The war on Ascension

ascensionI cover local news here at GetReligion so I thought I would do a wrap-up of local news coverage of today’s holy day.

Which holy day? Ascension.

It’s one of the great feasts in the Christian liturgical calendar, and commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. In Roman Catholicism the Ascension of the Lord is a Holy Day of Obligation. Anglicans and Lutherans mark it. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Ascension is one of 12 Great Feasts. In the Eastern Church, however, Ascension is marked using a different calendar. They will celebrate June 1.

The only problem is that I could not find any mention of this in mainstream newspapers. There were a few stories in Roman Catholic journals but nothing anywhere else. Please do let me know if your local paper had anything.

Covering this holy day, which is very important for Christians who celebrate the liturgical calendar, would certainly be difficult for reporters. It’s not a state holiday like it is in Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. Unlike Christmas or Easter, there aren’t family celebrations surrounding the feast. There’s no consumerism associated with the day — thank God — so we don’t see cards or decorations in stores.

Still, if we can get a front-page New York Times feature on naming children Nevaeh, couldn’t a few papers gives us a paragraph or two on the Feast of the Ascension?

UPDATE: Thank you, reader Patti G! She submits a story from her local paper about a Lutheran Church’s Ascension Day celebrations.

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The alleged rise of the religious left

MichaelLernerGood political reporters do their best to cover both ends of the political spectrum. With American politics nicely divided into “liberal” and “conservative” camps — at least on the surface — this is easy. So with the “sudden” emergence of the powerful “religious right” in the 2004 presidential election, articles on the “religious left” in American politics have been on the to-do list for political and religion reporters.

I won’t take the time here to fully challenge the idea that the “religious right” suddenly became influential or even the myth that it is as influential as it is made out to be. To make it brief, the political influence of religious conservatives did not appear overnight, and reporters routinely overestimate their influence on national politics.

With that introduction, I have a few comments on Saturday’s front-page Washington Post piece by Caryle Murphy and Alan Cooperman on the arrival of the religious left, whatever that means, in politics:

Some groups on the religious left are clearly seeking to help the Democratic Party. But the relationship is delicate on both sides. “If I were the Democrats, the last thing I would do is really try to mobilize these folks as a political force . . . because I think some of this is a real unhappiness with the whole business of politicizing religion,” said Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

The Rev. Joseph W. Daniels Jr., senior pastor of Emory United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington, said a key question for him is whether the religious left will become “the polar opposite to . . . the religious right” or be “a voice in the middle.”

“What this country needs is strong spiritual leadership that is willing to build bridges. We don’t need leaders who are lightning bolts for division and dissension,” he said.

Nonetheless, some observers doubt that the revitalization of the religious left will lessen the divisions over religion in politics. “I do think,” said Hertzke, “that, if in fact this progressive initiative takes off, we will see an even more polarized electoral environment than we did in 2004.”

Religious Left3With that, religion in American just got that much more political.

A few issues with the article. I know Washington is a political town and the Post is a newspaper that thrives covering politics, but how about a little religion in a piece about religious groups? I got all excited when the article suggested that it would explain what “religious liberals” believed, but nada, other than references to abortion, and the cozy categories of mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics. There is no mention of the authority of the Bible, not to mention key theological issues that are at the root of the differences between liberal and conservative denominations.

This is an interesting reversal of roles. The mainline denominations are outside the sphere of influence looking in while conservative, traditional denominations supposedly hold all of the influence and power in Washington.

There was little direct mention of the doctrine of separation of church and state in the article. It does not really fit with the story line, but are there those in the liberal religious left who are concerned about violating that constitutional concept?

While the Post‘s version of the current status of religious liberalism in America is all rosy, the New York Times offered a starker picture a day earlier:

WASHINGTON, May 18 — They had come to All Souls Unitarian Church, 1,200 of them from 39 states, to wrest the mantle of moral authority from conservative Christians, and they were finally planning how to take their message to those in power.

After rousing speeches on Wednesday by liberal religious leaders like Rabbi Michael Lerner (pictured) of the magazine Tikkun and Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, participants in the new Network of Spiritual Progressives split into small groups to prepare for meetings with members of Congress on Thursday.

Yet at a session on ethical behavior, including sexual behavior, the 50 or so activists talked little about what to tell Congress about abortion or same-sex marriage. Instead, the Rev. Ama Zenya of First Congregational Church in Oakland, Calif., urged them to talk to one another about their spiritual values and “to practice fully our authentic being.”

It is essentially the same story, but the contrast in outlook is amazing. I’ve complained about this before, but I wish would tell us what page the story was published the way does, because I’m curious what kind of play this received.

I know the Post has long practiced the tradition of getting beat by the NYT on stories and then playing it up a day or two later on the front page with a different angle, but I wonder whether this was actually the case in this instance.

Religious LeftLastly, revealing more of the “religious left” movement than the Post or the Times combined, Julia Duin of the Washington Times was also able to scoop both papers in publishing a preview to the event on which both the NYT and the Post stories were centered:

[The conference's spiritual covenant] supports a national health plan, suggests members of Congress “spend part of one day a week feeding hungry people at a shelter or other … hands-on service activity,” the public funding of all state and national elections and many other innovations.

“Have you ever heard a Democrat talk like that?” the rabbi asked. “They have down one dimension of the problem, and we’re behind that. But we’re trying to add a spiritual dimension.”

The guest list for the conference, posted at, includes anti-war activists such as Cindy Sheehan, who will help lead a “pray-in for peace” outside the White House on Thursday afternoon. A range of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu speakers are also slated.

There you have it, folks. The political influence of the religious right in America is being met by a coalition of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindus. All you ever wanted to know about the booming religious movement that will rock the nation come November. I have my doubts.

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Who does Dan Brown say that I am?

ChristSinai 01And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Who do men say that I am?

– Gospel of Mark 8:27

Please do not blow a fuse, dear readers.

I am not opening this post with a Bible verse in order to veer into evangelism. For most of the week, I have been looking for mainstream press reports about The Da Vinci Code that found a news hook other than (a) evangelicals trying to use the movie for evangelism, (b) scholars shredding the novel’s historical claims, (c) movie executives insisting that their product was only fiction or (d) speculation about the impact of the lousy reviews on the box office and the future of what was supposed to have become a major franchise for Sony Pictures. Weeks two and three are the keys.

On that final point, I do wonder if Tom Hanks is locked in for the future. And here is another question about the future: How do you film Angels & Demons — much of which happens in churches in Rome, and much of the final act actually in the Vatican — without the cooperation of the Holy See?

Well, there is a different angle out there. Reports indicate that the movie has softened the novel in at least two key ways.

First, it has edited out or weakened much of the oh-so-sexy pagan roots of the plot. Where’s that passage in the book about sacred sex inside the Jewish Temple’s Holy of Holies between the priests and holy women representing an ancient Jewish goddess?

But, most importantly, the movie has tried to adopt a slightly less hostile stance toward Christianity. The movie strives for a more mushy, spiritual, “dialogue”-oriented approach that, at crucial moments, says, “maybe,” “maybe,” “maybe.” As Associated Press religion-beat veteran Richard N. Ostling notes in an analysis piece:

An early clue that the film is trying a different tack from the novel comes when it omits the book’s thesis: “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” The script instead turns that concept into a question: “What if the world discovers the greatest story ever told is a lie?”

The chief alterations, however, pop up during a pivotal theological discussion between the story’s two experts on religious history, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). The maniacal Teabing makes the claim (disregarded by real-life scholars) that Christianity considered Jesus a mere man and turned him into a divinity in A.D. 325. Good-guy Langdon mildly objects, inserting a critical viewpoint that the novel lacks.

The bottom line is that the novel said Jesus was a remarkable man — bright, charismatic, hot and all that — but just a man. This is the Jesus of the old liberal mainline Protestant world. But the novel added another layer of commentary, saying that the true Christianity of the Gnostics and other believers in the “sacred feminine” was buried by the evil, sexist, frumpy men who were setting up the Catholic version of a Roman empire. This is the modern, sexy, almost Wiccan gospel of some segments of the liberal mainline Protestant academic world.

The movie says most of that, but adds a crucial word — maybe. In the end, it says that the most important thing is for believers to believe something and only nasty traditionalists care about the details. But the bottom line remains the bottom line: Dan Brown is acting as an evangelist for a syncretistic, pluralistic, at times neo-pagan version of Christianity.

Thus, one of the best news hooks right now can be summed up in this statement: “Who do men say that I am?” As USA Today noted:

At one climactic point, Langdon says, “History shows Jesus was an extraordinary man. Why couldn’t Jesus have been divine and still have been a father?” That line was not in the book.

The filmmakers try to back off from a hard-line stance on the question of Jesus’ divinity. Says Langdon, near the end of the film, “What matters is what you believe.”

Wasn’t there a way to work Oprah into the movie to deliver that line?

I would imagine that some mass-media people may not be happy about this change (and the fact that the script is terrible and most of the performances wooden or cheesy). Over at Entertainment Weekly, reviewer Owen Gleiberman cuts to the chase. Is that disappointment we hear between the lines?

A crucial change from the book is that Langdon has been made into a skeptic, a fellow who doesn’t necessarily buy that official Christianity is a lie. This is a sop to the film’s critics (i.e., the Catholic Church), but it feels cautious, anti-dramatic. Yes, a soupçon of research reveals that the Priory of Sion is a hoax invented in 1956, and surely it can’t be proved that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were ever intimate . … But what we want from a film of The Da Vinci Code is the fervor of belief. … As a novel, The Da Vinci Code has a resonance that lingers. It may be less history than hokum, but it’s a searching product of the feminist era, when even many true believers have grown weary of the church as an instrument of moral reprimand and male dominion.

2795So here is the question, and it’s one that I think is at the heart of the movie story: Who is Jesus, according to Dan Brown (and thus, the Sony Pictures franchise)?

This is a question linked to millions and millions of dollars worth of tickets. What does Brown believe? Will he stand up for his own beliefs or will be compromise, in order to give his actors and directors wiggle room? In novels one and two in this series, Brown had firm, blunt beliefs. He waffled a little, but not much. It seems that the movie has retreated into an Oprah-esque world of “maybe.”

This may be The Matrix all over again, in a strange sort of way.

The siblings Larry and Andy Wachowski — the word “brothers” is problematic right now — were also pushing a gospel rich in neo-Gnostic images and themes, with a literal union of the divine feminine and the male savior.

The Matrix gospel worked when it was visual, vague and exciting. It sank into irrational, wordy quicksand when the siblings attempted to explain their beliefs. They refused to retreat and the result was a disaster that still made lots of money, but it was clear that the franchise declined with each film. It had nowhere to go.

Will Brown be honest? Will he answer questions? Will he have the courage of his convictions, or compromise in an attempt to be safe? No wonder there are rumors of writer’s block on the third book.

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The New York Times corrects the error

450px The new york times building in new york cityThe Times welcomes comments and suggestions, or complaints about errors that warrant correction. Messages on news coverage can be e-mailed to or left toll-free at 1-888-NYT-NEWS (1-888-698-6397). Comments on editorials may be e-mailed to or faxed to (212) 556-3622.

It has been a long, but interesting, trip into the digital-era machinery of the New York Times correction process and, to be perfectly frank about it, the gears all clicked into place in this case.

Yes, I sent quite a few emails to various addresses at the Times. Yes, I went into several voicemail machines. But a representative of the newspaper’s national desk did call me and we discussed the error, from that long-ago story about the election of a new Episcopal bishop out in California. That article said:

The Episcopal Church is a small but rich and powerful member of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, the second-largest church body in the world, and is presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury.

If you want to follow the whole trail of my posts about this issue, please go here, here and finally here. The national desk asked if I had any information to offer in support of my request for a correction and I sent several URLs about the size of the Eastern Orthodox Communion and the Anglican Communion. It was easy to find Anglican statistics. The key, as several comments have noted here at GetReligion, was trying to establish an estimate, repeat estimate, of the size of the combined churches within Orthodoxy.

So here is what we ended up with, as published today in the Times:

An article on May 5 about the election of a new bishop in the California diocese of the Episcopal Church referred incorrectly to the worldwide Anglican Communion, to which the church belongs. It is the third largest church body in the world, not the second. (The error also occurred in three previous articles going back to 1989.)

Why go through all of this? Well, when newspapers make the same errors over and over it often encourages readers to see bias where there may be no bias. And the Times is not a normal newspaper, but the establishment’s newspaper of record. Note the reference that this particular error “also occurred in three previous articles going back to 1989.”

This is one reason that old-fashioned journalistic concepts like accuracy, balance and fairness remain important.

Or, as the late A.M. Rosenthal liked to put it, newspapers are supposed to “keep the news straight.” So I was interested — but not surprised — to learn it was that angry, high-strung old journalist who helped modernize and standardize the newsroom process that led to clear, prominent corrections. Reporter Craig Silverman at Editor & Publisher wrote the story:

The Associated Press noted [that] Rosenthal “… began the paper’s practice, now imitated by many others, of running corrections as a prominent daily fixture.” The Los Angeles Times wrote, “When the newspaper erred, he insisted that it admit its mistakes in a daily Corrections column, which he introduced in 1972. He later added the Editor’s Note, which addressed flaws such as errors of omission and lapses in taste and standards.”

As former New York Times Assistant Managing Editor Allan M. Siegal wrote in the introduction to the 2002 collection of amusing Times corrections, “Kill Duck Before Serving,” Rosenthal told his department leaders in 1970 that “corrections or denials or amplifications don’t really catch up with the original because they are not given proper display.”

Rosenthal demanded change on his own ship and, after a few years, his memo on the subject reached the captains of other news vessels.

Two years after Rosenthal’s missive, the paper anchored its corrections in one place inside the paper. Now, the logic went, people knew where to find them every day. The industry cheered, and many papers fell into line. Today, almost 35 years after Rosenthal created the modern correction, you can pick up nearly any North American city daily, open it to page two, and spot one or more corrections tucked away in the bottom corner.

I urge you to check out Silverman’s piece. It’s a fitting variation on the common themes in many of this week’s stories and tributes to Rosenthal, including this touching new piece by his son, Andrew Rosenthal, and my own column for Scripps Howard.

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More “moderate” than thou (Rumble III)

home leftcol imageRemember that soul-searching June 23, 2005, memo that New York Times editor Bill Keller wrote to his staff? This was the one called “Assuring Our Credibility” (PDF) that talked about the newspaper needing to do a better job of covering religion and being fair to people whose beliefs seem strange to people who work in the world’s most powerful newsroom.

I like that memo — a lot. I also think that Keller was rather brave to write it. Here is one of my favorite passages, talking about the work of a committee that is trying to help the newspaper work on its faults and build bridges to its critics. Keller writes:

We must … be more alert to nuances of language when writing about contentious issues. The committee picked a few examples — the way the word “moderate” conveys a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme, the misuse of “religious fundamentalists” to describe religious conservatives — but there are many pitfalls involved when we try to convey complex ideas as simply as possible, on deadline.

GetReligion readers already know how this blog feels about the abuse of the term “fundamentalist,” as defined in The Associated Press Stylebook. So let’s not linger there.

But what about that “moderate” problem? It does seem that, in many religious and cultural disputes, there are “conservatives,” “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists” who are forever wrestling with intelligent, sensible people called “moderates.” There are no “liberals” in sight.

Which brings us back to the Episcopal Diocese of California and its election this weekend in San Francisco of Mark H. Andrus, the bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Alabama, as the new leader of one of the most liberal regions in the U.S. Episcopal Church. There was a somewhat surprising result, which ABC News captured in a rather blunt headline atop a Reuters report: “Heterosexual elected Episcopal Bishop of Calif.”

At the New York Times, reporter Neela Banerjee continued to cover this story, noting that the diocese did elect a straight white male, but one who had bravely stood up for gay rights in the heart of the Bible Belt. So this landslide in Grace Cathedral (photo) was a cautious win for the Episcopal left. Here is a summary:

Bishop Andrus, 49, was not one of the gay candidates. … Nonetheless, in an acceptance statement via a phone call piped into Grace Cathedral, where the voting was taking place, Bishop Andrus said he would continue to support the full inclusion of gay men and lesbians in the church.

“We must all understand, and here I address the Diocese of California and those listening from elsewhere, that your vote today remains a vote for inclusion and communion — of gay and lesbian people in their full lives as single or partnered people, of women, of all ethnic minorities, and all people,” Bishop Andrus said, referring to continuing in the Anglican Communion, which has about 77 million members worldwide. “My commitment to Jesus Christ’s own mission of inclusion is resolute.”

So this election did nothing to bring peace in the global Anglican Communion, but it did not make matters immediately worse. You can find a similar template in the solid stories featured in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.

mitre2But before we go, let’s reflect on a passing remark near the end of that Banerjee report, which included fleeting references to other Episcopal elections taking place across America this weekend.

Take the race for a key mitre down in the Bible Belt, for example:

In the Diocese of Tennessee … voting for a new bishop ended in a stalemate on Saturday after more than 30 ballots. Lay delegates backed a conservative minister who they hoped would take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church, and clergy members backed a more moderate choice, said the Rev. William Sachs, director of research for the Episcopal Foundation, the church’s analysis arm.

There are several loaded wordings in that paragraph. It is possible that this “conservative” candidate believes that it’s more important in the long run to keep the Nashville diocese in the global Anglican Communion (majority conservative, on moral theology) than in the U.S. body currently called the Episcopal Church (majority liberal, on moral theology). However, one can be sure that the use of the “moderate” label here — outside of a direct quote — is loaded. The analysis is, after all, coming from the head of the analysis office for the New York City-based Episcopal hierarchy.

And that would certainly sound right to the New York Times. So here is the question for Keller the editor. Does the New York City Episcopal establishment get to determine who is in the “moderate” camp?

P.S. No sign, as of yet, of the Times publishing a correction on Banerjee’s earlier story, which reported that the Anglican Communion (77 million members) is the world’s second largest church, as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox Christian communion (250 million members).

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New York Times gets ready to rumble!

acns3945grouplow resLet me jump in here with a quick follow-up on the Divine Ms. M’s post on those fightin’ Episcopalians.

After all, an authoritative source of doctrine almost on the level of the Book of Common Prayer has now offered its take on the upcoming election out in the Episcopal Diocese of California (the election site is here), a race that includes three candidates who are openly gay. I am referring, of course, to the New York Times.

First things first, which is that I think the editors need to run a correction, because the piece by reporter Neela Banerjee states that:

The Episcopal Church is a small but rich and powerful member of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, the second-largest church body in the world, and is presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop [V. Gene] Robinson’s consecration drew a virulent response from primates of fast-growing Anglican provinces in the developing world, where homosexuality is taboo. Many in Africa, Asia and Latin America have curtailed their interaction with the American church. A few traditionalist congregations in this country have placed themselves under the oversight of foreign bishops.

I would argue that this section of the report contains a sin of omission and a sin of comission. The newpaper should correct the latter.

It is true that there are about 77 million Anglicans in the world (although the figure 70 million is often used, as well), part of the large communion that retains loose ties to the Church of England. The strictness of those ties is part of the global current argument over the moral status of sexual unions outside the sacrament of marriage. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a symbolic leader with little real clout, so the term “presides over” is stretching things a bit. He is the first among equals, among the Anglican primates (seen in the photo by Anglican Communion News Service).

Meanwhile, there are about 1 billion Roman Catholics. The pope is not the first among equals. The pope is, well, the pope.

And No. 2? The Times copy desk should note that there are 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide and we (yes, I am Eastern Orthodox) are led, in a symbolic, first-among-equals manner, by the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is based in the ancient city that once was called Constantinople. I believe that 250 million is quite a bit larger than 77 million.

And the sin of omission is this. Banerjee is right that the Episcopal Church here in the United States is small and rich and that the Third World Anglicans are large and growing. But in this case it really helps to add one or two more sentences and some math, especially if one is going to use dynamite words such as “schism” in the story.

The Canterbury Cathedral PrThe current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used to lead the Church of Wales — with 45,000 members. There are about 2 million Episcopalians in the United States. However, there are 40 to 50 million Anglicans in Africa, with 15 million or so in Nigeria, alone.

Take that into account when reading the New York Times report, which ends with some crisp, stunning quotes from clergy representing the liberal Episcopal establishment here in North America. For example, in California:

“I think we’re tired of the hype that is being generated by a vocal minority in the church,” said the Rev. Katherine M. Lehman of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Menlo Park. She added, “If we are called to elect a qualified nominee who happens to be gay, we will do that based on our discernment of the process and the Holy Spirit.”

Note the word “minority.” It is true that, in the context of North America, the liberal stance may represent the “majority.” But in the global Anglican context it is clearly a small minority.

It would help — just in terms of simple facts — if readers knew that.

Here is another excellent, but loaded, quotation:

“My No. 1 directive as a bishop is the unity of church, because schism is a greater sin than heresy,” said Bishop Kirk S. Smith of the diocese of Arizona, who backs full inclusion of gays in the church.

Many people would want to debate the statement that “schism is a greater sin than heresy.” However, the question is this: What part of the Anglican Communion is taking actions that might cause a global schism? Is this a story about a national schism in a small national church, or a global schism in a giant global Communion? I think it is crucial for reporters to strive to use language that lets readers know this story is about both of those realities.

P.S. Click here for an interesting report in the Church of England Newspaper that suggests, in many ways, that the Episcopal Church is even smaller than it appears to be on paper (a statement that could be made about many flocks). Here’s the lead:

American Episcopalians have the lowest rate of worship attendance of any Christian denomination, a Gallup poll reports. Episcopalians come third from last on the table of weekly attendance with less than one in three attending services, beating only Jews and those who have no religion.

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Let’s get ready to rumble!

episcopal gaysLast summer I attended a worship service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I went so that I could witness the congregation’s interfaith Eucharistic prayer. The sermon text was Mark 7 and the priest told us that it showed how Jesus was xenophobic, racist and sexist.

The next day I ran into another priest from the church. I told her I had been at the previous day’s service. “I’m so sorry,” she immediately replied. “Why?” I asked, thinking she was going to apologize for the sermon. “Oh, our sound was all off and we had those problems with the lighting. Didn’t you notice?” she said.

Oh how I wish I could go back to Grace Cathedral this weekend when it hosts a vote on who will be the new bishop of California:

The Episcopal Diocese of California’s nomination of three gay clergy among seven candidates for bishop is no surprise — priests in the diocese have been blessing same-sex unions for at least 27 years.

But the possible election of one of them Saturday threatens to split not only the 220-year-old Episcopal Church in the United States but also the centuries-old Anglican Communion, the group of churches around the world that share worship and prayer traditions rooted in the Church of England.

That lead came from the San Francisco Chronicle‘s religion writter, Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, who does an excellent job of highlighting the international importance of a local issue and the myriad interests concerned by the vote. Episcopalians in America are but a fraction of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, he writes, only one-ninth the size of the Nigerian church.

Four California churches now proclaim affiliation with the Anglican province in Uganda and are distancing themselves from the Episcopal Church in the United States and battling it in court for ownership of church properties. An Oceanside church says it is affiliated with the Diocese of Bolivia.

This rift has a racial and colonial subtext in which power dynamics have been reversed. The Anglican faith of white colonizers is now being dictated by the once-colonized.

africananglicanMany reporters highlighted the racial aspect of the schism, but I’m not sure about the colonization angle. Not just because both the colonizers and the colonized are, well, dead, but because it ignores the fact that this is not a colonial situation in which people are being forced to change their aboriginal traditions. The Africans aren’t forcing new traditions on anyone, they’re merely maintaining the church’s historic teachings. That the descendents of the colonizers have changed their minds doesn’t make this reverse colonization.

I also wanted to highlight this from the Los Angeles Times:

“To watch your church suddenly say, ‘Anything goes,’ is a horrifying thing,” [Cynthia Brust, a spokeswoman for the American Anglican Council, which has 300 affiliated churches in the U.S.] added.

The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, who was bishop of the Diocese of Newark in New Jersey before his retirement in 2000, said Brust misses the point.

“There’s not a scientist in the world today who supports the idea that homosexuals are mentally ill or morally depraved,” said Spong, a noted author and outspoken church leader on the subject. “So I’d rather see the church split. I have no desire to be a part of a homophobic church.”

Many reporters frame this issue as a division between conservative and liberal interpretations of Scripture. But as Spong so eloquently says, for some folks Scripture is not necessarily the arbiter of how the church should consider homosexuality.

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Europe: Coffins, cribs, crosses, crescents

42a9740b66a15 wellness gro  First let me praise Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times for taking a religion-haunted story — the debates over immigration in Europe — and letting the ghost dance right out in the open. Besides, it’s hard not to read a story with a face-slap lead like this one: “Europe is buying more coffins than cribs.”

However, I do have one or two questions about the story, questions that transcend yet another red-flag use of the term “fundamentalists.”

The basic idea is becoming familiar. Rising numbers of Europeans are making lifestyle choices that are resulting in the decline of the old cultures on the Continent. In other words, they are not conceiving many children or allowing many of the ones that are conceived to be born. Meanwhile, Muslim families are moving into Europe and growing. Do the math.

Germany has one of the world’s lowest birthrates: Fewer babies were born in 2005 than in the last year of World War II. The country will need 250,000 to 300,000 immigrants every year to sustain its population. A recent United Nations report estimated that by 2050, Germany will need 3.5 million working-age immigrants each year to maintain its population ratio and fund pension, healthcare and other programs for the elderly.

The U.N. survey found that even allowing for immigration, the European population will drop by 2.5 million a year by the middle of the century. … The question in Europe quickly turns from one of numbers to one of Western values — a concept not fully articulated by Europeans themselves, but often used to protest the loosening of immigration policies. The Muslim population has doubled to about 15 million since the 1980s, and many on the continent view the religious head scarf, arranged marriages and conservative imams as challenges to democracy and equality.

My big question concerns the article’s very next statement. Yes, my question is rooted in my concern that too many mainstream reporters seem to think that there is a good Islam and a bad Islam and that reporters and politicians in the West get to decide which one is which.

Cultural unease intensified after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was further heightened by the bombings in Madrid and London and the furor over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Some Muslim leaders have begun urging Europe’s largest minority to do more to integrate and understand that Islamic principles — despite the teachings of fundamentalists — are not jeopardized by Western society.

248 15My question can be stated several different ways.

Is there any mainstream branch of Islam that does not ultimately advocate the union or the ultimate cooperation of the mosque and the state? Is there any form that accepts Muslims living as a minority in a secular, pluralistic state (let alone one that has some kind of historic relationship with another religion)?

Or let me ask this: Is the government of Saudi Arabia “fundamentalist,” in terms of global Islam? If Saudi Arabia is “fundamentalist,” what is Osama bin Laden?

And this question leads to another: Can we say that the Muslims in Europe — moderate, traditional and Islamist — are on the rise because, when it comes to family life, they are following their traditions (including faith) while the Europeans are in decline because they have written off their heritage of faith and family? This issue is implied, weakly, in Fleishman’s article, but never stated. At the very least, it would have been interesting to ask that question about nations such as, well, Italy and Ireland.

So what are European values these days?

“Religion has become an issue,” said Rainer Ohliger, an analyst with Network Migration in Europe. “Religion was not an issue for immigrants in the 1980s. Then, it was social integration, housing and welfare. Why did it change? In Germany you could see the echo effect of arranged marriages and other traditions practiced in Turkey. Then you had 9/11, and all of a sudden the Muslim religion was perceived as a danger, although in Germany that perception started earlier.” …

The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg now gives a 30-question oral test designed to filter Islamic extremists; other states may follow suit. In the Netherlands, where citizens were shaken by the killing of a Dutch film director by an Islamic radical, a new residency test requires immigrants to watch a video depicting Dutch life that includes two men kissing and topless women at a beach.

Europe: love it or leave it?

Or do the Muslim critics of the old Europe simply wait. Their day will come, because it’s in the math.

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