When is a same-sex ceremony a marriage?

There was an interesting decision this week in a Presbyterian Church (USA) case involving a retired California minister who has married several same-sex couples.

PCUSA’s highest court cleared the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr of charges that she violated the denomination’s constitution by marrying two gay couples. The reason was that same-sex couples can’t be married, so Spahr could not be “found guilty of doing that which, by definition, cannot be done.”

Talk about a technicality.

08d3501bf5694718918d7fd44d258d8f.jpgA lower court had found Spahr guilty. Her case has received tremendous attention within PCUSA, which has been tying itself in knots for decades over homosexuality.

PCUSA courts had previously ruled that there are no constitutional prohibitions against same-sex ceremonies that are distinct from marriages. The latest decision maintained that distinction.

“The PJC’s decision reaffirms what our directory of worship says, that marriage is between a man and woman and that no officer should present a same-sex union as a marriage,” said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the PCUSA’s General Assembly. “At the same time the decision recognizes the importance of pastoral care and the appropriateness of same-sex blessing services as long as they are not presented as marriage ceremonies.”

The court said that Spahr did not describe the ceremonies she performed as marriages. But Spahr, who is a lesbian herself, said after the decision that she would continue to perform same-sex marriages, not wanting to perform an alternative rite that is “separate but unequal.”

Interestingly, the court noted that Spahr may feel that she is acting as a “prophet” to the church.

“Prophecy contains risk and uncertainty both for those who would speak and for those who listen,” the court said.

Of course, Pope Benedict, when at the ecumenical service in NYC, warned of “so-called prophetic actions” that are splintering Christian traditions. He didn’t name those actions.

Not that many Presbyterians who favor same-sex marriage (or unions that are different from marriage) care all that much what the pope says…

Jews and the American Revolution

The Fraunces Tavern Museum in NYC will sponsor a guided walking tour of “The Jewish Community and the American Revolution” on Saturday (May 3) from 1 to 4 p.m.

2006_54_pearl_street_exhibit_image.jpgI spoke earlier today with the gentleman who will give the tour, James S. Kaplan, a lawyer from New Rochelle who also leads the museum’s annual 4th of July walking tour.

Saturday’s tour will explain and show the role of the tiny Jewish community in the American Revolution.

Kaplan told me that Jewish support for the Patriot cause influenced the religious freedom they later enjoyed.

“They were very strongly on the Patriot side,” he told me. “Washington and everyone knew it.”

Tickets are $15 or $10 for members. For info: 212-425-1778. The museum (the starting point) is at 54 Pearl St.

Survivors, dwindling

Tomorrow evening begins Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Last night I was watching some of “The Pianist,” that searing Adrien Brody film from 2002 about what happened to the Jews of Warsaw. And I thought about working on a story back in 2000 about the aging of Holocaust survivors.

I spent several weeks following five survivors as they traveled school to school, community to community, telling their stories. The idea was that in New York, Holocaust survivors were practically taken for granted. Any teacher could pick up a phone and, in a few days, have a survivor in their classroom, talking about what it was like to be there.

But old age, as I wrote at the time, would be a tougher foe than the Nazis.

Back then, there were an estimated 150,000 survivors in the U.S. Their average age was about 80, with 10 percent dying each year.

tjndc5-5b3z11eyqxy12miz36m5_layout.jpgAs one of the survivors, Stefan Weinberg of Greenburgh (that’s him), told me then:

“We’ll all be gone in a few years. Nobody wants to die. But I never would have believed in ’45, ’46, ’47, that I would be here in the year 2000, so I can die with a smile on my face.”

Now it’s eight years later and there are far fewer survivors. And in another couple of decades, they’ll all be gone.

Every now and then, I get a call or email from someone asking why we write so often about the Holocaust. Sometimes the questions are mean-spirited, sometimes not. It’s true that, like most newspapers, we’ve done a lot of features about survivors over the years.

It’s a question that I have a hard time answering. “Well, sir, the Holocaust was a major event in human history…”

Anyway, on Sunday (May 4) at 1:30 p.m., the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center and the Westchester Jewish Conference will hold a Yom HaShoah commemoration at the outdoor Garden of Remembrance, 148 Martine Ave. in White Plains (in front of the county office building). The rain location is the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, 20 Greenridge Ave.

The keynote speaker will be Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale.

Obama: ‘I am outraged by the comments that were made’

Obama can’t seem to outrun his former pastor.

I just watched Obama on CNN and the AP summarizes his comments here:

Associated Press Writer

5597cd5f6bf94062b3cf018d4087a8da.jpgWINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) _ Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday he was outraged and appalled by the latest comments from his former pastor, who asserted that criticism of his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and the U.S. government was responsible for the creation of the AIDS virus.

The presidential candidate is seeking to tamp down the growing fury over Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his incendiary remarks that threaten to undermine his campaign.

“I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Obama told reporters at a news conference.

After weeks of staying out of the public eye while critics lambasted his sermons, Wright made three public appearances in four days to defend himself. The former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been combative, providing colorful commentary and feeding the story Obama had hoped was dying down.

“This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” Wright told the Washington media Monday. “It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.”

Obama told reporters Tuesday that Wright’s comments do not accurately portray the perspective of the black church.

“The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago,” Obama said of the man who married him.

Wright criticized the U.S. government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities. “Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything,” he said.

Obama said he heard that Wright had given “a performance” and when he watched tapes, he realized that it more than just a case of the former pastor defending himself.

“What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts what I am and what I stand for,” Obama said.

In a highly publicized speech last month, Obama sharply condemned Wright’s remarks. But he did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member.

On Tuesday, Obama sought to distance himself further from Wright.

“I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he’s done enormous good. … But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. … There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced.”

Wright recently retired from the church. He became an issue in Obama’s presidential bid when videos circulated of Wright condemning the U.S. government for allegedly racist and genocidal acts. In the videos, some several years old, Wright called on God to “damn America.” He also said the government created the AIDS virus to destroy “people of color.”

Obama said he didn’t vet his pastor before deciding to seek the presidency. He said he was particularly distressed that the furor has been a distraction to the purpose of a campaign.

‘Does science make belief in God obsolete?’

The folks at the Templeton Foundation have released their latest Q&A with scientists and other scholars about the “big questions.”

The new one, which ran as a two-page ad in the NYT’s Week in Review, centers around this meaty question: “Does science make belief in God obsolete?”

The 13 answers cover the gamut and are worth reading. Among them…

William D. Phillips, a Nobel Laureate in physics, says “absolute not:”

I am a physicist. I do mainstream research; I publish in peer-reviewed journals; I present my research at professional meetings; I train students and postdoctoral researchers; I try to learn from nature how nature works. In other words, I am an ordinary scientist. I am also a person of religious faith. I attend church; I sing in the gospel choir; I go to Sunday school; I pray regularly; I try to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.” In other words, I am an ordinary person of faith.

Stuart Kauffman, the director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary, says “No, but only if…”

we continue to develop new notions of God, such as a fully natural God that is the creativity in the cosmos.

Humans have been worshipping gods for thousands of years. Our sense of God in the Western world has evolved from Abraham’s jealous God Yahweh to the God of love of the New Testament. Science and faith have split modern societies just as some form of global civilization is emerging. One result is a retreat into religious fundamentalisms, often bitterly hostile. The schism between science and religion can be healed, but it will require a slow evolution from a supernatural, theistic God to a new sense of a fully natural God as our chosen symbol for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe. This healing may also require a transformation of science to a new scientific worldview with a place for the ceaseless creativity in the universe that we can call God.

You can also read Christopher Hitchens’ answer. Guess what it is?

His Eminence vs. Hizzoner

So I added yesterday to my post-papal respite, and I was proud of myself for not checking my emails. Not once.

And I missed this zinger from the Archdiocese of NY:

The following is a statement issued by Edward Cardinal Egan:

“The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding.”

Oh boy. And the Catholic blogosphere is ringing with commentary today.

Working backward, it seems that a few voices out there, including that of Bob Novak, had taken aim at Cardinal Egan and Washington’s Archbishop Wuerl for allowing pro-abortion rights politicians to receive Communion during the papal visit.

Novak wrote:

In New York, Giuliani receiving Communion was even more remarkable. Unlike Pelosi and Kennedy, who are regular Mass attendees, the former mayor of New York says he goes to church only “occasionally,” usually for holidays or funerals. Abortion aside, Giuliani’s third marriage would make him ineligible for Communion because his second marriage was not annulled by the church. But in New York, Cardinal Egan is no more apt than Cardinal McCarrick was to offend the powerful, and Giuliani was invited to the Mass.

0600f101288e47c2b664220994842b761.jpgThere will be much speculation about why Cardinal Egan chose to react the way he did. In the past, he seemed to be quite reluctant to get involved in the messy debate about whether pro-choice Catholic pols should get Communion.

Just a year ago, in a TV interview, Egan avoided a question about pro-choicers Giuliani, Hillary Clinton and George Pataki, saying they were all “friends of mine.” His comments were roundly criticized by anti-abortion advocates.

I suppose that the cardinal might say that he chose to deal with such matters privately, staying out of the public fray. The most interesting thing about his statement is that he supposedly had a private agreement with Giuliani.

That’s a great picture, by the way, from the AP’s Chris La Putt, of Giuliani waiting for Communion at St. Pat’s.

And now, 1,200 emails to sort through…

From the Diocese of Immigrants

Before I go, my colleague Gerald McKinstry, who covered the pope’s farewell from JFK last night, has some final observations:

It was a festive send-off, fit for a pontiff. And Queens was a particularly appropriate place to host the multicultural get-together.
Long before Pope Benedict XVI turned up at JFK, the borough’s diversity was obvious on the streets and parks of the borough.
The Archdiocese of Brooklyn includes Kings County (Queens) and is dubbed “A Diocese of Immigrants.”
img_0231.jpg From the windows of the media’s shuttle bus, one could see churches, synagogues and mosques along the travel route.
There were groups playing soccer and cricket next to each other at Flushing Meadow Corona Park with Shea Stadium and the World’s Fair in sight.
Then there was that billboard that read “Maspeth is America,” alluding to that neighborhood’s diversity.
Thousands waited in line and eventually packed an airport hangar to get a last look at Benedict before his nearly 8 hour return to Rome. Before the pope arrived, though, all the action was in the crowd.
So many there dressed in traditional ethnic garb — Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, and Vietnam were just some of the styles represented.
Posluszna Bogusiq, a native of Poland now living in Brooklyn, brought her four children who were decked-out in costumes of Krakow.
Bogusiq was a fan of the last pope — also from Poland — and said seeing this pontiff in person was “really exciting.”
“This is the pope, we love him, too,” she said.
John Maloney, a 67 year old from Queens, had his Knights of Columbus regalia — the hat, cape and sash — for his second pope visit.
“The only thing missing is the sword,” Maloney said as he motioned to where it would typically be on his belt. “We’re not allowed to have the swords.”
(Getting through the Secret Service with a sword is pretty hard to do.)
“It’s a good feeling that I’m one of the chosen few that came here,” Maloney said. “To do it a second time is awesome. A lot of people are not around to see that.”
img_0230.jpg Although there was great pride among the ethnic groups, a show-stopper, no doubt, was the troops. The crowd rose to their feet and roared as the U.S. soldiers marched in to take their seats; they did the same as they left.
During the festive-like rally, which included many songs and prayers, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio reminded the faithful of what he expected when the pope arrived.
“I’m sure I can count on an appropriate Brooklyn and Queens cheer,” DiMarzio said. “Don’t be afraid to do that.”
There was no fear, just an exuberance from members of the Diocese of Immigrants.

Next up: gold watch for a red hat

fb80863135404ed0bb519ecdb7795a6c1.jpgI wrote a few days ago that as soon as the pope leaves town, speculation would begin over Cardinal Egan’s retirement date.

(Actually, a German website was already reporting that Cardinal Levada was Egan’s sure thing replacement.)

Over the past few days, I heard just about every possible scenario on how Egan’s retirement might play out. Everyone knows someone who heard something.

The big question seems to be: Will Egan’s retirement be announced before the summer or in the fall?

I just hope it’s not before June. I need some rest.

Speaking of which, I’m taking the rest of the week off and may not blog. We’ll see.