FaithWorld

Has U.S. abortion language created climate of violence?

The murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller has been condemned by prominent groups and activists on both sides of this divisive and emotive issue.

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But the language used by some opponents of abortion rights who reviled Tiller for his work providing late-term abortions remained very strong.

Take this statement by Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family.

We are shocked by the murder of George Tiller, and we categorically condemn the act of vigilantism and violence that took his life,” Dobson said in a statement. He went on to say that the perpetrator must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But he also said: “Tiller recently faced serious charges related to the killing of babies in violation of the law, by the most grotesque procedures administered without anesthetics or compassion.  We profoundly regretted the outcome of his legal case, believing the doctor had the blood of countless babies on his hands.  Nevertheless, he was exonerated by the court and declared ‘not guilty’ in the eyes of the law. That is our system, and we honor it.”

GUESTVIEW: Missing dimension in Middle East peace process

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace (New York) and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Rev. Bud Heckman and Matthew Weiner

obama-and-muslim-womenIn the foreshadow of President Obama’s much anticipated speech to the Muslim world and on peace this week, there is new hope for peace in the Middle East. Its source is the opposite of what many may think: religion, and the extraordinary promise of principled inclusion of religions in seeking solutions for peace and justice.

Of course, in one sense this is nothing new. Think of the Peace of Westphalia and the political virtue of tolerance developed in response to bloody religious civil wars, which were no less serious than any religious conflict we face today. One difference now — to some degree the result of secularization — is the assumption that the political and public is more frequently separate from the religious. That is to say, an assumption arises that we can do without religion in the public sphere to solve public problems. With this secular mind set, when making a political peace, it is assumed that religion should be sidelined or asked to join only in some superficial way.

GUESTVIEW: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

sheikh-and-rabbi-2 (Photo: Muslim sheikh and Jewish rabbi address interfaith meeting in Brussels, 4 Jan 2005/Thierry Roge)

By Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky

Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.

Pope in Nazareth restates Catholic family values

nazareth-mass (Photo: Catholics attend pope’s Mass in Nazareth, 14 May 2009/Gil Cohen Magen)

After several days when the location of a speech sometimes clashed with the message he wanted to send, Pope Benedict must have been relieved to visit Nazareth today. The town where Jesus grew up lies in Israel proper, in the north of the country, and not in the political minefield of the West Bank that Benedict visited yesterday to see Bethlehem. In the town of the Holy Family, he was able to defend traditional Catholic family values without having to consider issues such as Palestinian statehood or apologies for the Holocaust. As he put it:

“All of us need… to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life. Here, in the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God’s gift of new life. How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!”

Of course, this is just as political as the other questions he’s dealt with on this visit, as the growing acceptance of gay marriage at the state level in the United States shows, but it’s on a different level. The issue isn’t the same in Israel, because the the Chief Rabbinate oversees marriages here and rules out gay marriage. The same goes for civil unions. But colleagues in our Jerusalem bureau tell me that times are changing here as well. Israeli social services now often recognise a long-standing gay relationship as similar to common law marriage and extend benefits to same-sex partners.

U.S. troop conversion allegations diplomatic minefield

U.S. President Barack Obama may face a new minefield on the battlefields of Afghanistan — one that combines a potent mix of religion and culture.

Explosive allegations have emerged that U.S. soldiers have been attempting to convert Afghanis to Christianity, a scenario sure to stir passions and even anger in the overwhelming Islamic country. You can see our story on the issue here by my colleague Peter Graff in Kabul.

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The U.S. military denied Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.

Flu fears impact worship services

Flu fears are already changing the face of some religious services, from Mexico where church gatherings are discouraged to the United States where wine shared from a common cup has been suspended in some parishes. We’ve already blogged about this but offer more detail from other places here.

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U.S. Catholic bishops have issued general guidelines saying clergy and lay ministers who distribute communion wafers “should be encouraged to wash their hands before Mass begins,  or even to use an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.”

“They should instruct people who feel ill not to receive from the cup,” containing wine which Catholics believe becomes the blood of Jesus Christ during Mass.

This time around, Dan Brown hero is Vatican ally

photocall-2After exposing a Church cover-up in “The Da Vinci Code,” symbologist Robert Langdon returns to the big screen as an unlikely Vatican ally in the latest movie adaptation of a novel by author Dan Brown.

“Angels & Demons,” again starring Tom Hanks as Langdon and directed by Ron Howard, premieres in Rome on Monday at a theatre a mile (0.6 kilometer) away from Vatican City. It’s due to open in the United States on May 15. (Photo: Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer and Ron Howard (L-R) at a photocall at CERN near Geneva, 12 Feb 2009/Valentin Flauraud)

In the film, Langdon is recruited by the Vatican after the pope dies and four cardinals tipped  to succeed him are kidnapped. Langdon races through the “Eternal City” deciphering clues linked to a centuries-old secret society, the Illuminati.

No prayer against swine flu?

swine-flu-mass-1Jim Forsyth, our stringer in San Antonio, Texas, reports:

San Antonio has been hard hit by the swine flu, but if local Roman Catholics go to Mass to pray for deliverance from the disease, they may not get the relief they had hoped for. Archbishop Jose Gomez has issued a letter to priests in the archdiocese recommending they make changes in the Mass because of the swine flu outbreak.

“I am requesting that you offer Holy Communion under only one species, bread only,” Gomez told his priests. “Also, during the Lord’s Prayer, please suspend the holding of hands and the shaking of hands or embracing during the sign of peace.”

“Common sense would dictate that washing of hands by ministers and others who come in contact with people can be effective in preventing the spread of swine flu,” Gomez wrote.

“Sister Smile” film tells sad story of the Singing Nun

singing-nun-posterRemember the Singing Nun? If you’re old enough to recall the song “Dominique”, you might want to see a new Belgian film“Soeur Sourire” (“Sister Smile”) about the nun whose hit song topped the charts in Europe and North America in 1963. Then again, you might not … The song was far more upbeat than the sad story behind it.

Jeanine Deckers, or Sister Luc Gabrielle — better known by her pseudonyms Singing Nun in English and Soeur Sourire in French — was a Belgian Dominican sister who scored a one-hit wonder with “Dominique” in 1963. The record was released under her pseudonym. But the song became such an international hit that she finally went public and even appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the United States She never had another hit and the 1966 film “The Singing Nun” starring Debbie Reynolds ended with her giving up music to work in Africa. Deckers later described that film as “fiction”. “Soeur Sourire” sticks closer to the facts (Photo: film poster for Soeur Sourire/Ocean Films)

As the film depicts it, the rebellious Deckers enters the convent to find refuge from her heartless mother and her youthful confusion at advances by male and female admirers. She has trouble adjusting to convent life but her singing catches the attention of Belgium’s Catholic television and her mother superior is persuaded to let her record “Dominique.” Celebrity goes to her head, she leaves the convent and moves in with Annie, the female admirer. When she tries to launch a new career, she cannot not use the pseudonym Soeur Sourire because it belongs to her order.

Pew Forum report details changing U.S. religious affilations

The folks at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have come up with a new bit of intriguing number crunching. This time round they have taken a more detailed look at how Americans change religious affiliations in a new report entitled “Faith in Flux.” You can see the report here. It is a follow-up to Pew’s huge U.S. Religious Landscape Survey which was conducted in 2007.

archbp-dolanAmong the highlights which underscore the fluid nature of American faith:

* It finds that 44 percent of the U.S. adults do not belong to their childhood faith.

* Among the 56 percent who belong to their childhood faith, one in six say there was a point in their life when their religion differed.