Dobson retiring from Focus on the Family

One of the most powerful figures in evangelical Christianity, James Dobson, is retiring as chairman of Focus on the Family, the ministry he started 32 years ago.

Dobson may not be as well known in New York as he is in much of the rest of the country.

But when people talk about the leaders of the “religious right,” they’re talking about Dobson and a few others. He has been a tremendously influential figure, promoting conservative values in society and government.

In a statement, Dobson says:

One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority. I have wanted not to make that mistake with Focus on the Family, which is why I stepped back, first from the presidential duties six years ago, and now, from board chairmanship. Though letting go is difficult after three decades of intensive labor, it is the wise thing to do.

‘Open doors of friendship’

Interfaith cooperation begins at the local level, as they say.

The Rev. Doug. Leonard, pastor of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown, recently visited the Islamic Community Center of Mohegan Lake with a gift.

He brought a framed watercolor from Oman, where Leonard’s denomination, the Reformed Church in America, is very involved in Christian-Muslim relations. Leonard visited there last summer.

He plaque showcases these words: “There will always be an open door of friendship and love between the members of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown and the members of the Islamic Community Center of Mohegan Lake.”

According to a release: “The framed piece also contains verses from the Christian and Muslim scriptures, emphasizing the two principles of the love of God and love of neighbor, shared between the two faith-traditions. Reverend Leonard, who has long been involved in interfaith dialogue throughout the Westchester and greater New York area, is continuing the work outlined in the document A Common Word between Us and You, published by 138 Islamic scholars under the leadership of Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan in late 2007.”

Wanted in Alabama: Jewish families

Here’s one way for Jewish families to counteract the recession: Move to Dotham, Alabama.


The only synagogue in town is offering Jewish families up to $50,000 to relocate so that the congregation doesn’t shut down.

A family that’s been part of Temple Emanu-El for decades put up $1 million to fund the resettlement program.

The Reed family of Sanford, N.C., was the first to make the move.

“It’s been freaky how easy this has been,” Matt Reed, 25, told the AP.

About 400 families have applied. 60 were chosen for a vetting process that “includes written references — including one from their rabbi — home visits, checks for criminal and financial problems, and interviews.”

Any suburbanites from NY thinking about chucking the rat race and heading down south?

Vatican: Bishop Williamson not back in

Yesterday, Bishop Richard Williamson apologized, sort of, for his Holocaust-denying interview.

He said: “Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them.”

But the Vatican said today that Williamson did not go far enough.

From the AP’s Nicole Winfield:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday that the apology issued by an ultraconservative bishop who denied the Holocaust was not good enough to admit him into the Catholic Church as a clergyman.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Bishop Richard Williamson’s statement “doesn’t appear to respect the conditions” the Vatican set out for him.

In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, Williamson denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, saying 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered. He said none were gassed.

Williamson apologized for his remarks on Thursday, saying he would never have made them if he had known “the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise.”

But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, nor that he no longer believed them.

Williamson’s initial remarks sparked widespread outrage among Jewish groups and others. The interview was broadcast just days before the Vatican announced that it was lifting his excommunication and that of three other bishops.

The four, members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, had been excommunicated after being consecrated as bishops without papal consent in 1988.

Bowing to the criticism, the Vatican on Feb. 4 demanded that Williamson “absolutely and unequivocally distance himself from his remarks about the Shoah if he is to be admitted to episcopal functions in the church.” Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

In his statement Friday, Lombardi noted that Williamson’s comments were not addressed to Pope Benedict XVI or to the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei commission, which has been dealing with the Society of St. Pius X ever since its bishops were excommunicated. Continue reading

And in the Jewish world…changing attitudes on gays?

And how is the Jewish community faring when it comes to the Great Gay Question?

A new survey of 1,221 Jewish leaders from 997 congregations across North America seems to show movement toward a very general “acceptance” of gays and lesbians.

According to the Jewish Week, the author of the study, Caryn Aviv, a prof at the University of Denver’s Center for Judaic Studies, presented the findings last week in NYC.

Among the findings: Overall, 47 percent of rabbis said that their views toward gays and lesbians have “shifted favorably in the past 10 years.” (That’s 40 percent of Reform rabbis, 60 percent of Conservative, 43 percent of Orthodox.)

I can’t seem to find the actual study on the Web…yet.

Aviv, it’s worth noting, is the founder of a group called Jewish Mosaic, which promotes acceptance of gays and lesbians in Jewish life.

Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, tells the JW: “The organized Jewish community is moving from rejection to tolerance to embracing. I think that the Conservative movement is the most interesting to watch right now because they’re in the middle, and they’re struggling between embracing and tolerating.”

Another finding: 41 percent of rabbis whose congregations reach out to gay and lesbian Jews reported gaining members as a result. 2 percent reported losing members.

More on the ELCA’s ‘gay ordination’ struggles

More on the never-ending “gay debate” in mainline denominations…

I mentioned last week the latest ELCA move on the question of ordaining gay clergy: a task force has recommended that a national assembly this summer decide whether congregations and synods (regional bodies) should have the flexibility to choose clergy in monogamous, same-sex relationships.

The task force recommendations are hard to absorb. Here is a summation from Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo, head of the Metro NY Synod of the ELCA:


“In brief, the Churchwide Assembly this coming August will decide whether to create “space” for congregations and synods to publically recognize and hold accountable the relationship of same-gendered couples (step one), and (step two) whether our Church ought to find ways to allow the rostered ministry of such persons. The task force acknowledges that conscience-bound faithful Christians find themselves on different sides of this issue. The task force also acknowledges that we are bound not only in our own consciences but in love to the conscience of the other. Because of the lack of consensus in the church, the task force believes that we need to respect our differences and accept the different places in which the baptized find themselves. The recommendation affirms that our distinctive positions on this issue should not be church-dividing. No congregation or institution will be forced to call a leader they do not wish to call.”


Rimbo also writes in a message to the NY synod:


“There has been a range of emotions – from anticipation to anxiety – surrounding the release of the Social Statement on Human Sexuality. Now that it is here, it is important to familiarize ourselves with its contents. Most of the statement is a non-controversial, comprehensive, Biblically-based understanding of human sexuality. As mentioned above, theological themes like trust, hope, joy, grace and faith are extraordinarily helpful in our efforts to reflect on healthy human sexual response and behavior.”


Also, the head of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — a somewhat smaller and more conservative national Lutheran denomination — has released a statement lamenting the step taken by the ELCA task force.

Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the LC-MS, writes that the ELCA move would “constitute a radical departure from the 2,000-year-long teaching of the Christian tradition that homosexual activity, whether inside or outside of a committed relationship, is contrary to Holy Scripture.”

PCUSA grapples, again, with ordination of gays

I’ve mentioned before that the first article I wrote on the religion beat — on March 20, 1997 — had to do with Presbyterian Church (USA) banning the ordination of gays and lesbians.

The change to church law — widely known as “Amendment B” — became the focus of a denominational controversy that has never gone away. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to rewrite the amendment.

Here we go again.

Last year’s national gathering of PCUSA delegates — the 218th General Assembly — voted in favor of rewriting the amendment to remove a requirement that clergy “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman…or chastity in singleness.”

A new amendment would require “Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation…pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions.”

For the change to go through, a majority of presbyteries — regional bodies — have to approve it. That means 87 out of 173.

So far, according to one tally, 36 presbyteries have voted for the change, 46 against.

The Hudson River Presbytery — which includes 91 congregations in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and four counties north — voted this week. Clergy and lay delegates voted overwhelming in favor of the change: 94 yes, 12 no, 1 abstention.

So that’s one presbytery among the 36 that want to change Amendment B.

Other presbyteries will vote through June. It’s hard to say right now when a majority will be reached.

Loving thy neighbor during hard times

Donations to non-profits are way down. No surprise.

On Friday, Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life and the Knights of Columbus are together hosting a “summit” on the role volunteers can play in helping their communities to recover from the financial crisis.

It will be at the Marriott East Side in NYC from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Among those groups sending representatives: Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the National Fraternal Congress, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, General Electric, the Foodbank of Greater New Jersey, Connecticut Public Broadcasting, Goldman Sachs and Volunteers of America.

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, says: “A lack of concern for our neighbors within our financial system contributed greatly to the critical economic situation we face today. By sharing our ideas, experience, and creating a solid plan for the future of volunteerism, our nation’s volunteer-promoting organizations, from a variety of sectors – have the ability to be a wonderful force for good as they facilitate neighbors helping their neighbors to rebuild their lives and their communities.”

And Fairfield President Jeffrey P. von Arx, a Jesuit, says: “The global economy is facing one of its biggest challenges in a generation. While this economic crisis is still very much in its early phase, what seems indisputable is that we are about to enter an extended period of increased hardship within our communities, and increased poverty of resources in communities and nations around the world. It is certainly incumbent on our governments to respond to this crisis with alacrity, but we also know that governments can only do so much, and that we will have to look to our religious institutions, to our Universities, and to the non-profit and volunteer sectors in general to rise to the occasion and find creative solutions to the problems that we need to confront.”

So much for Fat Tuesday

It’s Ash Wednesday, and many Roman Catholics will be walking around with an ashen cross on their foreheads.

But are they Catholics?

Protestants have increasingly observed Ash Wednesday, in one way or another, in recent years.

I noticed that the Hudson River Presbytery of Presbyterian Church USA has an Ash Wednesday retreat today.

Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains is hosting a joint Ash Wednesday service this evening with at least four other Methodist congregations.

Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon is starting today a weekly midday prayer service, featuring visiting preachers, that will run through Pentecost.

There’s plenty more.

And it’s only the beginning of the holy season. As Bishop Jeremiah J. Park, leader of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church, wrote in his Lenten letter:


Lent is a sacred time when we are ever more intentional in focusing our journey on Jesus. We do well to heed this advice from the Book of Hebrews: Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance that race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1).