Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for May, 2011

Busy with New Square and the tax cap05.25.11

So here I am, trying to find the time to blog something about the world not ending or about the John Jay report on sex abuse.

But I’m been swamped with the horrible New Square arson incident and the increasingly likely possibility of a property-tax cap here in old New York.

Hey, I’m a generalist.

So, what can I say? The truly interesting thing about Harold Camping’s “judgment day” prophesy is what it says about the media these days. When Camping made his last end-times prediction, I believe in 1994, hardly anyone heard about it. Who really cared?

But in 2011, Mr. Camping became perfect fodder for the 24/7 media machine to chew on. Everyone got in on the act because it was easy and goofy, perfect blog and Twitter material. Some academic should (and probably will) look at how much media face-time was given to a previously unknown evangelist with a small following.

The John Jay report is a more serious matter. I’ve read about it, but still haven’t had time to read the report.

There seems to be a general sense of…disappointment…with the report’s findings. After all these years of study, the culprit was the “free love,” anything goes culture of the 60s and 70s?

That’s a theory that has been floated since the crisis broke in 2002, so it does seem a bit stale and something of a let-down.

Some have questioned the independence of the researchers, since the Conference of Catholic Bishops helped fund the work. The bishops shouldn’t be surprised by this reaction, especially given what I understand to be the ho-hum findings of the report.

But if the researchers say they were independent, and they do, it’s hard to dispute them.

So…I’ve been talking to people about his awful incident of violence at New Square, the Hasidic enclave in Rockland County.

It’s a sad story, by any measure.

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that a man was openly harassed for months because he did not attend the community’s primary synagogue. The question at hand is whether he was attacked and severely burned as a result of this sanctioned harassment.

It’s always been extremely difficult to get people in New Square to talk about…anything. But there are such bad feelings about Sunday’s violence that some, a few, are speaking out.

I had a conversation Monday with a woman, a “New Square mom” she called herself, who was furious. She could not believe that the New Square leadership had not condemned the attack. She said that her children did not know what to believe about their community.

She also compared living in New Square to living under al-Queda. Really.

She spoke to me anonymously. To do so otherwise, she said, would result in being shunned and having her home vandalized.

She said that her family could not leave New Square because the community’s leadership would spread lies about them to the leaders of any community they would try to go to.

“There are normal people here,” she said.

We’ll see where this story goes.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Hasidimwith No Comments →

Everyone loves Judgment Day05.19.11

I’ve been busy with school budgets this week and haven’t had a chance to review the big John Jay report on the causes of the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis.

But I’ll get to it.

Still, it seems the main thing everyone is talking about is Harold Camping and his Judgment Day prediction for Saturday. His people placed a full-page ad in the Journal News and other newspapers today warning of a worldwide earthquake that will begin Saturday and begging people to “cry out to God for mercy.”

The newspaper ad asks readers to buy multiple copies of the paper and send them to “leaders, relatives and friends.” So thank you for that, Mr. Camping.

I can’t believe how much attention this is getting. But Camping has somehow come up with the money to do quite an impressive marketing campaign. Who are his donors? One can only wonder.

My colleague Khurram Saeed has a fine story today about people traveling around Rockland County to warn of the Big Event to hit on Saturday.

Well, we’ll see what happens Saturday.

And we’ll see what Camping says Sunday if he’s still here.

( Photo by Peter Carr / The Journal News )

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Judgment Day, Uncategorizedwith 1 Comment →

Judgment Day? 5 days and counting…05.16.11

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that an evangelist named Harold Camping was predicting—no, stating—that Judgment Day will be May 21, 2011.

At a time, I didn’t know if anyone would really notice Camping’s big news, as he is somewhat of a fringe TV preacher.

But everyone loves a good End-of-the-World guarantee, so Camping is getting quite a lot of media attention. Plus, his Family Radio Network has billboards up all over the country—I saw one the other day on the Garden State Parkway—warning of the Big Day.

Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer, also has a small army of followers driving around the country and letting people know not to bother planning anything for Memorial Day.

One volunteer told NPR: “I no longer think about 401(k)s and retirement. I’m not stressed about losing my job, which a lot of other people are in this economy. I’m just a lot less stressed, and in a way I’m more carefree.”

The UK Independent’s most popular on-line story at the moment is: “US preacher warns end of the world is nigh”

Camping, who is based in Oakland, is not predicting an immediate global apocalypse. He is saying, based on his reading of the Bible, that Jesus will return on May 21 and that saved Christians—he says about 2 percent of the world’s population—will be raptured to heaven. Everyone else will face God’s judgment. The world will be destroyed 153 days later, he says.

You can read all about it at WeCanKnow.com. The website was, until recently, taking orders for We Can Know materials. But they’ve stopped: “With our Lord’s Return such a short time away, we are no longer offering free printed materials since there is not enough time remaining for us to effectively produce and distribute them.”

Makes sense, I guess.

Most media accounts point out that Camping previously predicted that most of us would be goners on Sept. 6, 1994. When that didn’t happen, he chalked it up to a mathematical error.

Well, May 21 is Saturday. Come Sunday, if Camping is wrong, I’m sure he’ll get quite a few interview requests.

I get the feeling that a lot of people are gearing up to make fun of him, which would be kind of sad.

AP Photo

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in End Times, Harold Camping, Judgment Day, We Can Knowwith 2 Comments →

PCUSA ends gay-ordination ban, continuing long debate05.11.11

Way back in 1997, I wrote an article about the “strong possibility” that Presbyterian Church (USA) could split over the question of whether noncelibate gays and lesbians could be ordained.

The denomination had just amended church law to ban ordination for anyone who wasn’t married or chaste. Liberal congregations and even regions threatened to bolt the denomination.

The debate over gay ordination has remained fierce since then. Some individual congregations have left the denomination and PCUSA’s overall membership has continued to slide.

But liberal Presbyterians did not break away en masse, as many expected.

Now conservatives within PCUSA are the ones who may threaten to leave.

The amendment to church law that required clergy to be married or chaste is being stricken, replaced by a general call for governing bodies within the denomination to be “guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

A majority of PCUSA’s 173 regional presbyteries had to approve the change, which was proposed by the denomination’s General Assembly last summer. Yesterday, the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area became the 87th presbytery to approve a change, sealing a majority.

The change will go into effect July 10.

Now what?

Who knows? I’m not as quick to believe that a chunk of congregations will seek to break away, although it’s likely that a stream of conservative congregations will make noises about leaving and some will actually do it.

But it seems quite possible that PCUSA will continue to slowly shrink—like other mainline denominations—as liberals, conservatives and moderates continue to ignore or get along with each other.

A letter from the denomination to members includes this:

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Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum. Some will rejoice, while others will weep. Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PC(USA) an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office. Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture. The feelings on both sides run deep.

However, as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together – worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another. We are neighbors and colleagues, friends and family. Most importantly, we are all children of God, saved and taught by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

*****

The letter also asks Presbyterians to say this prayer:

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Almighty God, we give thanks for a rich heritage of faithful witnesses to the gospel throughout the ages. We offer gratitude not only for those who have gone before us, but for General Assembly commissioners and presbyters across the church who have sought diligently to discern the mind of Christ for the church in every time and place, and especially in this present time.

May your Spirit of peace be present with us in difficult decisions, especially where relationships are strained and the future is unclear. Open our ears and our hearts to listen to and hear those with whom we differ. Most of all, we give thanks for Jesus Christ, our risen Savior and Lord, who called the Church into being and who continues to call us to follow his example of loving our neighbor and working for the reconciliation of the world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Gay clergy debate, Gay ordination, Presbyterian Church (USA)with 3 Comments →

On the state of Christianity in sports05.09.11

I’ve mentioned a few times over the years that I’m a big football fan (for some strange reason, of the Oakland Raider variety).

I’ve often read a football writer named David White, who covers the Raiders and 49ers for the San Francisco Chronicle. It now seems that Mr. White is leaving the newspaper business—of his own accord, which is a nice change of pace—for the ministry.

He’s written a column about leaving the gridiron to become senior pastor at the Porterville Church of God, a Pentecostal congregation.
He covers the “local state of Christianity in sports, and why no one is really buying it,” and weighs in on several issues I’ve wondered and written about:

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When thou tear an ACL, don’t say it’s because God lets everything happen for a reason. There is a reason. A 320-pound defensive tackle landed on the back of your knee.

Thou shalt not thank God when only you win, and never when you lose. What, is it his fault that 4th-and-inches call was a few yards off? Did he fumble away the game-winning interception? The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

Thou shalt absolutely not say your team won because it was God’s plan. What does the Lord have against the other team? And why should God even care in a world of suffering how our games play out? Maybe you think He doubled down on your end of the Vegas line? He didn’t.

*****

I hope that, a few years down the road, White writes about his lessons in ministry.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Religion in sportswith No Comments →

Could bin Laden have been tried like Eichmann?05.06.11

Much has been said and written this week about the fact that Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot and killed.

I haven’t heard anything like outrage, but a lot of, well, mild discomfort.

The general feeling seems to be “I’m glad his dead, he got what he deserved, and I hope it brings some sense of closure to 9/11 families and the nation, but…could he have been taken alive?”

So I want to highlight a brief but provocative column on the subject by Deborah Lipstadt, the author of a new book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann. An interesting parallel, no?

She writes in the Forward:

*****

Adolf Eichmann was responsible for the murder of close to 1.5 million Jews. Bin Laden had far less blood on his hands. And while both men wished to kill as many Jews as possible, bin Laden was, of course, also interested in killing any American or “Westerner” he could. Each man was ferreted out, in the end, by forces operating clandestinely on foreign soil. Both operations were decisive, swift and successful.

But, of course, what happened to bin Laden and Eichmann after each was located was radically different. One was shot and killed on the spot; the other was put on trial.

It was not inevitable, however, that this would be Eichmann’s fate. It was a decision by David Ben-Gurion that prevented Eichmann from ending up like bin Laden and having justice delivered immediately, with a bullet to the head.

*****

Lipstadt writes about the presiding judge at Eichmann’s trial, Moshe Landau, a member of Israel’s High Court, trying to make the trial normal and undramatic. “The evidence and the testimony would be emotional enough; he did not have to add anything to it,” she writes.

Lipstadt can’t help wondering what a bin Laden trial would have looked like. Military or civilian? Judging by the difficulty that the Obama administration has faced in trying to decide what to do with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others, the decisions over what to do with bin Laden would have been riveting and enormously challenging.

She concludes with this: “While I am not sorry that bin Laden was shot, I regret that he never was shown the wonders of a democratic system of justice. It would have been the best response to the culture of death and hatred that this man represented.”

(AP photo)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Terrorism trialswith 1 Comment →

How much celebration is too much over bin Laden’s death?05.03.11

My son’s 4th-grade class spent some time yesterday discussing how much gloating and celebrating one should do over the killing of Osama bin Laden.

It’s an interesting question.

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from religious groups asking the same thing.

The National Council of Churches offers: “Osama Bin Laden is dead. Just as Christians must condemn the violence of terrorism, let us be clear that we do not celebrate loss of life under any circumstances. The NCC’s 37 member communions believe the ultimate justice for this man’s soul—or any soul—is in the hands of God. In this historic moment, let us turn to a future that embraces God’s call to be peacemakers, pursuers of justice and loving neighbors to all people.”

An Orthodox (Chabad) rabbi says: “So there’s the irony of it all, the depth and beauty that lies in the tension of our Torah: If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care.”

The Rev. Doug Leonard, former pastor of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown, is now director of the Al-Amana Centre, an interfaith center in the Sultanate of Oman, a Muslim nation. He sent me an email early today that included this:

*****

The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death spread quickly yesterday morning in the coffee shops, streets and offices of Oman and was accompanied by cheerful talk and a sense of relief among Omanis.

Here are two representative quotes I heard yesterday as I spoke with Omani government officials, business leaders and people on the street about the news: “This is a day to celebrate.  Justice has been done today.”

As the day turned to evening in Oman, morning came to America.  I was sitting with some friends from Oman drinking spiced coffee.  They were surfing the internet on their laptops, following the tweets from America and watching You Tube videos of the demonstrations at the white house and ground zero as Americans began their day.  My Omani friends became saddened and confused by as they saw Americans linking the death of Osama bin Laden with a victory against Islam.

One of my friends whose cheer turned to dismay as he saw the American response on line, said, “If a man commits a crime, we punish the man, not his family or his town or the people of the nation he comes from.  Why are so many Americans holding all Arabs and all Muslims in suspicion?”

*****

Now get this.

An email I got this afternoon from the United Methodist Church noted that a British Methodist and hymn-writer has already written a hymn about bin Laden’s death.

It’s called “We Cannot Gloat: A Time for Grief.”

I can’t seem to get the plug-in to download it, but if you go here, you can try or simply read the lyrics from a PDF.

The writer is named Andrew Pratt. According to a bio, he has written several hymns about 9/11 and other tragedies. It notes: “He lost his only son (age 22) in an accident. He feels empathy with people caught up in tragic situations.”

The hymn begins:

*****

We cannot gloat; a time for grief, another mother’s son is dead, and

if that son has killed and maimed, it is the better least is said; but

let us mourn for all the loss, and stand in shadow of the cross.

*****

(AP Photo/Andy Colwell)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Hymns, Osama bin Laden, Religious reactions, Religious responsewith 1 Comment →

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