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Diverse new group ‘tending to president’s soul’

In March 2009, the New York Times highlighted five “evangelical pastors” — all men — from whom President Obama gained spiritual insight. A year later, Religion News Service profiles seven people, including two women, that it says might be called the president’s “spiritual cabinet.”

The RNS piece by Daniel Burke says the new names are “relatively unfamiliar,” although they’re well known to those who follow the administration and it’s efforts to reach out to religious groups.

“They are recalibrating America’s engagement with Muslims, revamping the White House faith-based office and tending to the president’s own soul,” Burke writes.

Three work in the Obama administration. Another is chaplain at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

USA Today religion writer Cathy Lynn Grossman provides a synopsis of the seven advisors.

— Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal pastor, head of Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who sends daily devotionals to Obama’s Blackberry.

— Denis McDonough, a Catholic who serves as deputy national security adviser and chief of staff of the National Security Council. Burke says he’s “a crucial player in Obama’s quest to engage Muslims, find common cause with the Vatican, and restore the country’s moral authority.”

–Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer and a hafiz (someone who has memorized the Quran) who Obama has named as his envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

— Melissa Rogers, chairman of the director of the Center for Religious and Public Affairs at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She chaired the faith-based office’s advisory board, which this week released 60 recommendations for revamping the office.

–Rev. Joel Hunter, head of an Orlando, Fla., megachurch pastor, who Burke says, is “pushing to broaden the evangelical agenda to include issues like poverty, immigration and the environment.

–The Rev. Sharon Watkins, president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who gave the homily at the post-inauguration National Prayer Service last year.

–Navy Lt. Carey Cash (whose great uncle was Johnny Cash), an Iraq was veteran and Southern Baptist pastor who has led the worship at Cap David’s Evergreen Chapel.

Grossman reports that the article was the product of three months of reporting. She provides details of an e-mail from RNS editor Kevin Eckstrom.

“It might also be worth mentioning that the list is by no means exhaustive — there were other names bandied about, and we followed up on all of them, but some of the claims couldn’t be confirmed through the reporting,” Eckstrom wrote. “We were most interested in the new or unknown faces, especially the people like McDonough who are shaping policy behind the scenes in quiet but important ways.”

The only person to make both the RNS and the New York Times list of Obama’s spiritual advisers is Hunter, pastor of Northland Church near Orlando, Fla. Hunter said little for the Times article and declined to comment for the RNS piece.

The Northland web site describes Hunter as “an internationally known spokesperson for ‘compassion issues’ outlined in Scripture: sanctity of life, creation care, justice, poverty, and marriage and the family.”

“A longtime bridge-builder who seeks common ground for the common good, Dr. Hunter approaches today’s issues in a biblical and balanced manner,” the web site says.

Christianity Today provided further detail of the men mentioned in the Times article, including a link to a 1999 article about how Jim Wallis became an “evangelical activist.” Another member of the group, Bishod T.D. Jakes, talked about his relationship with Obama during an appearance of CNN’s Larry King Live.

Jakes told King that presidents need faith.

“You know, the presidency is a very tough, tough job. And because our nation is primarily filled with people of various degrees of faith, I think that the American people, many are comforted when they feel it — so that the president has faith. The bad thing about it is that the president lives in such a fish tank that when you promote yourself as a person of faith, you’re scrutinized on every issue and evaluated not only by your political policies, but how does this line up with the tenets of your faith?”

The RNS article offers a glimpse into Obama’s faith even if he doesn’t promote it.

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March 12, 2010 Posted by | Obama, Politics, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Diverse new group ‘tending to president’s soul’

Scientology fights back toward decline

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)

Hiring veteran journalists to counter-investigate the St. Petersburg Times was a strategy with something of a reverse twist. Scientology is under scrutiny in Australia [1,2,3], headed for the silver screen in Germany and still on the pages of U.S. news publications [1,2,3].

Just for example, you understand.

All of the well-known Scientology strategies keep applying, as makers of the film “Bis Nichts Mehr Bleibt” (Until Nothing Remains) illustrated when they reported via the Guardian:

The film team said it had been “bombarded” with phone calls and emails from the organisation during production. The head of the Southwest German broadcasting organisation, Carl Bergengruen who was involved in the project, said Scientology had “tried via various means to discover details about the film” and that the film crew was even tailed by a Scientology representative.

“We are fearful that the organisation will try to use all legal means to try to stop the film being shown,” he said.

The film itself sounds like a classical Scientology exit story with an especially tragic conclusion:

According to the makers of Until Nothing Remains, the €2.5m (£2.3 m) drama, which is due to air in a prime-time slot at the end of March, is based on the true story of Heiner von Rönns, who left Scientology and suffered the subsequent break-up of his family.

Scientology calls the film false and intolerant, and distributed flyers at a Hamburg preview, accusing the filmmakers of aiming to “create a mood of intolerance and discrimination against a religious community.”

All of that effort to defeat critics while building attractive homes for the church. Yet as PZ Meyers pointed out from his reading of the NY Times investigation, they’re apparently shrinking:

The church is vague about its membership numbers. In 11 hours with a reporter over two days, Mr. Davis, the church’s spokesman, gave the numbers of Sea Org members (8,000), of Scientologists in the Tampa-Clearwater area (12,000) and of L. Ron Hubbard’s books printed in the last two and a half years (67 million). But asked about the church’s membership, Mr. Davis said, “I couldn’t tell you an exact figure, but it’s certainly, it’s most definitely in the millions in the U.S. and millions abroad.”

He said he did not know how to account for the findings in the American Religious Identification Survey that the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008.

If you make projections from those numbers, as Meyers did, Scientology appears to have done some magnificent architectural restoration without building a future.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | Comments Off on Scientology fights back toward decline

Demons per day and hour

The Holy See’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, charmed geotechnical engineer Bob Felton to take up his calculator. Because Amorth’s lifetime achievement numbers are so impressive. According to Richard Owen of the Irish Independent:

Father Gabriele Amorth said the Pope “fully believes in liberation from evil, because the Devil lodges in the Vatican. Naturally it is difficult to find proof, but you can see the consequences”. Fr Amorth (85) has been the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession.

Felton began his analysis as follows:

Father Amorth is 85-years old. If we assume he was a prodigy and began his exorcism career at a mere 25-years old, and that he kept a workmanlike pace for 60-years — no ramp-up as he mastered his skills — and worked 6-days a week (resting on Sunday, though Satan doesn’t) without vacations, then …

60-years x 365-days/year x 6/7 = 18,772 days vanquishing demons

Clearly, there are other factors to consider, and consider them Felton does. Here. Arriving at a workday rate of 2.42 hours per demon. An almost supernatural pace.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Satire | , , | Comments Off on Demons per day and hour

Lesbian Episcopal bishop-elect has the standing committee consents

The Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool unofficially has the consent of 61 of the 109 Episcopal dioceses in the United States, Episcopal Life reported. That majority approval of her ordination and consecration was required for her to become first openly lesbian bishop in the 70-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion,

Referring to both Glasspool and Bishop Suffragan-elect Diane Jardine Bruce, Los Angeles Bishop Diocesan J. Jon Bruno said on March 10:

I give thanks for the standing commitees’ prompt action, and for the consents to the elections of my sisters. I look forward to the final few consents to come in from the bishops in the next few days, and I give thanks for the fact that we as a church have taken a bold step for just action.

That last phrase refers to the fact that a majority of diocesan bishops must also consent. Episcopal Church headquarters in New York keeps the bishops tally and probably will not release it until the outcome is settled.

ReligionLink documents the long struggle over the election homosexual Episcopal bishops. Glasspool’s final affirmation was expected when she was selected amid controversy in December. If as apparently the case she is affirmed, she will be the second openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion and the first since the consecration of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003 brought the communion’s already decades-old division over homosexuality into the open.

Bruce was the first woman bishop elected in the 114-year history of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was the first woman elected as a primate of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Her election demonstrated the widespread support in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. for the ordination of women and is nonetheless a matter of ongoing controversy in some quarters of the church.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , , , | 1 Comment

Implicit SBC clerical sexual predator policy [Neglect?]

The inflexibility with which the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) disfellowships member churches which affirm homosexual behavior may surpass Roman Catholic application of excommunication to other issues. The Catholic Church is more tolerant of homosexuality, but like the SBC, faces unrelenting problems with clerical sexual abuse.

The 500-member Royal Lane Baptist Church of North Dallas, Texas, recently placed itself in peril of ejection from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and from the SBC when the diaconate voted to rewrite the About Us section of its Web site to include:

Royal Lane Baptist Church is an inclusive, multi-generational congregation joined in Christian community. We are a vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and denominational backgrounds.

That did not represent a change of heart by the church, as Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News reported:

“In effect, this is a collective coming out about who we are and have been for a long time,” said Ruth May, vice chair of the deacons.

. . .

[The Rev. David] Matthews, who became Royal Lane’s pastor last year, said the Bible “understood through the prism of Jesus” calls for full acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Debate over the issue immediately related BGCT/SBC action against local churches with regard to homosexuality and their failure to apply similar force to sexual predators. Nathan Barnes wrote:

The leadership of the SBC and apparently the BGCT are not willing to sacrifice church autonomy to catalog and track sex offending clergy but are willing to sacrifice it to keep GLBT folks from serving the Lord.

In rejoinder, another commenter said, “If aberrant behavior is to be accepted as normal and within God’s provision for human sexual expression, why not pedophilia, or bestiality, or??” and Barnes responded:

BUT pedophila is already accepted. No church has been disassociated from the SBC or BGCT for passing on sex offending clergy to other churches.

It’s not a double standard. It’s the standard.

Christa Brown said at Stop Baptist Predators:

Mr. Barnes got it exactly right. Baptist leaders have so twisted the doctrine of local church autonomy as to make it little more than an easily manipulated excuse to serve their own ends. It’s pure contrivance for Baptist leaders to say they can’t do anything about clergy predators because of local church autonomy. After all, look at how quick they are to interfere with churches that admit to having gay members.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the SBC is attempting to assert ethical/spiritual authority in the midst of a long public parade of evidence of its failure to protect young Christians from predatory members of its own clergy.

Both have other priorities.

Like hiding what they can behind confidentiality agreements. To protect the church’s reputation and authority, of course.

As the Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse wrote in 2009 that the Catholic Church pre-occupation”in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse” was “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets.” Not the protection of the children.

Suffering little children are a lower priority for the SBC than keeping women pastors out of the pulpit, keeping homosexuals out of the pews and barring otherwise somehow insufficiently fundamentalist churches from affiliation.

Realistic minds in both denominations must foresee, absent restoration of their reputation as safe places for the young, a future of empty pews.

[H/T: StopBaptistPredators]

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, SBC | , , , , , | 1 Comment