It will just take a second

If you are so inclined:

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Episcopal Bishop Sisk on the financial crisis, serving the poor, and more

The Episcopal Diocese of New York — which includes more than 200 churches in NYC and the Hudson Valley — had its 232nd convention a few days back.

Bishop Mark Sisk, the boss, gave a long address that you can read HERE.

Here are some highlights:

On the matter of offering a public Christian voice that is an alternative to the “religious right,” Sisk said:

What we are attempting to do is nothing less than change the grammar, as it were, the reference points, of the public conversation, when it comes to the matter of religion. What we are attempting to do, as I have said so often before is to bring to bear, on the wider public consciousness, the concerns of the Christian community as expressed from the point of view of the broad, moderate, Christian center, rather than the current dominant, strident, and often simplistic voices that have become so prominent. The task is daunting. We are called to travel against the traffic. No wonder the road seems so long. But I believe it is our duty to follow it. We simply can not allow the faith we hold so dear to be captured by what I would have to say is one, narrow, point of view. I continue to believe that, working with our Cathedral, we will be able to focus much more sharply on the great issues which urgently face the human community. We can, we must, enter into a nation wide, indeed a world wide, conversation.

On the financial crisis:

The very first theme to be noted is the remarkable level of anxiety, even fear, that grips so many. This, in turn, casts a stark light on the extent to which we have allowed concerns about security, as measured in dollars, to claim a central role in our lives. I remember clearly, even though it was many years ago, when a leading political pundit responded to an interviewer’s question as to his understanding of the purpose of the freedom enjoyed by an American citizen. The purpose, he responded, was for, “the free and unfettered accumulation of goods.” I wondered then, as I wonder now, just how far that notion was from the hopes and dreams of those Mayflower pilgrims who risked and sacrificed so much for their freedom to worship.

It is our duty, as it is our privilege as Christians, to remind ourselves and assure others that, as important as material well-being may be, it is not the purpose of life – it is not what gives life meaning. We can and should remind ourselves that we, and all people, all creation, exist and live continually in the embrace of God’s Almighty arms of love. With that knowledge we can face any hardship.

On the tensions within the Anglican world over homosexuality:

What we do here, in this Diocese, in this Episcopal Church of ours, affects the life in tiny villages in Tanzania, the Sudan, or Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Pakistan, and Brazil, and on and on around the world. What we do affects them – and what they do affects us. We are not hermetically sealed off one from the other. We can not ignore them nor they us – yet neither they nor we can be held captive by the other. We are not called to be each others prisoners – rather – we are called to recognize each other as brothers and sisters. And, as every family knows, and often knows painfully well, family relationships entail not only compassion, patience, and understanding, but also, from time to time: disappointment, frustration, and even anger. There are, obviously those who conceive of this Anglican Communion of ours as something akin to a venerable club, a voluntary membership association of largely like minded individuals. Others among us, conceive of the Anglican Communion more as a family, a home to belong to, and a community to relate to, as we live out our lives as Christian people. And as Robert Frost famously reminded us,

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

On serving the needy at this difficult time:

I find it more than a little ironic that when the issue of meeting basic human needs is raised: be that education, or healthcare, or housing for the homeless, a common objection is the firm and wise sounding declaration: you know, you can’t just throw money at a problem. And yet, when financial institutions are in crisis, led by the very well paid people, who did so much to bring us this crisis in the first place, when they ask for aid that is exactly what happens. Money has been thrown at the problem. And it has been thrown without a really clear understanding of exactly what it will actually accomplish. As you know so well, we’re not talking here about billions of dollars, or tens of billions, not even hundreds of billions, but, in the end, something in excess of a trillion dollars. In human terms this is more money than the human mind can fathom.

Mind you, I am not saying that this shouldn’t be done, or that it won’t work. What I am saying is that we should keep all these things in perspective and be mindful of just who finally is asked to actually pay the price for the national excess that has brought us to this sad moment.

We, as a community of faith, need to be among that company of people who press hard for the needs of the most helpless amongst us. At the same time, we must resist the temptation to continue what has become a familiar practice: impoverishing the future for the benefit of the present. To escape the tangle that engulfs us all a difficult balance must be struck.

American Bible Society names new president

I should mention that the NYC-based American Bible Society has announced that the Rev. R. Lamar Vest, a Pentecostal Christian and a Bible Society veteran, will serve as its next president.

He’ll take over Jan. 1.

In June, the Society said it would not renew the contract of then-President Paul Irwin and was placing him on leave. A New York Times report had revealed that Irwin had paid $5 million to a Web consultant with ties to the pornography and gambling worlds.

The American Bible Society, founded in 1816, tries to make the Bible available everywhere and to everyone.

Vest is currently executive vice president of Global Scripture Ministries for the American Bible Society. He has also served as chairman of the Bible Society’s Board of Trustees.

He has served two terms as presiding bishop of the Church of God, a Tennessee-based Pentecostal denomination that claims a membership of 6 million people in nearly 150 countries. He has also served as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and as secretary of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America.angelicals and is presently secretary of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (P N

Can gay marriage just be ‘civil?’

On Saturday, I worked a regular weekend shift. 11-7.

I show up and get an assignment.

This time around, my assignment was to cover a demonstration outside White Plains City Hall. It was a demonstration against Proposition D, the measure in California that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and that passed on election day.

There were about 70 people on the steps of city hall — gay men, lesbians, the relatives of gay people, and a few other straight supporters of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

Two things struck me:

1. I know Westchester is a liberal place, but I would have expected to hear some support for the demonstrators and some protest against them or their position. For the 75 minutes I was there, this wasn’t the case.

Instead, a steady stream of drivers passing by (slowly on traffic-heavy) Main Street honked their horns in support of the gay-marriage cause. I’m talking one car after another. Many people shouted their approval and others shook their fists in solidarity.

I did not hear or see one single protest or word of disagreement. Not one.

This isn’t to say that many people who drove or walked by aren’t opposed to same-sex marriage. But no one was so put off by the idea that they had to stop and explain their position — or even yell something from their car.

I would never, ever have expected such a one-sided public referendum on the demonstration.

2. The demonstrators were very focused on the role of religious groups in helping to promote Proposition D. The word has, of course, spread that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints campaigned actively for the measure, contributing a great deal of cash.

On Friday, Mormons leaders — apparently taken back by criticism from the gay community — put out a statement calling for “civility in pubic discourse.” It said:

People of faith have a democratic right to express their views in the public square without fear of reprisal. Efforts to force citizens out of public discussion should be deplored by people of goodwill everywhere.

The argument made by demonstrators Saturday (including a Unitarian minister) is that they are asking for civil marriage, not marriages blessed by religion. Gay couples can have civil marriages, they said, without the Catholic Church, the Mormon church or anyone else following suit.

Of course, religious groups would disagree on the point that the civil and religious connotations of marriage are separate and distinct. Civil recognition of gay marriage, they say, changes the social understanding of what marriage is and will change expectations for what religious groups do and say.

I think I’ll write about this for my second column on Saturday.

For my research, please consider answering this:

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More Catholic stirrings on politics

Following up on the question of “The Catholic Vote” (see post below), Pope Benedict XVI wants the Catholic Church to do a better job of educating lay Catholics involved in politics.

“In a special way, I reaffirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics involved in politics, that they would be coherent with their professed faith,” he told the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

The key word there, I think, is coherent.

Meanwhile, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, an American and a high-ranking Vatican official, is pretty perturbed over the election of pro-choice Barack Obama and, presumably, all the Catholics who voted for him.

In a speech at Catholic U in Washington, Stafford described Obama as as “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic.”

Referring to the garden where Jesus is said to have prayed the night before his crucifixion, Stafford said: “For the next few years, Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden.”

Strong words.

Speaking of Roe v. Wade, he said: “Its scrupulous meanness has had catastrophic effects upon the unity and integrity of the American republic.”

A former archbishop of Denver, Stafford is now major penitentiary at the Vatican — overseeing questions on the forgiveness of sin.

And…a South Carolina pastor who said that parishioners who voted for Obama should not take Communion has been overruled by the administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.

Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, administrator, said that Christ gives everyone “the freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith.”

It’s called ‘FaithBeat’

I “debuted” a new religion column on Saturday.

Yes, it’s called “FaithBeat.” Not the greatest name for a column, I concede.

But neither I nor my colleagues could not come up with something that wasn’t a goofy play on Scripture or worse (“The Gospel According to Gary” anyone? How about “Dude-eronomy?” “Fun With Faith?” “Religion Rap?” “In the Garden of Gannett?”).

See, FaithBeat isn’t so bad.

What is the purpose of my column? It’s kind of hard to explain. Not unlike doing this blog.

I’m not a columnist in the traditional sense. I’m not calling for anything, let alone demanding action of some sort. I have no opinions that I will promote.

I will use the column, I guess, to try to explain things (as I see them), in my own voice. Which is what I try to do, more or less, with this blog.

Take, for example, my first column.

In the months leading up to election day, I kept hearing and reading about “The Catholic Vote.” Since the big day, I’ve read and hear numerous attempts to explain The Catholic Vote.

But it seems to me that there is no Catholic vote. There are, perhaps, many Catholic votes. There are Catholic votes within Catholic votes.

But there is no such thing as a single, definable, categorizable Catholic vote because there are too many Catholics and Catholics are way too diverse to generalize about. Of course, I’m talking about people who identity themselves as Roman Catholic. I fully understand that some Catholics do not see other Catholics as being fully or truly Catholic.

I tried to lay this out in my first column. I’ve gotten a pretty good reaction so far.

I guess it’s like a longer blog post, to which I’ve given a little more thought.

Why a column? Why now? Reporters here who cover the environment, health and transportation already write columns on the topics they cover.

But I was hesitant to take on the commitment, in part because I’ve always wanted to known as a newspaper reporter. Period.

But times have changed. And the truth is, I received a huge reaction to a first-person feature I wrote in late summer about shopping for school supplies for my kids. That’s me at Staples, with my short, summer haircut.

I think many people are more comfortable with the first-person voice these days than with the objective, detached, third-person voice, which is increasingly seen, I think, as old-fashioned.

Think of the popularity of memoirs. Not to mention blogs. Consider the influence of TV personalities who filter the news through their “world view.”

It’s a first-person world. I’m just joining it. Tentatively. I think.

Maryknoll priest Bourgeois faces excommunication

Maryknoll priest the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who took part in an “ordination” ceremony for a female “priest,” is apparently heading for excommunication.

I just spoke to Bourgeois, who told me: “My God, my conscience, are compelling me to say I cannot recant.”

He said that he’ll continue his 18-year crusade to close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., as a layman, if necessary. The annual protest outside Fort Benning, organized by Bourgeois’ SOA Watch, is Nov. 21-23, coincidentally.

Nov. 21 is Bourgeois’ deadline to recant his actions and stance on female ordination.

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A Roman Catholic priest faces excommunication for attending a ceremony to ordain a woman in the United States, a Vatican official said Friday (today).

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois joined a June ceremony in Lexington, Ky., to ordain Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a member of a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

His excommunication would likely be automatic, requiring no further action from the Holy See, said the chief Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Bourgeois told The New York Times, however, that he recently received a letter from the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, offering him a chance to recant within 30 days to avoid excommunication, the newspaper reported Friday.

Lombardi said he did not know of such a letter. The Times said Bourgeois informed the Vatican he would not repent.

Recent popes have said the Roman Catholic Church cannot ordain women because Christ chose only males as apostles. Excommunication is the most severe penalty under church law, cutting off a Catholic from receiving or administering sacraments.

The ordained woman, Sevre-Duszynska, also faces excommunication.

She said the Vatican had “threatened” Bourgeois for participating in the ceremony and giving a homily in support of women priests. She apparently was referring to excommunication.

“We condemn this action by the Vatican as a blatant abuse of power” she said in a statement, expressing her solidarity with the priest.

The Vatican in May issued a warning against ordaining women after reports of Catholic ordinations of women around the world. In March, the archbishop of St. Louis excommunicated three women — two Americans and a South African — for participating in a woman’s ordination.

A small group of women from Catholic organizations around the world staged a march during the Vatican’s meeting of bishops in October to call attention to female ordination. Wearing signs with the names of prominent women from the church’s early days, they marched across the Tiber River close to St. Peter’s Square.

Bourgeois is a member of the Maryknoll religious order.

(What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?

It’s a song, you know.

On the bad news front…

My colleague Tim O’Connor reports that a Palestinian immigrant says that she — and her Yonkers deli — were discriminated against by Yonkers police after 9/11.

She says that police offers told her that “you people send your money to terrorists.”

And my colleague Rich Liebson reports that swastikas and a hate slogan were scrawled on a wall of the Solomon Schechter School, a Jewish day school in White Plains.

The vandalism was discovered Monday — the day after the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

4th Episcopal diocese may bolt

Another Episcopal diocese is expected to decide at its annual convention today and tomorrow to leave the Episcopal Church — the continuing fall-out from the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop.

No, it’s not the liberal and gay-friendly Episcopal Diocese of New York that’s bolting (even though they are having their 232nd convention in Mahway, N.J.)

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, is expected to make the big move. It would be the fourth to take off after the dioceses of San Joaquin, Calif., Pittsburgh, and Quincy, Ill.

Bishop Jack Leo Iker of Fort Worth gives here his “10 Reasons Why Now is the Time to Realign.”

Here’s his top 3:

*****

1. This is God’s time – our kairos moment – and it has been coming for a long time. We believe that God the Holy Spirit has guided and directed us to this particular time and moment of decision. Some might well ask, “Why has it taken us so long to take definitive action, given the past 30 years of the shenanigans of The Episcopal Church?” We have explored every avenue and exhausted every possibility. Now is the time to decide to separate from the moral, spiritual, and numerical decline of TEC.

2. Actions of the General Convention have brought crisis and division to the whole Anglican Communion, not just TEC. More than 20 of the Provinces of the Communion have declared themselves to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with TEC because of the ordination of a homosexual bishop living in a sexual relationship with another man and the blessings of same-sex unions in many places throughout this church. We need to dissociate ourselves from the bishops and dioceses that are violating the teaching of Scripture by doing these things.

3. The heresies and heterodoxy once proclaimed by just a few renegade bishops – like James Pike and John Spong – are now echoed by the Presiding Bishop, who is the chief spokesperson for TEC and speaks on behalf of our church to the rest of the world. She does not reflect the orthodox beliefs of Episcopalians in this diocese. The greatest problem we face with Katharine Jefferts Schori is not that she is a woman, but that she is not an orthodox bishop.

*****

After the Diocese of Quincy voted Nov. 7 to leave the Episcopal Church and become part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she lamented the decision:

“The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy remains, albeit with fewer members, and we are working to assist in the reorganization of diocesan affairs,” she said. “We assure all, both Episcopalians and former Episcopalians, and members of their surrounding communities, of our prayers for clarity and charity in their spiritual journeys. May all be reminded that the Gospel work of healing this world will take the best efforts of every person of faith.”

Saudi-sponsored interfaith conference: To what end?

A two-day interfaith conference organized by Saudi Arabia is wrapping up today at the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia is often criticized for its overt intolerance over religion. Non-Muslims cannot worship in public and the state restricts Islamic worship to the strict Wahhabi variety.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who invited all 192 U.N. member states to the conference, said yesterday that human beings must “live together in peace or harmony, or they will inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred.” (That’s him shaking hands with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.)

The king didn’t say anything about life in Saudi Arabia, though.

In a provocative column in today’s Christian Science Monitor, two members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom say that the conference is a cover for King Abdullah’s real intentions.

Donald H. Argue and Leonard A. Leo write that King Abdullah is really trying to enlist support for a global law to punish blasphemy.

They write that the whole thing grew out of a meeting of the Muslim World League in Spain last year, which produced a statement promoting “respect for religions, their places of worship, and their symbols … therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred.”

Argue and Leo write:

*****

The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression.

Such prohibitions have already been used in some countries to restrict discussion of individuals’ freedom vis-à-vis the state, to prevent criticism of political figures or parties, to curb dissent from prevailing views and beliefs, and even to incite and to justify violence.

They undermine the standards codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the keystone of the United Nations, by granting greater rights to religions than to individuals, including those who choose to hold no faith – or who would seek to convert.

*****

The authors note that King Abdullah couldn’t have held the conference in his own country, “where conservative clerics no doubt would purge the guest list of Jews from Israel, Baha’is, and Ahmadis.”

Argue is chancellor of Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash. Leo is Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies, an organization of over 40,000 conservatives and libertarians

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom does, by the way, include a Muslim: Imam Talal Y. Eid, Founder and Executive/Religious Director of the Islamic Institute of Boston.

President Bush spoke at the U.N. conference today, saying “We may profess differ creeds and worship in different places, but our faith leads us to common values.”

The AP reports that Bush met “on the sidelines” with King Abudullah.