Race for the White House ’08:
Priest Who Mocked Clinton Again Draws Spotlight
Associated Press – 5/30/08
He’s a white priest at a largely black church. He’s held hands with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He’s been arrested dozens of times and battled anyone he thinks has wronged his parish _ from gun dealers to a local Catholic sports league. Now the Rev. Michael Pfleger is something else: the latest thorn in the side of presidential candidate Barack Obama. Racially charged comments Pfleger made last week mocking Obama rival Hillary Rodham Clinton _ as a guest at Obama’s church, no less _ triggered a quick response from Obama, who wants nothing to do with a racial firestorm like the one generated by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. While Pfleger is not nearly as close to Obama as Wright had been, he has donated to the candidate’s state Senate and presidential campaigns and sat on a Catholics for Obama committee until a few weeks ago. When Obama was in the Illinois Legislature, he helped land more than $200,000 in state grants for outreach programs run by Pfleger’s church. Obama made it clear he wasn’t happy with the comments _ in which Pfleger pretended he was Clinton crying over “a black man stealing my show” _ and said he was “deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn’t reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause.” Pfleger, too, issued an apology, saying he was sorry if his comments offended Clinton or anyone else. He did not return several calls for comment on Friday.
Obama Cuts Ties With Church
Wall Street Journal – 6/2/08
The damage done by Sen. Barack Obama’s slow three-month break with Trinity United Church of Christ persists even after he has severed all ties with the Chicago congregation. Trinity has been a consistent source of political troubles for the Democratic front-runner, from incendiary remarks by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., to a guest sermon last week by a Catholic priest and former Obama adviser mocking Sen. Hillary Clinton. In a letter dated Friday to the pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, Sen. Obama wrote that he and his wife, Michelle, had come to the decision to quit his longtime church “with some sadness.” They said their relations with Trinity “had been strained by the divisive statements” of the retiring pastor Mr. Wright, “which sharply conflict with our own views.” The move comes as Sen. Obama enters a new phase of the race. With the Democratic presidential nomination all but secured, Sen. Obama faces increased scrutiny as he prepares for a general-election campaign against likely Republican rival Sen. John McCain. Sen. Obama has credited the predominantly African-American activist church with helping him develop his religious identity and forge political ties in his early days as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. The candidate named his best-selling book “The Audacity of Hope” after a sermon Mr. Wright delivered at Trinity. Critics have begun lashing out at him for attending the church for nearly 20 years and then quitting in what many see as a politically motivated decision. “The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it,” said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, a bipartisan religious advocacy group that doesn’t endorse candidates.
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A Battered Feeling at Obama’s Former Church
New York Times – 6/2/08
For weeks, the members of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of the city felt battered by the national spotlight that had accompanied the growing fame of their longtime member, Senator Barack Obama. First came the endless television coverage of incendiary statements by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., their controversial former pastor. Then reports of a visiting Roman Catholic priest who had mocked Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. And finally on Sunday, a day after Mr. Obama announced that his family was leaving the church, satellite trucks idling again outside the 7:30 a.m. service. Inside the packed sanctuary of more than 2,000, the Rev. Otis Moss III, the new pastor, did not directly mention in sermons the political tumult surrounding the church. But in a flier that workers slipped into church programs, Mr. Moss commented at length about the situation, calling the decades-old Trinity a “new church being birthed in the crucible of a public moment.” “We, the community of Trinity, are concerned, hurt, shocked, dismayed, frustrated, fearful and heartbroken,” Mr. Moss wrote to his members. “Our hearts break at this moment and my limited vocabulary is inadequate to describe the range of emotions flooding our spirits at this time. We are caught, it seems, in a strange Greek tragic-comedy. In the words of Jean Paul-Sartre, with ‘no exit.’ We are a wounded people and the bruises from our encounter with history have scarred our very souls.”
In Rebuking Minister, McCain May Have Alienated Evangelicals
Washington Post – 5/29/08
The Rev. Rod Parsley paces the stage, wiping his forehead and shouting to his congregation in a taped sermon that marriage is under attack by “tortured and angry homosexuals.” During another of his nationally broadcast television shows, he compares Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan, saying that its goal is to “eliminate” blacks. And at another service at his 12,000-member World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, he punches the air and calls Islam a “false religion” that God has told America to destroy. “We were built for battle! We were created for conflict! We get off on warfare!” he adds. mages of one of the nation’s rising stars of television evangelism are widely available on DVDs and Web sites, with sermons that are almost certain to inflame some segment of the voting public. But in its quest to secure support from evangelical Christians, the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain did not note a long record of inflammatory statements by Parsley and the Rev. John Hagee of Texas, another TV evangelist, until long after McCain had accepted their endorsements. The move backfired last week when clips of the ministers’ sermons gained national attention, prompting McCain to reject their support. The candidate’s abrupt turnabout brought criticism not only from secular viewers, who questioned why he had aligned himself with controversial religious voices, but also from evangelicals, who said he may have alienated a powerful bloc of potential Republican voters.
Interfaith Group Blasts Dunkin’ on Keffiyeh
Jewish Telegraphic Agency – 5/30/08
An interfaith group that includes rabbis blasted Dunkin’ Donuts for yielding to pressure to pull an ad featuring a keffiyeh. The online ad featured Rachael Ray, the celebrity cook, posing against a background of cherry blossoms, wearing a black and white keffiyeh scarf, and holding up iced coffee. Conservative bloggers led by Michelle Malkin complained about the ad, saying it endorsed Arab radicalism because of the keffiyeh’s identification with Yasser Arafat, the former Palestinian leader. Palestinian nationalists adopted the checkered keffiyeh as a symbol in the 1960s, but its use predates that period and persists in the Middle East. Additionally, the scarf adorning Ray is fringed, which is not common to keffiyehs. Dunkin’ Donuts pulled the ad, saying “the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee.” The Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom advocacy group, blasted the decision. “Enough already,” Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, the alliance’s president, said in a statement. “Have we really reached the point where we are associating wearing a scarf of Middle Eastern origin with terrorist sympathies? Should we apply this standard to everything that comes from the Middle East? Or are we only applying this standard to our wardrobe?
Taking Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the People
New York Times – 6/1/08
Southern Baptists, as a rule, do not drink. But once a month, young congregants of the Journey, a Baptist church here, and their friends get together in the back room of a sprawling brew pub called the Schlafly Bottleworks to talk about the big questions: President Bush, faith and war, the meaning of life, and “what’s wrong with religion.” “That’s where people are having their conversations about things that matter,” the Rev. Darrin Patrick, senior pastor and founder of the Journey, said about the talks in the bar. “We go where people are because we feel like Jesus went to the people.” The Journey, a megachurch of mostly younger evangelicals, is representative of a new generation that refuses to put politics at the center of its faith and rejects identification with the religious right. They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves.
U.S. Apologizes for Proselytizing by Marine in Iraq
McClatchy-Tribune – 5/29/08
The U.S. military confirmed Thursday that a Marine in Fallujah passed out coins with Gospel verses on them to Sunni Muslims, a military spokesman said. The man was immediately removed from duty and reassigned. The coins angered residents who said they felt that the American troops, whom they consider occupiers, were also acting as Christian missionaries in a Muslim nation. “It did happen,” said Mike Isho, a spokesman for Multi-National Force West. “It’s one guy and we’re investigating,” The Marine was passing out silver coins to residents of the Sunni Anbar province with Arabic translations of Bible verses on them. Following a news report about the proselytizing coins, a force was sent to the western gate of Fallujah and Marines there were searched, Isho said. One man found with the coins will no longer be working in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, he said. On Thursday, the U.S. military apologized for the incident, adding that action would be taken after an investigation. One Marine making a mistake shouldn’t brand the work of hundreds of Marines, said Sgt. Maj. Neil O’Connell. “Such an action will not pass without proper punishment,” O’Connell said. “We started a formal investigation to figure out exactly what happened.”
Vatican: Excommunication for Female Priests
Associated Press – 5/30/08
The Vatican insisted Friday that it is properly following Christian tradition by excluding females from the priesthood as it issued a new warning that women taking part in ordinations will be excommunicated. The move dashed the hopes both of women seeking to be priests and of Catholics who see that as an option for a church struggling to recruit men. A top Vatican official said the church acted after what it described as “so-called ordinations” held in various parts of the world. Monsignor Angelo Amato of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the Vatican wanted to provide bishops with a clear response on the issue. The church has always banned the ordination of women by stating that the priesthood is reserved for males. The new decree is explicit in its reference to women. “The church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ,” Amato said in an interview prepared for Vatican Radio that was released to reporters. The reference is to Christ’s having chosen only men as his Apostles. Asked whether the Roman Catholic Church was going “against the tide” in respect to other Christian confessions, Amato said the church was in “good company” with Orthodox and ancient Eastern churches and that it was the Protestants who are breaking with tradition.
Scouts Sue After Philly Demands Rent or New Policy
Associated Press – 5/27/08
Boy Scouts chapter engaged in a long fight over gay rights has sued the city of Philadelphia to try to avoid paying $200,000 a year in rent to stay in the city-owned space that has been its headquarters for 80 years. The Cradle of Liberty Council currently pays $1 annually for the space, but the city has given it until Saturday to open their membership to gays or start being charged fair-market rent. The federal suit filed Friday accuses the city of censorship for targeting the Scouts but maintaining free or nominal leases with other groups that limit membership, such as Baptist and Roman Catholic church groups and The Colonial Dames of America. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts, as a private group, have a First Amendment right to bar gays. But the policy has had consequences, with municipalities, charities and donors withholding support. “We will not allow discrimination in providing services on city property,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Tuesday. A 1982 city ordinance bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and other grounds. “We’re not punishing them for not admitting homosexuals,” City Solicitor Shelley Smith said. “But they can’t get free rent and violate our policy.”
Same-Sex Marriage Gains Support in California
Associated Press – 5/29/08
Most Californians now favor allowing same-sex marriage, according to a poll released yesterday. It was the first such result in more than three decades of polling by the Field Poll, said poll director Mark DiCamillo. The telephone survey was conducted in the days after the California Supreme Court handed down its ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Barring a stay of the ruling, same-sex couples will be able to wed beginning June 17, according to a state directive issued yesterday.
Recognition of Gay Marriages in NY Faces Battle
ABC News – 5/29/08
Religious and social conservatives vowed Thursday to fight Gov. David Paterson’s directive requiring state agencies to recognize gay marriages performed legally elsewhere, saying it flouts traditional values and is a big step toward legalizing same-sex unions in New York. “The definition of marriage predates recorded history,” said New York State Catholic Conference Executive Director Richard E. Barnes. “No single politician or court or legislature should attempt to redefine the very building block of our society in a way that alters its entire meaning and purpose.” Paterson issued a memo earlier this month saying that gay New Yorkers who marry where it is legal will have the right to share family health care plans, receive tax breaks by filing jointly, enjoy stronger adoption rights and inherit property. He cited a February ruling in a New York Appellate Division court in which the judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage in the nation’s most populous state is legal. The ruling overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
Editorial, Houston Chronicle – 5/30/08
As this presidential campaign drags on, so does what has become known as the “pastor problem.” If this grueling campaign has demonstrated anything, it is that separation of church and state is essential. Imagine trying to conduct delicate diplomacy in the Middle East if Parsley were an administration official calling for the destruction of all Muslims. Imagine trying to unite Americans in a common purpose, as Obama says he wants to do, if Wright had an official microphone with which to amplify racial hatreds now for the most part blessedly past. Such preaching owes little to logical consistency, and therefore can contribute little to good public policy. The candidates helped to get themselves into this mess by seeking endorsements from the pulpit, and then, like Saint Peter before Good Friday dawned, denying meaningful association with their spiritual leader. The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, sent a letter to the presidential candidates urging each to stop seeking endorsements from the clergy and using religion as a tool for political advantage. “You can’t continue to use clergy as political props when they serve your purpose, and then discard them when they no longer fit your image,” Gaddy wrote the candidates. Combining the clergy and politics is as bad for religion as it is risky for politicians. “The more the pulpit is treated as a stump for partisan politics, the more the clergy will be caricatured as cartoon figures,” Gaddy wrote. Having surveyed the prejudicial preaching of two candidates’ spiritual advisers, few could disagree.
What Do You Call a Terror(Jihad)ist?
New York Times Op-Ed, P. W. SINGER and ELINA NOOR – 6/2/08
IMAGINE if Franklin D. Roosevelt had taken to calling Adolf Hitler the “leader of the National Socialist Aryan patriots” or dubbed Japanese soldiers fighting in World War II as the “defenders of Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.” To describe the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army in terms that incorporated their own propaganda would have been self-defeating. Unfortunately, that is what many American policymakers have been doing by calling terrorists “jihadists” or “jihadis.” While the State Department recently circulated an internal memo advising foreign service officers to avoid such terms, President Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and members of the news media continue to use them. The word “jihad” means to “strive” or “struggle,” and in the Muslim world it has traditionally been used in tandem with “fi sabilillah” (“in the path of God”). The term has long been taken to mean either a quest to find one’s faith or an external fight for justice. It makes sense, then, for terrorists to associate themselves with a term that has positive connotations. For the United States to support them in that effort, however, is a fundamental strategic mistake. First, to call a terrorist a “jihadist” or “jihadi” effectively puts any campaign against terrorism into the framework of an existential battle between the West and Islam. This feeds into the worldview propagated by Al Qaeda. It also serves to isolate the tens of millions of Muslims who condemn the violence that has been perpetrated in the name of Islam.
The Libertarian Jesus
Washington Post Op-Ed, Michael Gerson – 5/30/08
Compassionate conservatism began with some questions: Is it possible to apply conservative and free-market ideas — school vouchers, the promotion of community and faith-based institutions, the encouragement of wealth-building and social mobility — to the task of helping marginalized Americans? In the wake of liberal failures, do conservatives offer any hope to addicts and the homeless, to disadvantaged children in need of mentors and adequate education, to people living among the broken glass of durable poverty? This project found conservative champions: Jack Kemp, Dan Coats, Steve Goldsmith, George W. Bush. But compassionate conservatism has come under criticism for a variety of reasons. For some, it is fundamentally at odds with fiscal conservatism — no social priority is deemed more urgent than balancing the budget. For others, it is a violation of their vision of limited government — the state’s only valid purpose is to uphold markets and protect individual liberty. But by drawing these limits so narrowly, such critics would relegate conservatism to the realm of rejected ideologies: untainted, uncomplicated and ignored. And by leaving great social needs unmet, they would grant liberalism an open field and invite genuine statism. Now comes another charge — that compassionate conservatism is actually opposed by the Bible. “Common sense and the Scriptures,” argues Sen. Tom Coburn, “show that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver. This is why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, not his neighbor’s possessions. Spending other people’s money is not compassionate.” It is not my purpose to pick on the senator from Oklahoma (once again); he is a man of principle. And he is merely restating a fairly common view: that compassion is a private virtue, not a public one, and that religious conscience concerns the former and not the latter. But this is a theological assertion, not a political one. And as theology, it is flawed.