Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for July, 2011

God loves Goodyear tires and race cars!07.28.11

You’ve probably seen the NASCAR pastor by now, but just in case you haven’t…here’s Pastor Joe Nelms:

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CNN has some funny reaction to the prayer.

And the GetReligion blog has some reaction to the reaction.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Prayerwith Comments Off on God loves Goodyear tires and race cars!

Washington’s famous letter on religious liberty under lock-and-key07.22.11

I’ve read SO many times over the years about George Washington’s famously eloquent letter to the “Hebrew Congregation” in Newport, Rhode Island.

The 1790 letter is famous for spelling out what religious liberty in the U.S. would mean: “For, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

In 1781, Washington had visited Newport and a meeting was held at the synagogue.

The Forward today put out a fascinating article about the letter’s whereabouts.

It turns out that the letter is held under lock-and-key, removed from public view, at an industrial park in Maryland.

Apparently, a fellow named Morris Morgenstern who grew up on the Lower East Side and became a successful financier and philanthropist, purchased the letter around 1949. A foundation in his name loaned the letter to the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, which lets few people see it.

Very strange.

Paul Berger from the Forward got to see it. But it wasn’t easy.

The letter is now said to be worth between $5 and $10 million.

The Newport congregation, called Touro Synagogue, was founded in 1658 by the first Jewish arrivals to North America. Touro is still going strong today and will host an annual reading of Washington’s letter on Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. (reservations required).

You can read the whole letter here.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Famous letters, George Washington, Religious libertywith Comments Off on Washington’s famous letter on religious liberty under lock-and-key

A new Catholic archbishop for Philly; Episcopal bishops divided in New York07.19.11

Two things:

1. Should the Yankees play the Phillies in the World Series this fall — a possibility, at this point — we could see a high-stakes bet between two of the highest-profile and fastest-talking Catholic churchmen in the country.

New York pizza or a Philly Cheesesteak?

That’s because squaring off with Archbishop Dolan would be Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is leaving Denver to lead the deeply troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Chaput is a provocative and straight-talking bishop who promotes orthodox Catholicism — as he would put it — without compromise. Like Dolan, he’s a guy who says what he believes and isn’t afraid to use the media to get the word out. In fact, Chaput is one of the few bishop who regularly returns reporters’ calls.

He’ll get some calls in Philly, where a second Grand Jury report this  year blasted the archdiocese’s handling of sex abuse. In March, Cardinal Justin Rigali suspended 21 priests who had previously survived allegations of abuse.

Chaput tells the Catholic News Agency: “The Church in Philadelphia is at an important point in her life. It’s not a time to be embarrassed about what we believe. In fact, it becomes even more crucial to preach the Gospel – both within the Church and outside the Church.”

Chaput is well known for demanding fidelity of Catholics, including Catholic politicians. He says: “If we don’t live as faithful Catholics, we betray the Gospel. We forfeit the opportunity God gives us to make a significant difference for the evangelization of culture.”

If there is a Fall Classic bet between Dolan and Chaput, you know Dolan will be seriously craving that cheesesteak. I’m not sure how much Chaput likes to eat.

2. On a COMPLETELY unrelated note…

The NYTimes writes today about the Episcopal bishops overseeing the six dioceses of New York state being split over how to deal with the coming of civil gay marriage.

The Episcopal Church has long been quite gay-friendly, particularly in New York. But the national church has not staked a clear position on gay marriage, giving local bishops a lot of local leeway. But when comes to the Big M, New York’s bishops don’t see eye-to-eye.

As the Times’ Shaila Dewan writes: “In the state, with six Episcopal dioceses, the bishops are split: two have given the green light for priests to officiate at same-sex marriages, one has said absolutely not, two are undecided and one has staked out a middle ground, allowing priests to bless, but not officiate at, weddings of gay men and lesbians.”

Here in the Diocese of New York, Bishop Mark Sisk has been a vocal advocate of gay acceptance within the church. He also supported the legalization of civil gay marriage.

But he’s not ready to see his diocese conduct same-sex marriages until church law says it’s okay. “The church is still in the process of creating liturgies for these rites and incorporating them into church law,” he said.

Sisk told the Times that churches could host civil marriages led by secular officials — with an Episcopal priest offering a blessing.

Now that is a serious search for middle ground.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Episcopal Church, Episcopal Diocese of New York, gay marriagewith 2 Comments →

Can the papacy somehow promote Christian unity?07.13.11

A couple of pope-related notes…

Generally, I think it’s safe to say, the place and role of the pope in the Roman Catholic Church has been an obstacle to ecumenism — or non-Catholic Christian churches getting closer to, or somehow aligning with, Rome.

If other Christian traditions saw the Petrine Ministry as essential, after all, they might well go Catholic.

So I was interested to see that Father James Puglisi, minister general of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor, has received a Catholic Press Award for editing a 2010 book, “How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church?”

Yes, it is a title that does not sing.

I, for one, would be curious to know how the papacy might contribute to Christian unity. I don’t have the book, but have been trying to skim it on Amazon.

I stumbled on a chapter by Father Joseph Komonchak, a West Nyack native and a well-known and veteran theologian at Catholic University in Washington. It includes this great passage:

*****

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the Roman Catholic Church is regarded as a vast multinational religious corporation with central headquarters in Rome, branch offices in large cities, and retail shops, called parishes, dispensing spiritual goods. On this view, the pope is seen as the CEO of the firm. This view, I say, is rather widespread, and it can be found, almost taken for granted, among both progressives and liberals, among the laity, and among the clergy, including among some bishops.”

*****

This “administrative view” of the church won’t fly with many Christians, he writes. He goes on to cover some difficult ground, including on the relationship between the universal church and individual churches. I won’t attempt to summarize it (nor could I), but Komonchak doesn’t seem to like the way Rome chooses bishops without diocesan input and drops them down from the outside.

He writes: “A theory and a practice that cannot acknowledge the local churches as full subjects in their own right cannot be correct.”

So here is an argument in favor of the pope’s administrative role being reduced — or the local church’s role being increased. Some non-Catholic Christians would certainly agree.

On a completely unrelated note, I was reading Bill Keller’s review in the NYT Book Review of “Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy” by John Julius Norwich.

Keller starts his review with this:

*****

John Julius Norwich makes a point of saying in the introduction to his history of the popes that he is “no scholar” and that he is “an agnostic Protestant.” The first point means that while he will be scrupulous with his copious research, he feels no obligation to unearth new revelations or concoct revisionist theories. The second means that he has “no ax to grind.” In short, his only agenda is to tell us the story.

*****

Now, Norwich may be scrupulous with his research and he may have no ax to grind. In fact, his book may be fantastic in every way.

But, unless I’m missing something, Norwich’s lack of scholarly standing does not mean that he will be scrupulous with his research. His status as an agnostic Protestant does not mean that he has no ax to grind.

He could well be an agnostic Protestant and popular historian who does lousy research and has a huge ax to grind.

I’m not saying he is. But he could be, right?

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Ecumenism, Papacywith 2 Comments →

Would transplants from pigs to people break religious dietary laws?07.07.11

From the department of Applying Ancient Religious Beliefs to Modern Technologies…

We have an article from Ari Stillman at ReligionDispatches.org about the possibility of growing human organs in pigs for transplantation into humans. Apparently, pigs have already generated “human blood” after being injected with human blood cells.

According to the Telegraph of London, these techniques could provide a solution to the current shortage of available organs.

Professor Hiromitsu Nakauchi, director of the centre for stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the University of Tokyo in Japan, tells the Telegraph: “Our ultimate goal is to generate human organs from induced pluripotent stem cells…”The technique, called blastocyst complementation, provides us with a novel approach for organ supply. We have successfully tried it between mice and rats. We are now rather confident in generating functional human organs using this approach.”

Stillman raises the very interesting question of whether traditional Judaism and Islam — which prohibit the eating of pork — would allow for “xenotransplantation” using pigs.

Scholars from both traditions say that saving a life generally takes precedence over other rules.

And the pig would not actually be eaten, but would only, well, produce organs that would become part of human bodies. Hmmm.

Stillman writes: “Of course, the question is bound to surface at some point as to whether they have to use a pig? Why not another animal so as to save the trouble of these religious debates? Unfortunately (or quite fortunately, depending on your orientation), pigs are anatomically and physiologically similar to man. Coupled with their low maintenance, it makes them ideal surrogates for the growth of human organs. If you believe in intelligent design and techno-determinism, then maybe this is just indicative of God’s progressive sense of irony.”

(AP Photo/David Duprey)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Dietary laws, Islam, Judaism, Pigs, Pork, Transplantationwith 3 Comments →

What could Archbishop Dolan have done to fight gay marriage?07.01.11

I came back from a few days away to see that Archbishop Dolan lit the first “virtual candle” on the St. Patrick’s Cathedral website.

It’s been a busy few weeks for Dolan.

He heard from several priests who don’t want to see their Catholic schools closed.

And he emerged as the face of the anti-gay marriage lobby in NYS. The losing face.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the growing social acceptance of — or lack of interest in — homosexuality and gay marriage. There was little public debate that I picked up on in the months leading up to the big vote in Albany.

And, honestly, I didn’t get a sense that the opposition — mostly the Catholic Church and a few evangelical lobbyists — were all that worked up about it. They were, and remain, clearly opposed to gay marriage. But maybe they thought there was little they could do.

I’ve come across a few anti-gay marriage commentators who feel the church could have done more to rally, or at least awaken, the troops.

Academic John Zmirak, writing for the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis, compared the church’s combativeness to France’s capitulation to the Nazis.

He writes: “Instead of pulling out all the stops and calling in all its chips, the Church shrugged off the effort to defend the natural law as a good thing for all New Yorkers — and went scrambling for exemptions to guard its institutional interests. Republicans who were wary of gay marriage spent their political capital not fighting against the bill, but carving out little enclaves of protection for such oddball cults as might not want to solemnize same-sex rites.”

The conservative religion commentator Rod Dreher, a former Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian, writes that Dolan fought with a stunning half-heartedness.

He writes: “The archbishop was undoubtedly correct to describe the pro-gay forces as “very strong” and “well-financed” — but what is the Archdiocese of New York, chopped liver? Though greatly diminished in power from the glory days of Cardinal Spellman, there is no bully pulpit like the one Dolan has. Given the razor-thin margin of victory for the pro-gay side, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that a fully engaged Archbishop Dolan could have won this round for his side.”

Dreher also takes the Orthodox leadership in the U.S. to task.

He writes: “It’s not just the Catholic leadership. Bishops of the Eastern Orthodox churches, whose teaching on same-sex relations is equally ancient, and equally strong, are possibly even more tongue-tied than their Catholic counterparts. Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of my own church, the Orthodox Church in America, finds his authority effectively shattered by the Synod of Bishops, in part because they resented his signing the Manhattan Declaration in support of traditional marriage.

“True, Michael Dahulich, the OCA bishop of New York and New Jersey, issued an archpastoral letter condemning the New York legislature’s action. But one wonders how active the bishop and Empire State Orthodox clergy were in the fight when their voices might have made a difference?”

And Tom Deignan, a columnist for IrishCentral.com, somehow compares Dolan to Whitey Bulger, the old Boston mobster who got picked up recently. His headline: “How the mighty have fallen.”

Yeesh. He writes that both are Irish-American institutions who were “taken down.”

Deignan writes: “Not too long ago, there would have been an undeniable sense of war in the air, with Catholic leaders vowing to drive out the Catholic vote at election time, if lawmakers chose to stand against church teaching.

“Can you imagine what would have happened if a gay marriage bill was being debated during John Cardinal O’Connor’s reign as New York’s Catholic leader?”

But Deignan concedes that times have changed, even since O’Connor’s time, and there may have been little Dolan could do: “The problem, of course, is that vast numbers of Irish Catholics across New York — and America — are not exactly passionate in their opposition to gay marriage. Sure, some are not enthusiastic supporters.  But what we do know is that they do not simply follow the church’s clear opposition to it.”

And that, it seems to this observer, is the real issue.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Catholics and politics, gay marriage, Gay marriage debate, New Yorkwith 1 Comment →

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