Evangelicals crumbling or thriving?

Are evangelicals really cracking up?

I finally finished David Kirkpatrick’s long piece in the NYT Sunday Mag about how evangelical Christendom is falling prey to internal divisions and losing its political swagger.

It’s still available on the Times’ “website”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/magazine/28Evangelicals-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 as of today.

Kirkpatrick’s thesis has become the conventional wisdom in the media, largely because (it seems to me) evangelicals do not have a presidential candidate to rally around.

I’m always leery of making generalizations about “evangelical Christians” or “Roman Catholics” because there are simply too many of them.  But we all do it in the media.

Here’s one of Kirkpatrick’s conclusions:

The 2008 election is just the latest stress on a system of fault lines that go much deeper. The phenomenon of theologically conservative Christians plunging into political activism on the right is, historically speaking, something of an anomaly. Most evangelicals shrugged off abortion as a Catholic issue until after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But in the wake of the ban on public-school prayer, the sexual revolution and the exodus to the suburbs that filled the new megachurches, protecting the unborn became the rallying cry of a new movement to uphold the traditional family. Now another confluence of factors is threatening to tear the movement apart. The extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush has ended, for many, in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments. That disappointment, in turn, has sharpened latent divisions within the evangelical world — over the evangelical alliance with the Republican Party, among approaches to ministry and theology, and between the generations.

But is it correct to deal with evangelicals as a political force first?

Jeff Sharlet, who critiques media coverage of religion at “The Revealer,”:http://www.therevealer.org/archives/main_story_002888.php writes that evangelicals have been fighting a cultural war first and that they are doing quite well — even if they’re faring less well on the political front. He writes:

That there’s a crack-up in political evangelicalism’s old guard is indisputable, but the movement, the evangelical idea of what America is and should be, is stronger and more widespread now than it ever was in the 20th century.

Those smart Jews

Oy veh.

The American Enterprise Institute recently held a forum on why Jews are so smart (I’m not saying it, mind you; the AEI is saying it).

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank “covered it.”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/29/AR2007102902094.html?nav=rss_print/asection

Thanks to my friend Andrea Useem at “ReligionWriter.com”:http://www.religionwriter.com/ for pointing it out.

The most common Jewish ritual

What is the most common Jewish ritual?

It just may be attending college.

I just had a nice chat with Leebie Mallin, the new executive director of “Hillels of Westchester.”:http://www.hillelsofwestchester.org/ She pointed out that about 85 percent of American Jews receive at least some higher education, making college “the most common Jewish ritual.”

That’s where Hillel comes in.

Hillel is the largest Jewish college group, present on campuses around the world. The Westchester “chapter” used to cover just SUNY Purchase and Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, but has recently added Manhattanville College and the Pace University campus in Pleasantville.

16.jpgMallin, 31, (that’s her) comes to Westchester from the College of Staten Island, where she ran a fledging Hillel program (“There was literally one involved student when I got there.”) for the last three years.

A Philadelphia native who now lives in Riverdale, Mallin, as you would expect, is a big believer in Jewish education and connectedness.

“I believe that all Jews should have the opportunity to learn about their religion, culture and heritage,” she told me. “Then they can make decisions about their lives and embark on their own Jewish journeys. I see Hillel playing a role.”

So Hillel has a lot of responsibility, particularly when it comes to Jewish students without much Jewish knowledge or background.

“We have some students who have little or no knowledge of Judaism,” she said. “For many students, Hillel is their first encounter — or first positive encounter — with Judaism. College is a time for learning and discovery. Hillel is a way for students to challenge themselves and learn something about themselves.”

Hillels of Westchester is growing. It now has three staff people and offers weekly Shabbat services and full High Holy Day services.

Mallin figures there are some 1,300 Jewish students at the four campuses that Hillel serves. Many of them are studying or pursuing the arts, so Hillel hopes to reach out to all the artsy students out there.

The goal, she said, is to help Jewish students have “meaningful Jewish experiences.”

“The students have to define that for themselves,” she told me.

NYS’s ‘Christian lobbyist’ celebrates 25 years

The Rev. Duane Motley is billed as “New York state’s only full time Christian lobbyist.â€?

What that means is that he’s the only full-time lobbyist for conservative evangelical Christian positions on the issues of the day.

He is the lobbyist for “New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms,”:http://www.nycf.info/default.asp a small Albany agency that, one could say, represents the “religious right” in a part of the country where the religious right has relatively little influence.

duane.jpgMotley (that’s him) is now celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ministry. Last week, the first of four banquets in his honor was held in Painted Post, N.Y., which is west of Binghamton. The other banquets will be in Buffalo, Rochester and Albany.

Nothing in New York City or the Lower Hudson Valley, where support for NYCF is probably not all that great.

What does NYCF concern itself with?

Last week’s email alert focused on Gov. Spitzer’s super-controversial (and since updated) plan to offer driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. “The Governor is ‘digging in his heels’ on this issue and plans to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens despite intense opposition,” the alert warns.

NYCF’s most recent newsletter focuses a great deal on Spitzer’s “Troopergate” problems and is sprinkled with concerns about same-sex marriage.

The back page is particularly interesting, including a “public school opt-out form.”

The form is for parents to review, sign and give to their children’s schools. It says that their children should be excused from any presentations that cover:

Sex or family life education; AIDS or HIV education; the acquiring or use of birth control drugs or devices; abortion; infanticide; euthanasia or suicide; death education in any form; programs regarding death; homosexuality; bestiality; sadism, masochism or other sexual perversions; showing of R, NC-17 or X rated (pornographic) films; meditation, yoga, trances, guided imagery, or the conjuring of spirit guides and/or “imaginary friends;” witchcraft in any form; any counseling, group or individual, other than behavior modification programs, except as recommended by the student’s personal physician and approved by us, or the use of questionnaires, role playing, or other strategies to question, expose, or criticize any private, religious or moral value of the above named pupil or members of his/her family; “values clarification,” decision making,” or global education dealing with the aforementioned subjects.

A papal sighting in LoHud?

Will Pope Benedict XVI be coming to Yonkers?

The pope’s itinerary for his U.S. trip in April has not been released and probably won’t be for some time.

But “Whispers in the Loggia”:http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/ is reporting that the pontiff may visit St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers on the afternoon of Saturday, April 19.

tjndc5-5h45xswo8qw1m8199n8k_layout.jpgA papal advance team visited Washington and New York last week. And officials from the U.S. Bishops Conference recently “met”:http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0705959.htm with the pontiff to discuss, among other things, the Big Trip.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, wrote this in an email to me a little while ago:

We are still awaiting details of what the Holy Father’s itinerary will be. Until we have official word from the Vatican on the trip, I’m not able to confirm any specific aspects of the upcoming visit.

The pope visited Dunwoodie back in 1988 (when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, of course) for an academic conference.

Pope John Paul II came to the seminary in 1995.

Whispers has Benedict addressing the U.N. on Friday, April 18, leading a liturgy for priests and religious on Saturday morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and then heading north to Dunwoodie in the afternoon.

The next morning, Benedict would be celebrating Mass at Yankee Stadium (not Central Park, as Whispers first suggested).

As Whispers notes:

Bottom line: everything can, and very well might, change. But this is where things are heading as of the present… even if “Nothing is confirmed until the Holy Father signs off on it.”

Sheiks, libraries and collectors

If you’re into Catholic history and have $8,400 to spare, read this story by the AP’s Nicole Winfield:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Sheiks, libraries and collectors around the world have ordered the Vatican’s new $8,400 limited-edition documentation of the heresy trial of the Knights Templar, officials said Thursday.
The leather-bound volume, which includes high-quality reprints of the original documents as well as clerical seals, is noteworthy because it contains a long ignored parchment showing that Pope Clement V initially absolved the medieval order of heresy.
Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican’s Secret Archives, is issuing 799 editions of the volume — and plans in the coming days to present one to Pope Benedict XVI, officials said at a presentation inside Vatican City.
The order of knights, which ultimately disappeared because of the heresy scandal, recently captivated the imagination of readers of the best-seller “The Da Vinci Code,� which linked the Templars to the story of the Holy Grail. Continue reading

Offering ‘spiritual care’ to the dying

Way back in January 2005, I covered a forum about how to raise children with religious values.

One of the panelists was a woman named Mary Wasacz, who I learned was a “spiritual care coordinator” for “Hospice & Palliative Care of Westchester.”:http://www.hospiceofwestchester.com/homepage.php That’s her on the right.

I was intrigued.

tjndc5-5b5nbuylnw48olnrezi_layout.jpgI wound up meeting with Mary soon after to discuss her fascinating job. She meets with hospice patients — people who are facing terminal diseases — and helps them to deal with their spiritual and religious crises, dilemmas, fears and anxieties.

She prays with them if they so desire.

She helps them, in order words, to get ready to meet their maker.

I asked Mary if I might be allowed to tag along when she meets a few patients. She said she would ask. She was enthusiastic about the idea.

Over the past two years, I’ve watched and listened in as Mary has met with five patients or the relatives of people who were dying or had just died.

There were sometimes long gaps between when Mary could find patients who would allow me and photographer Stuart Bayer to come. But Mary persisted and we waited.

There were other delays that I won’t bore you with. But the project is finally read to run — this Sunday, the 28th.

I hope you’ll give it a read. Mary is a person worth getting to know…

Father Matthew now blogging from Rye

Father Matthew Moretz, an Episcopal priest who has built up a nice following with his quirky video blogs on YouTube, has a new address.

He’s moved from St. Paul’s in Yonkers to Christ’s Church in Rye.

But he’s still posting “Father Matthew Presents.”:http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22father+matthew+presents%22&search=Search

default.jpgHe did one recently called “Making sense of sin.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr0omWJUtNE In this post, Moretz rejects many common definitions of sin — the breaking of laws, separation from God, excessive pride — as being too limiting.

He prefers the idea that sin is like the blocking of the flow of God’s love and gifts, “like a blockage in an artery.”

If you watch his posts, it’s clear that Moretz is trying to reach people who have been turned off by organized religion. He often apologizes for past offenses against his viewers.

And he tries to get to the heart of the various questions that real folks wonder about.

Like sin.

Voice of Faithful takes on priestly celibacy

“Voice of the Faithful” the lay Catholic group that got started in response to the sex-abuse crisis, has had a shrinking public profile the past few years.

The group had its national convention this past weekend in Providence, R.I. Father Richard McBrien, the always provocative and outspoken Notre Dame theologian, was featured. Even he said that VOTF is at a “crossroads,” as it moves toward endorsing optional celibacy for priests and other controversial positions.

Until recently, VOTF sought to avoid such issues that have long been associated with liberal reform groups like Call to Action.

McBrien thought that optional celibacy was a good idea. According to the Providence Journal, he said:

Can you imagine what kind of candidates we would attract to the U.S. Senate, for example, or to any other high-ranking political, corporate or academic office if a commitment to lifelong celibacy were an essential, non-negotiable requirement.

Although VOTF has a very small presence in the Archdiocese of New York — fewer than a half dozen parishes have chapters — a Westchester chapter has started its own blog.

You can check it out “here.”:http://votfwny.blogspot.com/