November 6, 2011

Atheists in military seek recognition, acceptance

Capt. Ryan Jean wanted to perform well on the Army's psychological evaluation for soldiers. But he also wanted to answer the questions honestly. So when he was asked whether he believed his life had a lasting purpose, Jean, an atheist, saw no choice but to say no.

Those and other responses, Jean says, won him a trip to see the post chaplain, who berated him for his lack of faith.

"He basically told me that if I don't get right with God, then I'm worthless," said Jean, now an intelligence officer at Fort Meade. "That if I don't believe in Jesus, why am I in uniform, because this is God's army, and that I should resign my commission in order to stop disgracing the military."

Jean says experiences such as that confrontation three years ago, when he was serving at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, have spurred him to seek Army recognition as a humanist lay leader — on a par with the lay Christians, Jews and Muslims who help military chaplains minister to the troops.

Jean is one of as many as a dozen atheists throughout the U.S. military in the process of applying for the status, which they and their supporters see as necessary to secure for nonbelievers the acceptance and support that they say Christians in uniform take for granted.

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September 8, 2011

Archbishop to mark 9/11 with vespers service

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore will mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with a vespers service at the Baltimore Basilica.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien will preside over the evening prayer service at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to mark the anniversary and to honor the sacrifices and service of area police, fire and emergency personnel and other first responders.

A vespers service consists of hymns, psalms and canticles, a scripture reading, a series of prayers and the benediction. Unlike a Mass, it does not include communion.

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August 29, 2011

O'Brien to lead order of knights in Rome

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien has been chosen to head a Catholic order of knights based in Rome, the Vatican announced Monday, an appointment likely to move O'Brien closer to becoming a cardinal, but also will make him the first of Baltimore's archbishops not to finish his career here.

Pope Benedict XVI named O'Brien to lead the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a 1,000-year-old group charged with supporting the Christian community and sacred sites of the Holy Land.

O'Brien, the spiritual leader of the Baltimore area's half-million Catholics, will continue administering the archdiocese until his successor is named until his own successor is named, the Baltimore archdiocese said in a news release early Monday.

The archdiocese has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m.

Read more on O'Brien's new assignment at baltimore

The press release follows, after the jump.

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August 28, 2011

Report: Archbishop to leave Baltimore for Rome

Pope Benedict XVI is set to name Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien to a Rome-based order of knights charged with protecting the Christian community and sacred sites of the Holy Land, a prominent Catholic blogger is reporting.

Blogger Rocco Palmo writes that O’Brien, 72, could be named pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem as early as Monday.

The Baltimore Sun has been unable to confirm the report independently. Messages left for the archdiocese have not been returned.

By tradition, Palmo writes on his Whispers in the Loggia blog, the “pro-” designation indicates that the individual is next in line to be named a cardinal, at which point the prefix disappears.

O’Brien arrived in Baltimore in 2007, succeeding Cardinal William Keeler as archbishop of Baltimore and spiritual leader of the area’s 500,000 Catholics.

He presided over the restructuring of the archdiocesan school system last year, closing 13 of 64 schools, consolidating those that remained and introducing new programs in the hope of attracting more families.

More recently, he urged Gov. Martin O’Malley last month against supporting same-sex marriage, which he described in a letter as “a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith.”

O’Brien joined Benedict in 2008 to concelebrate a Mass at Nationals Park in Washington during the pope’s visit to the United States.

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August 24, 2011

Church deemed unsafe after quake, closed for work

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has closed St. Patrick Catholic Church indefinitely after engineers deemed the historic Fells Point church unsafe following Tuesday’s earthquake.

Founded in 1792, the parish is the oldest in Baltimore. The current church building was completed in 1898.

The archdiocese said Wednesday that the church’s badly damaged steeple will be “selectively deconstructed and stabilized,” a process it expects to take several weeks.

When the work is complete, the archdiocese said, the church will be reopened for use.

In the meantime, the archdiocese is encouraging parishioners to attend Mass at nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown, and offering shuttles for those who need transportation.

St. Patrick celebrates two Masses each week. Shuttles will leave the St. Patrick parking lot at 7:15 p.m. Wednesdays and 8:15 a.m. Sundays.

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien reviewed the damage with the Rev. Father Robert Wojtek, the Sacred Heart pastor who administers St. Patrick. Engineers determined that the parish hall, where the archdiocese had hoped to celebrate Mass temporarily, is structurally unsafe.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:50 AM | | Comments (1)

August 23, 2011

St. Patrick closed indefinitely after quake damage

The Archdiocese of Baltimore closed Historic St. Patrick Catholic Church in Fells Point indefinitely Tuesday after its steeple and bell tower were badly damaged in the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that shook Maryland Tuesday afternoon.

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien is scheduled to survey the damage to the113-year-old church on Wednesday morning. The archdiocese said it expects to determine then whether the parish hall can be used for Mass until the church is reopened.

If the hall is also deemed unsafe, the archdiocese said, parishioners will be encouraged to attend Mass at nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown.

O’Brien offered prayers for the parishioners of St. Patrick.

The church was founded in 1792; the current church was completed in 1898. The Rev. Robert Wojtek, Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus, oversees its operation.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:31 PM | | Comments (4)

Quake a 'warning from God' to president, Congress

Activist and friend Rocky Twyman, who does great work finding marrow donors for sick patients, has issued a press release describing the earthquake that rocked the region on Tuesday as a “warning from God for Congress and Obama to create more jobs.

Twyman, who founded the Pray at the Pump movement a few years ago to reduce gasoline prices and the Pray Without Ceasing Political Party more recently to address other problems, is organizing an “emergency vigil of hope” outside the White House at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Because we are not in an earthquake zone, it was quite unusual for a quake of this magnitude that was felt all the way in Canada to occur,” he explains. “We will proudly carry signs saying CONGRESS AND OBAMA, HEED THE EARTHQUAKE WARNING, COME BACK FROM YOUR PLUSH VACATIONS NOW AND PASS A JOBS BILLS OR WE NEED ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE IN CONGRESS AND THE WHITE HOUSE, AMERICA HELPED LIBYA, NOW LET'S HELP UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS WHO CANNOT AFFORD VACATIONS.”

His complete dispatch follows, after the jump.

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August 22, 2011

Guest post: Ramadan nourishes soul, citizenship

Maher Kharma is president of the Islamic Society of Annapolis.

In a nutshell, Ramadan is one the five pillars of Islam during which Muslims fast from down to sunset through out the month. During Ramadan, Quran was revealed on Mohammed over 1400 years ago. Muslims observe Ramadan by abstaining during the days of Ramadan from food, beverages, intimacy, and by observing best manners. At the end of each of the 30 days, a voluntary night prayers takes place in the mosques. The end of Ramadan is marked by celebrating “Eid Al Fiter” or end of Ramadan feast.

While the physical aspects of Ramadan involves the act of abstinence, the fast includes much spiritual and moral benefits besides those physical ones. In assessing serious challenges that law makers and law enforcement authorities have to deal with frequently in order to stabilize the society, we realize that crimes, drugs, violence, alcoholism, and abuse constitute some of the top societal ills that drain societal resources and place major kinks in the fabric of a more peaceful society.

By large, such acts appear to be rooted in a lack of ability to exercise self control needed to stop one from breaking the law or from infringing the rights of others. For a Muslim, Ramadan comes to be a vehicle that he/she enters as an opportunity to develop better control over own emotions, and to restore superiority over what could be internal or external drivers of deviant behavior.

While the fasting month may be perceived as a time of physical hardship, a deeper look at what is behind the actual act of fast reveals many advantages that such an act of worship can produce not only for reshaping ones character, but as well as for creating a more harmonious society.

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August 16, 2011

Bryant, Orlando church remember city-born pastor

Bianca Prieto and Jeff Kunerth of the Orlando Sentinel report:

Members of Pastor Zachery Tims' New Destiny Christian Center packed the sanctuary Monday night for prayers, praise and testimonials following the death of the 42-year-old minister.

Tims' ex-wife, Riva Tims, told the capacity crowd of 2,000 that Tims enjoyed a family vacation in Puerto Rico a week before his death. The Timses, who were divorced in 2009, have four children.

"He was able to have fellowship with his daughters and sons," said Riva Tims, pastor of Majestic Life Church in Orlando.

Church officials announced that Tims' funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Orlando. A wake and public viewing will be held from 3-7 p.m. Friday at New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka.

Jamal Bryant, a pastor at Empowerment Temple AME in Baltimore and a friend of Zachery Tims' from there, told church members that New Destiny will continue without Tims.

"You are not a personality-driven church. You are a purpose-driven church," Bryant said. "Pastor Zack's DNA is now on you. You are infected with excellence."

Although much of the service was joyous praise and singing, Bryant told the congregation that it was fitting to mourn the passing of their spiritual leader.

"Allow yourself the liberty to grieve. Allow yourself the freedom to cry," he said.

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August 11, 2011

Obama: Islam has always been part of America

As Muslims observe Ramadan, President Obama on Wednesday evening hosted an Iftar -- a meal after sundown to break the fast of the daylight hours -- at the White House. Following are his remarks, as released by the White House Press Office.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Everyone, please have a seat, have a seat.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the White House. Tonight is part of a rich tradition here at the White House of celebrating the holy days of many faiths and the diversity that define us as a nation. So these are quintessentially American celebrations -- people of different faiths coming together, with humility before our maker, to reaffirm our obligations to one another, because no matter who we are, or how we pray, we’re all children of a loving God.

Now, this year, Ramadan is entirely in August. That means the days are long, the weather is hot, and you are hungry. (Laughter.) So I will be brief.

I want to welcome the members of the diplomatic corps who are here; the members of Congress, including two Muslim American members of Congress -- Keith Ellison and Andre Carson; and leaders and officials from across my administration. Thank you all for being here. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

To the millions of Muslim Americans across the United States and more -- the more than one billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time of reflection and a time of devotion. It’s an occasion to join with family and friends in celebration of a faith known for its diversity and a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human beings. So to you and your families, Ramadan Kareem.

This evening reminds us of both the timeless teachings of a great religion and the enduring strengths of a great nation. Like so many faiths, Islam has always been part of our American family, and Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life. This has been especially true over the past 10 years.

In one month, we will mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks that brought so much pain to our hearts. It will be a time to honor all those that we’ve lost, the families who carry on their legacy, the heroes who rushed to help that day and all who have served to keep us safe during a difficult decade. And tonight, it’s worth remembering that these Americans were of many faiths and backgrounds, including proud and patriotic Muslim Americans.

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August 8, 2011

O'Brien urged O'Malley against backing gay marriage

In the days before Gov. Martin O’Malley came out in support of same-sex marriage, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien privately urged him against “promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith.”

“Preserving the central role of the natural family unit has always been — and should continue to be — the reason why our government recognizes marriage as existing between one man and one woman,” the archbishop wrote to the governor in a letter dated July 20.

Two days later, O’Malley said he would introduce legislation next year to allow gay couples to marry.

“As a free and diverse people of many faiths, we choose to be governed under the law by certain fundamental principles or beliefs, among them ‘equal protection of the law’ for every individual and the ‘free exercise’ of religion without government intervention,” O’Malley said. “Other states have found a way to protect both these rights. So should Maryland.”

A same-sex marriage bill cleared the state Senate this year, but it was pulled from the House floor after vote-counters determined they were a few delegates shy of a majority. With O’Malley’s active support, backers are hopeful of success next year.

O’Malley, who is Catholic, opposed same-sex marriage when he first ran for governor in 2006. He said at the time that he had been “raised to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

His announcement last month came weeks after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that made New York the sixth state to allow gay couples to marry — and enjoyed a boost in his national profile.

“I am well aware that the recent events in New York have intensified pressure on you to lend your active support to legislation to redefine marriage,” O’Brien wrote, in a letter released Monday by the governor’s office.

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August 2, 2011

Menken: Not getting what we didn't pay for

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Director of Project Genesis, a Jewish cyber-outreach organization based in Baltimore.

Two weeks ago, as the mercury soared to record highs across much of the United States, electrical demand rose with the temperature as air-conditioning systems ran full blast. Years ago, Baltimore Gas & Electric created a program called Peak Rewards, intended to help reduce demand when it neared capacity.

Roughly 453,000 customers (including the Menkens) were given remotely programmable thermostats with free installation -- and a catch: when necessary, BGE could shut off our air-conditioning compressors for 50%, 75% or even 100% of each hour during extraordinary situations. And for years, those customers were rewarded with monthly credits on their electricity bills during the summer months, whether or not the system was ever activated.

Friday of that week, the system was activated -- and people reacted as if they'd been coerced rather than given hundreds of dollars to participate in the program. Among the more intemperate [sic] remarks given to the Baltimore Sun: "What outrages me is there's no alternative for people in special circumstances."

There was, of course, always an alternative: not participating in the program. I'm not saying that it wasn't uncomfortable; our upstairs thermostat reported temperatures in the high-80s by 5 pm. But "Peak Rewards" was designed for times of peak demand, not when the outdoor temperature is 75.

It might not be the bargain we expected, but it was the agreement we made.

Even in circumstances like this one, we have to accept responsibility for the choices we have made. And personally, I still think we made the right decision!

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Culture, Guest Posts, Yaakov Menken

June 24, 2011

Menken: Bias has consequences

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Director of Project Genesis, a Jewish cyber-outreach organization based in Baltimore.

According to a new book from a professor at UCLA, the media's left-wing bias is so overwhelming and pervasive that the few balanced news outlets appear to have a conservative slant.

"It's like concluding that six-three is short just because it is short compared to professional basketball players," writes Professor Tim Groseclose. He asserts that by a neutral standard, Fox News and the Drudge Report are centrist, with perhaps even a minor left-wing tilt -- but due to the steep liberal bias of every other major outlet, "commentators mistake relative bias for absolute bias." From the article:

Groseclose opens his book quoting a well-known poll in which Washington correspondents declared that they vote Democratic 93 percent to 7 percent, while the nation is split about 50-50. As a result, he says, most reporters write with a liberal filter. "Using objective, social-scientific methods, the filtering prevents us from seeing the world as it actually is. Instead, we see only a distorted version of it. It is as if we see the world through a glass—a glass that magnifies the facts that liberals want us to see and shrinks the facts that conservatives want us to see."

If the liberal media tends to "shrink" conservative facts, this is true to a still more extreme degree with anything concerning religion. The Deseret News, the commercial paper of the Mormon Church, recently published a two-part series on news coverage of religion -- or the lack thereof. Journalists not only tend to be much more liberal, but much less religious, then the American population.

A 2002 survey (the most recent data available) of 1,149 randomly selected journalists conducted by the Indiana University found that 34 percent of journalists say they have no religious affiliation, compared with 13 percent among the general population who said the same in a 2002 Pew Research Center survey.

The journalists were also asked how important religion or religious beliefs were to them. Roughly a third (35 percent) said they were “very important.” By comparison, the figure among the general population, as measured that same year by Gallup, was nearly double at 61 percent.

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June 23, 2011

Pawlenty leads GOP hopefuls in evangelical poll

Nearly half of evangelical leaders want to see Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty win the Republican nomination for president in 2012, according to a poll of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Asked whom they would name the GOP nominee, 45 percent of the leaders said Pawlenty, the association reported Thursday. Fourteen percent said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Twenty-two percent were undecided.

Pawlenty met with the association’s board of directors in 2008.

“Tim and Mary are devoted followers of Jesus, bright, articulate, a proven record and have none of the negatives of the other candidates,” said George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

The National Association of Evangelicals posed the question in the June edition of the Evangelical Leaders Survey, its monthly poll of “CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.”

The association asked: “Assuming Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate, if you were to choose a preferred Republican presidential candidate for 2012, who would you name?”

Association President Leith Anderson said Pawlenty’s popularity “might be expected since he is so often identified as an evangelical.”

“Like the rest of the nation, there are still many undecided,” Anderson said. “With more than a year before the national nominating conventions, a lot can change.”

Romney is a Mormon. The association said none of the evangelical leaders polled mentioned Romney’s religious beliefs as a reason for naming another candidate.

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June 10, 2011

Poling: Plus ça change ...

The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

The good citizens of San Francisco have managed to tear themselves away from a crippling state budget crisis long enough to place a ballot measure outlawing circumcision. Being represented by Nancy Pelosi would unbalance me, too, so I don't want to be too judgmental.

Nah, I do.

What is at stake here is nothing less than the choice between the French and American visions of the social good. Liberté or liberty, sometimes the choice is clear. In San Francisco it couldn't be any clearer.

Our revolutions took place within a stone's throw of one another, chronologically. But while the French sought to institute a creedal secularism, we set out a constitutional vision of church protected from state, and vice versa. Our experiment was a lot less bloody, and a lot more successful.

Fast forward to today and in France Muslim girls are prohibited from covering their heads in school. This approach reflects an understanding of secularism as a militant opposition to religion, a strict requirement of conformity to prescribed standards however much said conformity might violate the consciences of citizens.

When our founding fathers pointed us toward a novus ordo seclorum, they had in mind a worldliness that allowed a variety of religious movements to express themselves in virtually any way that wouldn't impinge upon others. So while we don't allow the recreational use of peyote our society allows it as an expression of Native American religious observance. We'll make you take off the veil for your driver's license picture, but we'll let you wear it in class. And we'll allow you to raise your children according to the dictates of your religion, unless doing so presents an imminent threat to the child's physical health.

How is this definition adjudicated? With care, and with great respect -- at least in this country -- for the deeply held religious convictions of the people involved. If there's no overwhelming medical reason to oppose a practice, we're going to defer to the scruples of our fellow citizens. We do so in part because we would want them to do the same to us; we do so in part because most of us have a hard enough time making difficult decisions for ourselves, let alone for others. But mostly we do so because to be American is to be free to exercise, or not, our religious beliefs, and to have that free exercise protected against the prejudices of our neighbors.

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:45 AM | | Comments (19)

June 9, 2011

Evangelicals join Jews against circumcision ban

The National Association of Evangelicals is joining Jews and Muslims in opposition to the proposed ban on circumcision of male children in San Francisco.

“Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham,” Leith Anderson, president of the Christian organization, said Thursday in a statement. “No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake.”

Opponents of circumcision have gathered enough signatures to get the ban on San Francisco's city ballot in November. The measure would make circumcision of a male under 18 a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

The National Association of Evangelicals says the ban would violate the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs. The organization says its guiding policy document affirms the principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience, which it describes as both historically and logically at the foundation of the American experiment.

“While evangelical denominations traditionally neither require nor forbid circumcision, we join Jews and Muslims in opposing this ban and standing together for religious freedom,” Anderson said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:27 PM | | Comments (11)

May 16, 2011

Vatican suggests bishops report abuse to police

Associated Press correspondent Nicole Winfield reports:

The Vatican told bishops around the world Monday that it is important to cooperate with police in reporting priests who rape and molest children and said they should develop guidelines for preventing sex abuse by next year.

But the suggestions in the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are vague and nonbinding, and they contain no enforcement mechanisms to ensure bishops actually draft the guidelines or follow them.

That is a significant omission given that the latest scandal in the United States involves allegations Philadelphia's archbishop left accused priests in ministry despite purportedly tough U.S. guidelines, and evidence that Irish bishops were stonewalling an independent board overseeing compliance with the guidelines of the church in Ireland.

The document marks the latest effort by the Vatican to show it's serious about rooting out priestly pedophiles and preventing abuse following the eruption on a global scale of the abuse scandal last year with thousands of victims coming forward.

But it failed to impress advocates for victims who have long blamed the power of bishops bent on protecting the church and its priests for fueling the scandal. Without fear of punishment themselves, bishops frequently moved pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police or punishing them under church law.

"There's nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the main U.S. victims group Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests.

Critically, the letter reinforces bishops' exclusive authority in dealing with abuse cases. It says independent lay review boards that have been created in some countries to oversee the church's child protection policies and ensure compliance "cannot substitute" for bishops' judgment and power.

Recently, such lay review committees in the U.S. and Ireland have reported that some bishops "failed miserably" in following their own guidelines and had thwarted the boards' work by withholding information and by enacting legal hurdles that made ensuring compliance impossible.

"Our central concern is that bishops and religious leaders retain enormous discretionary powers to decide if an allegation is credible," said Maeve Lewis, executive director of the Irish victims group One in Four.

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May 12, 2011

Obama talks immigration at prayer breakfast

Associated Press writer Julie Pace reports:

President Barack Obama says those opposing a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. shouldn't have amnesia about how the country began. He says America is a nation of immigrants.

Speaking at an annual Hispanic prayer breakfast in Washington, Obama also recalled times past when religious communities helped change the country. He talked about Episcopalians in Boston, where early patriots planned the Revolution, and Baptist churches in the South that sparked the civil rights movement.

Obama says he'll keep pushing and trying to work with Congress on the immigration issue. But he said again that building a widespread movement is the only way to get a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:04 PM | | Comments (3)

May 11, 2011

U.S. Presbyterians clear way for gay clergy

Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll reports:

After decades of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Tuesday struck down a barrier to ordaining gays, ratifying a proposal that removes the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, in the latest mainline Protestant move toward accepting gay relationships.

The change was endorsed last year by the Presbyterian national assembly, but required approval by a majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries, or regional church bodies.

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, based in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., cast the deciding 87th vote Tuesday night. Sixty-two presbyteries have voted against the measure and balloting will continue, but the majority needed for ratification was secured in Minnesota.

"It's a thrilling day," said Sylvia Thorson-Smith, an elder at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., whose family advocates for gays and lesbians in the church. She invited 40 people to her house for a party after the vote was announced. "I can't help but think of those who have worked and suffered and endured and hoped for this. Some have not lived to see it."

Differences over the Bible and homosexuality have split Protestant groups nationally and worldwide for years. Within the Presbyterian Church, about 100 of the 11,000 congregations had already broken away ahead of the vote, but a group of large theologically conservative congregations, which calls itself Fellowship, has decided to remain in the denomination for now.

Top Presbyterian executives issued a statement to the church acknowledging that "some will rejoice while others will weep," at the decision.

"However, as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God's will for the church is by seeking it together — worshipping, praying, thinking and serving alongside one another," the executives wrote.

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Categories: Presbyterianism, Sexuality

Judges reverse decision on Muslim headwear

The Associated Press reports:

A Georgia judge has reversed a decision that blocked a Muslim man from his courtroom because he was wearing religious headwear.

Henry County State Court Judge James Chafin said he found "through his own research that there is a basis in the Quran for both men and women to cover their heads as a religious observance."

Three separate times, the judge had blocked Troy "Tariq" Montgomery from entering his courtroom to dispute a traffic ticket because he was wearing a kufi, a traditional Muslim head covering. Montgomery said he was surprised by the decision but hopeful no other Muslims will have to face similar objections.

The Judicial Council of Georgia decided in July 2009 to allow headwear that is worn for religious or medical reasons after a similar dispute.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (8)

May 4, 2011

In gesture, Turkey conserving Armenian churches

Associated Press correspondent Selcan Hacaoglu reports:

Turkey has launched a project to conserve an ancient Armenian cathedral and church in what is seen as a gesture of reconciliation toward its neighbor.

Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a bitter dispute for decades over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Efforts to normalize relations have been dealt a setback by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan is a close Muslim ally of Turkey.

Turkey, however, says it is committed to improving ties with Armenia, and has already restored the 10th century Akdamar church, perched on a rocky island in Lake Van in eastern Turkey. It has also allowed once-yearly worship at the site as a gesture to Armenia and its own ethnic Armenian minority.

Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said Tuesday the new project was being launched in partnership with the World Monuments Fund to conserve the remains of the cathedral and the Church of the Holy Savior in Ani, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the eastern Turkish city of Kars.

According to the New York-based World Monuments Fund, Ani — "one of the world's great cities in the 10th century" — was once the site of hundreds of religious buildings, palaces, fortifications, and other structures. Today it stands abandoned, and the remnants of its celebrated buildings are in a precarious state.

The site, in an earthquake-prone area, has been listed on the World Monuments Watch since 1996.

"Ani, which is of global significance, presents particularly complicated challenges," Gunay said. "We hope that giving new life to the remains of once-splendid buildings, such as the Ani Cathedral and church, will bring new economic opportunities to the region."

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Fired bishop says church growing more authoritarian

The Associated Press reports:

An Australian bishop who was fired by Pope Benedict XVI after suggesting the church consider ordaining women and married men says the Vatican is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

The Vatican said Monday that Bishop William Morris of the Toowoomba diocese, west of Brisbane, had been "removed from pastoral care."

Morris says he was removed because of a letter he wrote to his parish in 2006 that suggested the church consider ordaining women and married men to help solve priest shortages. Currently, only celibate men can be ordained in the Roman Catholic church.

On Tuesday, Morris told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the Vatican has become increasingly authoritarian and dismissive of local bishops.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)

May 3, 2011

'Book of Mormon' picks up 14 Tony nominations

Associated Press drama writer Mark Kennedy reports:

"The Book of Mormon" nabbed a leading 14 Tony Award nominations Tuesday, earning the profane musical one nod short of the record for most nominations and putting it in the driver's seat when the awards are handed out next month.

An unlikely hit about two Mormon missionaries who find more than they bargained for in Africa, the musical was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of Comedy Central's irreverent "South Park," and Robert Lopez, co-creator of the equally irreverent Tony Award-winning musical "Avenue Q." All got nominations.

"The Book of Mormon" has been a critical and box-office darling even without big-name stars and has tapped into a decidedly un-Broadway vein with songs about AIDS and one man's loud lament about having maggots in his scrotum.

"This is a brand of humor that very much existed in our culture — on television and films," said Andrew Rannells, who won a best leading actor in a musical nomination. "It was just not reflected on Broadway. Obviously, there's a huge audience for this so why shouldn't it be a musical?"

On the animated series "South Park," about a group of potty-mouthed school kids in Colorado, Parker and Stone have lampooned everything and everybody from Jesus to Saddam Hussein to Barbra Streisand to Scientology to Tiger Woods to New Jersey. And they've mocked The Church of Latter-day Saints on the Comedy Central TV show, too, mostly by showing Mormons as relentlessly cheery.

"This is dangerous in the best sense. People are excited when they sit down in those seats because they don't know what's going to happen," said Rory O'Malley, who won a nomination for best actor in a featured role for "Mormon."

As for the Mormons, the church would not add to the comment they first issued when the musical opened: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."

Continue reading "'Book of Mormon' picks up 14 Tony nominations" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:56 PM | | Comments (0)

May 2, 2011

Peruvian president says John Paul II killed bin Laden

The Associated Press reports:

Peruvian President Alan Garcia says Pope John Paul II should get credit for the death of Osama bin Laden.

The late pope was beatified on Sunday and Garcia says: "His first miracle was to remove from the world the incarnation of evil, the demonic incarnation of crime and hatred, giving us the news that the person who blew up towers and buildings is no longer."

Garcia made the comment Monday as he inaugurated a hydroelectric power station.

Garcia also says bin Laden's death also vindicates President George W. Bush's decision "to punish Bin Laden and patiently continue this work that has born fruit."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:01 PM | | Comments (140)

Palin to share stage with Islam critic

The Associated Press reports:

Sarah Palin will share the stage in Colorado with a former senior military intelligence official who disparaged Islam while helping to lead the war on terror after Sept. 11.

Monday evening's speech was already scheduled before Sunday's killing of Osama bin Laden. The Republican former vice presidential candidate is speaking at a fundraiser at Colorado Christian University with Retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin.

He said that America's enemy was Satan and that one Muslim Somali warlord was an idol worshipper. Boykin later apologized and said he did not mean to insult Islam. He retired in 2007.

The event in the Denver suburb of Lakewood raises money for a charity for families of fallen service members, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:26 PM | | Comments (6)
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Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.

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