Monday, December 31, 2007

Pay Dirt: Top 2007 Religious News Stories

The 2007 Top Religion Stories as selected by Religion Newswriters are:

1. Evangelical voters ponder whether they will be able to support the eventual Republican candidate, as they did in 2004, because of questions about the leaders' faith and/or platform. Many say they would be reluctant to vote for Mormon Mitt Romney.
2. Leading Democratic presidential candidates make conscious efforts to woo faith-based voters after admitting failure to do so in 2004.
3. The role of gays and lesbians in clergy continues as a deeply dividing issue. An Episcopal Church promise to exercise restraint on gay issues fails to stem the number of congregations seeking to leave the mainline denomination, while in a close vote, Canadian Anglican bishops vote to nullify lay and clerical approval of same-sex blessings. Meanwhile, Conservative Jews become more open to gay leadership.
4. Global warming rises in importance among religious groups, with many Mainline leaders giving it high priority and evangelical leaders split over its importance compared to other social and moral causes
5. The question of what to do about illegal immigration is debated by religious leaders and groups on both sides of the issue. Some take an active role in supporting undocumented immigrants.
6. Thousands of Buddhist monks lead pro-democracy protest in Myanmar, which is brutally crushed after a week.
7. Some conservative U.S. Episcopalians realign with Anglican bishops in Africa and elsewhere in the global South, initiating legal disputes about church property ownership.
8. The Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote rules on the conservative side in three major cases with religious implications: upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions, allowing schools to establish some limits on students' free speech, and denying a challenge to the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
9. Death takes evangelical leaders known, among other things, for their television work: Jerry Falwell, Rex Humbard, D. James Kennedy, plus Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, and Jim Bakker‚s ex-wife, Tammy Faye Messner. Other deaths include Gilbert Patterson, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, and Bible scholar Bruce Metzger.
10. The cost of priestly sex-abuse to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States surpasses $2.1 billion with a record $660 million settlement involving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and earlier settlements this year totaling $100 million in Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash.

The survey polled active members of the Religion Newswriters. Of those polled, 80 people responded, for a 27% response rate. The poll was conducted via an electronic ballot from Dec. 7-13, 2007. Respondents were asked to select the top 10 from 20 choices.

Religion Newswriters is the world's only membership association for people who write about religion in the general circulation media. It is the leader in providing tools and training to help journalists write about religion with balance, accuracy and insight. The annual Top 10 survey has been conducted for more than 35 years.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pay Dirt: Bishop Spong's Christmas Wisdom

The story of Christmas as told by the biblical evangelists has a meaning beyond the rational. It portrays a truth beyond the scientific; it points to a reality that no life touched by this Jesus could ever deny. The beauty of our Christmas story is bigger than literalization could ever produce. For when this Lord is known, when love, acceptance, and forgiveness are experienced, when we become whole, free and affirmed people, the heavens do sing, "Glory to God in the Highest," and on earth there is "Peace and Good Will among Us All."

- John Shelby Spong

Pay Dirt: The Magnificat

The Magnificat
Joy Cowley

My soul sings in gratitude.
I'm dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
and I am blessed, so truly blessed.

This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
at Love whose only condition
is to be received.

The gift is not for the proud,
for they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
don't have this awareness.

But those who know their emptiness
can rejoice in Love's fullness.

It's the Love that we are made for,
the reason for our being.

It fills our inmost heart space
and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.

Merry Christmas to all!!


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pay Dirt: The Human Perception of God

Larry J. Kluth from Mesa, Arizona, writes: Where was the Christian God before he appeared to Moses and declared that the Israelis were his chosen people? Why didn't the great civilizations of the world, prior to this appearance, know about this God?


Dear Larry,

I'm tempted to follow the old adage attributed to Augustine of Hippo, who, when asked what was God doing before he created the world, responded, "God was creating hell for people who ask questions like that." I shall, however, avoid that temptation.

The Christian God, as you describe this deity, did not appear to Moses. That would be the God of the Jews. The idea that any people are God's specially chosen is a tribal idea that is shared by all tribal entities. We tend to associate that idea with the Jews because Christians have incorporated the Jewish God into the Christian story by proclaiming that we have encountered this God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses in a new way in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

However, it is not God who is ever changing. It is the human perception of God. Of course, God was present among the ancient people of the world. God was called by different names, endowed with different qualities and understood in different ways. Some of these aspects of God are seen as immoral by people living today, such as child sacrifice, the purging of anyone who thought outside the box and the divine blessing of violence.

The human God consciousness is always growing. This is true even in the Judeo-Christian faith story. There is an enormous difference between the God of Moses, who was perceived as sending plagues on Israel's enemies, the Egyptians, the last of which was the murder of the firstborn son in every Egyptian household; the God of Joshua, who was perceived as stopping the sun in the sky to facilitate the slaughter of the Ammonites by Joshua's army; or the God of Samuel, who ordered King Saul to commit genocide on the Amalekites; when that God is compared to the God of Jesus, who said, "Love your enemies."

Please remember that while the experience of God may be a universal experience, the explanation of the God experience is always a human creation shaped by the perceptions of people living in history. Every God explanation, every sacred text and every creedal formula is always time bound and time warped. That is why literalizing religious formulas is so destructive. It is literalized formulas that cause us to believe our limited view of God is the same as God. Out of that view come questions like yours that reveal the absurdity of so many popular religious claims and therefore I thank you for your question.

- John Shelby Spong