How concerned is Obama about ‘Muslim rumors?’

You may have heard that aides to Barack Obama would not let two Muslim women sit near him during a campaign appearance in Detroit on Monday.

Well, Obama called the two women yesterday to apologize.

“We both immensely appreciate the Senator’s phone call and his commitment to remedy this issue,” Shimaa Abdelfadeel, one of the women, told the Detroit Free Press. “We commend him for displaying qualities befitting an effective President.”

This is a serious matter.

tjndc5-5kikww3v9hey5rh11y6_layout.jpgOver the past few months, I’ve heard several people refer to Obama as a Muslim or wonder whether he might really be one. After initially scoffing at the whole thing, I now think that a substantial number of people believe that Obama may be Muslim (despite the whole flak over his Christian pastor).

The action of a few of his aides may show how concerned the campaign is about “Muslim” rumors. How in the world does Obama counter this?

‘We’re standing up for the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Here is the Gannett News Service report on this morning’s evangelical Christian rally in Albany against recognition of gay marriage:

By JAY GALLAGHER

Gannett News Service

ALBANY — More than 250 evangelical Christian ministers from around the state came to the Capitol today to blast Gov. David Paterson for requiring state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages and to back the Senate for its opposition to legalizing the same-sex unions.

“We’re here to take a stand for the righteous,” said the Rev. Tom Stiles of Rochester. “This is just the beginning of what we’re calling a revival.”

Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, the evangelical churches’ lobbying arm, said today’s demonstration was organized after Paterson’s decision to have state agencies recognize the unions was disclosed on May 28. Same-sex marriages are banned in New York, but are now legal in Massachusetts, California, Canada and some European countries.

Paterson’s directive affects same-sex couples married elsewhere who have moved to New York. It was spurred by a court decision in Monroe County that found a gay couple had the right to equal benefits from the county. He said he would be violating state law if he didn’t extend the benefits to others.

The directive could affect more than 1,000 laws and regulations, ranging from pensions, child custody, income-tax filings and the transfer of licenses. State agencies are due by the end of the month to tell Paterson what specific policies will be affected.

A national group, the National Alliance Defense Fund, has sued to get Paterson’s decision overturned. Several state lawmakers have joined the suit, which is pending in state Supreme Court.

The Democratic-controlled state Assembly earlier this year passed a bill to allow gay marriages to be performed in the state – a measure Paterson supports – but it has not been voted on in the Republican-run Senate.

“We should say ‘thank you’ to every senator for not taking up the homosexual bill,” the Rev. Duane Motley of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms told the group of clergy. “We’re standing up for the Lord Jesus Christ. No legislative body, not even the New York State Legislature, has the power to change the definition of marriage.”

“Marriage is more than a secular contract,” said Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn. “It is a holy union between a man and a woman.”

The recent disclosure that the state Office of Children and Family Services to allows boys who believe they are girls to wear female underwear and makeup in the 30 detention facilities it runs also caused a stir among the ministers and lawmakers.

The children “shouldn’t be allowed to exercise choice about which gender they are,” Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, D-Bronx, said to loud cheers from the ministers.

“We’re beginning to see the erosion and decline of American civilization,” he said at another point.

Republican senators Thomas Libous of Binghamton, Mary Lou Rath of Erie County, George Maziarz of Niagara County, Thomas Morahan of Rockland County and James Seward of Otsego County were among the lawmakers at the clergy rally.

On covering the Great Gay Debate

I had a long and interesting chat the other day with Father Charles Colwell, an Episcopal priest who is retiring next week after 36 years as rector of the Church of St. Barnabas in Irvington.

He has just published a book, “Collision of Worlds: A Priest’s Life,” that is an incredibly frank tale about his faith and his ministry. The title of the book has to do with his belief that the religious and secular worlds should not be separated, but that too many people force church and clergy into an artificial religious sphere.

More on that in the article I’m writing for the Journal News/LoHud.

2570d13665854be98aa4249086e26127.jpgDuring our talk, though, one thing we agreed upon is that we are both worn out by the continuing debate over homosexuality. That’s not to say that the subject is not important and of great interest to people. It’s just that the issues don’t change and all sides continue to repeat the same positions over and over.

From Father Colwell’s perspective, of course, homosexuality has overshadowed so many other issues in the Episcopal/Anglican world.

And as for me, I’ve written so many times about the religious debate over same-sex unions, same-sex marriage and gay ordination that it seems that time is standing still. A big series that I wrote about it in 1997 could be reprinted today with little change.

Homosexuality is also among the most difficult subjects to write about. The journalistic goal (in the U.S., anyway) of objectivity doesn’t seem to satisfy anyone when it comes to writing about gay matters. Why?

People who support, say, gay marriage tend to see it as a justice issue. It’s about equality — which no one should oppose and journalists must fight for. They expect journalists to cover the subject as we might write about justice for African Americans or Jews or women. Clergy in this camp often say that equality for gays and lesbians is Christian or what God might want.

People who oppose gay marriage, though, tend to see the whole thing as being about moral standards. They believe that the culture is lowering its moral bar and that journalists, by writing about gays as we would any other group, are inherently supporting the lowering of the bar. Clergy in this camp, of course, say that Scripture and religious tradition see homosexuality as abnormal — so objective journalism is making behavior that is abnormal seem possibly respectable, just another subject that thoughtful people disagree over.

So people on all sides of the debate tend to see objective news coverage — he said, she said — as being a cop-out. How can you not defend justice? How can you not defend moral standards?

Another challenge: The silent or undecided middle seems to be tired of hearing about the whole thing. People who feel strongly about homosexuality, on all sides, continue to force the issue, producing news that journalists have to cover. But in recent years, I’ve gotten quite a few comments from people in the middle saying, basically, “Can’t you write about something else?”

Anyway, Protestant ministers are gathering in Albany this morning to protest recognition of gay marriage. Let’s see what the AP files later today.

Bioethics pioneer honored by 644-year-old university

Daniel Callahan, who is among the founding fathers of bioethics, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate in medical sciences from, of all places, the Charles University in Prague.

daniel_callahan2003.gifCallahan, a longtime Westchesterite, has been busy for years helping Charles U (which just celebrated its 644th birthday) establish medical ethics programs for both its medical school and the government.

That’s what he does.

Way back in 1969, Callahan co-founded the Hastings Center, the first bioethics think tank and the setter of agendas for all future bioethics think tanks. The Hastings Center is now located in Garrison.

Callahan retired as president of the center in 1996 and has since been director of its international program. He coordinates discussions on the issues of the day with colleagues around the globe.

He’s been active in Central and Eastern European countries since they started inquiring about medical ethics during the 1980s. In addition to the Czech Republic, Callahan has advised Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia.

Callahan and his wife, Sidney, a noted scholar and writer on Catholic and other matters, are sort of the first couple of Deep Thinking.

In case you’re curious about Charles University (as I was), here are some historical snippets from its website:

A Czech and Roman king Charles IV founded the Prague university by a deed of foundation on April 7, 1348 as a first university (studium generale) to the north of the Alps and to the east of Paris. The Charles University belongs to old European universities. It followed the example of the Bolognese and the Parisian universities and in a short time became internationally famous.

At the beginning of the 17th century the University was considerably influenced by political provincial estates which were involved in the antihapsburg opposition whose political representatives stirred up a conflict at the beginning of the first European war ( the Thirty Years´ War in 1618-1648). Their defeat caused a radical change at the university. A victorious Roman emperor and Czech king Ferdinand III amalgamated a Carolingian university and a Jesuit university in Clementinum (whose beginnings go back to 1556) into a university with a new name Charles-Ferdinand University (the name survived until 1918).

The university started to grow into a modern university during the reforms in 1848/49. It was gradually changing into a public institute educating a professional intelligentsia class. In 1882, in the period of a high national political movement, the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague was divided into two universities: Czech and German.

Religious groups weigh in on gay marriage

I’m just getting to digest some of Calvin College’s new “National Survey on Religion and Public Life.”

2fc8d720d5244902aa083383800abdb9.jpgIt includes a lot of valuable information about how different religious groups see the big political issues of the day. Since gay marriage is in the news, here are their findings on whether gays and lesbians should be able to marry legally:

  • Evangelicals: 21% agree, 10% no opinion, 69% disagree. (Among traditionalist evangelicals: 11, 8, 81; centrists: 32, 12, 57; modernists: 42, 13, 45)
  • Mainline Protestants: 47% agree, 15% no opinion, 37% disagree (Among traditionalists: 47, 15, 37; centrists: 55, 14, 30; modernists: 58, 18, 25)
  • Latino Protestants: 42 agree, 11 no opinion, 48 disagree.
  • Black Protestants: 33, 14, 53
  • Catholics: 43, 13, 45 (Traditionalists: 23, 9, 68; centrists: 41, 18, 41; modernists: 65, 11, 25)
  • Latino Catholics: 42, 16, 41
  • Other Christians: 26, 11, 63
  • Jews: 67, 8, 25
  • Other faiths: 49, 12, 40
  • Unaffiliated: 65, 8, 27 (Unaffiliated believers: 65, 8, 27; secular: 76, 9, 15; atheist/agnostic: 77, 4, 19)
  • OVERALL: 41, 12, 47

What stands out: Catholics are really split (with centrist Catholics divided down the middle). Blacks continue to be solidly opposed to gay marriage. Overall, 41 percent support gay marriage — which has got to be way higher than, say, 10 years ago.

And there are still quite a few undecideds out there. Which way are they leaning?

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Protestant ministers will rally tomorrow to ‘save marriage’

A couple of hundred Protestant ministers are expected to gather in Albany tomorrow morning to protest Gov. Paterson’s call for New York agencies to recognize gay marriages from other states.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, an evangelical lobbying group, is calling for a huge turnout: “NYCF is looking for a thousand Bible-believing ministers who will not bend, blend or bow! We are looking for ministers willing to mobilize for morality.”

duane.jpgThe rally will start in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building at 10 a.m. (Pictured is the Rev. Duane Motley, NYCF’s founder and executive director.)

NYCF is calling on all ministers to sign a petition to “save marriage in New York state.”

At the top of the group’s agenda is this:

Brethren, we must pray not only for the defeat of this bill, but for the salvation of our opponents. They advance this moral wickedness because they are in rebellion against their Creator and do not have a right relationship with Him. Pray that those on the frontlines would have speech seasoned with grace and hearts that never forget the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).

The New York State Catholic Conference is not taking part in the rally. But the group, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops, is asking Catholics to email Gov. Paterson to express their disapproval.

A prewritten message on the group’s website, which visitors can email to the governor, says:

I am very disappointed by your ill-advised, unilateral decision to recognize out-of-state same-sex “marriages” in New York State. Marriage is the very building block of our society. No interpersonal relationship is more important to a healthy society than marriage. The state has a compelling interest in recognizing and bestowing privileged benefits on marriage, since it is the foundation of a stable society and is the best arrangement for bearing and nurturing children. To arbitrarily redefine it in a way that alters its very essence devalues marriage between one man and one woman, reducing it to simply one more lifestyle choice, instead of the essential engine that drives society. If there are any rights that individual members of society do not enjoy due to the fact that they do not wish to marry members of the opposite sex, let the legislature grant those rights in some other way. As a citizen of this state, and a voter, I strongly urge you to reconsider your action.

America’s ‘Mother Mosque’ damaged by floods

439_now.jpgAmerica’s oldest Muslim congregation — in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — lost “a century’s worth of records, documents and artifacts” in the recent flooding.

The basement and part of the first floor were flooded.

The congregation, known as the Mother Mosque of America, built its first mosque in 1934. Because of the need for more space, the group built a new mosque in 1971.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling on all Muslims to contribute to future renovations of the Mother Mosque.

Jewish groups, PCUSA at it again over Israel

Last month, Presbyterian Church (USA) put out a statement called “Vigilance against anti-Jewish bias in the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

It was roundly applauded by Jewish groups.

This was a big deal because Jewish-PCUSA relations have been strained in recent years over PCUSA’s strong criticism of Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians.

The PCUSA statement sought to address many Jewish concerns.

Then, this month, PCUSA put out a revised edition of the statement. Jewish groups have expressed deep disappointment with the changes made — and with how PCUSA revised the statement after Jewish groups supported the first version.

A statement from Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist leaders said:

And to speak frankly, the revised statement leaves us with a deep suspicion regarding the motivations behind replacing the initial statement – which the Jewish community warmly welcomed – with a document which you surely knew would cause deep angst. Friends, or even dialogue partners, do not engage in actions that can so easily and plausibly be seen as “bait and switch” tactics.

That’s harsh.

A statement from 13 Jewish groups includes this:

The newly revised statement on anti-Jewish bias describes Israel as “the oppressive force in the Israeli-Palestinian situation,” dismissing the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish terror that has killed and maimed Israeli civilians in buses, restaurants, and markets. Each statement and action moves beyond legitimate criticism and rewrites history or assigns excessive blame to Israelis, even for violence directed against them.

I haven’t seen a PCUSA response to the criticisms from Jewish groups.

The revised PCUSA statement warns of different forms of anti-Jewish teachings that could infuse criticisms of Israeli policy. One example given is this:

Denunciations of Judaism or the Jewish people, rather than the state of Israel and its policies, as the oppressive force in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, repeat the classic theme of collective Jewish guilt for Christian suffering. Polemic that identifies today’s oppressors with Jewish authorities in the time of Jesus is especially problematic, and clouds an accurate understanding of the current situation. In addition, while citizens in democracies such as Israel and the United States are responsible before God for the actions of their governments, it is wrong to racialize this responsibility; it is the citizens of Israel, and not the Jewish people as a whole, who are responsible for Israel’s actions, just as it is U.S. citizens who are responsible for the policies of the U.S. government regarding Israel and Palestine.

Archdiocese of Washington gives away 7 failing schools

At a time when Catholic education is struggling just about everywhere, here’s an interesting development from Washington:

Seven Catholic schools are becoming secular charter schools next fall.

The Wash Post explains:

The Catholic schools, to be renamed and switched to a nonreligious academic program, will be operated by Center City Public Charter Schools, the nonprofit group selected by the Archdiocese of Washington. The group is an offshoot of the Center City Consortium, set up by the Archdiocese in 1995 to help financially fragile urban Catholic schools pool administrative costs and fundraising. Even with the consortium arrangement, the Archdiocese said, falling enrollment and mounting costs would force the closure of the schools unless they were converted to charters.

Earlier this year, Pearl River native Mary DeTurris Poust wrote an article for Our Sunday Visitor about the challenge posed to Catholic schools by charter schools.

After all, charter schools look and sound like private schools. But they get tax dollars and don’t have to charge tuition.

“You basically have an entrepreneurial, semi-private school that’s just absent any religious affiliation competing with the Catholic schools that have to charge tuition to make it, so it’s hard to compete on a level footing when the cost is zero to the parent,”  Father Ronald Nuzzi, director of the Alliance for Catholic Education Leadership Program at Notre Dame, told her.

The Code…is back

The Archdiocese of Rome will not allow the filming of scenes for the upcoming Angels & Demons at Catholic churches in the Eternal City.

Angels & Demons, of course, is based on a novel by Dan Brown, author of the mucho controversial Da Vinci Code. The Code (in case you’re among the 12 people who didn’t read it) is a novel that insists it is based on real facts. And its plot centers around a 2,000-year-old conspiracy orchestrated by the Vatican to cover up the truth about Jesus and the roots of Christianity.

hanks460.jpgAngels & Demons (which, like the movie version of the Code, will star Tom Hanks) is a prequel to the Code and is set mostly in Rome.

Apparently, the film’s producers asked the city for permission to film in several churches. But the city asked the archdiocese. And the answer was no.

“I don’t think they would have asked us directly because they knew what the answer would be,” the Rev. Marco Fibbi, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told Reuters.

Here’s the real issue: If the movie inspires protests, I may have to read the book.