here.”: