Clearing my head

I’m going to be off until Jan. 2.

Right now, I’m planning to really take off and not blog. I may cheat and do a post or two, but I figure that it would be healthy to cleanse my palate of religion news for a full week.

If I don’t cheat, I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas have a very Merry Christmas. And Happy New Year to all…

Global Christian leader on climate change

I hadn’t heard a word about it before today, but apparently the general secretary of the World Council of Churches was in New York this week.

Dr. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, called concerns about global warming “a matter of faith.”

Here’s the statement from the “WCC:”:

NEW YORK, Dec.21, 2007– In a visit this week to global humanitarian
agency Church World Service’s New York headquarters, World Council
of Churches head Dr. Samuel Kobia called concerns about climate
change “a matter of faith� and said the Christian faith community must
be at the vanguard of the response.

kobia-jan06-small.jpg“We have seen that when we become careless the effect is what we are
seeing now with global warming. I think as Christians we should be the
ones to lead the way so that others then can follow because for us it is
not just a matter of political or economic or ecological concern it is a
matter of faith,� Kobia said.

He was in the United States for meetings with heads of churches and
other ecumenical leaders, including Church World Service Executive
Director and CEO John McCullough. Church World Service is a member of
the Central Committee, the chief governing body of the World Council of

Although the subject has only recently become a focus of global
concern, Kobia emphasized that the WCC is not a newcomer to the debate:
“The WCC has had a program around climate change since 1992. We have
books on eco-theology. We called the program Justice, Peace and the
Integrity of Creation. We talked about the danger the approach to
development has to the integrity of creation. Therefore for us it is not
a new idea.�

With more than a decade of study and concern about climate change, the
council is well positioned to lead a global ecumenical response to
degradation of the environment.

Kobia says he “would like to invite the entire Christian community to
be involved in the work on climate change. It is a gospel imperative
for churches to be involved in the work on climate change. It is a
gospel imperative because human beings are entrusted with the rest of
God’s creation. It is there for us not to plunder and not to
dominate, but to care.�

Church World Service is accelerating its own advocacy campaign on climate
change, as well as advocacy work with faith-based and other partners in
Washington, pressing U.S. policy- and lawmakers to raise the bar on this
country’s commitments to combat the crisis.

Along with the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the National Catholic
Rural Life Conference, Church World Service filed a brief in 2006
supporting the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 11 other states in the
landmark suit against the Environmental Protection Agency, for the EPA’s
failure to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Despite the court’s finding against the EPA in April this year, the Bush
Administration yesterday (Thurs Dec 19) announced that it will block efforts
by California, Maryland, and 15 other states to cut emissions of global
warming gasses from cars and trucks.

Nativity scenes and Christmas songs

Here’s some holiday fun…

“”: has an illustrated look at how the nativity scene has evolved.

It opens:

There are many quasi-secular (though laden with holiday aura) Christmas symbols that do pass the censors, from Christmas trees (a German tradition, with pagan roots), to giant candy canes, to Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa and his sleigh. But the nativity scene is not remotely secular. It is a 3-D representation of the holiest of holy moments in the Christian tradition—the birth of Christ, in a stable (or cave, or ruins, or a public square, if you look at some Renaissance depictions of the event), in Bethlehem, surrounded by Mary and Joseph and a crew of humble farm animals, cheered by angels, heralded by a star.

And “,”: a website for interfaith families, has a quirky look at the 25 most popular holiday songs of 2007. Most of them are pop-Christmas songs and many of them were written by Jews.

Number one? “Winter Wonderland.” (Supposedly, one of the two co-writers, Felix Bernard, was Jewish.)

Muslim scholar again denied visa by U.S.

“Trinity Wall Street,”: the famous Episcopal church downtown, has put together a big name lineup for its 38th National Theological Conference, Jan. 21-23, on “Religion and Violence: Untangling the Roots of Conflict.”

They’ll have James Cone, the preeminent black theologian, James Carroll, the former Catholic priest and current church critic, and Susannah Heschel, a scholar on Jewish-Christian relations.

It’s a pretty liberal group, as you would expect at Trinity Wall Street.

But one featured speaker, the Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, will have to appear by teleconference — since he has again been denied a visa by the U.S. government.

images3.jpegRamadan (that’s him), if you’re not familiar with him, is practically a celebrity in Europe. He is a Swiss Muslim who advocates the development of a “European Islam” that can co-exist peacefully with other faiths. He doesn’t believe in a “class of civilizations” between the Muslim world and the West.

Liberals and progressives in Europe love him. Others, though, have their doubts, insisting that Ramadan does not condemn violence when speaking to young Muslims.

In 2004, Ramadan was offered a tenured job at Notre Dame University. But the U.S. State Department revoked his visa and the government later said that Ramadan gave money to two Islamic charities that support Hamas.

This morning, Trinity Wall Street announced that Ramadan was denied a visa to take part in the church’s conference.

So he’ll take part via teleconference. What will he say about “untangling the roots of conflict” when the international conflict over how he is perceived is not likely to fade any time soon?

The Rev. James H. Cooper, rector of Trinity Church, said this about the conference:

In nearly four decades of exploring the intersection of faith and culture, Trinity Institute has never addressed a topic with such high stakes. Every day religious violence affects people around the world, threatening our very survival. This year’s conference will not only consider the roots of religious conflict, but also ask how we can manifest religion’s true vocation as a force for peace both locally and globally.

A few more rounds in Christmas war

If you’re not a believer in the “war on Christmas,” you can stop reading here.

But if you do believe that secular or anti-Christian forces are aligned to diminish the importance and meaning of Christmas in our society, here’s some ammunition.

First off, the Catholic League — a leading fighter in the war against the war on Christmas — has released a “list of examples”: of anti-Christian bias at Christmas time. Among them:

A spokesman explained that the reason K-Mart forbids calling Christmas trees Christmas trees is because “we do not want to offend any of our associates.� So they are dubbed “Holiday Trees.�

· A staff member at North Seattle Community College was berated for discussing “Christmas cookies� in an e-mail.

· Menorahs are called menorahs—not candelabra—at LSU, but Christmas trees are called “Holiday Trees.�

· Hanukkah and the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha are mentioned in the school calendar of the Spokane Public Schools, but Christmas is not.

· Minutes after a “Giving Tree� was displayed at a school in Leominster, Massachusetts, some parents complained and it was immediately taken down.

There’s more.

Catholic League boss William Donohue says:

In Israel there are menorahs aplenty. And in the Muslim nations, stars and crescents are displayed. So why is it that in a nation that is overwhelmingly Christian, manger scenes are banned but Jewish and Muslim symbols are not? There is something sick going on.

Meanwhile, the Thomas More Law Center, which bills itself as “the Christian answer to the ACLU,” is “proclaiming”: that the “war on Christmas will continue for years.”

imag158.jpgFor proof, the TMLC points to Queens, where the Bayside Hills Civic Assocation refused a resident’s request to include a nativity scene in a public holiday display. With the help of the Law Center (and the Catholic League), the resident won her battle and her creche was displayed (that’s it in the picture).

Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center attorney the case, said:

A crèche depicts the historical origins of Christmas, which has long been recognized as a National Holiday. To exclude this one passive symbol from year-end holiday displays demonstrates hostility toward the Christian faith.

And the war continues (for those who believe it exists)…

Is there religious leadership on immigration?

As immigration becomes the hottest issue in the presidential campaign — “He is much nicer to immigrants than I am!” — one must wonder whether religious leaders have provided, well, leadership on what is, in part, a moral debate.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued numerous pro-immigrant statements, but it’s not clear that their positions have seeped down to the parish level.

In June 2006, the bishops released a “statement”: calling for immigration reform that closed with this:

In the end, our immigration laws should be just and humane and reflect the values—fairness, opportunity, and compassion—upon which our nation, a nation of immigrants, was built.

Are priests talking about this — agreeing or disagreeing — from the pulpit?

Mainline Protestant leaders in New York can be expected to take pro-immigrant stances, as well, if asked. Episcopal Bishop of New York Mark Sisk has taken to saying and writing “We are an immigrant church.” But are they speaking out forcefully enough to be heard?

This week’s “Jewish Week”: writes that most Jewish groups have been “mute” on the immigration debate. Colby College political scientist L. Sandy Maisal tells the paper:

What I fear is that on this issue, the Jewish community, which has taken such important principled stands in the past, has left some of those stands behind in favor of crasser politics. You don’t want to be on the side of an issue like this that is going to create enemies for you. And that’s very sad.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had heard that religious leaders in New York were preparing a statement on immigration. It is coming, but not yet. Looks like we’ll have to wait for the new year to see what they might say.

Dr. Rabbi of Dobbs Ferry

The Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the intellectual center of Conservative Judaism, recently awarded honorary doctorates to 11 Conservative rabbis from the New York area who have served for at least a quarter century.

rabbi2.jpgAmong them was Rabbi Barry Kenter of the “Greenburgh Hebrew Center”: in Dobbs Ferry. He’s a good guy who is a devout believer in Conservative Judaism (one of his two sons is studying for the rabbinate at JTS).

Kenter is a member of the Board of Governors of the NY Board of Rabbis. And he’s also very active in the interfaith world, as a founding board member of the Center for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding in Irvington.

So congratulations to Dr. Kenter.

It’s like Romney meets Huckabee (without the negative ads)

Got a book in the mail yesterday called “Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical.”

The conversation is between Robert Millet, a Mormon and former dean of religious education at Brigham Young University, and the Rev. Gregory Johnson, a former Mormon who is now a Baptist minister.

I’ve only skimmed the book, but it looks really good. One thing I usually like about such “conversation” books, dialogues between two people, is that they get right to the points at hand.

Here’s one Q&A that shows what I mean:

Greg: Okay. Bob, I know it’s painful for your folks to hear us say that you are not Christians, that you do not fit within the historical framework of Christian churches. Isn’t it true, however, that Latter-day Saints are basically saying the same thing about Evangelicals, and all other Christian churches for that matter, when you speak of yourselves as the “only true church” or when Jesus is supposed to have said to Joseph Smith that “all their creeds are an abomination in my sights?”

Bob: Well, I’m glad we started things off with an easy one! In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation given to Joseph Smith in November 1831, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in fact referred to as “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). Admittedly, this is strong language; it is hard doctrine, words that are offensive to persons of other faiths. Let me deal first with what I think the phrase does not mean. It does not mean that men and women of other Christian faiths are not sincere believers in truth and genuine followers of the Christ. Latter-day Saints have no difficulty whatsoever accepting one’s personal affirmation that they are Christian, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God, their Savior, the Lord and Master of their life. Nor are Latter-day Saints the only ones entitled to personal illumination and divine guidance for their lives. It does not mean we believe that most of the doctrines in Catholic or Protestant Christianity are false or that the leaders of the various branches of Christianity have improper motives.

Skipping ahead…

Well then, what does “only true church” mean? More than anything else, it means that divine institutional authority (that we call priesthood) has been restored through Joseph Smith and that such power rests with the leadership of our Church. It means that doctrinal finality rests with apostles and prophets, not theologians and scholars.

The book is published by “Monkfish”: Book Publishing Co. in the Mormon and evangelical stronghold of Rhinebeck, N.Y.

‘Silent night, holiday bucks’

Now, I haven’t heard it, but…

We got a note today from a Stony Point resident saying he heard a radio ad for the New York State Lottery in which the announcer runs through some favorite “holiday songs,” including one called “Holiday Bucks.”

The song is then played to the tune of “Silent Night.”

The reader was disturbed by this use of a song about the birth of Jesus. He asked if the Lottery people “would feel as free to use a song about another religion’s sacred figure.”

I’ll be listening for the ad over the next few days.

Papal visit has a logo

pvlogo3.jpgYou’re looking at the new logo for the papal visit to the United States.

The designer of the logo was Donna Hobson, director of publications at The Catholic University of America. She explained:

“I wanted to incorporate the papal colors—yellow and white— and my vision was to show a welcoming, arms-open, smiling Pope Benedict,� she said.