A Mormon for president?

RomneySo the Los Angeles Times has a great idea for a poll, and interviews 1,321 adults about whether religious views would affect their votes in the presidential election. And this is very interesting right now because Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and making a bid for the presidency. So what did the Times find?

Thirty-seven percent of those questioned said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, and 54% said no to the prospect of a Muslim in the White House.

In addition, 21% said they could not vote for an evangelical Christian.

Fifteen percent said they would not vote for a Jewish presidential candidate, and 10% were unwilling to cast ballots favoring a Catholic chief executive.

While this poll result may not be terribly surprising — American voters have expressed their uneasiness about voting for Mormons previously — that 37 percent is a huge number. It would be great to break that number down and learn a bit more about why so many voters are disinclined toward anonymous Mormons. Is it Mormons’ belief in a multiple godhead? Is it their history with polygamy? Is it Orrin Hatch’s music? But the report takes rather a view from 50,000 feet, interviewing political consultants, academics and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Here are the nut graphs dealing with religious beliefs:

A great-grandfather had five wives, but the church now opposes polygamy, as does Romney. The Mormon Church has about 12.5 million members worldwide, according to the church website; a little under half are in the U.S.

Romney is reticent about his religion, citing privacy and contending that candidates should not be judged on their “brand of faith.” But he regularly describes himself as a Christian, saying, “Jesus Christ is my savior.”

Some branches of Christianity do not embrace the Mormon Church. On its website, the Southern Baptist Convention includes Mormonism in a section called “cults, sects and new religious movements.” Kenyn Cureton, a vice president of the Baptist convention, says his church does not regard Mormons as Christians.

“They are not orthodox in their beliefs,” Cureton said. “They have additional books that they add to the Bible, which evangelical Christians believe is God’s word. They believe that there are many, many gods and that you too can become a god in your own world. It sounds good, but unfortunately it is not based on sound teaching.”

Cureton praised Mormons as “very moral, very family-oriented people.” Southern Baptists, he said, “would appreciate that angle. But as far as our beliefs, we would have disagreements.”

Those paragraphs are a bit inadequate. The poll did not specifically measure whether Christian voters would only vote for fellow Christians. However, if the sample size represents the American electorate, which is three-quarters Christian, it’s obvious from the poll that some Christians would vote for a non-Christian Jew but would not vote for a Mormon. So pointing out that most Christians (or “some branches” as our reporter puts it) don’t recognize Mormon beliefs as Christian (or “embrace the Mormon Church,” as she puts it) doesn’t in any way illuminate the poll. It is conceivable, for instance, that some Southern Baptists would believe that Mormons are not Christian and at the same time vote for Romney. There is no inherent conflict there.

Again, what is it about Mormons or voters that yields this poll result? Unfortunately, the survey doesn’t ask and this report fails to answer the question.

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Missing religion in the comic-book wars?

DC vs. MarvelIn M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, Samuel L. Jackson, playing the character of Elijah Price, states that comic books are an ancient way of passing on history. They are our version of the ancient mythologies.

I’ve never been that avid a comic-book reader, and it’s something I have some regret over, so I’m hoping that you all will help me out with comments, as you have in my past attempts to write about the media’s coverage of comic books and religion. I will say that after watching Superman Returns I was somewhat impressed with level of religious imagery. But without that background, it would be easy to completely miss, which is why I believe many movie reviewers missed it.

But on to more comic-book news.

Saturday’s Washington Post carried an excellent piece on the longstanding battle between the two comic-book titans, DC and Marvel. The article, written by Hank Stuever, makes many comparisons between the two publishers, but largely leaves out the subject of religion:

DC Comics, led by Superman, was for people who adored the fantasy, the Ubermensch triumphant. These readers loved skyscrapers and archvillains and sidekicks, billowing flags, unerring ethical strength.

Marvel, led by Spider-Man, was a place for the smart but troubled reader, the deeply weird. They loved the night, the underground, accidents in the lab. All that dialogue, so many thought balloons! The heroes always on some emotional ledge, and the hubris of it all — a grittiness that came with saving the world.

DC was about younger kids in back yards, wearing bath towel capes, leaping from treehouses.

Marvel was about older kids in basements, possibly stoned, deconstructing Thor.

DC invented places to go — Metropolis, Gotham City, Paradise Island.

In the Marvel universe, New York is New York, and it’s nothing but trouble.

DC: It was always the Fourth of July.

Marvel: It was always Halloween.

DC: Comic books are a wonderful escape.

Marvel: Comic books are a dark refuge.

Does a discussion of religion in these two comic book empires have a place? I wouldn’t be able to say for sure because, as I said, I am not an avaricious reader of comics. I would say, after seeing Superman Returns, that the folks over at DC Comics appear to be more in tune to the religious side of the world, but I don’t see why that would be any different over at Marvel Comics.

So you tell me. Did this article miss something?

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If God is mother, who is Mary?

three  s companyWe had an entertaining discussion a few weeks ago about the decision by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to accept alternative names for the Trinity. Most readers offered their own names for the PCUSA to consider (Ears, Nose, Throat; Jack, Chrissy, Janet, with a further discussion of who Mr. Roper and Larry represented. I say the Regal Beagle represents heaven).

A few readers brought up how one of the more controversial name suggestions — Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb — denigrates Mary and deviates from Jesus’ own words. Father Joseph Honeycutt wrote:

FWIW, Jesus refered to his Father in heaven because . . . His Father WAS (is) in heaven! He would never have said “Our Mother in heaven” . . . because, well, she was right down the street!

K. Connie Kang, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times had a great article a few days ago that looked at the decision to accept additional names for the Trinity as well as what fallout the convention’s decision was having. She didn’t just do a “he-said, she-said.” Kang sought out multiple perspectives from folks on either side and explained a bit more about their opinions. For instance, she cites from the report that makes the recommendations for changes but also lets those unhappy with the view have their say:

Written by a diverse panel of working pastors and theologians, the report noted that the traditional language of the Trinity portrays God as male and implies men are superior to women.

“For this and other distortions of Trinitarian doctrine we repent,” the report said. . . .

“They’re attempting to be politically correct, and unnecessarily so,” said Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute in Charlotte, N.C.

“Jesus Christ comes into a culture in which women are considered to be on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder . . . and makes women his disciples,” he said.

“Women are the first to bear witness to the empty tomb, which is central in Christianity. The Bible says in Christ there is neither male nor female. We are one in Christ.”

Kang’s story also explains the bureaucracy behind the report’s acceptance, when the new terminology may and may not be used, the trouble the PCUSA is having in retaining members, and even a criticism that the changes equate the name of God with metaphors for God, which our reader R. Boyd hinted at a few weeks ago in his satirical campaign against the use of the cross:

Clearly the time has arrived to select and embrace a new, life-affirming symbol of our sophisticated and superior post-modern faith in absolutely anything we feel good about. Something that celebrates the bounty of creation, rather than sin, suffering, and death.

I suggest a golden calf.

I hope more local reporters look at how this national decision affects Presbyterians on the local level. Let us know if you see any reports.

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As Canterbury Turns: Yelling in Virginia

chichester(Musical cue: Another swell of English cathedral pipe organ)

Yes, the lead of this story was wrong, but what DID the reporter hear that made her write what she did about what the bishop was told? I find it astounding, and a bit unbelievable, to think that the reporter (Julia) heard, in effect, “We’ve told the bishop we’re leaving” when the message was “We’re going to have a ‘discernment’ process in the fall” (which she did include in the story). …

Unlike the Rather memo, the reporter apparently gained a truthful insight into this church that it (or at least some within it) is preparing for departure. Again, the reaction of the church to the story tells me they are simply embarassed that these plans were revealed too early.

Posted by Stephen A. at 10:50 am on June 30, 2006

It’s time for another episide of As Canterbury Turns: The Virginia Story. The following thoughts are my own, based on my experiences as a reporter and editor.

Julia Duin’s controversial story in The Washington Times is back online with this correction added at the top. Click here to read my original post on this affair.

CORRECTION: The Washington Times mischaracterized a meeting Wednesday between the Rev. Martyn Minns and Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee. Representatives of the Falls Church Episcopal and Truro Episcopal churches now say no final decision on leaving the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has been made.

This is one of the strangest corrections that I have ever seen. Let’s cut in in half, because there are two different issues here.

Here is the lead:

Two of Northern Virginia’s largest and most historic Episcopal churches — Truro and the Falls Church — informed Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee yesterday that they plan to leave the diocese and that as many as two dozen other parishes may follow suit.

The hot word in this lead, the source of the whole controversy, is “plan.”

Note that the correction stresses that the leaders of Truro and the Falls Church denied that they have decided to leave the Diocese of Virginia. This is a fascinating statement, since the original story never says that they have made this decision. The story says they are preparing — along with a large circle of other parishes — to start a 40-day spiritual process that will lead to a decision.

Is that the same thing as “planning” to leave?

OK, here is my guess on what happened here. For at least a decade, traditional Episcopal parishes have known that, at some point in the future, they might — note the word “might” — need to find an exit door to escape The Episcopal Church. In almost all of these parishes this is a move that would have majority support in the vestry and the congregation, which is why they have been exploring a wide variety of options in the first place. But there are debates and divisions in these congregations, due to the legal risks involved linked to buildings, pensions, endowments and whatnot.

Most of these meetings, of course, take place behind closed doors and reporters find out about them after they have taken place. The most accurate way to describe these sessions is to say they involve church leaders who are discussing “contingency plans” that may or may not be used in the future. They are making plans, but they have not made the final decision to put them into effect.

Thus, the original Duin story says:

Truro and the Falls Church have a combined $27 million in assets. Situated on some of Northern Virginia’s most valuable real estate, both churches are having 40-day “discernment” periods of prayer, fasting and debate, starting in September and ending just before Thanksgiving, before announcing a final decision. …

The Falls Church and Truro Church presented their plan in Fairfax on Saturday to a meeting of officials representing 20 to 30 Episcopal churches around Virginia. Thirteen to 14 churches already have agreed to have their own 40-day period, he said.

Rectors of two other large Northern Virginia parishes also told The Washington Times yesterday, on condition of anonymity, that they, too, may be leaving. One is involved in secret negotiations with the diocese over property issues; another says his vestry, or governing board, approved the 40-day idea Tuesday night, but his parish needs to vote on it Sunday.

The official disclaimer from the Falls Church says the following:

The Washington Times reported that our church informed our Bishop that we are leaving the Diocese of Virginia and leaving the Episcopal Church. This certainly is not true and misrepresents where we are as a congregation.

Does the original Duin story say that the parish has decided to leave the diocese? It does not. So why did the Times correct a statement that its own story did not make?

This brings us back to the word “plan” in the lead.

There is a big difference between “they plan to leave” and “they are making plans that may lead to their departure.”

My guess is that this lead was, in the editing process, strengthened. The phrase editors use is “pump it up.” Reporters can resist this process and almost always do so. But it happens. Editors do not like words like “may” or “might” in leads on page one.

In this case, the qualifier was needed and you can see that in the actual text of Duin’s story. As I said earlier this week, the heart of the story is the meeting in which parish leaders from Truro and the Falls Church formally presented their plans for the 40-day discernment process. That’s the story.

Plans are being made. However, the decision to put them into effect is in the future, even as steps are taken that show which way things are going. There are dozens and dozens of stories ahead.

Stay tuned, and prepare for lots of yelling by people in mitres.

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The status of religion in politics

obamaDid a Democratic version of Mike Gerson start working for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.? I ask the question because his speech earlier this week at the Call to Renewal conference is about the best attempt to articulate the struggling movement known as the “religious left.” Not that it was that impressive. It’s about time a Democrat came up with something beyond the talking points on religion and its involvement in the public square.

In the meantime, Slate is all over the crack-ups of both the “religious right” and the “religious left.” But more on that later. Here is the Associated Press version of the Obama speech:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to “acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people,” and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

“Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters,” the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

OK, enough of that. It’s a relatively bland AP report on what seems to be just another speech. But it seems to be more than that. It’s time for some analysis. First, read this column by The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, who gushes that Obama’s talk will ultimately be seen as a “road map for Democrats struggling to speak authentically to people of faith.” Um, haven’t we heard the term road map before?

Andrew Sullivan chimed in here with regards to the little-noted comments by Obama on abortion and his own past statements. To me they are some of the most revealing elements of the entire speech, and something that most reports are missing. They are definitely worthy of discussion, but not for now. Back to Dionne, who leveled his own criticism at the AP for missing key aspects of the story:

Here’s what stands out. First, Obama offers the first faith testimony I have heard from any politician that speaks honestly about the uncertainties of belief. “Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts,” Obama declared. “You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it.”

In an interview yesterday, Obama didn’t back away. “By definition, faith admits doubt,” he said. “Otherwise, it isn’t faith. . . . If we don’t sometimes feel hopeless, then we’re really insulating ourselves from the world around us.”

On the matter of church-state separation, Obama doesn’t propose some contrived balancing act but embraces religion’s need for independence from government. In a direct challenge to “conservative leaders,” he argued that “they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice.”

It’s always easier to write about a speech a few days after it was given, isn’t it?

For another second-day story on the speech, check out this commentary by the WaPo‘s Dana Milbank. He makes an interesting comparison of Obama’s current status with that of George W. Bush’s political standing in 1998. There’s also some quality color commentary from the events surrounding Obama’s recent speech.

clintonSen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., also made a big speech on religious issues, but as the lack of media coverage and blog buzz shows, she is not quite as in touch as Obama. She actually had a nice touching story to share, but perhaps it’s her failure to concede issues the way Obama did that puts her one notch below her Midwestern colleague?

While those in the “religious left” camp rally to Obama and, to a much lesser extent, Clinton, the movement is showing signs of cracking just as it discovers its leader.

Martin Edlund’s in-depth report in Slate on Michael Lerner, editor of the interfaith magazine Tikkun, and the Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical editor of Sojourners, is a rather devastating piece for those hoping for a convergence of religious lefties and a rather sober wake-up call to those of us who have had to rely on the Post‘s coverage of the movement:

Lerner and Wallis often get lumped together, and frankly, the religious left has been so marginal until now that it hasn’t much mattered. The confusion is understandable. Both are veterans of the student movements of the 1960s who have been agitating ever since for a progressive politics consistent with their reading of scripture. They more or less agree on the big liberal faith issues, poverty, pacifism, the environment. After the 2004 election exposed a yawning “God gap” favoring Republicans, both penned brisk-selling books, often jointly reviewed, that challenged the religious right’s exclusive claim to speak for people of faith and the Democrats’ reluctance to speak to them. More recently, they’ve each begun setting up congregational networks to promote their ideas and consolidate their influence, much as the fledgling religious right did decades ago.

But as their movement becomes a bigger target for the religious right and Republican Party they may have to start keeping their distance from each other in order to continue building it. …

This is a smart move because to succeed, Wallis needs to remain credible with evangelicals. His cozy relationship with Lerner and the [Network of Spiritual Progressives] crowd, on the other hand, risks making Wallis appear unorthodox by association. The criticism has already begun. A piece in the Baptist Press noted that Wallis attended Lerner’s conference and pointed to the choice of venue — All [Souls] Unitarian Church — as proof that liberals don’t understand “people of faith, in particular evangelicals.” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, railed on his blog against efforts “to replace the Christian faith with an empty ‘spiritual’ shell” and directly criticized Lerner for his idea of universal “spiritual yearnings” that make no “reference to some specific truth claim.”

While the “religious left” struggles with its identity — and its very existence as a political force — the “religious right” is showing cracks as well. Not that this is news. A good reporter understands that the movement is anything but uniform in its beliefs.

This Slate piece by Russell Cobb, which is a review of Michelle Goldberg’s book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, echoes the previous piece and inadvertently borrows some of our own criticism of the mainstream media’s coverage of Islam as a monolithic force:

As evangelical Christians gain more political clout within the Bush administration, the ideological gaps between the factions of the Christian right are becoming more pronounced. It’s not just environmentalism. Even gay marriage, that touchstone of the religious right, is a source of internecine tensions. Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College — an elite breeding ground for conservative Christians — opposed the latest constitutional amendment against gay marriage because it didn’t go far enough in stripping gays of their rights. But the strains within the evangelical movement don’t get much play in the secular media. For liberals, there’s little difference between a Dobson, a Robertson, and a Cizik: They’re all wing nuts in flyover states with bad hair and a gay obsession.

The specter of an American theocracy, the title of Kevin Phillips’ broadside against the Bush administration, has obscured the signs of dissent in what can look like a Christian monolith. Michelle Goldberg, a Salon reporter and the author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, misses some of the signs, too, in her otherwise astute study. It’s not just that she blurs the more fringe personalities, lumping together conspiracy-minded nut jobs (like theocrat Howard Phillips, who believes that “enemies of Christ in this fallen world must be conquered”) with veteran conservative blowhards like William Bennett. As she describes how the Christian Right moved from the margins of acceptability to the Republican mainstream, she also overlooks generational tensions and large-scale dissatisfaction with the Bush administration among many conservative, white evangelicals (only 34 percent of whom, according to a June 6 Pew research poll, “strongly back” the president).

time cover of reedCobb takes Goldberg to task for failing to note the growing distinctions in the “Christian nationalism” movement (“In Kingdom Coming, Patrick Henry comes off as a boot camp for young culture warriors marching in lock step to a unified vision and lacking a basic grasp of critical thought”), citing the recent “controversy” at Patrick Henry College and the White House’s failure to implement its promised “faith-based” initiatives.

To wrap things up, Slate delivers what attempts to be the eulogy of the “religious right” in politics, stating that “the fears of a Republican party dominated by monolithic religious zealots are as overblown now as they were when Reed was on the cover of Time. Haven’t we read this piece before somewhere? Apparently, because the Republicans are headed into a period where their political ventures are not so victorious, they may be looking for another, um, passion:

But remember that in the elections of 1998, candidates backed by Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition did poorly. This may be why Reed sent Abramoff a letter days after the election saying he needed the lobbyist’s help making contacts because he was “done with electoral politics” and “I need to start humping in corporate accounts!” That was not a quote from scripture.

The article centers on Reed, who has been sliced and diced by World (why this publication has not been mentioned in coverage of the “religious right” is beyond me), and how conservatives are realizing that politics isn’t what Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or James Dobson say it’s all cracked up to be. This may or may not be true, but I do believe the media have also failed to understand exactly what Falwell, Robertson, or Dobson are cracked up to be.

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Pope demands end to crappy church music

filled with your gloryOkay, I stole that headline. Mea culpa. Anyway, Pope Benedict XVI has harshed on guitars in Mass, according to various media reports. I don’t see why you need the Pope to tell you that if you walk into a sanctuary and see a drum riser where the altar should be that you may want to get the heck out of dodge, but I guess some of us do need a bit of guidance.

Not that I have any opinions on the worship wars.

I was really curious what the Pope actually said about guitars and contemporary styling in Mass. Turns out that what he said and what was reported were about as similar as the police blotter in your local fishwrapper and an episode of The Sopranos. Related, but not quite the same thing. Here’s a typical media report. UPI devoted five paragraphs to the issue:

Pope Benedict XVI is calling for an end to guitars and a return to traditional choirs in the Catholic Church. . . .

The Pope’s supporters say that the music played during mass is a vital part of the communion between worshippers and God, and that medieval church music creates the correct ambience for perceiving God’s mystery, the newspaper said.

But Cardinal Carlo Furno, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said it was “better to have guitars on the altar and rock and roll masses than empty churches.”

Because, as we all know, bad guitar playing brings the masses into the Masses. Anyway, Catholic News Service quotes Benedict saying that he supports new liturgical music. He just thinks it should be connected to the democracy of the dead, as they say:

“The latest musical compositions of the 89-year-old former director of the Sistine Chapel Choir demonstrate how new liturgical music can be created without ignoring the centuries of church music that came before it, Pope Benedict XVI said. . .

Pope Benedict said, “An authentic updating of sacred music cannot take place except in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

The pope said that in music, as in art and architecture, the church promotes and supports “new expressive means without denying the past — the history of the human spirit — which is also the story of its dialogue with God.”

I mean, I wish he would have used one of his fancy edicts to ban the guitar in Mass, but what he said was much more moderate. In general I’ve noticed that Benedict’s statements thus far tend to focus on the rationale behind big ideas rather than condemnations or pronouncements from on high. Yes, this makes headline and story writing more difficult and less dramatic, but it’s something that reporters should probably get used to.

Having said that, worship wars — as Terry notes — contain ginormously contentious isues. So rather than flighty stories about the Pope banning the guitar, a reporter could use the Pope’s comments as a hook to discuss local church issues.

Photo via Flickr.

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As Canterbury Turns: A bishop at Truro

stjohndiv sootcover lg(Musical cue: swelling chord on a pipe organ)

Ouch. As best I can tell online, here is the Washington Post story of the day — care of the Associated Press — on the national and global developments in the Anglican World War.

The only problem is that the biggest Anglican story out there is a local story, one centered in some of the most powerful Anglican parishes in the United States, parishes that are located in the Washington suburbs, in the Diocese of Virginia, which is the nation’s largest Episcopal diocese. This story can be found here, on page one of The Washington Times, and here, in what appears to be a blend of Google hits and a press release from The Episcopal Church (formerly the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America).

Here is the top of the story by veteran religion writer Julia Duin at The Washington Times. I should mention that Duin has been a friend of mine since she broke onto the religion beat back in the 1980s at a Scripps Howard newspaper down in South Florida. This is one reason that I don’t cite her work on this blog as much as I might otherwise. Her story is basic hard news, and you can see signs that this has been percolating for some time.

Two of Northern Virginia’s largest and most historic Episcopal churches — Truro and the Falls Church — informed Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee yesterday that they plan to leave the diocese and that as many as two dozen other parishes may follow suit.

And the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church, was elected a bishop yesterday by the Anglican province of Nigeria with the mandate to oversee a cluster of U.S. parishes that minister to expatriate Nigerians. Mr. Minns was driving north on Interstate 95 from Richmond when he got the news on his cell phone from Anglican Archbishop Peter J. Akinola. The archbishop then put him on a speaker phone to address a gathering of Anglicans in Abuja, the country’s capital.

“I said I was honored by their willingness to place their trust in me,” said Mr. Minns, 63, who earlier this year had announced plans to retire.

Instead he will oversee the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which includes more than 20 Anglican churches that cater to Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. but could be enlarged to include Episcopal congregations fleeing the 2.2-million-member denomination.

For years, Episcopal insiders have jokingly referred to tensions between the Diocese of Virginia and what some started calling the Diocese of Truro. People could just as easily call it the Diocese of Falls Church. These are giant, multicultural parishes that in recent decades have been linked to the charismatic and low-church evangelical renewal movements in mainline Protestantism.

Another interesting element of this story is that the Falls Church is also rich in another important Beltway resource — scribes. The megachurch may as well open a side chapel for all of the journalists and think-tank writers who attend.

But, as Duin notes, these two parishes sit at the top of a pyramid of other parishes in the region that are, to one degree or another, now looking for a way out of the modern Episcopal Church.

Truro and the Falls Church have a combined $27 million in assets. Situated on some of Northern Virginia’s most valuable real estate, both churches are having 40-day “discernment” periods of prayer, fasting and debate, starting in September and ending just before Thanksgiving, before announcing a final decision.

Officially, the 40-day period has “no predetermined outcome,” said the Rev. John W. Yates, rector of the Falls Church, but it’s clear that “the growing crisis and dysfunction in the Episcopal Church” is pushing the orthodox toward the exit doors.

“It’s certainly a step no church — especially one with a history we’ve had — takes without the greatest humility,” he said in an interview at the parish where George Washington once worshipped. “But so many Episcopalians in the pews are so irate over what’s happened, and it’s harder and harder to call on people to wait.”

The Falls Church and Truro Church presented their plan in Fairfax on Saturday to a meeting of officials representing 20 to 30 Episcopal churches around Virginia. Thirteen to 14 churches already have agreed to have their own 40-day period, he said.

There are other major Episcopal and Anglican developments, of course, including an openly gay candidate to be the next bishop of — surprise — the Diocese of Newark. This link takes you to a conservative blog, but one with more links to other sources. Or click here for Thinking Anglicans or click here for a London Times story.

I think Ruth Gledhill of the Times spoke for many when she wrote yesterday:

I’ve been getting a little tired of this whole story, and want to start writing again about Hindus, Muslims, Catholics and the Jewish community.

Well, the story isn’t going to go away for a while — at least a decade, I would say. The only people who are laughing are the lawyers. Please let us know the best stories and websites — on both sides — that you see online.

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Missing Hamas developments?

israeli soldierNews reports on the exploding conflict in the Middle East surround the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by “Palestinian militants.” On the surface there are few religious issues in play here, but a little digging will indicate that the religious convictions of two groups of people are central to the region’s conflict.

There is the obvious fact that one side is Muslim and the other is Jewish, but the tough questions lie in the differing factions in these two groups. For starters, someone might explain the political (theological?) differences between Hamas and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba. Then there are the left-leaning and right-leaning parties (also theological) in the Israeli government. Then there are those shades of grey.

The views of the Israeli political parties are well known. One side wants aggression against the Palestinians, the other wants to work things out. Coverage of the Palestinians is less thorough.

For instance, here is one thing I would like a reporter in the Middle East to explain to me: why do some Palestinians, usually given the bland term “militants,” continue to lob rockets with the intent of hurting people and then get all surprised when the Israeli military punches back? I am sure there are several answers to this question, depending on who you ask, but it deserves at least an attempt at an answer.

Two articles — the first by The New York Times and the other by The Washington Post — do little to explain the all-important differences, but that is OK since there’s little room for background in a fast-developing news story.

palestinian terroristFor help, I want to turn to The New Republic, which (with Martin Peretz at the helm) has been fairly consistent on the Middle East. Here is part of TNR‘s report filed by foreign correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi, who has highlighted a key shift in the Hamas government:

Resuming assassinations against Hamas’s political echelon is, of course, a declaration of war against the Hamas regime. But given its official sanctioning of kidnapping, Hamas has already declared war against Israel. Hamas’s adoption of the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq comes as no surprise. After the killing of Zarqawi, Hamas issued a statement mourning his death and urging continued “resistance,” thereby making the Hamas regime the world’s only openly pro-Al Qaeda government. Unfortunately, the international media missed the significance of that moment.

That lapse in media judgment is worth recalling in the coming days, when much of the media will be presenting the “prisoners’ document” — a set of demands drawn up by Hamas and Fatah members imprisoned in Israel — as a historic Hamas concession, offering “tacit” recognition of Israel. In fact, the document does nothing of the sort. Nowhere does the document recognize the right of Israel to exist. Instead, it calls for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, followed by the “right” of Palestinian refugees to resettle in Israel and demographically overwhelm the Jewish state. The prisoners’ document, in other words, is a plan for the phased destruction of Israel — precisely why Hamas can endorse it.

The article provides a good amount of history and a bit on the theology behind Israel’s seemingly harsh reaction against Hamas for the kidnapping, but the item that caught my attention the most was that Hamas has shifted toward Al Qaeda. Is this merely a political move? Why so little coverage? Where is the theological connection between the two groups that would make this union work? Or is a connection even necessary?

Top photo courtesy of Flickr.

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