Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

National Prayer Breakfast: Controversy For Obama Even Here

February 5, 2009

President Obama was at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning — but even in this arena the new president cannot escape controversy.

The new embroglio concerns the preident’s newly revamped Office of Faith Based Initiatives.  The office was created 8 years ago by President Bush and often faith or religion based organizations took government money even though they had a record of discrimination with respect to hiring.

Now separation-of-church-and-state advocates and human-rights organizations that say the government must constitutionally compel these organizations to follow nondiscrimination laws if they accept federal funding.

Say a prayer that this all works out….

President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast:

CNN (Related):

 House Stimulus Has Anti-Prayer, Religion Provisions?

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (2nd R) speaks at the ... 
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (2nd R) speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2009. From L-R are: first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama, Blair and U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC).REUTERS/Larry Downing

House Stimulus Has Anti-Prayer, Religion Provisions?

February 5, 2009

Democrats in Congress have declared war on prayer, say conservative groups who object to a provision in the stimulus bill that was passed by the House of Representatives last week.

The provision bans money designated for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow “religious worship.” It has ignited a fury among critics who say it violates the First Amendment and is an attempt to prevent religious practice in schools.

Fox News

According to the bill, which the Democratic-controlled House passed despite unanimous Republican opposition, funds are prohibited from being used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair” of facilities that allow “sectarian instruction, religious worship or a school or department of divinity.” 

Critics say that could include public schools that permit religious groups to meet on campus. The House provided $20 billion for the infrastructure improvements, of which $6 billion would go to higher education facilities where the limitations would be applied.

“What the government is doing is discriminating against religious viewpoints,” said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that works to advance religious freedom.

“President Obama’s version of faith-based initiatives is to remove the faith from initiative,” said Staver, who believes Obama has “a completely different view on faith” from what he said during his presidential campaign. 

“He is not the infallible messiah that some thought he would be,” Staver said.

Civil liberty groups like the Americans United for Separation of Church and State vehemently defend the stimulus bill’s provision, arguing that it in no way violates the Constitution.

“This provision upholds constitutional standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court and in no way affects student groups that meet on public school campuses,” said the Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The American Civil Liberties Union also defends the constitutionality of the restriction, which they say has been the law since 1972.  

“It’s almost a restatement of what the Constitution requires so there’s nothing novel in what the House did in its restriction,” said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel to the ACLU. “For 37 years, the law of the land is that the government can’t pay for buildings that are used for religious purposes.”

Not so, says the Traditional Values Coalition, which issued a statement Wednesday charging that Obama is using his stimulus plan to restrict the exercise of religion in public facilities — a provision it says violates the right to free speech.

“The economic crisis is being used as a pretext to curb religious liberty at institutions of higher learning,” said Executive Director Andrea Lafferty.

“We are not asking that federal funding be used to construct a church, but if a campus ministry wants to hold a Bible study or Mass in the student activity building, we should be encouraging that — not punishing a college for permitting it,” she said.

According to some constitutional law experts, any complaint filed against the provision will gain little ground in court.

“Certainly the provision is treating the act of religious organizations differently from the activities of the school itself,” Harvard University constitutional law professor Mark Tushnet told

“It’s not frivolous to say there’s a constitutional problem with excluding religious facilities from these grants, but I think the way of the law is in the other direction,” he said.

Tushnet cited a 2004 Supreme Court case in which a Washington student lost a college scholarship awarded by the state after it was revealed that he planned to pursue a degree in pastoral ministries. Though the student argued that rescinding the money discriminated on the basis of religion, the court ruled in the state’s favor — declaring that the taxpayer-funded scholarship’s restriction is constitutional.

The White House said Wednesday that it plans to keep in place the basic structure of the faith-based initiative office established by former President George W. Bush.

Administration officials said the office is a substantial programming and policy arm of the federal government, which allows federal agencies to connect with local neighborhood and faith-based groups to deliver social services.

Obama Inauguration: No Rabbis, Priests

January 20, 2009

Inauguration audiences on Tuesday will hear the new President deliver the most anticipated Inaugural Address since John F. Kennedy. They’ll hear the Queen of Soul sing and Yo-Yo Ma play. They’ll listen to hear if Rick Warren gets preachy when he prays. But there’s one thing they won’t hear: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam.

That’s because for the sixth straight presidential Inauguration, rabbis won’t have a place on the dais. And the Jewish faith isn’t the only religious tradition that continues to be snubbed. Since 1985, only Evangelical Protestants have played a part in the swearing-in ceremony. That will continue again this year when megachurch pastor Warren delivers the invocation and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, an African-American Evangelical, offers the benediction. At a time when the United States is more religiously diverse than at any other point in its history, and Obama’s entire campaign was built on the notion of a newfound inclusiveness and multiculturalism, it seems a glaring omission. (See TIME’s special report on civil rights and the Obama presidency.)

Time Magazine

The recent Evangelical Protestant monopoly began in 1989, when George H.W. Bush asked Billy Graham to deliver both the invocation and benediction (the opening and closing prayers) at his Inauguration. Graham did the same for Bill Clinton in 1993 and again in 1997. The decision to delegate the religious role to Graham seemed a reasonable alternative to filling the stage with an ever-growing number of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu and Baha’i clergy. The famous Evangelist regularly topped the list of people Americans most admired, and he prayed in fairly broad terms, referring just to “God” and using the formulation “I pray” instead of “we pray” to make clear that he was not imposing his Christian prayer on the entire citizenry. (Read Obama’s words on his Christian faith.)

But the absence of non-Christian religious leaders was felt even more deeply starting in 2001, when Graham’s son Franklin ended his invocation with an exclusive statement: “We … acknowledge you alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.” This was not a prayer offered on behalf of all Americans but on behalf of Christians alone. It bookended George W. Bush’s Inauguration with a benediction by Kirbyjon Caldwell that declared, “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ,” and instructed, “Let all who agree say ‘Amen.’ ” If you didn’t agree, there was apparently nothing for you to do but shuffle your feet.

For non-Christians, but particularly for Jews who had gotten used to having a place on the dais, the development was deeply disturbing. After all, traditionally, the religious roster at presidential swearing ins looked something like the set-up to an old joke: “A priest, a pastor and a rabbi walk into an Inauguration …” Rabbis prayed at a majority of Inaugurations that took place between 1949 and 1985, as did Catholic priests.

It is true that Jewish religious leaders weren’t on the dais in 1937, when Franklin D. Roosevelt first introduced the tradition of an Inaugural prayer. Up until then, presidential Inaugurations did not include prayers. Instead, the vice-presidential swearing in took place at a separate ceremony in the Senate chambers, after which the Senate chaplain usually offered a prayer. Roosevelt decided to merge the two events and brought the chaplain along to participate as well. But in a shrewd political maneuver, Roosevelt also opened up a second religious slot on the program for Father John Ryan, an influential figure in Catholic social teaching and a prominent supporter of the New Deal. As Mark Silk, professor of religion at Trinity College, has written, Ryan was not only known as “the Right Rev. New Dealer,” but he was also the most effective critic of Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious right-wing, anti-Roosevelt priest. Ryan’s participation in the Inauguration helped insulate Roosevelt against Coughlin’s attacks and shore up the growing – and critical – voting bloc of Catholic Democrats.

Obama Didn’t Need Rick Warren for Prayer; Others Abound

 Obama’s Path to Faith Was Eclectic, Diverse

Obama’s Path to Faith Was Eclectic, Diverse

January 18, 2009

The presidential inauguration ceremony on Tuesday will begin and end with prayers from two men whom Barack Obama considers role models, advisers and dear friends. One, Joseph Lowery, is an 87-year-old black liberal Methodist from the Deep South who spent his career fighting for civil rights. The other, Rick Warren, is a 54-year-old white conservative evangelical from Southern California who fights same-sex unions.

By Eli Saslow
The Washington Post

The two religious icons are, Lowery said, “usually on opposite sides of the chart.” But Obama will step onstage with them, set his hand on a Bible and feel comfortable in the vast space in between.

For the president-elect, religion has always been less about theology than the power God inspires in communities that worship Him, friends and advisers said. It has been more than three months since he sat through a Sunday church service and at least five years since he attended regularly, but during the transition, Obama has spoken to religious leaders almost daily. They said Obama calls to seek advice, but rarely is it spiritual. Instead, he asks how to mobilize faith-based communities behind his administration.

Then U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama ... 
Then U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (R) stands next to moderator Pastor Rick Warren at the Civil Forum on the Presidency at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California in this August 16, 2008 file photo. President-elect Obama has chosen Warren, who opposes gay marriage, as a speaker at his inauguration, creating a commotion over what inclusiveness will mean for his administration.REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files (UNITED STATES)

Read the rest:

What’s the Common Thread in almost All Inauguration Speeches?  Faith, hope and God….
Obama’s Genius, Inauguration Day, and Hope

Joseph Lowery, 87, is a black liberal Methodist from the Deep South.

Joseph Lowery, 87, is a black liberal Methodist from the Deep South. (By Jason Fobart)

Outrage at Busty Virgin Mary Models: Holy Mother of God!

January 16, 2009

A prominent fashion designer has sparked outrage in Chile by dressing up models like the Virgin Mary — in some cases with ample, near-naked breasts.

The Roman Catholic Church condemned Ricardo Oyarzun’s plans for a show featuring the models, and a conservative group tried unsuccessfully to block it in court.

Busty Virgin Mary Sparking Outrage in Chile! 
Geepers.  A model dressed as the Virgin Mary poses during a performance in Santiago January 13, 2009. A prominent fashion designer has sparked outrage in Chile by dressing up models like the Virgin Mary — in some cases with ample, near-naked breasts. The Roman Catholic Church condemned Ricardo Oyarzun’s plans for a show featuring the models, and a conservative group tried unsuccessfully to block it in court.(Rodrigo Nunez/Handout/Reuters)

Oyarzun said he had received telephone threats and had excrement smeared on his doorstep.

“There is no pornography here, there’s no sex, there are no virgins menstruating or feeling each other up,” Oyarzun said ahead of the catwalk show set to be held at a Santiago nightclub later on Thursday. “This is artistic expression.”

He said his designs — which include halos, look as though they come from a nativity scene and include religious icons — were inspired by the Virgin Mary but not intended to represent her.

“We look on with special pain and deplore those acts which seek to tarnish manifestations of sincere love toward the Virgin Mary, which end up striking at the dignity of womankind by presenting her as an object of consumption,” Chile’s Episcopal Conference, which includes Catholic bishops, said in a statement.

The show is more evidence that Chile, heavily influenced by the church for decades, is shaking off its reputation as one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America.

(Reporting by Monica Vargas; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Xavier Briand from Reuters)


The story from Santiago remined us of a story from Mexico on December 13, 2008:

Nude Virgin Mary cover prompts Playboy apology

The cover of the Mexican Playboy magazine. (AAP)
The cover of the Mexican Playboy magazine. (AAP)

Former NFL tackle gives up his career to study theology

January 16, 2009

Matt Lepsis was living the good life last season, making millions in the NFL and finally fitting in when he locked himself in a closet and screamed for help: Please, God, help me kick this drug habit.

The Denver Broncos left tackle, who called it quits after last season, admits now he was high on drugs for the first six games of his final season.

By Pat Graham
Associated Press

But in that closet in his house, struggling to kick a habit that intensified after knee surgery following the 2006 season, Lepsis begged for help. He believes he was heard — and rescued.

The drug habit now gone, Lepsis is taking classes at Dallas Theological Seminary, learning Greek and taking an introduction to theology course.

The offensive lineman had nearly $9 million US left on his contract. But he walked away.

“People hear this story and think, ‘He was at rock bottom and had nowhere to go and was trying to find answers to all these problems. So naturally he looked to God,”‘ said Lepsis.

“That’s not what happened. I can’t stress this enough: I was loving life.”

The drugs had transformed him from a “wallflower” into a “social butterfly,” he said. After struggling with social anxiety issues, he was suddenly more outgoing and personable.

The week before the Broncos were to play Jacksonville in September 2007, Lepsis was outside playing with his kids when his phone rang.

No one there, just music.

Not just music, though, but the Dave Matthews Band, his favourite group.

Not just any song, either, but a song he knew well — #41 — and Matthews was singing the lyrics, “The difficulty is coming.”

A few days later, Lepsis put on his head phones at his locker — same song, same lyrics. His initial reaction was he was going to perish in a plane crash.

A friend reassured him.

“She said, ‘There’s nothing for you to worry about. God’s in control,”‘ Lepsis recounted.

“If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. For the first time in my life, I was like, ‘What?’ I had never entertained that thought.”

On a plane the following week, Lepsis asked kicker Jason Elam if he could sit next to him. Elam, a devout Christian who now plays for Atlanta, was willing to listen.

“I really didn’t have any pearls of wisdom, just tried to steer him the right way,” Elam recalls.

Lepsis went to chapel before the next game. The sermon topic was fear.

“I was blown away,” he says. “I’m hanging on every word.”

He sought out Elam again and told him the entire story about his drug addiction.

“Can I become a Christian and a believer and still continue to do this?” he asked Elam.

“Jason said, ‘No, you can’t.”’

So into the closet Lepsis went. He asked for help, didn’t get high that day and had a horrible practice.

“I went into work sober for the first time in a long time and I had a miserable day . . . I’m angry for believing that God was going to supernaturally help me.”

His wife, Shana, convinced him to try again. The next day at practice he was sharing his story with teammates when it hit him: Here he was, someone who used drugs as a crutch to make himself more sociable, opening up to teammates.

“I get what I got through the drugs, but I get it through sharing my testimony for what God has done in my life,” Lepsis says.

In 2007, Lepsis was showering in a hotel room, thinking about religion and how his eyes had been opened. The bathroom mirror steamed up, but when the air began to clear, he saw the word “Jesus” there.

Probably just a born-again Christian who stayed in the room before him, perhaps a maid.

Whatever the case, it was another sign.

“This was a big decision. I didn’t make it lightly,” Lepsis says.

“What are the odds that two weeks after this decision, this is written on the mirror? . . . This was confirmation.”

Gaza: Choosing God’s Power or Military Power

December 30, 2008

On the Shabbat of Hanukkah (December 27), the starkest choice of values and visions of the future was laid before the Jewish people throughout the world.

On the one hand, Jews throughout the world were reading in synagogue the Prophetic vision of Zechariah, no stranger to exile and humiliation, writing from the midst of the Babylonian Captivity 2,500 years ago and looking forward to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the relighting of its Menorah — both of which had been destroyed by Babylonian militarism. This rebuilding and relighting, Zechariah proclaimed, must be achieved not by mobilizing might and power against Babylonia but by drawing on the Infinite Spirit, God’s power. A vision reinforced by the Rabbis who chose the passage to be read on the holy day that might otherwise easily fall into a celebration of the military might and power of the Maccabees.

By Arthur Waskow
The Washington Post

On the other hand — on the very same day!! — at least 225 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombs in one more attempt to quell by might and power the use of violence (on a much smaller scale) by Hamas, in what Hamas claims to be a retaliation against the Israeli blockade and semi-starvation of the people of Gaza.

The two choices were to be found in two texts:

The First: “Not by Might, and not by Power — but by My Breathing Spirit, says YHWH Infinite.” — Zechariah 4: 6.

The Second: The New York Times, December 27, 2008:

“GAZA — Waves of Israeli air strikes destroyed Hamas security facilities in Gaza on Saturday in a crushing response to the group’s rocket fire, killing more than 225 — the highest one-day toll in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades.

Read the rest:

Brits Suffer Worst Politically-Correct Christmas Carols + 12 God Awful Modern Carols

December 25, 2008

The bowdlerised song, which replaces “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, Let earth receive her King” with the lines “Joy to the world, for peace shall come, Let this be our refrain” came out top of a poll hosted by Ship of Fools, the religious humour website.

Other Christmas favourites altered for the politically-correct age include O Come All Ye Faithful, with some congregations told to sing “O come in adoration” instead of “O come let us adore him”, which is apparently considered too gender specific.

By Matthew Moore
Telegraph (London)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing has also been updated, with the line “Glory to the Christ child, bring” deemed more inclusive than “Glory to the newborn king”.

The website’s Steve Goddard said they were inspired to start the poll after dozens of readers complained that their local churches had made clumsy alterations to songbooks.

“We’ve all noticed the “new” words, grimaced, tried to remember what the original lines were, shaken our heads in bemusement, and politely carried on singing,” he said.

“Theologically-modified carols will ring out everywhere this year. Innocents like king, man, son, virgin and Lord have been slaughtered to make carols more modern and inclusive. In some cases, entire verses have been rewritten.”

Cyndi Lauper at San Francisco Pride 2008
Cyndi Lauper

He added: “How long will it be before we have to sing ‘Oh Vertically Challenged Town of Bethlehem’ because ‘little’ is perceived to be politically incorrect?”

The Rev Richard Mulcahy, from the Church in Wales, in Newport, South Wales, said that churchgoers were right to stick to traditional lyrics at Christmas.

“The tongue-twisting and general drop in volume from using the new words is just not worth it,” he said.

“So even if we use modernised words for hymns at other times of the year, when it comes to carols we have to throw out the changes.”

Ghost of Christmas Past.jpg


Christmas songs can reconnect us to our childhood sense of wonder, or drive us right up the freakin’ chimney. For the 12 days of Christmas, we’ve made our lists of the naughtiest and nicest non-novelty rock-era ditties. You check ’em twice.

Madonna had been around the block far too many times to get away with playing the infuriating Betty Boop-ish ingenue. When Eartha Kitt made a case for being a good, deserving girl — “think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed” — it was mildly amusing. When Madonna trotted out the line, it was just another reason for Sean Penn to start throwing ornaments.

Bruce “The Boss”

Read more:

Pope’s Message of Peace, Stability: Warns of Ruin in Selfishness

December 25, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI has called for peace in the Middle East and stability in Africa in his Christmas Day message.

Speaking from the Vatican, the Pope prayed for the opponents of the “twisted logic of conflict and violence” to prevail in the Holy Land.


The Pope decried instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Somalia, and lamented the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans.

He also called for solidarity in the face of an ever more uncertain future.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates christmas night holy mass at the ... 

Read more:


By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press Writer

Pope Benedict XVI in his Christmas message Thursday warned that the world was headed toward ruin if selfishness prevails over solidarity during tough economic times for both rich and poor nations.

Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Benedict declared that the “heart of the Christian message is meant for all men and women.”

The traditional papal Christmas Day message “Urbi et Orbi” — Latin for “to the City and to the World” — usually covers the globe’s hot spots, but this year Benedict also addressed the gloomy economic conditions worrying many across the planet.

Amid near daily news of layoffs, failing companies and people losing homes they can no longer afford in many parts of the world, Benedict’s words seemed tailored in part to the global economic crisis.

He said his Christmas message also applied to “wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations.”

Read the rest:

Gays and Secular Law: “Render unto Caesar….”?

December 24, 2008

When religious leaders speak in our secular world today, few people really listen (or care).  But somehow the Pope managed to anger many.  Below is an example of the loopy comments we have seen….God Bless and Merry Christmas to everyone….

“I am afraid that the Pope’s positions differ strongly from those of the governments of the 27 EU Countries who, in the Charter of Fundamental rights of the EU citizen, have clearly stated and stressed that any sort of discrimination based on sexual orientation is a crime.”

“I believe that the Pope is treading on dangerous waters when he comes up with this type of arguments.”

This came to Peace and Freedom from Arnold Cassola at:

Arnold seems to admit that the Pope can walk on water; which means I’ll listen…..

Unless Arnold has slipped into an oxymoron….which doesn’t make anyone a moron….

Also, the Pope generally deals with sin, not crime.

Recall the phrase “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s….”?

We would just point out that the Pope answers to another power than do the many nations of the European Union so it is no crime or sin or surprise that the entities do not agree…..

Merry Christmas!

Pope Down on Gays