Why does Time see religion as irrelevant?

time 100 coverMany of you know World as a publication that strives to compete with other newsweeklies, but with an avowed evangelical Christian slant.

As a longtime reader of the publication, I appreciate it most for covering items that did not show up in The Washington Post and The New York Times the previous week, as both Time and Newsweek are known for doing so lamely.

So it’s not surprising that World founder Joel Belz over at the WorldViews blog pointed out that Time, in its list of “100 men and women” who are transforming the world through their “power, talent, or moral example,” sadly failed to include more than three people who could be considered religious figures.

While I cannot say here how disgusting I find the magazine’s hero-worshiping style and selection — Will Smith is on the list? Power? No. Talent? Definitely not. Moral example? Let’s hope not. — I do respect such efforts to catalogue the influential and powerful. It’s relatively interesting, good for conversations (and blog posts) and probably good for the magazine’s bottom line. But as Belz notes, the lack of religious leaders in the list is truly disturbing, especially since being a “moral example” is one of the qualifications:

Indeed, TIME lists 27 “artists and entertainers,” 16 “scientists and thinkers,” 22 “leaders and revolutionaries,” 21 “heroes and pioneers,” and 23 “builders and titans.” (The fact that this actually adds up to 109 people may be because TIME saw no mathematicians among the world’s most influential people). The three who might fall into the “religious” category are Muqtada al-Sadr of Iraq, Pope Benedict, and Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. Is organized religion really that miniscule in its worldwide influence these days — or is that just the secularist perspective of the editors at TIME?

I would like to think that the lack of religious leaders on the list is not due to “the secularist perspective” of the editors. Smart secularists should be able to recognize the importance of religion in the world. The magazine clearly understood it in putting together its list of the 25 most influential evangelicals in February 2005. I would also, obviously, disagree with the position that organized religion is “miniscule in its worldwide influence,” but an argument could be made that it is difficult to nail down 15 to 20 truly significant international leaders.

Who then should be on the list? Based on the inclusion of Tyra Banks, Stephen Colbert and Steve Nash (who was owned by NBA MVP rival Kobe Bryant on Sunday), one would think just about anybody can get on that list. So why did the editors omit the Dalai Lama, Rick Warren, Osama bin Laden and Tom Cruise (in jest, for his Scientology crusade)? Who would you add to the list?

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Evangelicals prefer Clinton over a Mormon?

romney in massThe “Mitt Romney cannot win the Republican nomination because he believes in weird things” chorus is singing again. The major theme this time around, as explained in this this excellent blogpost by Ross Douthat, is whether it is constitutional for voters to apply a religious test to candidates for public office.

Romney’s presidential run has picked up some serious steam, thanks to his universal health-care initiative in Massachusetts. National Journal considers Romney one of the big three contenders for the GOP nomination behind Sens. John McCain of Arizona and George Allen of Virginia.

Putting his super-secret sources to work, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak wrote Thursday that “Romney is well aware that an unconstitutional religious test is being applied to him.”

There is nothing new to this argument, as The Washington Monthly‘s Amy Sullivan points out. It was Sullivan who wrote in September 2005 that Romney’s Mormon beliefs will be a problem in a 2008 presidential run. Nevertheless, Novak has the super-secret sources and his article will be a watermark in Romney’s presidential run:

Mitt Romney, in his last nine months as governor of Massachusetts, was in Washington Tuesday to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in an early stage of his 2008 presidential campaign. To a growing number of Republican activists, he looks like the party’s best bet. But any conversation among Republicans about Romney invariably touches on concerns of whether his Mormon faith disqualifies him for the presidency.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits a religious test for public office, but that is precisely what is being posed now. Prominent, respectable Evangelical Christians have told me, not for quotation, that millions of their co-religionists cannot and will not vote for Romney for president solely because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Romney is nominated and their abstention results in the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton, that’s just too bad. The evangelicals are adamant, saying there is no way Romney can win them over.

Evangelicals, whoever these strange folks are, prefer a President Clinton II to a President Romney? You have to be kidding me.

The biggest problem I had with Novak’s article is the assumption that evangelical voters — those who are orthodox in their politics — actually have that level of influence in the Republican Party. The influence of these voters is minimal and must be separated from the millions of churchgoers who readily voted for Ronald Reagan despite his wife’s use of a personal astrologer to help determine his schedule.

romney buttonAn angle that needs to be covered in these pieces of political speculation is that Mormon politicians have historically been very friendly to evangelicals’ ministries and issues. A Washington, D.C., pastor I spoke to last night said that the politician who is most helpful to his ministry is Mormon.

A note to political writers: Romney’s religious beliefs matter. They matter because Romney himself knows they matter. Will conservative evangelical voters and their leaders really not vote for Romney in a general election because he is Mormon? Sounds like a good story for local papers to do during the GOP primary.

Adam Reilly over at Slate wrote a nice piece of political commentary a day before Novak’s piece ran that provides the Romney campaign with some nice suggestions for overcoming what has now become the “Mormon problem.”

In recent months, for example, he’s done a nice job convincing pundits and the public that religious voters care more about core values than theological minutiae. During a February trip to South Carolina, a key primary state, Romney was asked how his faith would go over with Southern evangelicals. “Most people in South Carolina want a person of faith as their leader,” he replied. “But they don’t care what brand of faith that is … I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe in God. I’m a person of faith and I believe that’s the type of person Americans want.” Romney’s contention that the “brand of faith” doesn’t matter is debatable — but if he keeps saying it, and enough people take up the mantra on his behalf, some skeptics might change their minds. Romney’s hard sell is already working with the press: In a recent column on Romney’s ’08 prospects, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter asserted that “[M]ost just want a believer, regardless of faith” — a line that could have been penned by the governor himself. …

RomneyStandardWhat’s more, there’s a desperate quality to Romney’s eagerness for approval from non-Mormon religious notables. In March, Romney traveled to Rome for Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley’s elevation to cardinal. It was a nice photo-op for the governor, who’s sure to tout this trip — and his cooperation with O’Malley in fights against gay marriage and stem-cell research in Massachusetts — while courting the Catholic vote nationwide. But Romney overreacted, embarrassing himself with breathless commentary about what a big deal his Vatican junket was. “This is extraordinary, and particularly for someone of my faith,” Romney gushed at a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in New Hampshire prior to his trip. “I don’t know that there’s ever been a Mormon guy that’s been to the Vatican for a [M]ass held by the Pope, so it’s a personal honor.” Thanks for the reminder that Mormons are religious pariahs, governor. Worse, a Romney spokesperson told the Boston Globe that A) Romney and O’Malley were friends; and B) the archbishop had invited the governor to make the trip. Romney just looked foolish when O’Malley told the Globe he hadn’t invited Romney and didn’t really know him all that well. (An O’Malley spokesman eventually explained that Romney had received an invitation “similar to that extended to the general public.”)

In between Romney’s lectures that HBO’s Big Love does not represent Mormonism, political reporters are going to have to dig into the true beliefs of this faith. As we have written at GetReligion, those beliefs are hardly monolithic.

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Yes, it’s a big religion story

FacesOfDarfurI joined a few friends from church yesterday and went to the Save Darfur rally on the National Mall. It was a very interesting event, featuring everyone from Manute Bol to George Clooney. My favorite speaker was Paul Rusesabagina. It was not a large rally — only several thousand people, I think — but I was struck by how many of those gathered had signs or T-shirts announcing their religious affiliation. I saw many Christians, but a ton of Jews.

The Baltimore Sun‘s Matthew Hay Brown and Laura McCandlish noticed the same:

Days after Yom HaShoah, when Jews remember the victims of Nazi Germany, busloads traveled from the synagogues of Baltimore to make their numbers known. . . .

“The timing of it, coming so close after Yom HaShoah, made it obvious,” said Lisa Pintzuk, a member of Har Sinai. “What’s the point of remembering the Holocaust if you let it happen again?” . . .

“One of the things that allowed the Holocaust to happen was the world’s silence,” said Joel Nathanson, a dentist and part-time cantor at the synagogue. “We just don’t want it to happen again. Especially in this day and age, when information travels so much faster. It’s our responsibility to speak up.”

The “never again” mantra spoken by many Jews has been broadened to include acts of genocide against non-Jews. The Holocaust Museum has a whole shop dedicated to exposing ongoing human rights abuses (NB: one of my housemates is employed there). The sentiment was expressed by one young Jewish woman at the rally who wore a T-shirt that said “Why mourn a Holocaust when you can stop one?”

In the past, the Jewish community has been extremely reticent to see the Holocaust linked with other claims of genocide. Yesterday the linkages couldn’t have been more pronounced. That’s a very interesting development and one that could be covered more.

One quick criticism of the Sun piece, which is really thorough and gives a look at a wide variety of participants at yesterday’s rally: the story never covers the evangelical angle at all. The National Association of Evangelicals was one of the sponsors of the rally and evangelicals got interested in the problems in Sudan years ago. Matthew Hay Brown mentioned their involvement in an earlier piece, but it would have been good to see a mention in the rally write-up.

The Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan wrote up a rally piece that mentioned evangelical involvement, but read this carefully:

But yesterday’s rally brought together people from dozens of backgrounds and affiliations, many of whom strongly disagree politically and ideologically on many issues. Judging from T-shirts and banners identifying the various groups, Jews appeared to be among the largest contingent of demonstrators.

Among the speakers were Rabbi David Saperstein; Al Sharpton; Joe Madison, a liberal black radio talk-show host who has been pushing the issue; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; rap and fashion mogul Russell Simmons; and former basketball star Manute Bol, who is himself Sudanese.

I didn’t know Richard Land was president of the Southern Baptist Convention! I knew he was a lot of things, but I didn’t realize he took over the SBC. Does Bobby Welch know?

I also have to mention Alan Cooperman’s Darfur piece from last week’s Washington Post, which is a very good summation of the groups involved in the current efforts in Darfur and how difficult it is to get hundreds of disparate groups on the same page. It has one of the funniest and most colorful closing quotes I’ve read in a while. This passage caught my eye, though:

Some Darfur activists also have complained about the involvement in the rally of a Kansas-based evangelical group, Sudan Sunrise.

Last week, after an inquiry from The Washington Post, Sudan Sunrise changed its Web site to eliminate references to efforts to convert the people of Darfur. Previously, it said it was engaged in “one on one, lifestyle evangelism to Darfurian Muslims living in refugee camps in eastern Chad” and appealed for money to “bring the kingdom of God to an area of Sudan where the light of Jesus rarely shines.”

Yep, get the presses running again. Evangelical Christians continue to evangelize! Don’t they know that evangelism became passe in the last century? Someone should really tell them.

UPDATE: Reader Tom Zoellner just co-wrote Paul Rusesabagina’s autobiography, An Ordinary Man.

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Prison ministry questions

image002BAlan Cooperman at the Washington Post has an interesting story about a federal faith-based initiative to prepare inmates for release. I think it’s a very important story and I could not agree more with Americans United for Separation of Church and State in raising concerns. Having said that, let’s look at how Cooperman frames and discusses the story:

The Justice Department plans to set aside cellblocks at up to half a dozen federal prisons for an ambitious pilot program to prepare inmates for release. But it has produced an outcry by saying that it wants a private group to counsel the prisoners according to a single faith.

Taking Cooperman at his word, I searched for all the outcry over this program. The only story I could find was his. And the only group raising concern that I could find is Americans United. There are other things, too. For instance, the phrase “up to half a dozen.” This reminds me of when I would go shopping with my mom. When we were deciding what to buy, she would always round up the price of what I wanted. A $40 blouse for me was “almost $50″ while a $60 blouse for her was also “about $50.” Not fair. Anyway, I see no need for the word “dozen” to describe a number between zero and six.

The Justice Department plans, about which no specifics are given, apparently do not establish which religion the program should be, but they rule out both secular programs and interfaith programs. I would gripe about my hard-earned tax money going to any religion or religious program that I don’t believe in, but the aformentioned “outcry” is more narrow in scope:

The Washington-based advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State charged in a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons has tailored its bidding requirements to fit one particular program: an immersion in evangelical Christianity offered by Charles W. Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Outlining 10 ways in which the Bureau of Prisons’ request for proposals from private contractors dovetails with Prison Fellowship’s “InnerChange” program, Americans United contended that the plan is unconstitutional and urged Gonzales to withdraw it. Gonzales has not responded to the April 19 letter, Americans United said.

Okay, so there we get to the story. This is part of an ongoing campaign by Americans United against InnerChange! It would be nice for the reader to know about American United’s campaign, but Cooperman doesn’t mention it.

Independent experts on constitutional law asked by The Washington Post to review the bidding documents also questioned the plan’s legality.

I’m all for qualifying the word experts, but what does independent mean? Especially considering that the two independent experts he goes to are Erwin Chemerinsky, an attorney who has argued in front of the Supreme Court for the National Organization for Women and Douglas Laycock, who has writen for the not-so-independent publication The American Prospect. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Laycock. I just don’t think it serves anyone’s interest to refer to him as independent. No one is independent. And I bet we could play a six-degrees-of-separation game between Americans United and these two attorneys and we could end in one or two steps.

Cooperman quotes a Justice spokesman who says the plan is noncoercive and constitutional. He also says the bidding requirements were not tailored to Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci L. Billingsley said $3 million has been appropriated for the program. She said it is possible that the bureau could approve several proposals and set up, say, a Roman Catholic program at one prison, a Jewish program at another and an evangelical Protestant program at a third.

“It’s early to speculate, but we hope we’ll have multiple contractors and multiple locations,” she said. She added that she did not know whether inmates would be allowed to transfer between prisons to participate in a program of their choice.

handsSounds about right. The whole point of faith-based initiatives is to treat all religions as equally valid and give them equal access to the huge piles of cash for social programs we give out every day. As a taxpayer who does not want to fund any religion other than my own or give any charity at all to any religion other than my own, these programs infuriate me. The thing is that even though Americans United has its blinders on against Chuck Colson, the religion with the most notable prison ministry is Islam. And even if the rules were written to support Prison Fellowship (which was never substantiated in this piece), other religions could quickly adapt their programs to fit the guidelines. Stephen Schwartz’s analysis in The Weekly Standard gives a descriptive look at the Wahhabism practiced in prisons today:

Soon after September 11, 2001, I and a group of individuals with whom I have worked first began consultations on the problem of radical Islam in prison. We identified change in the prisons as a leading item in the agenda of our nation in defeating the terrorist enemy. Some of us had received letters from American Muslim prison inmates complaining that radical chaplains had harassed and otherwise subjected moderate Muslims in prison to humiliation, discrimination, confiscation of moderate Islamic literature, and even physical threats.

Muslim chaplains have established an Islamic radical regime over Muslim convicts in the American prisons; imagine each prison Islamic community as a little Saudi kingdom behind prison walls, without the amenities. They have effectively induced American authorities to establish a form of “state Islam” or “government-certified Islam” in correctional systems.

Cooperman frequently writes about the same issues that Americans United cares about. He also frequently takes the Americans United angle. I think Cooperman is one of the religion beat’s best technical writers. He’s enjoyable to read. He also explains complex issues in a way that’s easy for the reader to understand. I just wish he would have looked more broadly at this issue. Programs like these could produce an outcry among Americans if they got the bigger picture of what state-sanctioned religious activity in prisons could mean to them personally and to our country’s Constitutional disestablishment of religion. Perhaps he can cover those things in a follow-up. In the meantime, my church will continue our prison ministries without government funds.

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A Bloomian critique of Harold Bloom

JesusAndYahwehFranklin Foer became the editor of The New Republic in March, and this already seems to be good news for people who seek lively and opinionated coverage of religion. Only a few weeks after publishing a lengthy cover-story attack on Richard John Neuhaus, it has now published a lengthy cover-story attack on Harold Bloom.

Like the article on Neuhaus, the essay on Bloom feels too ad hominem. James Wood, a New Republic senior editor, describes Bloom as “addicted to continuous [book] publication,” which means “Bloom must fatten his thesis” in his latest book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine.

Still, Wood offers much legitimate criticism of how Bloom mixes his literary criticism of the New Testament with his quirky theological tastes as a Gnostic Jew:

Since he has no interest in the tradition of Jewish or Christian theology, he never quotes from it. Since he disdains much of the New Testament, he would rather confess his bewilderment than examine its sources. He gestures constantly toward the majesty and vividness of J’s portrait of Yahweh, but he rarely quotes from it, referring us instead to The Book of J. His chapter on Paul, who is supposedly Bloom’s arch-antagonist, runs barely to two thousand words, and maunders amid idle speculation …

What a strange parochialism, that imagines everywhere only a literary mode of being! (And what strange literary taste, that gets itself so much more excited by the Book of Mormon than the New Testament.) Why is Bloom so sure that the “warfare” between the two books is aesthetic and not theological? … Does Bloom really think that Paul and John sat down to write thinking to themselves, “Well, it is time to take on that immense literary rival, the Yahwist”? The curious effect of Bloom’s theological blindness is that his book reduces theology to aesthetics and simultaneously inflates aesthetics to theology: there is no greater religion here than the religion of art, and in the warfare of the religion of art Yahweh is just “greater.”

Wood mentions in passing that he grew up in an evangelical home, where he was “tortured … with a song whose vilely mnemonic refrain was ‘Your way, not my way, Yahweh.’” The wording does indeed sound agonizing.

Might any GetReligion reader point us toward the melody?

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Pandora’s pulpit

election creationThe collision of religion and politics always makes for a good story. Last year the IRS opened an investigation into All Saints Church, an Episcopal congregation in Pasadena, for featuring a liberal political sermon two days before the 2004 election. Bradley Whitford, former Quaker, outspoken liberal and erstwhile star of The West Wing, is a member of the church and wrote up his thoughts about the action a few months ago.

First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech buck up against the U.S. tax code, which prevents nonprofit entities from participating in partisan political activities. However liberal the sensibilities of All Saints, the offensive sermon by former rector George Regas didn’t explictily come down in favor of a particular candidate, according to the Los Angeles Times:

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991′s Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that “good people of profound faith” could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

The idea of the Feds investigating churches makes many queasy, but in Ohio, some pastors are actually siccing the IRS on churches across the political aisle. From the Washington Post comes a report that another IRS complaint has been filed against two churches with ties to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell:

In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush’s narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio’s religious right.

I could not be more personally opposed to the blending of politics and religion. I’m an old-school Luther’s Two Kingdoms kind of person. With that blinding bias out of the way, I have to admit I was surprised by the lack of information in Peter Slevin’s report here. He mentions that 56 Ohio clergy signed the petition but fails to characterize the group as a whole. He mentions that one pastor is with the United Church of Christ — my mom’s former denomination. The UCC is neither apolitical nor leaning conservative. The other cleric mentioned is a Jewish rabbi who describes himself as centrist. Which may or may not be true — self-identification isn’t always the most reliable. Except when I tell you that I am gorgeous, funny and wise beyond my years.

Anyway, the article could have served the reader more by explaining a bit about the motivations of the clergy who are going after these conservative churches. I could be wrong, but I don’t anticipate this same group of clergy monitoring the activity of Detroit churches this fall — or taking notes for the IRS next time they attend the liberal political services at Riverside Church in New York City. In that sense, this could be a case of religious political activity on one side of the aisle being fought by religious political activity on the other.

The questions surrounding political activity and the pulpit are serious — on both sides of the aisle. And I’m not just saying that because I oppose them both. Reporters would do well to illuminate the deeper issues (mostly in American Protestantism) that result in religiously fueled political activity on liberal and conservative issues.

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Reading between same-sex union lines

weddingcakeThe big news in David D. Kirkpatrick’s latest New York Times report from the front pews of the Culture Wars is hinted at in the lead and then buried way near the bottom. The big news: It seems that a few leaders on the Catholic left may agree to back a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriages.

Here’s the lead:

About 50 prominent religious leaders, including seven Roman Catholic cardinals and about a half-dozen archbishops, have signed a petition in support of a constitutional amendment blocking same-sex marriage.

And here are the details that really matter, the names of some (repeat some) of the clerics who signed on with that Alliance for Marriage petition.

Organizers said the petition had brought together cardinals from both the left and right sides of the United States bishops’ conference, including the liberal Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and the conservative Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, as well as Cardinals Edward M. Egan of New York, Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston.

So what is the news in that? After all, the Catholic Church has defended its ancient doctrines on marriage and sex. Even the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has supported a ban on same-sex marriages. The news, and Kirkpatrick underlines it, is that some Catholic progressives have stepped foward to back an effort that has, primarily, been led by evangelicals and by conservative Catholic politicians who do not mind cooperating with evangelicals. This has major political implications.

The petition drive was organized in part by Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, a Catholic scholar with close ties to evangelical Protestant groups. Aides to three Republican senators — Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; and Sam Brownback of Kansas — were also involved, organizers said. …

No one expects the measure to pass this year. But drives to amend state constitutions to ban same sex-marriage proved powerful incentives to turning out conservative voters in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004. At least two states with contested Senate races — Tennessee and Pennsylvania, where Mr. Santorum is seeking re-election against a Democrat who also opposes abortion rights — are debating constitutional bans on same-sex marriage this year.

However, I really do wish that the online version of this story included a link to the full list of the clerics who signed the petition. The Alliance for Marriage site does not have a full list either.

Why does this matter? Almost all of the nation’s major religious groups are opposed to same-sex marriage. But some are acting on the issue and some are not. This list will, in some ways, show who is who on the issue and also offer clues for reporters who are looking ahead to the annual summer doctrinal wars in mainline religious conventions and conferences. It even has implications for which churches stay in, and which churches may vote to leave, oldline groups like the National Council of Churches. There are also updates on growing tensions among major African-American and Hispanic groups.

Read between the lines of these paragraphs:

The prominent conservative Protestant figures included leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination, as well as the president of conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a handful of Episcopal bishops.

Other signers included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family; the evangelist D. James Kennedy; Bishop Charles E. Blake of the historically black Church of God in Christ; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals; Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union; and officials of the Orthodox Church in America.

Has anyone out there found a link to the full list of clergy who signed? There are stories in that list.

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“This” (big pause) “is G-O-D”

1591502241 01 LZZZZZZZThis has to be the laugh-out-loud little story of the greater Easter season.

Newsweek has a short little article by reporter Elise Soukup that starts like this:

It’s hard to find God in Hollywood. Just ask Robi Reed, who’s casting “The Bible Experience,” a 70-hour audio recording of the Old and New Testaments performed by black actors. These are no D-listers, either. Some of the 150 artists who signed on include Blair Underwood as Jesus, Angela Bassett as Esther, Cuba Gooding Jr. as Judas, and Denzel Washington, who’s reading the Songs of Solomon with his wife, Pauletta. But, says Reed, “we’re still looking for God.”

There’s no shortage of stars lining up. Though all participants are paid only the minimum required by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Reed says 98 out of 100 artists she approached signed on. … “This isn’t just a project,” says Louis (Buster) Brown, who’s overseeing music. “This has taken on all the characteristics of a movement.” Even if it is currently a Godless one.

Ah, come on! Let’s see, we need a really majestic, bold, yet mysterious voice that sounds like, well, the Lord Almighty. He’s played the role before, in fact, and we’re not talking about that Lord of the Sith thing.

Now who would that be? Oh, wait, and he’s one of the world’s best-known African American actors and voiceover talents. Let’s see. What’s his name again?

Over at USA Today, Cathy Lynn Grossman has all kinds of fun angles on this little story. However, the God issue is still there in all its glory. Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like the producers of this project are talking to him but can’t talk about the negotiations. That’s my reading of this:

God? Still not cast.

There’s an offer out, but “God requires a lot of recording time in hours. He had a lot to say,” says casting director and co-producer Robi Reed.

It’s nice that Denzel Washington and his wife, Pauletta, are going to read the Song of Solomon to each other. I am also sure, as Grossman notes, that the PR department for the project will have fun with Gooding as Judas, with that whole “Show me the money” thing going on between the lines.

But there might be another story hiding in between the lines here, a story about the role of religious faith in modern Hollywood. Here’s the dangerous question:

Another casting question: Should only faithful Christians get roles?

Reed says the producers agreed that the Bible — populated with many unbelievers — would be their guide. “The Bible itself is God’s word. Who are we to judge God’s word? It’s his project, his will and his purpose. If we bring in someone who doesn’t believe or whose faith is not as strong as ours, God’s plan might be that this is a way to bring them into belief.”

Whoa. That was a close one.

For a minute there, I thought the cast list for this project was going to be the official “outing” document for African American Christians in Hollywood. That would be a very controversial piece of paper in the Passion of the Chronicles of Brokeback Mountain era of the cinema wars.

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