Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


No easy peace on gay marriage or the Middle East09.23.11

Catching up with a few things after — during — a very busy week. (I’ve been reviewing hundreds of state education reports. You don’t want to know.)

1. So Archbishop Dolan is fighting mad at the Obama administration over gay marriage. It’s not just that the administration will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but how the administration is characterizing those who oppose gay marriage.

He wrote to Obama: “The institution of marriage is built on this truth, which goes to the core of what the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and the millions of citizens who stand with us on this issue, want for all children and for the common good of society.  That is why it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies identified in the attached analysis, attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.  It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.”

A staff analysis from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (of which Dolan is president) notes that the Justice Department is comparing the Defense of Marriage Act to racial discrimination laws.

The analysis states bluntly: “According to the government?s view, support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference is a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people.  The false claim that animus is at work ignores the
intrinsic goods of complementarity and fruitfulness found only in the union of man and woman as husband and wife.  DoJ?s contention thus transforms a moral disagreement into a constitutional violation, with grave practical consequences.”

2. On the same subject at the state level, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked a state court on Friday to toss a lawsuit filed by an evangelical lobbying group that challenges the state’s gay marriage law.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed the suit in July, contending that the state Senate broke its own procedural rules before its closely watched vote approving same-sex marriage.

According to the AP: “In his motion to dismiss, Schneiderman relies heavily on the separation of powers to argue the court shouldn’t get involved in matters “wholly internal” to the legislature. He also contends the various meetings between executive and legislative branch members, lobbyists and other interested parties were proper under the open meetings law.”

Also, a short article on the NYCF website makes the case that town clerks who have religious objections to same-sex marriage should not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. They are standing behind Rose Marie Belforti, Ledyard town clerk in Cayuga County, who apparently wouldn’t issue a license to a lesbian couple.

NYCF states: “They’re putting legal pressure on Mrs. Belforti to sign same-sex “marriage” licenses, but Rose Belforti is standing tall. We know that the fragrance of Rose’s act of obedience is a sweet smell to her Savior.”

3. As the U.N. wrestles today with whether to create a Palestinian state — and all that would mean — the Jewish Week writes about a recent meeting of local Israelis and Palestinians right here in Yonkers.

The meeting was apparently called by the Dialogue Project, “a 10-year-old venture to build relationships between different ethnic and religious groups.”

Dergham Alkhatib, 43, who spent much of his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, told the Jewish Week that he was “conditioned to hate Jews.” Now he says: ““We have to overcome this miserable history, instead of looking at all Palestinians as terrorists and all Zionists as people who want to steal Palestinian homes.”

After Alkhatib talked about his concern that Palestinian refugees will be taken care of, the JW described what happened:

*****

But Alkhatib’s comment drew an emotional response from Cari Gardner, 66, who said any reference to refugees or a Palestinian “right of return” is something that “triggers” her. She has no idea what “right of return” means, she told Alkhatib, known to friends as Leo. Does it mean that all Palestinian refugees should return, she asked, and, if so, to where — to the West Bank or to within Israel’s pre-1967 borders? Finally, she asked, can’t the refugees simply go on with their lives?

That, in turn, drew an emotional response from Lori, an American convert to Islam whose late husband was Palestinian. Turning to Gardner, Lori said that, while she understands her concern, she likens the feelings of Israelis who fear a massive influx of Palestinian refugees to the feelings of Palestinians in 1948 who witnessed a massive influx of Jews. “How did they feel seeing all these people coming in?” she asked.

Some might see such exchanges, especially between people who know and like each other, as a dismal sign. And many Jews and Muslims believe that such dialogues achieve little, if anything, and serve only to legitimize abhorrent points of view.

Nevertheless, members of the Yonkers group said participating in the dialogue over the years has changed their perception of the other group.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, Gay marriage in New York, Middle East, Middle East peace, Uncategorizedwith 134 Comments →

Episcopal Diocese of NY nominates five for bishop, including married lesbian priest08.29.11

Here’s hoping you haven’t had too much damage from Irene.

Like every reporter, I’ve been driving around the past few days checking out the floods and downed trees and talking to exasperated people who don’t know when they’ll get power back.

But it appears that things could have been worse.

Otherwise…an interesting development from the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

You may know that Bishop Mark Sisk will retire over the next few years. The diocese has started a process to choose his successor. This morning, a committee announced the names of five nominees, one of which will be chosen by delegates to a diocesan convention on Oct. 29.

One of the nominees is the Rev. Tracey Lind of Cleveland, who is dean of Trinity Cathedral there. She is also a lesbian who got married in New Hampshire last year.

For obvious reasons, Lind’s election would be big news.

Although the Episcopal Church is very gay-friendly — and this is especially true of the Diocese of NY — many are still uncomfortable with gay marriage. In fact, Bishop Sisk supported the passage of civil gay marriage and has been an outspoken advocate for gays in the church, but does not believe that his priests should perform marriages for gay couples. Instead, he supports “clergy who wish to bless a couple who are members of the Church and who have entered into a same-sex civil marriage.”

If Lind was chosen bishop, would the Catholic Church send anyone to her installation?

Maybe we’ll find out. Maybe we won’t. Lind was also a candidate to become bishop of Chicago in 2007, but was not chosen.

You can read about the other nominees here.

Back to storm coverage…

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Episcopal Diocese of New York, gay marriage, Gay marriage in New Yorkwith 169 Comments →

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 →

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 →

No Senate vote set yet on gay marriage06.20.11

As of a half hour ago, there’s no word on whether Senate Republicans will call a vote on gay marriage.

The AP just reported this:

*****

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two Republican state senators in New York say no decision was made on the fate of gay marriage after a three-hour meeting behind closed doors Monday.

The senators, speaking on condition of anonymity, say gay marriage is tied up in negotiations with other issues including rent control in New York City and a statewide property tax cap.

****

Joe Spector of our Albany bureau has an interesting story today about Sen. Steve Saland, a respected Poughkeepsie Republican who could be the 32nd vote needed in the Senate for gay marriage to be passed.

Saland is apparently respected by both sides of the aisle for being a thoughtful veteran of the Senate. His office has been getting 60 or 70 calls an hour from people on all sides of the issue.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, New York state, Uncategorizedwith 2 Comments →

Gay marriage opponents in New York face rising public support06.15.11

As a vote on gay marriage may be nearing in the state Senate, with the likely results unclear at the moment, Archbishop Dolan is trying to rally the traditional troops.

He posted a blog Tuesday pleading with lawmakers to leave traditional marriage alone, and his arguments have been getting a fair amount of attention.

Dolan argues that the state — with a small ‘s’ — is using its power to force change on the culture. He compares this possibility to what the governments of North Korea and China do when they dictate the size of families and other private matters.

He writes:

*****

But, please, not here!  Our country’s founding principles speak of rights given by God, not invented by government, and certain noble values – life, home, family, marriage, children, faith – that are protected, not re-defined, by a state presuming omnipotence.

Please, not here!  We cherish true freedom, not as the license to do whatever we want, but the liberty to do what we ought; we acknowledge that not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a “right.”  And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?

*****

A Wall Street Journal blogger writes that the outcome in Albany is a test of Dolan’s influence.

The biggest challenge face Dolan and others who oppose gay marriage appears to be that public acceptance of homosexuality is growing.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a simple chart showing that the percentage of Americans opposed to gay marriage has fallen from 57% to 35% since 2001.

A new study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of Americans who say abortion should be legal in all or most cases is 56 percent, virtually unchanged from 1999 (57). But during the same period, the percentage of Americans who support same-sex marriage has grown from 35 percent to 53 percent.

Looking at the view of Millennials — people ages 18-29 — the study concluded: “Millennials are conflicted about the morality of abortion, but most say gender sexual relationships are morally acceptable. Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) Millennials say sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable, compared to only 46% who say having an abortion is morally acceptable.”

Now, anyone can critique the numbers or how these studies are done. But something is going on here.

When you stop and think about it, the New York state Senate may be close to voting for same-sex marriage (it’s a given in the Assembly), which would be a major cultural change, no matter what your viewpoint. And yet, there is very little public concern — or even interest — that I can pick up (granted, I live in the mostly liberal Burbs). Think about what the reaction might have been if a few senators tried to raise the issue 20 years ago or even 10?

I have to wonder: Is the long-term challenge facing Dolan and other religious leaders who oppose gay marriage what a roomful of senators might do? Or is it what the senators’ constituents believe and what they might believe a few years from now?

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, New Yorkwith Comments Off on Gay marriage opponents in New York face rising public support

A statement on (traditional) marriage12.07.10

So a group of religious leaders released an open letter yesterday affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman. Period.

The letter repeats a common argument of recent years, that maintaining the traditional understanding of marriage is not only right but the best thing for everyone.

“Marriage is an institution fundamental to the well-being of all of society, not just religious communities,” says the short letter, officially called “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment.”

The letter is signed by 26 religious leaders. You can, more or less, guess who they are: Archbishop Dolan; Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals; H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; and other Orthodox Christian, Orthodox Jewish and conservative Christians leaders. Also: Manmohan Singh of the American Region of the World Sikh Council.

Who’s missing? Who do you think? Episcopalians. Presbyterians. Non-Orthodox Jews. Other liberal or progressive religious types.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

*****

Dear Friends,

Marriage is the permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman. As such, marriage is the natural basis of the family. Marriage is an institution fundamental to the well-being of all of society, not just religious communities.

As religious leaders across different faith communities, we join together and affirm our shared commitment to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We honor the unique love between husbands and wives; the indispensible place of fathers and mothers; and the corresponding rights and dignity of all children.

Marriage thus defined is a great good in itself, and it also serves the good of others and society in innumerable ways. The preservation of the unique meaning of marriage is not a special or limited interest but serves the good of all. Therefore, we invite and encourage all people, both within and beyond our faith communities, to stand with us in promoting and protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Culture war, gay marriage, Marriage, religion, Religious leaderswith 1 Comment →

Rabbi calls archbishop to apologize for rabbi (even though they all kind of agree)10.18.10

The repercussions continue from Carl Paladino’s attempted buttering up of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community.

Paladino, of course, appeared with Flatbush’s Rabbi Yehuda Levin to denounce gay marriage and try to build support in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Paladino wound up backtracking a bit — even though he still opposes gay marriage. And Levin pulled his support for the Republican’s candidacy for governor.

Levin, who has worked with evangelicals to oppose gay marriage and abortion, decided to denounce Paladino from outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As a result…Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, called Archbishop Dolan to apologize.

Levin is not a member of the Orthodox Union.

The Orthodox Union surely opposes gay marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes gay marriage.

But Weinreb didn’t think that it was right for Levin to take his stand outside St. Patty’s.

So there you go.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, New York, religionwith 1 Comment →

Gay wedding announcement in Jewish paper leads to debate10.06.10

It’s been several years since many newspapers — including the NY Times and the Journal News — began printing engagement and wedding announcements for same-sex couples.

I haven’t heard much of an outcry. But I don’t know how many papers in the South and Midwest print gay announcements. It would be interesting for some media prof to study, don’t you think?

Anyway, a Jewish newspaper in Jersey recently ran a wedding announcement for two men, complete with a picture of their two smiling faces. Apparently, the New Jersey Jewish Standard took a lot of heat from the region’s Orthodox  community and announced that it would not make the mistake again.

The paper’s statement included this: “The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.”

But the Jewish Week reports that the vast majority of comments to the paper are disappointed with the paper’s flip-flop.

Publisher James Janoff told the JW: “We did not expect the heated response we got, and — in truth — we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community. We are now having meetings with local rabbis and community leaders. We will also be printing, in the paper and online, many of the letters that have been pouring in since our statement was published.”

If you go the Jewish Standard’s website, beneath its initial statement, you can read dozens of comments.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, Jewish newspapers, Wedding announcementswith Comments Off on Gay wedding announcement in Jewish paper leads to debate

Religion affects thinking on some issues more than others, poll finds09.17.10

So our religious beliefs affect our thinking on some social issues more than others, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Not a surprise, I suppose, but an interesting subject to consider.

The issue colored most by religion is same-sex marriage. 35% of respondents said religion was the most important factor in determining their position.

26% said their position on abortion was most influenced by religion. I would have expected the percentage to be much higher, at least 40%.

Religion is far from the chief influence on other hot-button subjects, such as government assistance to the poor (10%), immigration (7%) and the environment (6%).

The immigration result makes sense on at least one level. The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of immigration reform, including amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. Catholics make up a quarter or so of all Americans, but many have their own thinking on this most emotional issue of the day.

The Pew poll cover A LOT of ground. Check it out.

On the abortion question, the Pew people write: “On the issue of abortion, half of Americans (50%) say abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (33%) cases while fewer, 44%, say it should be illegal in all (17%) or most (27%) cases. Support for legal abortion has edged upward since last 2009, when 47% said it should be legal in all or most cases.”

And on gay marriage: “On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.”

And on gays in the military:

*****

By a two-to-one margin, most Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). The level of support has been consistent in recent years. Majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, while Republicans are more divided (47% favor and 43% oppose).

Large majorities of white mainline Protestants (68%), white Catholics (71%), Hispanic Catholics (60%) and the religiously unaffiliated (66%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while support is lower among white evangelical Protestants (43%) and black Protestants (46%). Even among the least supportive religious groups, though, less than half oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in abortion, gay marriage, Gays in military, immigration, Polls, religionwith 1 Comment →

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