Are Holy Communion rules legal?

EC505I wish I could remember the name of the op-ed page columnist who, a decade or so ago, wrote that she had a legal right to receive Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church, even though she rejected most of its teachings. No, it wasn’t Maureen Dowd.

It’s clear that the issue of whether Catholic leaders have a right to enforce their own doctrines is not going to go away anytime soon. Can you say “Rudy Giuliani”? I knew you could. And, as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence story showed the other day, there are going to be groups on the far lifestyle left that continue to push this button, too. For that matter, if ACT UP attacks the sacramental elements of the Mass, is that a hate crime of some kind?

Anyway, several GetReligion readers sent me links to a story by reporter Elaine Jarvik that ran the other day in the Deseret Morning News that wove together several of these themes into one piece of cloth. The headline: “Who shall partake? Churches grapple with the question of when to deny sacrament.”

At the very least, this is a story inside the Catholic culture wars. But broken Communion — in every sense of the word — is also a major factor in the Anglican crackup. Anyway, here is the lede of that Jarvik story. This kind of newswriting is hard to pull off, in mainstream pages:

When two men dressed in whiteface and strange outfits came forward to receive Holy Communion at a San Francisco Catholic church three weeks ago, no one batted an eyelash. At least that’s what it looks like on a video secretly recorded that morning and then posted on a conservative Catholic Web site.

Since then, though, that communion has caused a stir among some Catholics around the country, who think that San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer was wrong to let the two men take the wafer and wine of the Eucharist. Archbishop Niederauer, the former Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, had celebrated Mass that Sunday morning at Most Holy Redeemer Church in San Francisco’s gay-leaning Castro neighborhood.

The incident raises questions not only about whether Archbishop Niederauer realized who the two men were (members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of gay men who identify themselves as nuns), but also about the rules of communion, a ritual that is central to Christianity.

The big question, again, is how church leaders strive or ignore their own teachings. Thus:

The question that tripped up Archbishop Niederauer was not what or when or how, but who. It’s a question that all Christian churches have considered, and with which some are still grappling. Do you only allow true believers? The doctrinally sound? The baptized? The members? The worthy? Anyone who wants to?

clinton communion1Or how about Baptist Bill Clinton, in a Roman Catholic Church?

The answer to this, and other questions, is suppose to depend on the teachings of the church — or Church — in question. Catholics are not supposed to be receiving unless they are active in the full sacraments of the Church. That includes Confession — which is the great forgotten secret of modern Catholicism. Here is how I put that a few years ago, in a column about Great Lent:

It’s time for the Catholic bishops to go to confession.

It’s time for all of the Catholic priests to go to confession.

Actually, with Easter a few weeks away, this is a time when all Catholics are supposed to go to confession.

But most of America’s 65 million Catholics no longer know or no longer care that their church requires them to go to confession at least once a year in order to receive Holy Communion. Confession is especially important during this season of Lent.

But what does this look like in public life? Was Tim Russert, back in 2004, supposed to ask John Kerry to name his spiritual father and cite his last trip to confession? (What if Kerry had asked Russert the same question?) But here is the real question: How about Kerry’s bishop? Can a bishop ask a communicant and/or his/her priest that question? Is it an attack on them to ask if they are living out the teachings of the faith in which they are — of their own free will — a member?

It’s hard to answer that question in a news feature. The bishops, of course, have to answer that hard question first. That’s what people called bishops are supposed to do, at least, that’s what bishops do in some churches.

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Your GetReligionistas — plus one

DSCN1045 SmallIt’s time for an update from the GetReligionistas team here in cyberspace. There have been a few changes of location and routine — so here is the news.

First of all, there is the new guy. That would be veteran Washington journalist Mark Stricherz, who will tell you more about himself here in a few paragraphs.

These days, he is best known here inside the Beltway as the author of the new book Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party. He’s also had his own blog for some time now, In Front of Your Nose.

Mark and I have been talking for months about some GetReligion work, but we had to wait until the book was done. Now, as the first photo shows, he has moved on to the hard work of book promotion.

Meanwhile, the Divine Mrs. M.Z. is working from home these days, writing according to the baby’s schedule rather than that of an adult editor. However, that’s good for working with a website — so you can expect to see even more of Mollie here at GetReligion in the near future.

Young master Daniel Pulliam has headed home to Indiana, where he is in law school. So he is busy, but it is a rather flexible form of busy — compared to his previous life as a D.C. reporter. So he will continue writing, with a new focus on religion news in the flyover country. Think Chicago to Dallas and thereabouts.

Doug LeBlanc will roll on as our editor and tech man and as a bridge to the website of the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life, home of the Rev. Dr. Editor Arne Fjeldstad, my partner in in all kinds of academic work here and abroad. And I will continue doing all the things that I do, so there is no change there.

So what about this Stricherz fellow?

Asked for a mini-biography we could post, he offered the following. I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of talking to somebody who can write about some of the same topics for The New Republic and The Weekly Standard.

blue dems 1Mark begins with the book, of course. Like I said, he is in full-tilt promotion mode.

I wrote Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party (Encounter Books), released this October. The book touches on many subjects I intend to write about for GetReligion: the media’s treatment of secularism; the Catholic Church and Catholic social thought; American politics and government; and American mores and culture.

To see why I am interested in and qualified to write about these subjects, a little background seems in order.

I was born in San Francisco in 1970 and raised in the Bay Area. I earned a B.A. in political science from Santa Clara University and an M.A. in the social sciences from the University of Chicago. In between, I worked for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to redevelop an inner-city neighborhood in Baton Rouge, La., and worked as a literary assistant at America.

After school, I became a newspaper reporter. My stories on a contracting scandal in Brentwood, Calif., led to the resignation of a top city official. In 1997, the late great Michael Kelly hired me as a reporter-researcher at The New Republic. I then covered Congress for States News Service and was a staff writer at Education Week.

My stories have been cited by The Week in August 2003 as among the best in the country and received an honorable mention in 2005 from Washington Independent Writers. My articles have appeared in many national publications, including The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, Christianity Today, Commonweal, National Catholic Register,and Inside Catholic. To research Why the Democrats are Blue, I received grants from the Phillips Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation at the University of Texas in Austin.

I am the product of an eclectic, wonderful and enfeebled Bay Area Catholic culture from the 1970s and ’80s. This helps explain why I play basketball and follow most team sports; love the Bay Area, especially San Francisco; read newspapers, magazines and books; listen to U2, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and ’80s pop music; watch mainstream movies; jawbone with my friends; and attempt to follow the Seven Sacraments.

I live in Washington with my wife, Angy, and our daughter, Grace. We are parishioners at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill.

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Going to the source

ChooseCatholic social thought is all the rage these days. Or so says Michael Gerson, in his never-ceases-to-annoy-me Washington Post column. I think Terry is going to look into the column and some of the recent media coverage of Gerson. But here’s just a snippet in which he argues that Catholic social teaching is battling for the soul of the Republican Party:

While it affirms the principle of limited government — asserting the existence of a world of families, congregations and community institutions where government should rarely tread — it also asserts that the justice of society is measured by its treatment of the helpless and poor. And this creates a positive obligation to order society in a way that protects and benefits the powerless and suffering.

How does Catholic social thought affect politics? That question is answered a bit by the Associated Press’ Eric Gorski in his story about a draft form of a political engagement guide from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The guides are issued in the year preceding presidential elections — or at least have been for the past three decades, Gorski writes. In the past, the administrative board gave final approval. This year, the full body of 300 bishops will publicly debate and vote on the guide. So what does it say?:

A draft of the document calls abortion and euthanasia “intrinsically evil” and “pre-eminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others.” The bishops then cite other threats that can never be justified: human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, racism, torture, genocide, and “the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war.”

Throughout the 37-page document, opposition to abortion gets special attention.

“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,” the draft says.

At the same time, the bishops say Catholics must not dismiss racism, the death penalty, unjust war, torture, hunger, health care problems or unjust immigration policy.

“A consistent ethic of life,” the document says, “neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues.”

popelifeGorski interviews Denver Archbishop Charles Caput — a vocal Catholic in the public square — and he says he has some suggestions for improvement, though he doesn’t get specific. Gorski also explains that some Catholic groups have distributed their own voter guides, covering topics ranging from abortion and embryonic stem cell research to poverty and war.

So how do Catholics figure out who to vote for in good conscience? The draft form of the document provides some guidance:

If a Catholic were to vote for an abortion rights candidate expressly because of that candidate’s position, that voter would be “guilty of formal cooperation in evil,” the draft says. Voting for an abortion rights candidate for other reasons is still “remote material cooperation” with evil. It can be permitted only if there are “proportionate reasons.”

Another great article from Gorski. Once the guide is completed, it will prove a good resource for religion reporters. Rather than assuming that they know the church’s official position on a given political issue — or whether the church views all its issues to be equivalent — reporters should go to the source.

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As I lay dying

holdinghandsLast week religion reporter David Crumm was featured in our 5Q+1 series. He said that aging is the most important religion story the mainstream media just do not get. Gary Stern of The Journal News had a fantastic story that Crumm may want to check out. He followed a local hospice worker as she attended to the spiritual needs of the dying. Here’s how it begins:

Anyone can have faith when their body is strong and their loved ones are full of life.

Mary Wasacz attends to the faith of those whose bodies are failing or whose loved ones are slipping away.

She holds the hands of the dying as they prepare to meet their maker. She prays with the survivors as their parents or siblings cross to the other side.

“This is the final journey,” she says. “It is just as important as any stage of life. I don’t have any answers, but I have my faith. I look around the world and know there must be a God. It’s a leap of faith to try to help people through it.”

Wasacz was motivated to become a spiritual care coordinator 30 years ago after her third child, Cathy Ann, was born with a fatal condition. She and her husband brought their little girl home from the hospital to die, the first such parents at that hospital to do so. After surviving that heartbreaking tragedy, they started a support group for parents who lost infants. She was already a psychiatric nurse and decided to make bereavement her specialty.

Stern spent two years on the story, accompanying Wasacz as she visited a few patients, some who are devout Christians and some who are irreligious. Wasacz herself is a devout Roman Catholic and a eucharistic minister. Stern describes a visit to the home of Mary Barrett. Wasacz had helped Barrett’s father, Charles, but he had died several months earlier. Now she was taking care of Barrett’s mother, Marjorie, who had suffered a stroke and has congestive heart failure.

“I went to Catholic school and the nuns would say ‘Pray for the grace of a happy death,’” [Mary Barrett] said. “I used to wonder what they meant. Now I know.”

Charles and Marjorie were married for 63 years and lived alone in Yonkers until two years before Charles’ death at 91.

As Wasacz gave Communion to Marjorie, Mary Barrett talked about the importance of faith to her parents and to herself.

“For people who don’t have faith, it must be very sad,” she said. “My parents always had a strong faith. My father was very resigned to whatever was going to be and wasn’t scared. My mother can’t wait for Mary to come and pray with her. I don’t get to church as much as I would like, but I say prayers. We believe in eternal life.”

At 93, Marjorie Barrett continues to fight on and receive Communion.

hospiceThat was one of several mentions of sacraments — a topic that most reporters only notice when politicians are involved. When my grandmother died from pancreatic cancer, our family chose palliative care to help relieve her pain as she died. I think Stern’s story does a great job of showing how families use hospice programs and palliative care. Early in the story he introduces readers to Nannie Seward, a dying 96-year-old. At the end of the story, he revisits the patient:

Early this year, Wasacz got to do something unusual: visit a patient who had recovered to the point where she could leave the hospice rolls.

Nannie Seward, who was turning 98, was fighting off her thyroid cancer. She had gotten through some other health scares, too, and was now eating well and feeling strong.

“She eats almost everything in sight,” said her daughter, Mary Wallace, a nurse. “She gets up in the morning and loves to have bacon and eggs.”

Seward was happy as could be to hug and greet Wasacz, a friend full of hope and faith like her own.

“God is so much in your life,” Wasacz said, holding Seward’s hand.

“Oh yes,” Seward said. “Couldn’t do nothing without him. I feel sorry for people who don’t know God.”

Seward sat proud in a straightback chair, a Bible and bowl of candy bars on the coffee table in front of her.

“You were dying and you were ready to go,” Wasacz said. “You were ready for the Lord.”

“I’m not afraid of dying,” Seward said. “Anytime he’s ready for me, I got to go. I’m looking forward to a better place. I got to go.”

There are numerous stories enterprising religion reporters could cover about end-of-life issues. I keep thinking we might see more coverage of a story about a California effort to help people commit suicide:

Physician-assisted suicide advocates — unable to pass legislation and short on cash to push a statewide ballot initiative — will announce today the creation of a consultation service to offer information to the terminally ill and even provide volunteers for those who would like someone to be present when committing suicide.

“Volunteers will neither provide nor administer the means for aid in dying,” said The Rev. John Brooke, a United Church of Christ minister from Cotati and one of the organizers of the new End of Life Consultation Service. “We will not break or defy the law.”

That story was in the San Jose Mercury News. Let us know if you see any other good, bad or ugly stories about how various church bodies treat stories about death and dying.

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Lutherans in our midst

LutherandKatieI was quite surprised to see the story Terry sent me from yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Written by religion reporter K. Connie Kang, the story is about the holy day being celebrated today by millions of Lutherans, as well as Christians of various Protestant denominations: Reformation Sunday.

The last time I wrote about a Kang story was her excellent piece on Epiphany. It’s so nice to see a reporter delve into the liturgical calendar for story ideas:

This liturgical festival, marking Martin Luther’s 16th century challenge to papal authority by nailing 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, inspired the Protestant Reformation that changed the course of Western civilization.

Luther’s theses, challenging certain practices and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, ultimately led to the division of Europe into two camps and triggered religious wars that lasted decades.

“The Reformation was about the centrality of Christ in the life of the individual and centrality of the word of God in worship,” said the Rev. Nathan P. Feldmeth, an expert on medieval and Reformation history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

At the heart of the Reformation is the doctrine of justification by faith — meaning people are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good deeds, Feldmeth said.

Luther said works are important, but they are a natural outgrowth of salvation — not crucial to earning it.

I think Luther may have been a tad bit stronger about precisely how much our works accomplish toward our salvation, but I’m not quibbling because I’m so darn happy to see a story about Reformation Sunday in a major paper. My church is holding a special service today following the order of Luther’s Deutsche Messe (except in English, just as Martin “Vernacular” Luther would have liked), with a special Bible Class explaining the history and meaning of the service. I’m sure, lest there be a riot, that we will heartily sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” True aside, here: I have sung that hymn in a Roman Catholic church in Maryland. I still don’t understand how the battle hymn of the Reformation gets sung during a Catholic service. Anyway, later I’m gathering with friends for a party (complete with German beverages and food).

Kang gets a bit of local color in her story, explaining that one area congregation is celebrating the 400th birthday of Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt and a presentation by theologian Madeleine Forell Marshall, a professor of religion and literature at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, who has translated Luther and Gerhardt’s hymns into contemporary English:

The cozy sanctuary, with its dark wood ceilings and exquisite stained-glass windows, will be decked out in red — red altar cloths, red banners and red hangings, called paraments, from the altar, pulpit and lectern.

The Rev. John Rollefson, pastor of the church, donning a red chasuble, will deliver a sermon on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

As the Gospel of Luke tells the story, the Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But, the tax collector, overcome with his sinfulness, beat his chest and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

It was the tax collector, Jesus said, not the Pharisee who went home justified before God. Quoting Jesus, Luke wrote: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The parable is a “great text” for Reformation Sunday, Rollefson said, because so many religious people are self-righteous.

“Christians, particularly Christians in the American setting, tend to be quite self-congratulatory about their piety,” he said. “Jesus’ punch line is that he came to save sinners — those who know their need of God, rather than those who think they’re doing God a favor.”

LutherRose350Again, so nice to have a reporter actually include details like what text a local pastor will preach on. Later Kang explains the significance of red (the color of the Holy Spirit as well as martyrdom) as well as the significance of the Reformation in the way Christians worship, study the Bible and pray:

The sermon has become much more important and a longer part of the service since the Reformation, Feldmeth said, because it was used to expound upon biblical passages. Luther also introduced the idea of congregational singing.

The story is long, giving the reporter time to explain what Luther was protesting (the use of indulgences, among other things) and his subsequent excommunication from the Catholic Church. She doesn’t sugarcoat Luther but neither does she make his intolerance a major part of the story. She includes nice words from the unlikely source of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. For that matter, she includes criticism from an unlikely source, too: Luther’s wife Katie Van Bora. (That’s Lucas Cranach the Elder’s depiction of Katie and Martin above.)

The Fayetteville Observer also had a Reformation Sunday story (all based on one source). Let us know if you see any local coverage that’s worthwhile.

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What will that Big Ben guy do next?!

ratzingertlm9as 02You know that Pope Benedict XVI, he is such a wild and crazy fundamentalist.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand precisely why the Tridentine Mass is such a flashpoint for so many modern and postmodern Roman Catholics. Perhaps that is because we are dealing with a premodern rite, but that’s a whole other discussion. Maybe I have trouble grasping this controversy because, well, you know, I go to a church that still celebrates the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the Tridentine stories have something to do with fears that the “spirit” of Vatican II has been crushed and I know that this is connected to battles over the ordination of women, the sexual revolution, academic freedom for “Catholic theologians” who disagree with Catholic teachings and a bunch of other stuff. But if diversity is a good thing, what is wrong with offering Catholics the Tridentine Rite (if that is what they choose to attend)?

But we have another media storm coming, if Damian Thompson of the Telegraph has this story right, passing along news from The Tablet:

Speculation is growing that Pope Benedict XVI will soon celebrate the traditional Latin Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, from which it has been banished for decades. The date suggested is the first Sunday in Advent, December 2.

If the Pope does use the ancient liturgy, it will be a moment of huge significance for the Church. And it will infuriate the trendy Tablet magazine, whose Rome correspondent Robert Mickens is in a terrible flap at the prospect.

Mickens is famous as the Catholic commentator who dissolved into tears of disappointment when Joseph Ratzinger’s name came booming over the loudspeakers after the conclave. These days he wanders around Rome with the pursed lips of a maiden aunt, pinching his nostrils to keep out the clouds of traditionalist incense that come billowing out of the Vatican.

“People who are interested in such things continue to speculate that Pope Benedict will soon celebrate the Tridentine Mass in St Peter’s Basilica,” he announces in his Tablet notebook this week. What a deliciously snooty turn of phrase. I hate to remind you, Robert, but the “people” in question include the Pope. Here, borrow my hanky.

This is snark about snark, and I know that. But you know that a media storm is on the way if Big Ben does approach the high altar in St. Peter’s and elects to face east.

Meanwhile, worship stories do seem to be confusing to many journalists, since they concern rites that are connected to complicated issues of canon law and tradition.

Here is another strange story that I have wanted to mention for some time that is linked to another hot-button issue, which is Rome’s stance on worship with other churches and other faiths. Check out this reference in a recent Religion News Service piece:

The pope will offer an ecumenical Mass in Naples’s main piazza, then have lunch with about 200 religious leaders, including the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, the chief rabbi of Israel and the Muslim rector of Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

Uh, I’m confused. What in the world is an “ecumenical Mass”?

Is this a Mass that involves Eastern Rite Catholics, Anglican Rite Catholics and representatives of other rites that are in communion with Rome? A Mass in which leaders of other churches attend, but do not take Communion? Did the reporter mean “interfaith” instead of “ecumenical,” which would open up another set of questions?

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Revenge of the tmatt trio (again)

Christ PantocratorJust what I needed — more GetReligion guilt.

Last weekend, I was out in Southern California (just as the winds started to pick up) and had a chance to read the Los Angeles Times every day on dead tree pulp, rather than trying to find my way through the digital version online. That means you have a chance to pick through all of the pages of the physical newspaper and look for ghosts. Sure enough, there are lots of them. Feel those guilt pangs?

This time, there was a story back in the local news section that offered a perfect example of the dreaded tmatt trio. Let’s see if you can spot the “trio” issue that shows up.

The story by reporter K. Connie Kang focused on a meeting in Los Angeles in which a collection of scholars and clergy — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — met to wrestle with the “dark side” of their traditions, those “problematic” scripture passages that appear to teach that some things are true and other things are not true.

Wait, that isn’t how the story puts it. It says the discussion focused on scriptures that appear to “assert the superiority of one belief system over others.”

Like what, you ask?

… (The) Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligous official of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, quoted from the Gospel of Mark: “Go into the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Rabbi Reuven Firestone, director of the Institute for the Study of Jewish-Muslim Interrelations at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, mentioned a series of texts, including a verse from Deuteronomy: “For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God: of all the peoples of the earth the Lord your God chose you to be His treasured people.”

And Muzammil H. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh (Islamic Law) Council of North America, quoted from the Koran: “You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies: they are allies only to each other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them — God does not guide such wrongdoers.”

Mohammed s 01Now, rest assured that none of these scriptures actually mean what they appear to mean, according to the scholars. And rest assured that the Los Angeles Times does not quote anyone who disagrees with the scholars on this particular panel, which I would assume is composed of “moderates.”

The whole story left me with some questions:

• When quoting strong statements of religious doctrine, journalists usually soften these statements by noting that this is the viewpoint of the person speaking.

For example, a person may be quoted as saying that he — singular — believes the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is sin when what the person was saying is that the Catholic or Orthodox churches have taught that doctrine for 2,000 years. There are very few of these cushy statements in this article. These scholars are allowed to speak in absolutes. Why?

• Does the Roman Catholic Church officially teach that salvation is possible outside of the grace of Jesus Christ? That would appear to be the case, based on this article. Is something missing here?

• Late, late, late in the story we learn that one of the other speakers at the forum was the Rev. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. If I am not mistaken, Fuller is an evangelical Protestant seminary with Reformed theological roots. Did Mouw agree with the other scholars who were quoted by the Times? Was Mouw so out of line that he could not be quoted? If he was in step with the others, that would be a big story in and of itself.

Now, check your scorecard. And here are the three questions in the tmatt trio once again. These are, of course, the questions that I have found — as a journalist — highly useful in finding out where Christian leaders fit into a spectrum of belief between left and right. These questions always yield interesting information.

1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

26733However, at this event it was a rabbi who was allowed to make the final statement that summed up the day and, thus, the unchallenged big idea of the Times report.

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which co-sponsored the event with Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., said all people of faith need to “take ownership of their most difficult texts, wrestle with them — not run away from them — but confront them, where appropriate, set them in their proper historical context. …

In some instances, he continued, people of faith need to say to themselves, “This is part of my sacred tradition, but I reject it. I find this text offensive. It goes against my own morality, and it goes against what I believe God expects of me in the world today.”

Many people would say “amen.” Many would not. Does the Los Angeles Times realize that?

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Underpromise, overachieve

princeEvan Thomas and Mark Hosenball (with Suzanne Smalley, Eve Conant, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Pat Wingert, Dan Ephron, Rod Nordland, John Barry, Michael Hirsh, Michael Isikoff, Richard Wolffe and Thijs Niemantsverdriet) profiled Blackwater CEO Erik Prince for Newsweek. It’s the kind of story that offers such balanced and illuminating insight as this:

In his NEWSWEEK interview, Prince, 38, wanted to rebut the suggestion that he is building a private army that is beyond the control of the American government and answerable only to him.

Um, who exactly is making this suggestion? And is it really news Prince wants to rebut the suggestion that he’s a megalomaniacal madman who will crush us all? Another indication that the 13 reporters struggled to write a decent article is indicated by the comments found online where one of their sources — not one of the myriad anonymous sources — refutes what they attributed to him. (My husband — all by himself — managed to write a fully-sourced article about Blackwater last year.) I happen to think that federal security is inherently governmental and shouldn’t be outsourced to private contractors (isn’t that why God made Marines?), but the piece just oozes sliminess about Prince as a person. Lots of insinuation, including about Prince’s religious views:

A recent book, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” by Jeremy Scahill, strongly suggests that Prince is a “neo-crusader,” a “Theocon” with a Christian-supremacist agenda.

It is true that the Blackwater Web site has a “Chaplain Corner” with a distinctly evangelical message. In the past 15 years, Prince says, he has attended “one or two” meetings of the Council for National Policy, a Christian right organization founded by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, author of the “Left Behind” series.

But Prince plays down any connection between his religion and his business. “Look,” he says, “I’m a practicing Roman Catholic, but you don’t have to be Catholic, you don’t have to be a Christian to work for Blackwater.”

I don’t even know what that first sentence means, but if Prince is a practicing Roman Catholic, then what’s up with the evangelical stuff? I fear the reporters aren’t informed enough to understand those two dynamics, much less explain them to the reader. As further proof of Prince’s scary religious obsession, the authors offer this:

He was once quoted by a defense-industry newsletter describing why his private contractors could provide better–more effective, more efficient–”relief with teeth” in a dangerous environment than international aid organizations or even the U.S. military: “Everybody carries guns, just like Jeremiah rebuilding the Temple in Israel, a sword in one hand, a trowel in the other.” Prince, a weapons expert and adventure seeker since he outgrew playing with lead soldiers as a boy, has seen the promised land, and it is righteous and well armed.

Oh no! Not an apt Biblical reference! Doesn’t the Constitution ban that? Speaking of bans, that last sentence is currently under review by the Federated Committee of Journalists Against Cliches.

The reporters drop in a bit about the conversion of the evangelical theocrat Prince:

Prince received a double shock when his wife, Joan, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was pregnant with their second child.

One of Joan’s close friends, who declined to be identified discussing private matters, tells NEWSWEEK a doctor recommended Joan terminate the pregnancy before the cancer could be fed by the further rush of estrogen. Joan, a devout Catholic, had the baby–and then had two more. She died of cancer in 2003. Prince, who remarried in 2004, converted to Roman Catholicism at Easter time in 1992. His family had been members of the Calvinist Dutch Reform Church, though with an evangelical bent. No one seems to have been shocked or upset by Prince’s embrace of Rome. Several knowledgeable friends, who did not wish to be identified discussing private conversations, say Prince talked about his reverence for the continuity of the Catholic Church, his desire to go to mass every morning and his appreciation of confession.

For an article that keeps trying to make the case that Prince is a zealous evangelical whose religious views drive his business, the substance seems to indicate he’s more privately religious. It may have worked better for the 13 reporters if they’d under promised and over achieved when it came to allegations.

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