What happens when you accept an endorsement from an anti-Catholic pastor?

As soon as I say that faith has been cut out of the presidential race (see post below), it’s back. Sort of.

John McCain’s enthusiastic acceptance of an endorsement from fundamentalist pastor John Hagee is being criticized from numerous sides.

tjndc5-5ix47gpwemgrx5rocb5_layout.jpgHagee, who pastors a huge church in San Antonio and is at the forefront of evangelical support for Israel, happens to have a history of attacking the Roman Catholic Church.

You can hear Hagee “explain” his theories on YouTube.

The Catholic League, not surprisingly, does not appreciate McCain’s eagerness to fly to San Antonio to stand by Hagee’s side. Or Mike Huckabee’s disappointment at not getting Hagee’s endorsement.

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue:

If Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama were fighting over the support of Louis Farrakhan, we’d say they’re nuts. So what are we to conclude about McCain’s embrace of Hagee, and Huckabee’s lament for not getting the bigot’s endorsement?

ADD: McCain just sent out this statement:

Yesterday, Pastor John Hagee endorsed my candidacy for president in San Antonio, Texas. However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.

I am hopeful that Catholics, Protestants and all people of faith who share my vision for the future of America will respond to our message of defending innocent life, traditional marriage, and compassion for the most vulnerable in our society.

(Photo: AP/Gerald Herbert)

Religion getting squeezed out of the race

Isn’t it funny how religion kind of evaporated from the presidential race?

Obama and Clinton are both pretty devout mainline Protestants who don’t have many faith-based issues to tussle over.

tjndc5-5ixmz92nge01ka1765e0_layout.jpgAnd John McCain isn’t all that interested in talking about religion. He will, of course, as he tries to rev up the GOP’s evangelical base. But he’s not too good at it.

In fact, Columbia prof Randall Balmer has written an hysterical piece about McCain’s earlier confusion over whether he is an Episcopalian or a Baptist.

Balmer, an Episcopal priest (whose new book is God in the White House: A History) walks McCain through the differences. One example:

If the pews are filled, you’re probably in a Baptist church. Sadly, if there are a lot of empty seats and a lot of grey hair, it’s likely you stumbled into an Episcopal church.

I did come across an interesting interview with John Green, the maven of religion and politics, about why McCain may need to win over evangelicals. Among other things, he says:

White evangelicals have been a very strong Republican constituency – the exit polls in the 2004 general election showed that 78% of white, born-again Protestants voted for George W. Bush. Thus, in that very close election, evangelicals were quite important to Bush. And if the 2008 election is close, they would be as important to the Republican nominee. McCain may have some trouble achieving that level of support from white evangelicals given that a majority of them preferred other candidates in the primaries. In addition, many of the leaders of the Christian right have been hostile to McCain.

(Photo: AP/Gerald Herbert)

Easter is when? Why? And what about St. Pat’s Day?

And St. Patrick’s Day is…

March 17, right? That’s when the NYC Parade will be.

Or March 14, when churches in the Archdiocese of New York will celebrate the Mass associated with St. Patrick?

tjndc5-5e07qc8fe3c14gp7so55_layout.jpgI have an article running in the next few days about how Catholic dioceses have had to reschedule the liturgical St. Patrick’s Day this year because March 17 falls on the Monday of Holy Week.

Easter is extremely early this year, on March 23. So Holy Week, the week that begins with Palm Sunday and leads to Easter, is also early, backing up onto ‘ol St. Patrick.

The reason for Easter’s early arrival is, well, complicated.

A fourth century church council wanted to keep Easter near Passover and decided that Easter would be the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Got that?

The system hasn’t exactly worked, though. Passover this year begins on April 19.

There has been talk for decades of the major Christian traditions agreeing to set Easter on the same date every year. The Orthodox Christian churches use an entirely different calendar and will celebrate Easter this year on April 27 — a full five weeks after the Western churches.

A 1997 summit of church leaders set the stage for deciding on a new universal Easter date, but…these things tend to take a while.

Next year Easter will return to April 12.

And Holy Week won’t overlap with St. Patty’s Day again until 2160.

Little congregations incubate together

Say you have a bunch of tiny Christian congregations, each trying to grow but unable to support their own churches.

In Newton, Mass., such a bunch shares an “incubator church,” the Newton Corner Worship Center.

It’s an interesting story, as told by the AP’s Jay Lindsay:

tjndc5-5iwl5i4f6lv1mz2cliu4_layout.jpgNEWTON, Mass. (AP) — The languages vary from hour to hour, room to room — songs of praise, words of prayer in Arabic, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew, Tagalog.
These worshippers do not share an ethnic heritage, but they do share a faith, and because of that, a building.
The Newton Corner Worship Center is an incubator church, home to small conservative Christian churches that need a place to meet and, they hope, grow.
The building, once home to a dying Baptist congregation, has become a sort of a reverse Tower of Babel over the past two decades, where languages mix, but everyone understands the words are being used to worship the same God.
Still, the churches remain as distinct as the ethnic foods served during social times.
“We find it like brothers living in the same house and we are trying, each of us, to maintain this house,� said Sinote Ibrahim, pastor of the Arabic Baptist Church of Boston. “We are in unity together as the body of Christ.�
The services are scheduled every few hours on Sunday, with different congregations sometimes upstairs and downstairs simultaneously. The languages and music blended into a clamor on a recent Sunday.
“It is noise, but you know, the noise is good noise,� said Dimitrios Deligiannides, an elder in a Greek church that originally bought the building. “Both upstairs and downstairs give thanks to God.� Continue reading

Conversion popular — but not always easy

Americans love to switch faiths.

The new Pew Forum study shows that 28% have left the faith of their childhood (and if you count switching brands of Protestantism, the percentage soars to 44).

But for the small numbers who convert to Judaism, well, things sure get complicated.

The different branches of Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist — have their own standards for conversion. Who acknowledges whose conversions has long been a tricky question.

The question periodically becomes quite serious because of the reluctance of the Jewish establishment in Israel — which is uniformly Orthodox — to recognize non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism.

But even within the world of Orthodoxy, where there are multiple religious gradations between “ultra Orthodox” and “modern Orthodox,” there are disagreements over the standards for conversion (and who can oversee conversions).

In recent years, the Israeli rabbinic establishment has sometimes looked askew at conversions overseen by Orthodox rabbis in the U.S.

A few days ago, the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbis group in the U.S., announced that it was establishing a network of rabbinical courts to oversee conversions. The statement said:

The network, established with the enthusiastic agreement of the RCA membership at large, creates uniform standards of Orthodox conversion. The network will benefit genuine converts and their offspring, by facilitating their acceptance in Jewish communities around the world.

In other words, in Israel.

The new Jewish Week reports that there is a bit of discord of whether the RCA capitulated to the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate in Israel by adopting conversion standards that require ultra-Orthodox observance on the part of would-be converts.

The report says:

basil-herring-pic_medium.jpgThe newly unified conversion standards may be most demanding for those who are adopting a child and want him or her converted under Orthodox auspices. They will be required to have their family be completely observant of the commandments — for example, living within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue so that they can attend on the Sabbath without driving, and must commit to having their child educated for 12 years in an Orthodox Jewish day school.

But what if the child needs to leave the day school because it is not meeting his educational needs or because the family can no longer afford tuition?

“If there was clear indication that the commitment was a real one, not just posturing to fool the court, but that subsequently they were unable to follow through for whatever reason, that does not undo the conversion,� said (RCA Executive Vice President) Rabbi (Basil) Herring. “Everything here is in the details.�

The overall goal, said Rabbi Herring (pictured), “is to give converts a measure of assurance that when they go beyond the system they will not be doubted, alienated and hurt� by questions about their legitimacy as Jews.

(Picture: RCA)

Oh yeah, I’m talking tonight

I’ll be speaking tonight at Beth El Synagogue in New Rochelle about my book, Can God Intervene? How Religion Explains Natural Disasters.

I should probably have mentioned this before now, but I’m not too good at self promotion.

51vjm0buq8l_aa240_.jpgThe Interreligious Council of New Rochelle invited me, which I greatly appreciate. I had a chance to speak at their annual Thanksgiving morning interfaith service a few years ago.

The program is at 7:30, free and open to the public. Beth El is at North Avenue and Northfield Road.

Of course, natural disasters have not stopped taking lives since I finished the book last year. This month, tornadoes killed 58 people in the southern states. Religion News Service did a story about what religious leaders in Tennessee had to say about the tornadoes.

“Sometimes you just have these weather events,” the Rev. Ron Lowery, a United Methodist district superintendent in central Tennessee, told RNS. “And nobody would wish that upon you, and God would himself not have that come upon us.”

Then why did God let it happen? Could God have stopped it? Didn’t God have to be part of it, in some way?

These are the kinds of questions I address in my book.

After I talk for a few minutes, we’ll hear from three clergy: Rabbi Melvin Sirner of Beth El, the Rev. DeQuincy Hentz, Pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in New Rochelle, and the Rev. Carol Fryer, a new chaplain at the Wartburg.

Buckley on his faith

Is it me, or is it hard to believe that William F. Buckley has died?

I mean, it seemed that he could just talk forever. What could stop him?

tjndc5-5iwznk4kx11vrn6mcb5_layout.jpgBuckley, the conservative kingpin, wrote and spoke often about his faith, about being a Roman Catholic. I came across a 1997 interview that another omnipresent fellow, David Gergen, did with Buckley. Buckley’s autobiography, Nearer, My God, had just come out.

Here are some highlights:

DAVID GERGEN: Much of your book, it’s quite striking because it’s so unlike what’s out there about religion today, it is a serious struggle to understand and to come to grips with Catholic and Christian doctrine. Have you come to believe in both, Jesus, the historical figure, and in the resurrection, itself?

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Well, yes, I do. I think that’s absolutely central to Christianity. St. Paul thought so, and so does everybody. If Christ has not risen, then everything is in vain. But the circumstances of His resurrection were quite widely reported, and we know that his apostles devoted their entire lives in ways that would not be thinkable, except on the absolute certainty that this had happened. So yes, I think it is central, and I devote a certain amount of time to that. It is, I think you’re correct in suggesting that it is often thought of as simply a myth, sort of a happy thought. I don’t think it’s happy thought. If it were, as Russell Kirk — I quote here — then Christianity would be something — nothing more than simply conjurings of social observations. It’s the startling fact, Christ rose.

And…

DAVID GERGEN: Yes. There was one question you put to them that I’d like to put to you, just to paraphrase it a bit. Was there one feature of the Catholic Church distinguishing it from other Christian sects that, in particular, kept you a Catholic, kept you in the Church, and, if so, what was it?

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: I think it is the centrality of the assumption that the Catholic Church is the Church that was founded by Christ. But they all have polisticity, for sure. A lot of people do think that. And if it’s so, then you’d want to say, well, give me a good reason for not joining it? Now, I know there are an awful lot of reasons, awful lot of subtle, theological questions here, but that is the point that is most — that, plus also its general record and the constancy of its performance are morally — I find that pretty impressive. Two thousand years is a long time.

And…

DAVID GERGEN: We have only a short time left, but I wanted to ask you, as a devout Catholic, and as a conservative, how do you then square your conservatism with views of the Catholic Church on social responsibility, the more modern views that have been promulgated by the Church?

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: There’s always a tendency in churches, as far as I can see, to say we’ve got to build one more gymnasium for the homeless. And I think we should build one more gymnasium — don’t get me wrong — but the attempt to suck spiritual energy into activity of that kind, in my judgment, doesn’t really pay off. There’s a spiritual hunger in the world, and that hunger is appeased by the worship of God and by an attempt to follow his commandments. Now, there is nothing in the social doctrines of the Church that can be said to be crystallized, that contradicts any position I’ve ever taken, unless you can come up with one.

DAVID GERGEN: I haven’t yet, but I’m sure others will now try. Bill Buckley, thank you very much.

(Photo: AP/Frank Franklin I)

Why the Protestant decline?

So the big Pew Forum study showed that only 51 percent of Americans identity themselves as Protestants these days.

The always-funny Onion asked some “ordinary people:”

Since the 1980s, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Protestant has dropped from two-thirds to just 51 percent. What do you think?

onion_front.jpgOne answer:

Katla Mirk,
Attorney at Law
“Then I’m really proud of my law firm’s commitment to diversity.”

And the second:

Bryan Goudiva,
Systems Analyst
“And that 1 percent edge is all I need to be self-righteous and judgmental.”

Oh, heck, here’s the third and last:

Sam Fischer,
Heating and Cooling Installer
“That’s because everyone started doing yoga and eating weird beans and stuff.”

A new top 10: abuse of religion on the presidential campaign trail (so far)

And the worst abuse of religion during the presidential campaign goes to…

Mike Huckabee.

tjndc5-5iw2dfqrbysd2dum1rg_layout.jpgFor this line: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.”

He won’t get a gold statue.

The Interfaith Alliance today released its list of the 10 “worst abuses of religion during the campaign so far.”

Interfaith Alliance President the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy explains:

I have witnessed more abuses of religion in this primary season than in any election in recent memory. Candidates from both parties seem to be locked in a competition to be ‘holier than thou.’ Incidents like these demean the sanctity of religion by inferring that God has endorsed a certain candidate. Far be it for candidates to run for ‘Commander-in-Chief’ instead of ‘Pastor-in-Chief.’

Here’s the top 10:

10. Mitt Romney is asked if he believes “every word� of the Bible
(CNN/You Tube debate (11-28-07).
9. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asks John Edwards to “name his greatest sin�
(CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).
8. James Dobson tells a reporter he does not think that Fred Thompson is a Christian
(3-27-07).
7. Barack Obama distributes a campaign flier describing himself as a “Committed Christian� (1-21-08).
6. Hillary Clinton said we need to “inject faith into policy�
(CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).
5. Mike Huckabee explains his rise in the polls by invoking the Biblical story of two fish and five loaves feeding a crowd of 5,000 people (11-28-07).
4. Tim Russert asks all the Democratic candidates to “name their favorite Bible verse� (MSNBC 9-26-07).
3. John McCain says the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation and that he would prefer a Christian president (9-27-07).
2. Barack Obama asked a congregation to help him “become an instrument of God� and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth� (10-17-07).
1. Mike Huckabee tells a crowd: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standardsâ€? (1-14-08).

(Photo: AP/Elise Amendola)