FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Tackling inequality: Where a president meets a pope

There has been much speculation about President Barack Obama’s meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday. One Catholic church authority asserted, “it is not the task of the pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality.” The pope got that message -- he wrote it himself in his first official “Papal Exhortation” last year.

Yet Francis has also asserted that his papacy has a “grave responsibility” to  “exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times” -- particularly to know the face of the poor and outcast.

For the pope, this scrutiny must take in the fierce public debate about government cuts that now overshadows U.S. politics. The left and the right are battling over sharp reductions in foods stamps and unemployment benefits, denial of healthcare to those least able to afford it and cuts in many programs designed to help the poor and needy.

Francis has dedicated his papacy to helping those marginalized by harsh economic policies and personal setbacks. He advocates for a “poor church,” one that can give a voice to the voiceless. So poverty of all kinds will likely be an urgent topic when the pope and the president sit down.

Francis, of course, directly addresses only the 1.2 billion humans who are in the Catholic orbit, and Obama was elected to serve only one nation. Both, however, have “gone global” -- their words and actions affect “present realities” around the world.

from Tales from the Trail:

Santorum explains “phony theology” comment

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says he wasn't questioning Barack Obama's faith on Saturday when he said the Democratic president's agenda was based on "some phony theology."

Santorum explained his comments during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, saying he was questioning the president's world view -- not his faith.

"I accept the fact that the president's Christian," Santorum said. "I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the earth above man says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the earth by things that are frankly just not scientifically proven."

from Tales from the Trail:

Rick Santorum: birth control ruling has nothing to do with women’s rights

Forcing religious organizations to provide contraceptives has nothing to do with women's rights, Republican presidential contender and vocal Catholic Rick Santorum said on Thursday.

The comment aligned Santorum with a lineup of conservative critics bashing Democratic President Barack Obama's rule requiring religious institutions -- but not churches -- to provide health insurance plans that cover birth control.

The rule, announced in January, covers religious-affiliated groups like charities, hospitals and universities. The Catholic Church opposes most methods of birth control and conservatives have painted the rule as an attack on religious freedom from a secular president.

Obama meets Dalai Lama at White House, China sees U.S. interference

(The Dalai Lama arrives to deliver A Talk for World Peace on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 9, 2011/Yuri Gripas)

China accused the United States on Sunday of “grossly” interfering in its internal affairs and seriously damaging relations after President Barack Obama met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House. Obama met the Nobel Prize laureate for 45 minutes, praising him for embracing non-violence while reiterating that the United States did not support independence for Tibet.

China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who supports the use of violence to set up an independent Tibet, reacted swiftly, saying Obama’s meeting had had a “baneful” impact, and summoning a senior U.S. diplomat in Beijing.

from Tales from the Trail:

U.S. religious leaders urge moral solution to debt talks

Don’t balance the U.S. budget on the backs of the poor and sick, religious leaders said, suggesting that their churches’ charity work is already overstretched and social havoc could result if the government’s social safety net is abandoned.

Representatives from Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and interfaith groups and churches expressed their collective disappointment with the tone of blame in the debt debate between President Obama and congressional negotiators.

The faith groups have organized a vigil alongside the U.S. Capitol and released a letter appealing to the president and Congress to consider the poor and vulnerable in their negotiations.

U.S. eyes Egypt Islamists as extremist fears fester

egypt flag

(An Egyptian flag with a peace sign at a rally in Trafalgar Square, in central London February 12, 2011/Luke MacGregor)

U.S. officials are concerned that Islamic extremists may try to exploit Egypt’s upheaval but are not yet convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most influential Islamist opposition group, is necessarily a threat.

The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday marked the beginning of a new, uncertain era in Egypt that promises to empower Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, long viewed with deep suspicion in the West.  Al Qaeda is widely seen as weak in Egypt thanks partly to Mubarak, and his departure is raising fears in the U.S. Congress that the rise of even moderate Islamists may give radical elements more room to operate.

from Tales from the Trail:

At prayer breakfast, Obama calls Jesus “my Lord and Savior”

President Barack Obama made a clear declaration of his Christian faith on Thursday and seemed to express some frustration that his beliefs continue to be called into question.

OBAMA/"Let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith," Obama told a ballroom full of applauding believers at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

"The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray."

He detailed how, after a non-religious upbringing, he came to define himself as a Christian.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obamas make rare church visit

Margaret Chadbourn of Reuters reports the following on the Obama family's church visit.

President Barack Obama , his wife Michelle, and their two daughters made a rare visit to a Washington church service on Sunday and were promptly invited by the pastor to become members of the congregation.Obama_family

The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, a few blocks from the White House, welcomed the Obama family for a special service celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. on the eve of the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Word clouds drift apart in Obama’s speeches to the Muslim world

obama jakartaWord clouds are graphic games that sometimes tell more than a plain text. Look at the results below for U.S. President Barack Obama’s “speech to the Muslim world” today in Jakarta and his first such address in Cairo last year. I’ve analysed the two in a report here, but word clouds tell the story a different way. (Photo: President Barack Obama in Jakarta, 10 Nov 2010/Barbara Walton)

Judging by the frequency of the words, today’s speech was much more a speech about Indonesia than anything else. The message to the greater Muslim world — here’s what the world’s largest Muslim country can do! – only comes through between the lines. But it was clear enough when Obama strung these words into sentences.

Another point is how strong the focus is on secular concepts such as democracy, progress and development. “Muslim” and “Islam” are also-rans while “Koran” doesn’t appear at all.

Obama sets Muslim outreach for Indonesia trip

istiqlal (Photo: Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, August 18, 2003/Supri)

President Barack Obama will visit Indonesia’s largest mosque and make a major outdoor speech directed at the global Muslim community when he visits Indonesia next month, the White House said on Thursday.

Obama leaves on November 5 on a 10-day trip to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. On November 10 in Jakarta, Obama will visit the Istiqlal Mosque, and then make his speech from another, outdoor location, where there could be a large crowd.

“He’ll have a chance to talk about the partnership that we’re building with Indonesia, but also to talk about some of the themes of democracy and development and our outreach to Muslim communities around the world,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a news conference.