The challenges of inter-marriage

So much has been said and written over the last couple of decades about religious inter-marriage.

It’s been one of the most discussed and debated issues in the Jewish world because of the threat posed to Jewish continuity if too many Jews have children who are not raised Jewish.

In New York, of course, many Catholics marry Protestants, Jews and people of little or no faith, posing all sorts of questions and challenges for families that want their sons and daughters married by the parish priest.

There are so many “minority” religions in town these days that all sorts of inter-marriage combos are now taking place.

But I don’t believe I’ve seen a reference to the relative success of inter-marriages, compared to single-religion marriages, until a recent story in the Washington Post. It noted that the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 — a massive study that I thought had been picked dry at this point — found that “people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.”

I would imagine that this finding has been reported, but that I missed it. Still interesting.

The Post article by Naomi Schaefer Riley notes that in our tolerant, inclusive society, inter-marriage can seem almost hip:


The belief among young couples that love will conquer all is not exactly new. But today some young Americans seem to even pride themselves on marrying someone very different from themselves. One woman I spoke to who was raised as a Catholic recalled her thoughts on dating when she went off to college a few years ago: “To limit yourself to only people of your own religion seemed bigoted. . . . There is a whole world of people that I don’t know.” To write them off as potential partners before she even met them “seemed rude,” she said.

Her language is revealing. It’s as if our society’s institutional rules about nondiscrimination in hiring an employee or admitting someone to college have morphed into rules for screening romantic partners.


But for even the most tolerant people, Riley notes, raising children in a foreign faith can push all sorts of buttons that one is not even aware of.

She writes:


Even among those who have tough conversations, says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonpartisan research organization, religion can become a serious point of contention later on. One parent may agree to raise the children in the other’s faith, he says, but then that faith “becomes repellent” to him or her. Coleman doesn’t think that people get married with the intention of deceiving their spouse; “they just have no idea how powerfully unconscious religion can be.”

A transgender rabbi in Berkeley

A few years ago, when I was writing about whether Conservative Judaism would endorse gay rabbis, I had an interesting conversation with one of the movement’s leaders.

The question facing Conservative Jews, he told me, wasn’t simply whether to recognize gay and lesbian rabbis, but whether to let go of the traditional image of the straight, (usually) married rabbi.

“If a male rabbi walks up to the pulpit in a dress, would we want that?” he asked.

I remembered the conversation this morning when I started to read about the new “transgender” rabbi at a Reform congregation in Berkeley, Calif. Apparently, Rabbi Reuben Zellman is the second transgender rabbi ordained in the Reform movement.

An article on notes: “According to the nonprofit TransGender San Francisco, transgender is an umbrella term that includes “persons whose perceived gender or anatomical sex may be incongruent with their gender expression, and persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous.” ”

The new rabbi was born Claire Zellman. At the age of 20, she “transitioned from female to male, taking on the name Reuben.”

No, I don’t know what “transitioned” means either.

Zellman says: “Every transgender person has decisions about what kind of questions they want to answer. There are many people in society who are outsiders in some way, or their experience is new and unfamiliar to others. All those people, myself included, have to reflect about how we’re going to arrange with a world that does not totally understand us.”

The first transgender rabbi in the Reform world (and, quite possibly, all of Judaism) was Elliot Kukla, who works at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco.

The article notes that other transgender students are enrolled in Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries.

Conservative leaders must be watching with interest.

Just put the lights on, for Mother Teresa’s sake

I don’t know much about Anthony Malkin other than that he must be a very rich man.

He is the president of a company started by his grandfather that owns about 10 million square feet of commercial property in the New York area.

Including the Empire State Building.

You may have heard during the last 24 hours that the Catholic League would like to see the Empire State Building lights turn blue and white on Aug. 26 to mark the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth.

The Empire State Building denied the request and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue blew another casket. He’s planning a demonstration outside the ESB on Aug. 26 instead.

“Malkin has made his decision to stiff Catholics,” Donohue says.

In a statement, Malkin says: “The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas.

He adds that the privately owned building “has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”

The thing is, the ESB lit up in honor of Cardinal O’Connor when he died in 2000 and in honor of Pope John Paul II when he died in 2005.

So the building’s ownership has a history of honoring religious figures and of not stiffing Catholics.

The picture shows the building lit up in 1995 to mark the 80th birthday of Frank Sinatra (who, by most accounts, was not as nice a person as Mother Teresa).

In a brief Q&A with the NYT in September, Malkin suggested that lighting decisions are informal and not taken all that seriously. Here’s the key part:


Q. One thing about the Empire State Building that isn’t changing is the night lighting that makes the building a distinctive part of the city’s skyline. Who decides the tower light colors?

A. Our brand manager. We get hundreds of requests a year.

We try to use the lighting to celebrate everybody who thinks highly of the building. We do important Western holidays, we have fun with the Mets versus the Yankees or the Jets versus the Giants. We also are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. And we use light to celebrate Id al-Fitr, the festivities at the end of the Ramadan fast.

Q. And the newest celebration?

A. The 40th anniversary and the grand reopening of El Museo del Barrio. It’s going to be on Oct. 14. All yellow.


The People’s Republic of China? The reopening of the El Museo del Barrio?

So why not light up for Mother Teresa?

Make everyone happy and end the controversy. It makes sense. It’s good business. Who would disagree (other than Christopher Hitchens)?

Your grandfather would probably be proud, Mr. Malkin.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

John Wooden: Man of Christian faith

There’s been so much said and written this week about the former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died late last week, that I didn’t think there was anything for me to add.

I was never a big college basketball guy. And Wooden retired in 1975, right around the time I started following sports.

I knew, of course, that he was held in high esteem. I knew that he had won like a million straight games at UCLA and that he was regarded as a great teacher, a great man.

But for me, Wooden was just one of those public figures who had been around since the beginning of time.

I haven’t seen much mention of Wooden’s faith in the few tributes I read about him.

But today, I came across an interesting essay on by a fellow named Amir Hussain, a Canadian Muslim who teaches theology at Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit university in Los Angeles.

Hussain came to admire Wooden because of his influence on Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, a rare Muslim role model during the 1970s. Hussain later moved to California and had contact with Wooden on several occasions.

He writes:


He never imposed his Christian faith on anyone, only insisting that his players “have a religion and believe in it.” Coach was a pluralist long before many of us had heard of the term. Of his own faith, one of his favorite maxims was “If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.” Many of us have grown tired of the hypocrisy of self-described “Christian athletes” who can glibly quote Bible verses but can’t manage to live by them. Coach, as always, was different. We both agreed that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest American, but he said that the greatest person of his generation was Mother Teresa. Like her, he lived out his Christianity in service to others.


Poking around for additional reflection about Wooden’s faith, I found a column by religion scribe Terry Mattingly about Wooden’s strong, but quiet Protestant faith.

He notes that Wooden rarely missed the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast at the Final Four.

Mattingly writes:


When working with secular audiences, Wooden used a nondenominational approach to life’s great lessons — which led to his famous “Pyramid of Success” image, built on common virtues such as “skill,” “enthusiasm,” “industriousness,” “patience” and “faith.” Former players also learned to recite his folksy sayings, such as “Be quick, but don’t hurry” and “It is what we learn after we know it all that really counts.”

But Wooden shared other sayings, when the time was right, including this one: “Basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere.”


Mattingly also writes on the GetReligion blog (which critiques media coverage of religion) that too much coverage of Wooden’s death neglected to mention his faith.

He writes that an obit in the NYT “did find a way to address — in secular terms that would not offend the newspaper’s audience — the kind of moral influence that Wooden had on his players.”

I now kind of wish I did pay more attention to Wooden when he would make those TV appearances now then. Maybe I’ll get one of his books.

AP file photo

Imaging a Catholic-Orthodox reunion

What would a reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Christian churches look like?

Beats the heck out of me, but it would be bigger than Brad and Jennifer getting back together, even Woody and Mia, maybe even the Beatles (celebrities have become our measuring stick for just about everything, haven’t they?).

An ongoing dialogue between North American Catholic and Orthodox scholars continued this month in Brookline, Mass., where they worked on a draft statement called “Steps Towards a United Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future.”

According to a release from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference: “The document briefly outlines the history of divergences between Catholics and Orthodox, especially with regard to the role of the Bishop of Rome in the Church. It also outlines all that the two churches share and notes that overcoming differences has become a matter of urgency. The text also reflects on what a reunited Catholic and Orthodox Church might would look like, the ecclesial structures needed to facilitate such unity, and the questions that remain to be answered if such a reconciliation is to take place. Work on this text will continue at the next meeting.”

...what a reunited Catholic and Orthodox Church might look like, the ecclesial structures needed to facilitate such unity…

Fascinating stuff. I hope they release the statement when it’s done.

Several local figures play a key role in the dialogue.

Father John Erickson, former dean and professor of canon law and church history at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, presented a paper about the autocephalous — or self-governing — nature of the Orthodox churches.

And Father Joseph Komonchak, a native of West Nyack and professor emeritus of religious studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, offered a Catholic response to Erickson’s paper and another.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation was established in 1965 and has issued 23 statements, available here and here.

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches also have an international dialogue, which attempts to face the same millennium-old issues (what about that bishop in Rome, anyway?).

Last fall, the North American dialogue actually put out a critique of a key statement from the international dialogue. But if you think I’m going to try to explain it here, you’ve got another thing coming.

But here are two interesting and vaguely accessible paragraphs from the critique of the international dialogue’s “Ravenna” document:


Finally, we take exception to the contents of the Ravenna document’s sole footnote:  “Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasize that the use of the terms ‘the Church’, ‘the universal Church’ and ‘the Body of Christ’ in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks.  From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ (Lumen Gentium, 8); this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.”

We find this footnote inaccurate.  First, we think that its two assertions do not adequately represent the ecclesiology of either the Orthodox or the Catholic Church.  The Orthodox Church’s self-understanding as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is not understood by all Orthodox in exclusivist terms.  Throughout the centuries, significant currents within Orthodox ecclesiology have recognized the presence of the Church’s reality outside the canonical, visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church.  Also, to assert that “from the Catholic point of view the same self-awareness applies” misrepresents Catholic ecclesiology at and since the Second Vatican Council, in spite of the Ravenna document’s reference to Lumen Gentium 8.  Because of apostolic succession and the Eucharist, Vatican II did not hesitate to recognize that the Orthodox constitute “Churches,” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 14) that they are “sister Churches,” and to assert that in their celebration of the Eucharist, the Church of God is being built up and growing.  To our Consultation, these two points of view point to the fact that the ecclesiological issues regarding mutual recognition raised at Bari still require resolution.


Got that?

Oklahomans consider ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Muslim law

State lawmakers in Oklahoma are considering a ballot measure in November that would require courts to base their decisions on federal and state laws.

What other kinds of laws might courts in Oklahoma base their decisions on, you ask?

Well, the measure is apparently designed to ensure that courts in Soonerland never base their decisions on Shariah — Muslim law.

It’s a “pre-emptive strike,” advocates say. There are only a few thousand Muslims in Oklahoma out of some 3.6 million people.

From the Edmond Sun in Edmond, Okla. — a small city near Oklahoma City:


State Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, primary author of HJR 1056, said Oklahoma is the first state to pass such legislation and he hopes other states will follow.

Duncan, an attorney who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the amendment is needed because judges in other states and on the federal bench have increasingly cited international law in their decisions. He said he feels that action is inappropriate in a sovereign state.

Duncan said Sharia law is entrenched in the United Kingdom.

“It is a cancer upon the survivability of the UK,” Duncan said. “SQ 755 will constitute a pre-emptive strike against Sharia law coming to Oklahoma.”

State Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, a co-author of HJR 1056, said American courts are being more frequently challenged that international law should trump U.S. law.

“Sharia law coming to the U.S. is a scary concept,” Sykes said. “Hopefully the passage of this constitutional amendment will prevent it in Oklahoma.”


CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told the paper that anti-Islam rhetoric is approaching “Nazi-like” levels and is the “flip side of the anti-Semitic coin.”

Saad Mohammed of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City tells the paper that 80 percent of the U.S. Constitution is compatible with Sharia. “Sharia is more of a protection than something used to oppress,” he said.

Oklahoma is a strongly evangelical state and home to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. Oral Roberts is one of the state’s favorite sons, along with Paul Harvey and Will Rogers.

Oklahomans may vote on the measure this fall.

You can tour the churches of Ossining

Driving around the northern suburbs, I am often struck by the beauty or simple grandeur of so many old churches.

I wonder about their stories. Who founded them? Under what circumstances?

Do other people wonder about such things? Not many, I would imagine.

But if you do — and you live in or near Ossining — I have good news.

On the next two Saturdays — June 12 and 19 — tours will be given of historic Ossining churches.

According to a very informal press release I have received:


“The Sacred Spaces and Peaceful Places of the Village of Ossining” is a great opportunity to learn about several of the historically and architecturally significant  church buildings in Ossining.  There will be two (2) tours led by docents who are clergy or members of the individual churches on the tour and familiar with the history and architecture of their respective building.


Here’s the line-up…

June 12: First Baptist (pictured)
First Presbyterian
Highland Avenue Methodist
Trinity Episcopal

Starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Ossining Bank For Savings on the southwest corner of Main Street and Route 9 (South Highland Avenue).

June 19: Calvary Baptist
Trinidad de Dios
Star of Bethlehem
Catholic Chapel of the Dominican  Sisters of Hope
St. Paul’s On-The-Hill
Campwoods Grounds

Starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Ossining Community Center on Broadway and  Route 9.

For info: Miguel Hernandez at 914-941-4920.

To see the release yourself, go HERE and move down to the 13th item.

Mainline leaders protest NYC Correction policies on immigrants

The United Methodist and ELCA bishops of New York will take part in a press conference this morning to call for the NYC Department of Corrections to “stop using New York City resources to participate in immigration enforcement.”

According to a statement from the pro-immigration reform New Sanctuary Movement, the DOC sends about 4,000 people a year from Rikers Island to deportation proceedings.

They say: “As the vast majority of those held at the facility are awaiting trial or serving short sentences, many of those being are separated  from the families have no criminal record or minor infractions.”

An unknown number of people are fasting today as a protest. They will join the press conference at 10 a.m. today outside St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan.

Religious leaders set to appear include Bishop Robert Rimbo of the ELCA and Bishop Jeremiah Park (that’s him) of the United Methodist Church, as well as Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of  Congregation Ansche Chesed in Manhattan.

The pundits seem to think that immigration reform isn’t going anywhere.

But advocates on both sides of one of the most contentious public policy issues of the day are going to keep the Great Immigration Debate alive.

A Jewish champ in Da Bronx

If Yuri Foreman wins the first boxing match at Yankee Stadium since 1976 on Saturday night, he may become something of a celebrity as a Jewish champion.

Foreman is currently the WBA Super Welterweight champ. But boxing has plummeted in popularity over the last 20 years and few sports fans care who the super welterweight champ is.

Still, the fact that Foreman is Jewish — and training to be a rabbi! — is bound to get him some media attention if he wins Saturday’s high-profile fight against Miguel Cotto.

There were a lot of top Jewish fighters during the first half of the 20th century, like Benny Leonard and Barney Ross, but far, far fewer in recent decades.

Foreman was born in Belarus during the Soviet days. His family moved to Israel when he was 9 and he started training in an Arab gym.

Along the way, Foreman started practicing Orthodox Judaism. He won’t fight during the Sabbath.

But Saturday night’s fight will be long after dark. HBO’s coverage won’t start until 10 p.m.

The last fight at Yankee Stadium (the old Stadium, of course) was the third Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton showdown in 1976. Ali won the fight, but many observers — myself included — thought that Norton won their rubber-match.

I am among the last boxing fans, but I’ve only seen Foreman fight once. His reputation: good defensive boxer, no punching power.

His opponent, Cotto, has been a top fighter in recent years. But in his last fight in November, he got TKOed by the great Manny Pacquiao.

Cotto is of Puerto Rican descent and will likely have a lot of fans at the Stadium. As will Foreman.

So, as the man says, Let’s get ready to rumble. (Am I a frustrated sports writer? Maybe.)

Dolan, O’Malley to draw on Irish roots

The  Roman Catholic Church in America was founded and built by Irish priests and nuns and brothers and laypeople.

It was long identified as an Irish church of sorts — until it started transforming into an Hispanic church in many parts of the country.

So it seems somehow fitting that Archbishop Dolan and Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley will play key roles in the Vatican’s response to the debilitating sex-abuse crisis in Ireland.

They are among nine prelates who will investigate what went wrong and seek ways to prevent future scandals.

Dolan will lead a study of Irish seminaries and the broader issue of priestly formation in Ireland. He is a former rector of the North American College, the elite seminary in Rome for American priests-to-be.

O’Malley will investigate the troubled Archdiocese of Dublin.

Both archbishops have experience at trying to unravel and deal with sex-abuse scandals.

O’Malley, in particular, is as well-versed as anyone. As a bishop, he had to face terrible scandals in Fall River, Mass., and Palm Beach, Fla., before taking over for disgraced Cardinal Law in the eye of the storm, Boston.

Dolan had to clean up a mess in Milwaukee before he came to NY.

Dolan released this short statement over the weekend:


I am happy to accept the Holy See’s invitation to serve as a member of the upcoming apostolic visitation to the Church in Ireland, with special attention to their historic seminaries.

My love for the faith of Ireland, and my own background in priestly formation, make me grateful for this assignment, and I look forward to close cooperation with my brother bishops, priests, religious, and the faithful of Ireland.  I await further information and instruction from the Holy See on the specifics and timing of the visitation.