Was Zwingli Catholic?

PerpetualIndulgenceSo a radical, anti-Roman Catholic, gay activist group called, charmingly, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence gravely disrespected the church. Two men from the activist group — dressed in white face, garish makeup and nuns’ habits — received the sacrament of Holy Communion a few weeks ago from San Francisco’s top Catholic official.

Julian Guthrie, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, wrote up the event in a somewhat flippant manner, highlighting their hilarious mottoes “go forth and sin some more” and “It is not wise to say no to free drinks, cheap jewelry, discount cosmetics or pretty boys.” And let’s not forget their hilarious names — Sister Chastity Boner and Sister Constance Craving of the Holey Desire:

Sister Barbi Mitzvah, who serves as “Board Chairnun” and “Sexytary,” said Tuesday that the group is “not offering a comment.

“These people are always after us,” Sister Mitzvah said, referring to conservative pundits and Catholic leaders.

The group did not identify the two members who took the wafers. One of the men, however, sent an e-mail to the church after the Mass and gave the name “Sister Delta Goodhand.”

Ha ha! So funny! Such a harmless group! Guthrie first mentioned notorious theological heavyweight Bill O’Reilly and his outrage before getting to more substantive criticism. Of course, he went on to quote a Jesuit professor and a parishioner at the church who thought the makeup and dress were all rather funny. Here’s the substantive criticism:

Some local Catholics, however, said they were hurt by what they said was a mockery of their most holy ritual.

“It’s been all the news in Catholic circles,” said Bill May, chairman of the San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good. “Catholics are hurt, frustrated and a bit angry because nobody is standing up and saying this is not right. This is a desecration of the Eucharist. They were there to make a statement and embarrass the archbishop and, in doing so, they desecrated what is most sacred and dear to every Catholic in the world.”

eucharistSo I’m glad that he mentioned how devout Catholics might feel about this stunt. Much better than reporter Meredith May’s hard-hitting story published the same day in the same paper, headlined “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have history of charity, activism.” My favorite line:

Easter Sunday is a high holy day for the Sisters, but their celebration, which includes a “Hunky Jesus Contest” in Dolores Park, has been called blasphemous by some Catholics.

Ya think? Way to ask the tough questions, Meredith! And the use of the phrase high holy day? Let’s go to Frank Lockwood, the religion editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and proprietor of the fantastic Bible Belt Blogger blog (say that four times fast). Would the media laugh at a nude chocolate Mohammed?, he asks:

I’m also disappointed by U.S. news organizations that have a double standard when it comes to religion: They’re more than happy to mock evangelical or Catholic Christianity, but they’re somewhat leery of offending Judaism and they’re down-right terrified of offending Islam. Muslims absolutely deserve respect as do Jews and people of all faiths — even Christians.

Here’s the lead of a story that moved on the AP wire today (along with a photo):

“Chocolate Jesus is resurrected.

‘My Sweet Lord,’ an anatomically correct milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ that infuriated Catholics before its April unveiling was canceled, returns Oct. 27 to a Chelsea [New York City] art gallery, its creator said Tuesday.

If the story sounds familiar to you, it’s because the national media pounced on it during Easter week — the first time Chocolate Jesus was unveiled. Now it’s back for round two.

In the latest story, the sacred cornerstone of Christianity, the Resurrection, has been reduced to a journalistic punchline ["chocolate Jesus is resurrected ..."]. Isn’t that witty and urbane? And people wonder why newspapers can’t hold onto readers.

Artists with scant talent (and even less originality) have figured out that blasphemy is an easy (and safe) ticket to national notoriety — as long as it’s lowly Jesus of Nazareth who is ridiculed. Newspapers in this overwhelmingly Christian nation gobble it up. They shouldn’t.

Can you imagine the national media laughing it up about an anatomically-correct chocolate Mohammed in Manhattan with his genitals on display? They’d be too afraid to print the pictures. [They don’t have the nerve to print artistic renderings of the Prophet with his clothes on!

zwingliFrequently when this topic comes up, a few readers argue that the disparity between the way the mainstream media treat blasphemy of Jesus and blasphemy of Mohammed is okay because Jesus “can take it.” Some argue that the disparity is okay because Christians don’t kill people who blaspheme Jesus. I can’t really imagine two worse justifications for a supposedly objective media.

But here is my favorite part of Guthrie’s article:

Holy Communion is a centuries-old tradition in which the celebrant receives from a priest the consecrated bread and wine representing the “Body of Christ” and the “Blood of Christ.”

Okay, exactly how many errors or problems are there in that sentence? The worst problem is confusing the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and real presence with the Zwinglian approach to communion. Zwingli (pictured) argued that Jesus meant “represents” when he said, “This is my body.” Who doesn’t know that Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ in Communion? Did this reporter graduate from college? And what in the world is up with the scare quotes? They wouldn’t be so offensive if the Catholic belief weren’t so horribly mangled. And what about the word celebrant? Is not the religious definition of that word “the officiating priest in the celebration of the Eucharist“? And in an article explaining Catholic outrage at a blasphemous act, is “centuries-old tradition” the best way to describe the sacredness and holiness of the sacrament of Communion? Centuries? Gosh, it’s almost enough centuries that we could use a more precise word, say, millennia.

Photo of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence via Wikimedia.

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Brownback gets his media attention

sam brownback waving goodbyeMost second- and third-tier presidential candidates fuss about a lack of media attention and the mainstream media’s general tendency to treat their campaigns as equaling the significance of a stalk of corn in an Iowa cornfield. The social conservative Sen. Sam Brownback wouldn’t hesitate to blame his lack of political traction on the media’s failures to take his candidacy seriously.

Well, Brownback is getting some attention, but it’s not quite the coverage a candidate wants. According to the Associated Press, the candidate who was supposed to be ideal for Christian Republicans will drop out of the 2008 presidential campaign on Friday. Money is the big issue (only about $4 million overall), and it seems that Brownback is angling toward a 2010 Kansas governor’s race since his promise to serve only two terms in the Senate is about to come due:

Besides money, Brownback’s support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants hurt him in Iowa, an early-voting state that has struggled to provide education, medical care and other services as the number of immigrants has more than doubled since 1990.

Brownback spent a good chunk of his money on the Iowa straw poll, an early test of strength whose significance diminished after Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided not to compete. He finished third behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The next question for Brownback is which of the many Republican candidates will receive his endorsement or his Iowa organization. McCain? Giuliani? Why not the most ideologically compatible Huckabee? Remember that squabble Brownback and Huckabee had a few months ago? Who benefits the most and could get a bump in support, if anyone?

In a Christianity Today Q&A posted this morning, Brownback says a combination of factors have kept evangelicals from rallying behind him:

One is that I am not as highly visible as some of the other candidates. Second, we haven’t raised the amount of funds that some of other candidates have. I think there is a general position on our side that people are watching and waiting. They’re waiting to see the candidates run for a while before [they] decide. It is very early. Some people are tired, just of politics, saying, “I’m just weary.”

CBN News Senior National Correspondent David Brody chalks it up to another factor: personality:

Listen, let’s be real and honest here. From a social conservative perspective, Brownback had the resume. Pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, against embryonic stem cell research, the list goes on and on. I mean he was even head of the Values Action Team on Capitol Hill and was very close to many of the Evangelical leaders who never endorsed him. Looking back, if they had gotten behind him early, maybe things would have been different. I know from talking to the Brownback campaign that there’s a certain amount of disappointment that conservative groups never rallied around him. But the rap against Senator Brownback was that he lacked charisma. Put another way: he was a little boring and not all that inspiring. When you have that plus you can’t raise much money, that’s called game, set, match.

The demise of Brownback’s candidacy is part of a larger story about the conservative Christians who helped propel the Republican Party to power over the last decade or so. It would be wrong for the media to portray this as any key moment in the decline of the movement. In a sense, the story about the decline of the movement has been in the works and in publication since the 2006 congressional elections.

A candidate for this bloc of voters still exists in Huckabee, and both McCain and Romney are trying to bring the group into their tent, making it too early to use Brownback’s exit as an obituary on the religious right. But even with Brownback gone from the field, is there any realistic chance that the conservative Christians voters will consolidate around a candidate in a significant fashion in an effort to make a difference in 13 months?

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MTV: Rowling answers God question

JK RowlingMany theories have been tossed around for why Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling avoided discussing religion and her books. One of the more popular theories was that she didn’t want to be typecast or shunned for any personal views that could affect books sales.

The answer, it seems, is a lot simpler. Rowling, according to an article by MTV.com’s Shawn Adler, wanted to avoid giving away the book’s ending to perceptive fans who, if they knew for sure the book had intentional religious parallels, would spot certain themes and trends and ruin all the fun.

Of course the book has Christian images, “almost epitomize the whole series,” Rowling now says. Like, duh!

What’s most interesting about the story, though, is what Rowling reveals about herself:

But if she was worried about tipping her hand narratively in the earlier books, she clearly wasn’t by the time Harry visits his parents’ graves in Chapter 16 of “Deathly Hallows,” titled “Godric’s Hollow.” On his parents’ tombstone he reads the quote “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” while on another tombstone (that of Dumbledore’s mother and sister) he reads, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

While Rowling said that “Hogwarts is a multifaith school,” these quotes, of course, are distinctly Christian. The second is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 6:19, the first from 1 Corinthians 15:26. As Hermione tells Harry shortly after he sees the graves, his parents’ message means “living beyond death. Living after death.” It is one of the central foundations of resurrection theology. …

But while the book begins with a quote on the immortal soul — and though Harry finds peace with his own death at the end of his journey — it is the struggle itself which mirrors Rowling’s own, the author said.

“The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It’s something I struggle with a lot,” she revealed. “On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it’s something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that’s very obvious within the books.”

Will other media outlets pick this story up? Rowling, is after all, on a publicity tour. The general idea of those is to pick up media attention, and the big media outlets are not always jumping to publish the latest celebrity gossip. Oh wait — never mind.

In all seriousness, the media coverage this story gets in the next couple of days will be telling. How many times has a Harry Potter book made the front page of USA Today or the cover of one of the big three news magazines? Local newspapers eat the story up when the books come out, often assigning a features writer to get an embargoed copy of the book, read it in one night, and write a review for the day the book goes on sale. Will Rowling’s resolving the religion issue make it beyond the celebrity-entertainment sections of the papers?

The MTV.com story isn’t without its own barbs. See the final few paragraphs, which are more than likely to get a certain number of people excited:

That, by the author’s own acknowledgement, “Harry Potter” deals extensively with Christian themes may be somewhat ironic, considering that many Christian leaders have denounced the series for glamorizing witchcraft. When he was known simply as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope himself condemned the books, writing that their “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed … deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”

For her part, Rowling said she’s proud to be on numerous banned-book lists. As for the protests of some believers? Well, she doesn’t take them as gospel.

“I go to church myself,” she declared. “I don’t take any responsibility for the lunatic fringes of my own religion.”

Terry has been saying for years that the books are shaped by “a Church of Scotland communicant whose faith has helped shape her work.” In fact if you look at portions of his August 1 column, you’ll see that Rowling confirms some of his predictions in a somewhat eerie fashion.

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Simon: God and caring for the homeless

homeless familyAs part of a Los Angeles Times series on homelessness, faith and values reporter Stephanie Simon spent some time in Denver looking at a government program that involves a Democratic mayor and a challenge to the area’s churches, synagogues and mosques to work with the 600 or so homeless families in the community in a mentorship program begun two years ago.

The Denver program has fascinating aspects from social, economic, governmental and religious perspectives. The religious involvement in the program as portrayed by Simon is almost incidental. The two mentors portrayed in the long and thorough story happen to go to “the same evangelical church in the upper-middle-class suburb of Parker” and both were prompted to work in the program for more or less religious reasons:

Dave, 36, volunteered thinking of Jesus’ commandment to help the poor.

Mark’s motives were more complicated. He had long viewed the homeless as unworthy of his time: “I thought it was their own damn fault.”

Then one night, he joined his church to serve meals at a soup kitchen. He watched the ragged families and wondered what kept them from a normal life. “God was telling me, ‘Check this out a little more,’” said Mark, 40. …

The family spent several months in shelters — each week a different church basement, a different set of eyes judging them.

The story is not explicitly about religion, but religion drips from the paragraphs. Simon is clearly sensitive to religious issues, as we have said here before. She is able to bring out many things that a less perceptive reporter might have otherwise dismissed. Much of it stems from the various sets of values that are present in the story. The middle-class suburban lifestyle is not particularly religious, but it certainly informs a person’s religious perspective.

Take, for instance, the following paragraphs:

His tolerance had limits. In his final report, Mark would give Joe and Christina only an average chance of becoming self-sufficient. He would also recommend letting future families join the program only if both adults were willing to work. But asked how the experience affected him, he checked the box marked “positive.”

Over the summer, Mark and his wife had faced an unexpected opportunity to adopt two young girls from foster care. Mark knew taking in the girls would leave them living nearly paycheck to paycheck. But he thought of Christina and Joe, and he said yes.

As a religious issue, the concept of both parents working is hardly mentioned in the Bible, but Mark’s values are informing his judgment that both parents should work to provide income. Simon doesn’t pass judgment on any of that, but simply passes the information along and allows readers to come to their own conclusions.

Overall this is a great piece of reporting that must have involved several trips to Denver over a period of time lasting at least a year. The story’s breadth and depth is satisfyingly thorough and Simon’s choice of quotes and anecdotes reflects a tremendous understanding for the values, separate and shared, across multiple communities.

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Jesus and fermented grapes

The Grapes of GalileeThe business section of any newspaper should contain a religion story every now and then. An ad for Grapes of Galilee Wine in Catholic Digest caught the attention of Los Angeles Times staff writer Alana Semuels, who put together a short, quippy article that covers all the necessary bases when one is writing about Christians and alcohol:

Some denominations might think that the Grapes of Galilee isn’t kosher. “Jesus chased people out of the temple for selling products in God’s name,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, an arm of the teetotaling Southern Baptist Convention. “He did not put his name on the label to pump up sales.”

Beyond that, by marketing wine with Jesus’ image, “you’re associating Jesus with getting drunk and people don’t necessarily want to be doing that,” said Mara Einstein, author of “Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age.”

And appropriately for the sake of thoroughness, the article concludes with this point, quoting Pini Haroz, a Georgia-based wine importer:

“If he ate grapes or made wine,” Haroz said, “it must have been from these vines.”

After all, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine.

This is a nice little story that shows an awareness of religious issues and a willingness to step out and explore ideas on both sides.

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Ghosts in Swiss cultural rage

four churches in ZurichMolly Moore of The Washington Post Foreign Service had a dramatic and tragic story in Tuesday’s paper that shows the surge of immigration — and racist attitudes — in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland.

The land that embraced John Calvin and many other immigrants is struggling to embrace Muslims, but the Post story only hints at this fact, leaving the reader wondering what religion ghosts are hiding behind this story:

One of the world’s oldest democracies is at the center of Western Europe’s most divisive political debate: to embrace an increasingly globalized, multicultural society or to retreat into social isolation in an effort to preserve eroding traditional identities.

Across Switzerland, anti-foreigner and anti-Islamic attitudes have become so pervasive on the streets, in politics and within governmental institutions that the United Nations, European Union, Amnesty International and Switzerland’s own Federal Commission Against Racism have expressed alarm in recent months.

The theme is dominating the campaign for national parliamentary elections Oct. 21 and is crystallized in a controversial campaign poster showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag above the slogan, “For more security.” …

The Commission Against Racism said those decisions “sometimes take the shape of a refusal with discriminatory and even racist overtones.” The commission said most people denied citizenship were Muslims and natives of the Balkans who were granted asylum during the ethnic wars of the 1990s.

While Switzerland does not have an official state religion, many of the cantons (counties) do have official churches (supported by tax dollars) and represent either the Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church. While you have this in the background, the country has seen an influx of Muslims, primarily from Albania, among other immigrants (one-fifth of the country’s residents are foreign-born), which is creating political and social tensions.

I wonder if this story is as much about groups of people opposing Muslims moving to their country as it is about racism. Where does one prejudice start and the other begin? And how does the country’s official support of certain religions play into these developments?

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Women do everything . . . but go to church

WomenBoss Mattingly asked me to take a look at the latest Newsweek and write up my thoughts. After I read it all — and I do mean all — I couldn’t figure out why he thought it was GetReligion-worthy.

In the annual “Women and Power” issue, I read “Do Women Lead Differently Than Men?” (a look back at Elizabeth I, mostly), “11 Women Leaders Share Their Success Stories” (including, let’s see, Arianna Huffington!, Kyra Sedgwick, and Lorena Ochoa), “Now This Is Woman’s Work” (about Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin and Arizona’s Gov. Janet Napolitano), “An Authentic Life” (about Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger’s view of her various vocations), “‘You Do What You Have to Do’” (about two Hollywood women who raise money for charity), “What I Learned” (various female leaders share their stories about overcoming obstacles), and a transcript of Napolitano on “Leadership.”

Confused (and angry because the piece was so completely cliched and uninspiring), I tried to figure out what to write. There was a small mention of religion in the Elizabeth I story, but not enough for thoughtful commentary.

So again I pored through the many profiles of various female leaders. Actress Kyra Sedgwick shared her view that female leaders — all evidence to the contrary — don’t believe in war:

I wish that we could come together more as a political force. If women ran the world, I don’t believe that there would be war. I really don’t.

At least she’s just an actress. Swanee Hunt, founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, had similar views to Sedgwick’s, adding:

Women tend to be less corrupt, and when you’re talking about developing countries, that is enormous. What they tell me is, “We know that any money that we put into our own pockets is not going to go to hospitals and to schools that will help the children in this country.” They think of the whole country as their family.

Hunt went on to say that women need to get over the idea that other people shouldn’t help raise their children. Shriver had a bit of a different take:

So many women my age thought that success meant being like a man: wanting the same job a man would have and getting paid the same money — basically copying the male resume. But I think a lot of us who went that route now feel ambivalent about the sacrifices we made. What were we really accomplishing? What was the cost, not just to others but to ourselves? Was there another way to do it? Did we have to follow the male role model?

There are ghosts here, to be sure. The notion that women sin less than men. The idea that women’s vocation as mother should be valued highly. But they are ghosts, not actual mentions of religion. In fact, the only mention of religion in the entire package came from Gnostic (and Gnostic scholar) Elaine Pagels:

In my last book, I asked two questions. What is it about Christianity that I love in spite of many things I don’t? And what is it I can’t love about it? I don’t love the claim that it’s the only true religion, and I don’t love the way that many sides of Christianity have been used to nurture hatred and dissension. But I do love the enormous range of stories, poems, chants and testimonies to the ways that people discover the human spirit and express that in relation to each other, in relation to communities. Finding spiritual meaning is essential. This is part of the way we imagine, we hope, we fear, the way we explore. We can’t live without it.

Reading Pagels’ account made me realize what was so interesting about the Newsweek package: the almost complete lack of any substantive discussion of religion. Save Pagels and her distaste for Christianity’s truth claims, none of the women were quoted discussing their faith. None cited religion as an important aspect of their lives. None of the female leaders held religious posts — even though various church bodies or their agencies are led by females.

Turns out this is a pattern. This is at least the third year Newsweek has run a Women and Power issue. Two years ago it put Oprah on the cover and left the religion out, with a tiny exception. Last year it completely ignored the role of religion in women’s lives.

The newsweeklies struggle with irrelevance. Continuing to ignore the role of religion in women’s lives can’t be helping.

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Where’s God in the ORU mess?

Little mention of religion appears in the coverage by The New York Times of a lawsuit filed by three former Oral Roberts University professors. According to the article, the professors are alleging “financial, political and personal irregularities” by Richard Roberts, the president of the Christian liberal arts university in Tulsa, Okla.

The ex-professors, citing a secret internal report by an official of the Oral Roberts Ministries, linked to the university in Tulsa, Okla., sued on Oct. 2. They also contended that the Roberts house on the campus had been remodeled 11 times in 14 years, that the university jet took family members on trips and that the family’s university-paid cellphones sent text messages to “under-age males — often between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.”

The plaintiffs said “some of the more salacious entries” were omitted from the suit “to preserve, as much as possible, the remaining positive image of the university.”

A plaintiff, John Swails, a 14-year tenured professor and the chairman of the department of history, humanities and government, said by phone he had been fired after providing a copy of the report to the university provost, Ralph Fagin, and the university’s Board of Regents in July. “It was the first they saw of it,” Mr. Swails said.

First off, reporters should not include unspecified allegations as a basic rule of thumb. Essentially what that second paragraph says is that Richard Roberts did something really really bad, but we’re not saying since it would hurt the reputation of the institution we so love. Right. Or maybe you can’t substantiate it with any evidence?

Much of the reporting plays off an interview Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, did for CNN’s Larry King Live Tuesday night. A lot of people that you’d think would have interesting things to say were either unavailable or had no comment.

Overall, though, this was a difficult story for the NYT to report, and more details are certainly to emerge in the coming weeks. The big thing missing in this story about a Christian university led by the son of a Christian television evangelist is, well, religious issues. Little is said of the university’s charismatic perspective and even less is said about its connection with the Word of Faith doctrine, which is a close cousin of the doctrine of prosperity.

Could that explain the corporate jet Richard Roberts is standing next to in the NYT photo and the allegation that his home has been remodeled more times than most people deep clean their homes? And why does this story seem so familiar?

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