Praying with, or to, the saints?

santo subitoI have a question for the traditional Roman Catholics who are faithful GetReligion readers (and you know who you are).

As you probably know, I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy from evangelical Protestantism and, from time to time, I am struck by the subtle differences in how our ancient churches describe things. Thus, I tend to flinch when I hit mainstream media references, such as the following, about Catholics praying “to” the saints.

This is from Tracy Wilkinson’s Los Angeles Times report from Rome about the speedy progress of Pope John Paul II toward sainthood:

Today, on the second anniversary of his death, John Paul will take a significant step closer to sainthood. Church officials will announce the conclusion of a detailed investigation of the Polish prelate’s life, and the Vatican will begin evaluating the case of a French nun who said she was miraculously healed after praying to John Paul.

The nun, Marie Simon-Pierre, is expected to be among thousands of pilgrims who will attend elaborate ceremonies today, including a solemn Mass at St. Peter’s to mark John Paul’s passing. She says her Parkinson’s disease, the same illness that afflicted John Paul, disappeared two months after he died.

If a church committee agrees that the cure was a miracle attributed to intercession before God by John Paul, then the late pope is eligible to be beatified, the step preceding sainthood.

Here is my question: Does the simple phrase “after praying to John Paul” do justice to the Catholic teachings about prayer and the Communion of the Saints? Note the second reference in the story that seems close to the mark, the phrase that says the cure was “a miracle attributed to intercession before God by John Paul.”

Perhaps the phrase “praying to” the saints is so common that is accepted among Catholics, even though I have had Catholic priests and scholars tell me that it would be more accurate to say the persons offering the prayers are asking the saints to “pray with” them. All prayers are, of course, offered to God and Catholics believe in praying directly to God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as much as other Christians. Here is a familiar wording in the Trisagion Prayers (this link is to an Eastern Catholic parish in communion with Rome):

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

As always on this site, please note that the big question in this post is not doctrinal (so don’t click that “comment” button just yet). It’s journalistic.

1878 1 photoI am asking if there is a better way for reporters to address this issue in public media, in part because the “pray to” wording may confuse many readers. Yes, I am also aware that many Catholics are either confused about the teachings of their own church on this matter. Here is a key reference in the church’s official catechism:

A cloud of witnesses

2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,41 especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.”42 Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

Thus, near the end of Wilkinson’s piece, we hear from the nun who appears to have been healed:

“My healing was the work of God through the intercession of John Paul,” she said at the news conference in the French city of Aix-en-Provence.

She spoke in a clear, if emotional, voice, and appeared to walk with ease.

So did the nun pray to John Paul for healing, or did she, in her prayers, ask John Paul to join her in her prayers to God for her own healing? It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Is it too subtle for public media?

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The war war among evangelicals

war in iraqJulie Sullivan of Religion News Service has a good article on the current position evangelical Christians hold on the war in Iraq. Their position is significant because it has been their support that gave Republicans undivided rule of Washington for six consecutive years. Evangelicals have also been some of Bush’s most consistent supporters.

The challenge in doing a story like this is finding ways to truly measure the wind among conservative evangelicals. Reporting on what their leaders say shouldn’t be the sole method, and even polling data is subject to plenty of interpretation. It’s also important to note that while it’s one thing to not support President Bush on the war, it is another thing to oppose him on it.

Are a significant number of evangelicals indeed opposing the war?

No polling data show conclusively that opinion has shifted among conservative evangelicals. But some national evangelical leaders say debate about — and, in some cases, opposition to — the war is breaking out among Christian conservatives whose support was key to President Bush’s election victories. Frustration with Republicans’ failure to overturn abortion rights is said to have fueled skepticism among some evangelicals. Others decry the war’s human toll and financial cost and are concerned about any use of torture.

“This war has challenged their confidence in the party,” said Tony Campolo, an evangelical Baptist minister and author who lectures across the country on social issues. “Add to that that they feel the Republicans have betrayed them on the abortion issue, and you are beginning to see signs of a rebellion.”

The National Association of Evangelicals, which says it represents 45,000 churches, recently endorsed an anti-torture statement that says the United States has crossed “boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible” in its treatment of detainees and war prisoners in the fight against terror.

These are some questions I’d like to see answered: Why evangelicals did support the war in the first place? Was it a basic loyalty to the man they believed would support their issues? Was taking down Saddam a high priority for them in determining who they supported?

But since 2003, polls have shown that conservative Christians were more likely than other Americans to favor military action. The National Association of Evangelicals, the same group that condemned torture, even linked the efforts of evangelical “prayer warriors” to the killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons.

Daniel R. Lockwood, president of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary in Portland, Ore., said he has seen a “sea change” among his students, who are looking beyond conservative issues such as abortion and homosexuality to the environment, children with HIV/AIDS and the poor.

“More and more, students are very interested in social justice and issues often associated with the middle and the left,” Lockwood said, “and the war is a piece of that.”

This article also could have explored the tone among the publications read and supported by evangelicals. What has Christianity Today said on the war lately? What of World magazine? What level of support are their pages showing these days?

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Separation of mosque and cab

muslimcabYou don’t have to read GetReligion long to realize that the writers here appreciate the work of Stephanie Simon of the Los Angeles Times. We verge on being fans.

So with that in mind, please consider my following comments about her new piece that ran with the headline “Faith and work collide in Minneapolis — Somalian immigrants create a stir by declaring certain jobs offensive to Islam.”

The story focuses on the fact that many Muslim cab divers are refusing to serve customers who are carrying alcohol in visible containers or who have the smell of alcohol on their clothing or breath. This raises legal questions about religion and discrimination in the workplace. This leads us to the following summary material:

Federal law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs — so long as that doesn’t place an “undue burden” on the business. Defining undue burden, however, can be tricky. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handled 2,541 complaints of faith-based discrimination last year, up nearly 50% from a decade earlier.

Last fall, the Minneapolis transit authority cited the reasonable accommodations law in promising not to assign a driver to buses that carried ads for a local gay and lesbian magazine called Lavender. The driver had objected to the ads — which carry the slogan “Unleash Your
Inner Gay” — on religious grounds.

The law has also been used to aid Muslim employees. Managers often allow Muslim workers to schedule their breaks to coincide with the five-times-a-day prayer. Target last week reassigned its Muslim cashiers to jobs that don’t require handling pork, such as stocking shelves. Other chains have also made such accommodations.

But the taxi driver dispute has resisted easy solutions. About 70% of the more than 900 drivers licensed to work at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are Somalian immigrants, spokesman Patrick Hogan said. In the last five years, 4,854 passengers have been denied
service because they carried alcohol.

Now that is a big story, and Simon tells it with her usual array of interesting voices and telling details.

However, I was struck by that reference to a 50 percent rise in faith-based discrimination complaints in a decade. That raised some questions. I wanted, for example, to know more about the rights of employers, as well as employees. To some degree, relationships in a workplace are a “voluntary association” and employers have rights too.

Also, this cab case called to mind the recent struggles of Catholic doctors to practice their faith in the office, as well as at church. And what about those cases involving conservative Christian pharmacists? Finally, I work in a global network of Christian colleges and universities, and there are those who doubt whether these institutions should be allowed to consider doctrinal and moral questions when hiring (and firing).

So when I finished Simon’s story, I immediately wanted to know where some of America’s religious liberty groups — on the left as well as the right — stand on the cab dispute in Minneapolis. I mean, religious liberty is often a messy business. But it beats all the alternatives.

I hope Simon’s editors let her dig into this story again and aqain.

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Blunt voices on the Anglican left

Drop DeadNow this is really interesting and, for a voice on the doctrinal left, very blunt.

Blunt is on the rise, at the moment, in the Anglican world.

So check out the Guardian headline on the latest column from Stephen Bates:

Bishops to primate: drop dead

When Rowan Williams meets his flock these days, he seems happy just to get out of the room in one piece.

The primate involved, of course, is the Archbishop of Canterbury — a man who was considered a solid leader on the Anglican left for years. However, at the moment he is trying to hold his Communion together in a fight over a host of issues in doctrine, sacraments and moral theology. It’s hard to read this Bates column as anything other than a declaration of war on Williams for betraying his doctrinal class.

Thus, we read the following about the U.S. Episcopal Church’s “drop dead” response to Williams’ attempts to maintain peace with Third World conservatives:

… (The) whole statement is a kick in the balls for Dr Williams, who has steadfastly declined to visit the US church while happily receiving regular delegations of conservatives at Lambeth Palace. The American bishops invited him to go and visit them, to hear their views, adding, deliciously, that they would pay for his ticket.

But Williams is in the thrall to the conservatives. He has even appointed the American conservative theologian Ephraim Radner to the body advising on the pastoral scheme, just when Radner has joined a Washington-based organisation, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, dedicated to overthrowing the US church and largely funded by the Ahmansons. These bizarre, multimillionaire Californian Christian reconstructionists believe in publicly stoning gays (and other reprobates) to death.

Will the archbishop go and speak to the Americans, or has he heard enough? He knows that without the US and its the Anglican communion, will struggle to survive financially.

By the way, there appears to be a crucial missing word and a strange comma in that last sentence in the online version of this column: “He knows that without the US and its (??) the Anglican communion (,) will struggle to survive financially.” I would assume that the missing word is “money,” “endowments” or something to that effect. Has anyone else seen a full text? Can a GetReligion reader on the other side of the Atlantic help us?

Meanwhile, over at the Telegraph, Damian Thompson is singing the same angry aria. Here is the key statement, for those who are trying to anticipate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s next move in this global soap opera:

For almost his entire period in office, the treacle-voiced Welsh Primate with the Fu Manchu eyebrows has been bending over backwards to appease people whose views he privately abhors. I thought Rowan Williams was going to be the finest Archbishop of Canterbury for decades. Instead, he has been a disappointment on every level — even in his own area of expertise, theology.

This is a perfectly valid question. How long will Williams, an articulate man of the left, carry on his attempts at global compromise? Thompson and Bates are voices on the religious left in England, a state-church environment in which church politics is a life-and-death affair. You know that, sooner or later, the action in the Anglican civil war has to move over to Great Britain.

Can the old allies of Williams call him back into the fold? Will he betray the left? Stay tuned.

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It’s about more than sex

  So the big it is mentioned within first three paragraphs of all the major stories on this week’s announcement that the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops rejected a demand from the Anglican Communion’s primates to establish a separate leadership structure for dissenting U.S. dioceses and parishes.

Can you guess what it is?

Here’s Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times:

Responding to an ultimatum from leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion, bishops of the Episcopal Church have rejected a key demand to create a parallel leadership structure to serve the conservative minority of Episcopalians who oppose their church’s liberal stand on homosexuality.

And three paragraphs into a Los Angeles Times article by Rebecca Trounson:

The U.S. bishops did not directly address potentially thornier issues, including demands from Anglican leaders that by September they stop performing official blessings for same-sex couples and consecrating openly gay bishops.

Figured out the big it yet? Yes, this story is made out to be about sex — homosexuality, to be specific. That’s at least what the headlines would lead you to think. But it’s more than just sex. It’s theology. It’s doctrine.

A couple of journalists got it right, including The Washington Post‘s Alan Cooperman:.

But U.S. bishops, though divided on underlying issues of theology and sexuality, described themselves yesterday as increasingly united against foreign interference in the internal governance of their church.

Dave Walker cartoonCathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today used the phrase “dissent from the U.S. church’s stances on homosexuality and the Bible,” which gets the message across that this is about more than sex, but “theology” seems to be a better word to describe the divide.

The money matter comes up quite frequently in the stories, which is nicely summarized in this Times piece by Goodstein and Neela Barnerjee.

For the best source for links and commentary on the schism, check out the blog run by The Times’ Ruth Gledhill:

If the wealthy US church, headed by the Communion’s first woman Primate, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is expelled from communion, as now appears increasingly likely, US papers such as the New York Times are reporting that the Anglican Communion worldwide will be plunged into financial crisis because so much of the central administration and overseas aid is bankrolled by the Americans. Although the 2.3 US Episcopalians are few among the 77 million Anglicans worldwide, they finance up to one third of the Communion’s total international budget. (Update: that should of course read 2.3 million. That was not prophetic or wishful thinking on my part, just one of those ordinary mistakes … Cartoon from Dave Walker.)

… So, in effect, TEC are subverting Dr Williams’ wider unity plans by playing their own unity card with ruthless clarity. We already know who is holding the queens in this high-stakes ecclesiastical poker game. And I know of at least two pretty major aces that have still to be shown. I just hope Dr Williams has some good cards still close to his chest. Because neither TEC nor Akinola are bluffing.

As a reporter who recently started blogging for his day job, I know what it is like to be freed from the reins of reporting a basic news story. Interjecting some analysis into a news story can only go so far. With a blog, one is free to link, think out loud and correct one’s mistakes, as Gledhill does above regarding the 2.3 million. It’s refreshing and a great way for a journalist to build her ability to cover a beat.

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Christian discrimination in the U.K.?

The UKThe BBC’s Heaven & Earth show found in a recent poll that one third of all Christians in the United Kingdom think that the media portray them in a way that amounts to discrimination.

If the broadcast version of this story contained significant content, then the person who rewrote it for the Web didn’t include much of the information. Other than the actual poll numbers — 25 percent of U.K. Christians think Christians experience discrimination in the workplace from colleagues, for instance — the news article contains little that would inform the reader beyond the opinions of 604 people who consider themselves Christians.

For context we’re given the typical “two sides” to the story:

The Rev Malcolm Duncan, who leads the Christian campaigning group Faithworks, said: “The Christian church is suffering more than all other faiths in the UK. There is an aggressive secularist agenda that says it’s OK to support any group ending in “ism” but it’s not OK to support anything connected to Christianity.”

But some Christians think their fellow believers are overstating the case. Bishop David Gillett, The Bishop of Bolton, said: “Religion is big news these days, so people have become more conscious of faith issues. That means Christians are now finding decisions going against them in a more high-profile way. But it’s a case of those issues getting more attention, rather than there being more discrimination.”

First off, the program’s producers failed to ask about specific instances of discrimination. These are some interesting numbers, but the BBC failed to place them in a broad context.

Then there is this matter of Duncan’s comments, which are by any reasonable measure overly dramatic. Conveniently these comments are followed up by Bishop Gillett, who says that certain Christians — we won’t say who — are “overstating the case.”

Knowing that a quarter of all Christians in the U.K. feel discriminated against doesn’t do anyone any good unless we have something to compare it with. Do we know what percentage of Jews and Muslims feel discriminated against in the U.K.? And what about atheists and agnostics? And what percentage of the U.K. population says it is Christian these days anyway?

Interesting numbers are a great way to create a news hook, but without some level of serious reporting, they aren’t very helpful.

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Andrew Sullivan’s scary bedtime stories

AndrewSullivanLike any journalist who has worked for an opinion journal, Andrew Sullivan is entitled to some favorite themes. One of his favorites for the past few years is the insidious threat of what he calls Christianism, or theoconservatism. In his 7,400-word New Republic takedown of Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, that theme is so prevalent that it calls to mind one of those outrageously large American flags favored by car dealerships (at least in the Deep South), popping defiantly in the wind.

That D’Souza’s book attracts sharp criticism should be no surprise. As Sullivan points out, many conservatives have taken issue with this book, which frankly discusses what cultural and social concerns Christians have in common with Muslims (which has widely been read as sharing those concerns with terrorists).

What I find most striking in Sullivan’s critique are two things: his apparently not knowing what D’Souza believes about God, and his rush to conclusions about what conservative ex-Episcopalians must believe because of their affiliation with Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.

First to D’Souza’s faith, about which Sullivan writes:

D’Souza is rehearsing the mainstream view of the religious right with respect to the notion of separating church and state. They oppose it, and so does he. But with what a twist! Where he differs from the religious right is in his willingness to find the proper political authority, the proper models of political virtue, in Islam. Islam and Christianity together: that is D’Souza’s dream. He does not seem especially interested in God. He writes nothing about his own faith, whatever it is. His interest is not in the metaphysics or the mysteries of religion, but in the uses of religion for social control. (Somewhere Machiavelli is smiling.) In the goal of maintaining patriarchy, banning divorce, outlawing homosexuality, and policing blasphemy, any orthodoxy will do. D’Souza’s religion, in a sense, is social conservatism. He is not going to let a minor matter such as the meanings of God get in the way of his religion.

As the most basic Internet search will reveal, D’Souza’s faith is Roman Catholic. For several years he edited a magazine — well known among both conservative and liberal Catholics — known as Crisis. He appeared on EWTN’s The World Over recently (Real Media), where he was both mistaken for a Muslim by a caller and engaged in a feisty discussion with host Raymond Arroyo.

As for the ex-Episcopalians in northern Virginia, Sullivan sees them as a test case for taking theoconservatism global:

D’Souza believes that his side is losing the culture war at home, and may soon be losing the political one as well. The 2006 elections proved the severe fragility of a political strategy dependent on a base of evangelical believers corralled into supporting a theoconservative social policy and a neo-conservative foreign policy. D’Souza runs the numbers at home and, with the war in Iraq coming undone, senses he cannot win. So what to do? As with many generals who find themselves losing a war, D’Souza has decided to widen it.

Widen it how? By globalizing theoconservatism. This is the central argument of D’Souza’s book: that cultural globalization is the last chance for theoconservatism in its death match with liberal modernity. If a majority of Americans do not support a system of government resting on an external and divine moral order, then the obvious next move is to enlist the billions of fundamentalist believers in the developing world to forge a global alliance. If you combine the premodern patriarchs among the Christians of Africa and Asia and the Muslims of the Middle East and pit them against the degenerate, declining individualists in the West, a global theoconservative victory is possible.

That is D’Souza’s vision, and he is not shy about it. The test case for this strategy can be seen most graphically in the Anglican Church. Theoconservative Episcopalians in Northern Virginia have sought protection under a Nigerian prelate who believes that even speech about homosexuality should be criminalized. If theoconservatism cannot work as a governing majority in the First World, then it is time to forge an alliance between half of America with the Third World.

Oh well, so much for a global alliance of Anglicans that has been building for more than a decade (and, arguably, since the Lambeth Conference of 1988). Andrew Sullivan has determined — from the collective unconscious? from an across-the-Beltway soul scan? — that the Episcopalians of northern Virginia are theoconservatives, and that’s all we need to know. Oh, and they’re invariably Republicans, as Sullivan concedes that even they may not be ready to sign on to D’Souza’s full vision: “Even the Republican Episcopalians in Falls Church eager to be run by Nigerians draw the line at Nigerian Muslims (with whom Nigerian Christians are actually at war).”

For what it’s worth, I’ve known many of these Episcopalians for more than a decade, and in past years worked with some of them on projects of shared concerns. Never once did we discuss how we voted. Nor did we exchange misty-eyed glances at the mere mention of Ronald Reagan.

Finally, no such essay would be complete without a Count Floyd reference to those scary creatures known as James Dobson and Tim LaHaye:

As D’Souza continues his campaign in op-eds, speaking engagements, and television appearances, you can see the coherence of his case. There is a difference only in degree, after all, between Islamism’s view of the role of women and that of James Dobson or Tim LaHaye. Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right. Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan. There is only a difference in degree between Islamism’s view of the relationship between mosque and state and Christianism’s view of the relationship between church and state. … The notion that blasphemy, pornography, or homosexuality should be protected, let alone celebrated, is anathema to Islamists and Christianists alike. D’Souza’s sole sin is to say so publicly in a way no one can misunderstand. He has blown the medievals’ cover.

Theoconservatives, you may now return to flogging or impregnating your wife (or wives, as the case may be).

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Follow the Episcopal money

StacksOCashAll together now, let’s repeat the central refrain in the ongoing Anglican Communion wars: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”

That old, old saying continues to be relevant, as you can see in the latest New York Times piece on the crisis by reporters Laurie Goodstein and Neela Banerjee. The headline sets the scene: “Money Looms in Episcopalian Rift With Anglicans.”

Please ignore the fact that the headline writer, once again, incorrectly used the word “Episcopalian” — which is the noun, not the adjective (as in “Episcopalians get miffed when journalists make Episcopal errors”). Here’s some key info near the top of the story:

The truth is, the Episcopal Church bankrolls much of the Communion’s operations. And a cutoff of that money, while unlikely at this time, could deal the Communion a devastating blow. The Episcopal Church’s 2.3 million members make up a small fraction of the 77 million members in the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest affiliation of Christian churches. Nevertheless, the Episcopal Church finances at least a third of the Communions annual operations.

Episcopalians give tens of millions more each year to support aid and development programs in the Communion’s poorer provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America. At least $18 million annually flows from Episcopal Church headquarters in New York, and millions more are sent directly from American dioceses and parishes that support Anglican churches, schools, clinics and missionaries abroad.

Bishops in some foreign provinces that benefit from Episcopal money are now leading the charge to punish the Episcopal Church or even evict it from the Communion.

Later in the story we read this:

Work at the Episcopal Church’s headquarters is so intertwined with the rest of the Anglican Communion that shutting off the flow of money would put a stop to much of the church’s mission and evangelism.

Officials estimate that collectively, a quarter of the church’s budget goes to international programs. There are ministries for women, for young people and for peace and justice that collaborate with Anglicans overseas, acting as host to and paying for delegations visiting the United States and going abroad.

This is a very, very timely and much-needed story, but you would expect me to say that since GetReligion has been beating the drums for coverage of this issue for months. The journalists at this blog are also, as a rule, big fans of Goodstein’s work.

Still, I have a basic question, after following coverage of this issue for two decades. Here it is: Are all of the gifts mentioned in this report from the denomination’s annual operating budget?

The Times does a good job of stressing that there are regional diocesan gifts as well as the national gifts. That is helpful information. However, I would be interested in knowing if any of the money is coming from endowments, rather than budget money.

Here’s why. Earlier generations of the faithful often left money in trusts that were to be used for specific causes — such as “missions” or “evangelism.” Many also designated that their money be spent on specific causes in specific parts of the world, such as gifts for missionary work in Africa (to name one location). In many cases that money cannot legally be used for other work. What happens to those endowments if there is a schism?

This leads to another question: Does the word “mission,” or the word “evangelism,” mean the same thing today as it did when many of these endowments were created? Is it likely, for example, that the Episcopal Church of 2007 will donate money to a different set of “evangelism” projects than those that would have been favored by the Episcopal Church of 1957? Does, for example, “women’s ministry” mean the same thing today than it did, oh, two or three decades ago?

This is one case where following the church money might require some focus on what type of money we are talking about. Could the Episcopal Church cut off some of these gifts, even if it wanted to? At the same time, is it possible that these existing endowment gifts could be used as leverage in debates over, for example, the ordination of women and the modernization of church doctrines?

The bottom line: What do words like “mission” mean, and who gets to define them? The people who write the check, today, or the people who donated the money, long ago? Alas, I think the modern lawyers will win that one.

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