Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2008 > USA > Faith (III)




Christian leader

says Obama distorting the Bible


Tue Jun 24, 2008
1:55pm EDT
The New York Times
By Andy Sullivan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading conservative evangelical on Tuesday said Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama had distorted the Bible and espouses a "fruitcake" approach to the U.S. Constitution.

The comments by broadcaster James Dobson are among the sharpest religious attacks to date on the Illinois senator, who will face Republican John McCain in the November election.

Dobson, who has previously said he will not vote for McCain because of his past support for stem cell research, on Tuesday said the Arizona senator wasn't doing enough to stop gay marriage in his home state.

"This is a year when we have a lot of frustration with both political parties," Dobson said on his radio show, which reaches millions of conservative listeners.

The criticism by Dobson, a strong supporter of President George W. Bush in 2004, comes as Democrats are hoping to make inroads among evangelical voters, who have been a key pillar of Republican support. Obama, unlike past Democratic candidates, speaks frequently about his Christian faith.

Democrats hope to win the support of younger, more centrist evangelicals who are concerned about global warming and poverty as well as abortion, the movement's traditional rallying point.

Dobson, head of Focus on the Family organization, slammed Obama for a 2006 speech in which the Illinois senator said religious people don't have a monopoly on morality and should couch their arguments in universal, rather than religious terms.

"That is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution," Dobson said. "What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."

In that same 2006 speech, Obama pointed out that certain passages of the Bible, if interpreted literally, could allow parents to stone their children and require that the Defense Department be abolished.

"He's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology," Dobson said.

Obama is committed to working across religious lines to bring the country together, a spokesman said.

"Barack Obama is committed to reaching out to people of faith and standing up for American families, and a full reading of his 2006 Call to Renewal speech shows just that," Obama religious-affairs director Joshua DuBois said in a statement.

Polls show evangelicals are slowly moving away from the Republican party, though Obama's support of abortion rights and gay rights are likely to give pause to many.

Dobson has led efforts to outlaw abortion and gay marriage and helped get out the vote among evangelicals in Bush's 2004 re-election.

(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard; editing by David Wiessler)

Christian leader says Obama distorting the Bible, R, 24.6.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN2434371320080624






Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama


June 24, 2008
The New York Times


As Senator Barack Obama courted voters in Iowa last December, Representative Keith Ellison, the country’s first Muslim congressman, stepped forward eagerly to help.

Mr. Ellison believed that Mr. Obama’s message of unity resonated deeply with American Muslims. He volunteered to speak on Mr. Obama’s behalf at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, one of the nation’s oldest Muslim enclaves. But before the rally could take place, aides to Mr. Obama asked Mr. Ellison to cancel the trip because it might stir controversy. Another aide appeared at Mr. Ellison’s Washington office to explain.

“I will never forget the quote,” Mr. Ellison said, leaning forward in his chair as he recalled the aide’s words. “He said, ‘We have a very tightly wrapped message.’ ”

When Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign, Muslim Americans from California to Virginia responded with enthusiasm, seeing him as a long-awaited champion of civil liberties, religious tolerance and diplomacy in foreign affairs. But more than a year later, many say, he has not returned their embrace.

While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque. Muslim and Arab-American organizations have tried repeatedly to arrange meetings with Mr. Obama, but officials with those groups say their invitations — unlike those of their Jewish and Christian counterparts — have been ignored. Last week, two Muslim women wearing head scarves were barred by campaign volunteers from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit.

In interviews, Muslim political and civic leaders said they understood that their support for Mr. Obama could be a problem for him at a time when some Americans are deeply suspicious of Muslims. Yet those leaders nonetheless expressed disappointment and even anger at the distance that Mr. Obama has kept from them.

“This is the ‘hope campaign,’ this is the ‘change campaign,’ ” said Mr. Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota. Muslims are frustrated, he added, that “they have not been fully engaged in it.”

Aides to Mr. Obama denied that he had kept his Muslim supporters at arm’s length. They cited statements in which he had spoken inclusively about American Islam and a radio advertisement he recorded for the recent campaign of Representative Andre Carson, Democrat of Indiana, who this spring became the second Muslim elected to Congress.

In May, Mr. Obama also had a brief, private meeting with the leader of a mosque in Dearborn, Mich., home to the country’s largest concentration of Arab-Americans. And this month, a senior campaign aide met with Arab-American leaders in Dearborn, most of whom are Muslim. (Mr. Obama did not campaign in Michigan before the primary in January because of a party dispute over the calendar.)

“Our campaign has made every attempt to bring together Americans of all races, religions and backgrounds to take on our common challenges,” Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail message.

Mr. LaBolt added that with religious groups, the campaign had largely taken “an interfaith approach, one that may not have reached every group that wishes to participate but has reached many Muslim Americans.”

The strained relationship between Muslims and Mr. Obama reflects one of the central challenges facing the senator: how to maintain a broad electoral appeal without alienating any of the numerous constituencies he needs to win in November.

After the episode in Detroit last week, Mr. Obama telephoned the two Muslim women to apologize. “I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background,” he said in a statement.

Such gestures have fallen short in the eyes of many Muslim leaders, who say the Detroit incident and others illustrate a disconnect between Mr. Obama’s message of unity and his campaign strategy.

“The community feels betrayed,” said Safiya Ghori, the government relations director in the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Even some of Mr. Obama’s strongest Muslim supporters say they are uncomfortable with the forceful denials he has made in response to rumors that he is secretly a Muslim. (Ten percent of registered voters believe the rumor, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.)

In an interview with “60 Minutes,” Mr. Obama said the rumors were offensive to American Muslims because they played into “fearmongering.” But on a new section of his Web site, he classifies the claim that he is Muslim as a “smear.”

“A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way,” Mr. Ellison said.

Mr. Ellison, a first-term congressman, remains arguably the senator’s most important Muslim supporter. He has attended Obama rallies in Minnesota and appears on the campaign’s Web site. But Mr. Ellison said he was also forced to cancel plans to campaign for Mr. Obama in North Carolina after an emissary for the senator told him the state was “too conservative.” Mr. Ellison said he blamed Mr. Obama’s aides — not the candidate himself — for his campaign’s standoffishness.

Despite the complications of wooing Muslim voters, Mr. Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, may find it risky to ignore this constituency. There are sizable Muslim populations in closely fought states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.

In those states and others, American Muslims have experienced a political awakening in the years since Sept. 11, 2001. Before the attacks, Muslim political leadership in the United States was dominated by well-heeled South Asian and Arab immigrants, whose communities account for a majority of the nation’s Muslims. (Another 20 percent are estimated to be African-American.) The number of American Muslims remains in dispute as the Census Bureau does not collect data on religious orientation; most estimates range from 2.35 million to 6 million.

A coalition of immigrant Muslim groups endorsed George W. Bush in his 2000 campaign, only to find themselves ignored by Bush administration officials as their communities were rocked by the carrying out of the USA Patriot Act, the detention and deportation of Muslim immigrants and other security measures after Sept. 11.

As a result, Muslim organizations began mobilizing supporters across the country to register to vote and run for local offices, and political action committees started tracking registered Muslim voters. The character of Muslim political organizations also began to change.

“We moved away from political leadership primarily by doctors, lawyers and elite professionals to real savvy grass-roots operatives,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, a political group in Washington. “We went back to the base.”

In 2006, the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee arranged for 53 Muslim cabdrivers to skip their shifts at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia to transport voters to the polls for the midterm election. Of an estimated 60,000 registered Muslim voters in the state, 86 percent turned out and voted overwhelmingly for Jim Webb, a Democrat running for the Senate who subsequently won the election, according to data collected by the committee.

The committee’s president, Mukit Hossain, said Muslims in Virginia were drawn to Mr. Obama because of his support for civil liberties and his more diplomatic approach to the Middle East. Mr. Hossain and others said his multicultural image also appealed to immigrant voters.

“This is the son of an immigrant; this is someone with a funny name,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who is a Christian who has campaigned for Mr. Obama at mosques and Arab churches. “There is this excitement that if he can win, they can win, too.”

Yet some Muslim and Arab-American political organizers worry that the campaign’s reluctance to reach out to voters in those communities will eventually turn them off. “If they think that they are voting for a campaign that is trying to distance itself from them, my big fear is that Muslims will sit it out,” Mr. Hossain said.

Throughout the primaries, Muslim groups often failed to persuade Mr. Obama’s campaign to at least send a surrogate to speak to voters at their events, said Ms. Ghori, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Before the Virginia primary in February, some of the nation’s leading Muslim organizations nearly canceled an event at a mosque in Sterling because they could not arrange for representatives from any of the major presidential campaigns to attend. At the last minute, they succeeded in wooing surrogates from the Clinton and Obama campaigns by telling each that the other was planning to attend, Mr. Bray said. (No one from the McCain campaign showed up.)

Frustrations with Mr. Obama deepened the day after he claimed the nomination when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel. (Mr. Obama later clarified his statement, saying Jerusalem’s status would need to be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.)

Osama Siblani, the editor and publisher of the weekly Arab American News in Dearborn, said Mr. Obama had “pandered” to the Israeli lobby, while neglecting to meet formally with Arab-American and Muslim leaders. “They’re trying to take the votes without the liabilities,” said Mr. Siblani, who is also president of the Arab American Political Action Committee.

Some Muslim supporters of Mr. Obama seem to ricochet between dejection and optimism. Minha Husaini, a public health consultant in her 30s who is working for the Obama campaign in Philadelphia, lights up like a swooning teenager when she talks about his promise for change.

“He gives me hope,” Ms. Husaini said in an interview last month, shortly before she joined the campaign on a fellowship. But she sighed when the conversation turned to his denials of being Muslim, “as if it’s something bad,” she said.

For Ms. Ghori and other Muslims, Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach is not surprising in a political climate they feel is marred by frequent attacks on their faith.

Among the incidents they cite are a statement by Mr. McCain, in a 2007 interview with Beliefnet.com, that he would prefer a Christian president to a Muslim one; a comment by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that Mr. Obama was not Muslim “as far as I know”; and a remark by Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, to The Associated Press in March that an Obama victory would be celebrated by terrorists, who would see him as a “savior.”

“All you have to say is Barack Hussein Obama,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, a human rights lawyer and contributing editor at Islamica Magazine. “You don’t even have to say ‘Muslim.’ ”

As a consequence, many Muslims have kept their support for Mr. Obama quiet. Any visible show of allegiance could be used by his opponents to incite fear, further the false rumors about his faith and “bin-Laden him,” Mr. Bray said.

“The joke within the national Muslim organizations,” Ms. Ghori said, “is that we should endorse the person we don’t want to win.”

    Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama, NYT, 24.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/us/politics/24muslim.html






Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance


June 24, 2008
The New York Times


Although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report, titled U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, reveals a broad trend toward tolerance and an ability among many Americans to hold beliefs that might contradict the doctrines of their professed faiths.

For example, 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” including majorities among Protestants and Catholics. Among evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did.

Among minority faiths, more than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.

The findings seem to undercut the conventional wisdom that the more religiously committed people are, the more intolerant they are, scholars who reviewed the survey said.

“It’s not that Americans don’t believe in anything,” said Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. “It’s that we believe in everything. We aren’t religious purists or dogmatists.”

The survey confirms findings from previous studies that the most religiously and politically conservative Americans are those who attend worship services most frequently, and that for them, the battles against abortion and gay rights remain touchstone issues.

“At least at the time of the surveys in 2007, cultural issues played a role in political affiliation,” and economic issues less so, said John C. Green, an author of the report and a senior fellow on religion and American politics at Pew. “It suggests that the efforts of Democrats to peel away Republican and conservative voters based on economic issues face a real limit because of the role these cultural issues play.”

The survey, which is based on telephone interviews with more than 35,000 Americans from May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007, is the second installment of a broad assessment Pew has undertaken of trends and characteristics of the country’s religious life. The first part of the report, published in February, depicted a fluid and diverse national religious life marked by people moving among denominations and faiths.

According to that report, more than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion. Every denomination and religion lost and gained members, but the survey indicated that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. Sixteen percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth-largest “religious group.”

The new report sheds light on the beliefs of the unaffiliated. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, 70 percent of the unaffiliated said they believed in God, including one of every five people who identified themselves as atheist and more than half of those who identified as agnostic.

“What does atheist mean? It may mean they don’t believe in God, or it could be that they are hostile to organized religion,” Mr. Green said. “A lot of these unaffiliated people, by some measures, are fairly religious, and then there are those who are affiliated with a religion but don’t believe in God and identify instead with history or holidays or communities.”

The most significant contradictory belief the survey reveals has to do with salvation.

Previous surveys have shown that Americans think a majority of their countrymen and women will go to heaven, and that the circle is wide, embracing minorities like Jews, Muslims and atheists. But the Pew survey goes further, showing that such views are held by those within major branches of Christianity and minority faiths, too.

Scholars said such tolerance could stem in part from the greater diversity of American society: that there are more people of minority faiths or no faith and that “it is hard to hold a strongly sectarian view when you work together and your kids play soccer together,” Mr. Lindsay said.

But such a view of salvation may also grow out of doctrinal ignorance, scholars said.

“It could be that people are not very well educated and they are not expressing mature theological points of view,” said Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “It could also be a form of bland secularism. The real challenge to religious leaders is not to become more entrenched in their views, but to navigate the idea of what their religion is all about and how it relates to others.”

The survey tried to determine how people’s religious affiliation and practice shaped their views of culture and politics.

As past surveys have shown, this report found that Americans who prayed more frequently and attended worship services more often tended to be more conservative and “somewhat more Republican” than other people. Majorities of Mormons and evangelicals say they are conservative, compared with 37 percent of Americans over all. (Twenty percent say they are liberal, and 36 percent say moderate.)

Respondents were evenly split about whether churches should express their views about politics, with evangelicals and black Protestants favoring such activities far more than people of other faiths.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents favored more government help for the poor, even if it meant going deeper into debt. Sixty-one percent of respondents also said “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.”

A majority said the United States should pay more attention to problems at home than those abroad, but in the area of foreign policy, 6 out of 10 respondents said that diplomacy, not military strength, was the best way to ensure peace.

    Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance, NYT, 24.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/us/24religion.html?hp






Obama apologizes

to Muslim women barred from seats


Thu Jun 19, 2008
9:36pm EDT


CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama apologized on Thursday to two Muslim women who were barred from sitting behind the podium where Obama was speaking because they were wearing Islamic headscarves.

At a campaign rally in Detroit on Monday, Shimaa Abdelfadeel and Hebba Aref were prevented by volunteers from taking seats behind Obama that would have been in view of television cameras, apparently because of their headscarves.

"I reached out to Ms. Aref and Ms. Abdelfadeel this afternoon," Obama said in a statement. "I spoke with Ms. Abdelfadeel, and expressed my deepest apologies for the incident that occurred with volunteers at the event in Detroit."

Obama said the volunteers' actions were "unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign."

"I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background," he said.

Obama Abdelfadeel had accepted his apology and he hoped that Aref would as well.

The Detroit Free Press reported that Obama had left a phone message for Aref.

Obama, who is a Christian, has faced false rumors that he is a Muslim.

His personal apology followed an earlier apology made to the women by his campaign staff.

(Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

    Obama apologizes to Muslim women barred from seats, R, 19.6.2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSN1941749220080620






Inspired by Starbucks

Charismatic Pastors

Grow New Flocks Overseas,

Using Satellites, DVds

and Franchise Marketing

To Spread Their Own Brand of Religion.


June 13, 2008
The Wall Street Journal
Page W1


On a recent Sunday, worshippers gathered in a multiplex theater next to a Starbucks, McDonald's and T.G.I. Friday's. The lights dimmed and the Rev. Troy Gramling, a goateed man dressed in jeans, T-shirt and blazer, filled the screen. "God knows your secret, and he loves you anyway," he said. "Isn't that cool?" A few people answered, "Amen," as if Mr. Gramling was there preaching, instead of 2,650 miles away in Cooper City, Fla.

While missionaries have long carried their message overseas, a new generation of churches is spreading a strain of evangelical Christianity with worship services as slickly packaged as any U.S. franchise. Rather than seeking converts to a mainstream denomination, these independent churches are forming global organizations anchored by a single leader. Many far-flung congregants watch their pastor via satellite or DVD each week; the services abroad are designed to replicate Sundays at the home church.

Mr. Gramling's Flamingo Road Church, which has a weekly attendance of 8,000, is based in Broward County, Fla., where he records his sermons on DVD for screenings here, as well as at three branches in South Florida. Each church uses the same distinctive music, banners and logo -- a white cube bisected by a black curving road. Mr. Gramling says he tried to copy the success of Starbucks by assembling a creative team to hone "the look, the feel, the branding idea, of what Flamingo Road is." Like Starbucks, Mr. Gramling is thinking big. His goal is 50 churches world-wide, 100,000 members and a $150 million-a-year budget.

At least half a dozen U.S. mega-churches have opened international branches in recent years, and plans are in the works for many more. "If Starbucks can start four stores a day, why can't churches?" says John Bishop, the pastor at Living Hope Church. His congregation in Vancouver, Wash., which has a weekly attendance of 6,000, has 23 satellite churches, including new sites in New Zealand, India, Mexico and the Philippines. The Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La., has eight U.S. branches, and in the past year opened churches in Mozambique and Swaziland. Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Fla., with 10,000 members, recently launched branches in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and Atiquipa, Peru. "We try to keep consistent what we call the DNA of our church, much like a business would," says Celebration's pastor, Stovall Weems.

These super churches have the resources to expand overseas, as only mainstream denominations could in the past. With a large base of followers, the biggest independent churches have "as much money as a small denomination, so they're creating denominations of themselves," says Dana Robert, co-director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University. Flamingo Road, which is named after the street that fronts the main church, spends about $130,000 a year to run its Lima branch, a fraction of its $7.5 million annual budget. That money, as well as plans to spend $1 million on a live satellite system to link the campuses, are strategic investments for a toehold in a growing overseas market.

"The religious market is saturated in the U.S.," says Manuel Vasquez, co-author of "Globalizing the Sacred: Religion Across the Americas." "There is a sense now that you have to go international to expand your reach if you want to be a player." By 2025, seven of 10 Christians will live in Africa, Latin America and Asia, according to Philip Jenkins, author of "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity." In Africa, Christians make up nearly half of the continent's population, up from about 10% in 1900.

A haze of morning fog and pollution cloaked downtown as volunteers on a recent Sunday transformed the Cineplanet Alcázar Theater into a branch of Mr. Gramling's church. Next to movie posters for "Indiana Jones," hung an 8-foot banner, "Flamingo Road: One Church, Where You Are." Greeters passed out glossy church brochures. At a table near the popcorn and drink counter, people browsed Bibles in English and Spanish. There was a sign-up sheet for baptisms during an upcoming visit by Mr. Gramling, and DVD copies of his past sermons.

The Lima church receives weekly FedEx shipments with components of the Flamingo Road brand: Mr. Gramling's recorded sermons; business cards with the church name, logo and service times; color brochures that advertise sermon themes for the month, and MTV-style documentaries on such topics as lust and temptation for the youth services. Staff members and volunteers get Flamingo Road T-shirts and dog tags.

Inside the theater, about 150 worshippers clapped and swayed to a 10-piece rock band. "God is awesome, he's so awesome, God is awesome in this place," they sang. During his sermon, Mr. Gramling compared King David's struggle to control his desire for the married woman Bathsheba with WWE wrestling.

"Sometimes, you feel like he is here," church member Fiorella Bernal, 21 years old, says of Mr. Gramling. Ms. Bernal, who used to attend a Baptist church, has never met the pastor. She joined Flamingo Road in January and now sings in the church band. She also attends the weekly Saturday night youth service at a jazz club. Ms. Bernal says she admires Mr. Gramling's preaching style: "He talks about everything. Nothing's taboo."

Anibal Pinedo, 25, a translator, says he's still not accustomed to watching prerecorded sermons. "I don't like that he's not here," he says. But Mr. Pinedo, who was raised Catholic, says he likes the services, upbeat music and Mr. Gramling's skill at applying biblical teachings to everyday life. "I feel like he's my pastor because of his message," he says. Max Vergara Fowler, 45, another former Catholic, says he started attending a year ago after he heard an ad on the radio. "The Catholic Church is too rigid," he says. "I feel more comfortable here."

Some of Mr. Gramling's sermons fail to translate well. One, about being "tattooed for Christ," confused congregants who thought the pastor was advocating real tattoos. In another sermon series, called "I've Screwed Up," Mr. Gramling urged congregants to confess their sins anonymously on the church Web site. Some congregants were scandalized, particularly those who were raised in the Catholic Church, where confession is administered by a priest.

After the sermon, Steve Guschov, an American expatriate who oversees the Lima church, collects the offering in a popcorn container. Flamingo Road Church launched its Lima branch nearly two years ago, after several mission trips to Peru by Mr. Gramling. He recruited Mr. Guschov, a 43-year-old lawyer from Boston, who had moved to Lima to work as a missionary. To attract congregants, Mr. Guschov and his Peruvian wife, Dorcas, offered free movie tickets and sandwich coupons to first-time visitors. They advertised on a rock radio station and posted fliers and brochures outside English language classes. Today, 100 people attend the 9 a.m. Spanish-language service, which has a live translator, and 200 people worship at the 10:30 a.m. English service. The church attracts mostly young, middle-class Peruvians, many of them former Catholics.

A charismatic, self-taught preacher from Paragould, Ark., Mr. Gramling, 41, joined Flamingo Road's staff as an assistant pastor in 2000. Two years later, he took over the church, which is loosely affiliated with the Baptists. Mr. Gramling says he read articles about Starbucks's branding strategy in the Harvard Business Review. He used a "coffee for Christ" campaign to recruit new members by giving away $10 Starbucks gift cards one Easter. Since 2002, his flock has swelled four-fold.

Flamingo Road and other fledgling church chains compete with mainstream denominations and local churches. Critics say franchise churches are culturally homogenous and sap local congregations, just as Wal-Mart and other big retailers squash local competitors. "The downside of McDonaldization is that everything is the same, everything is predictable," says Kurt Fredrickson of Fuller Theological Seminary. "When you're franchised, it becomes more difficult for the local flavor to come through."

Mr. Bishop, of Living Hope Church, says he is expanding abroad in part because of demand: Christians in other countries invite him to launch Living Hope churches. "It's like they're asking us, 'Can we please sell Nikes in our country?' " Mr. Bishop says. "They just love the brand."

Church franchising isn't unique to Americans. Protestant congregations in Nigeria have sites in Europe and the U.S. The Yoido Full Gospel Church of South Korea has more than 100 campuses around the world and 830,000 followers. Hillsong, an evangelical church in Sydney, Australia, has churches in London, Kiev, Ukraine, and Cape Town.

Flamingo Road Church leaders hope Lima will be a hub for expanding throughout Peru and neighboring countries. The church is preparing to start prayer services in Iquitos, a city in the middle of Peru's rainforest, and is seeking sites in Cusco, Peru, and São Paulo, Brazil.

Recently, the Guschovs flew to Iquitos to scout locations and enlist local Christian leaders to join Flamingo Road. Iquitos, a noisy grid of corrugated tin-roofed buildings swarmed by motorcycle rickshaws, has attracted missionaries since Jesuit priests arrived in the 1500s. Today, the city draws Baptists and other mainstream denominations seeking to convert indigenous tribes along the Amazon. During a visit this month with members of the Yagua tribe, Mr. Guschov brought cooking oil, rice, sugar and soap. He prayed with 15 residents of a thatch-roofed village, which is built on the banks of an Amazon River tributary.

Mr. Guschov later met with local Christian leaders to float the idea of a Flamingo Road franchise. Many agreed English-language services would attract young Peruvians, especially those seeking jobs in tourism. Others were skeptical. Alex Litarolo Suarez, 30, who works as a translator for American missionaries, asked Mr. Guschov if he planned to feed off local congregations. "We don't see ourselves as competition, but other churches do look at it that way, unfortunately," Mr. Guschov said. "We're not trying to rob members from other churches."

After the meeting, Mr. Guschov inspected a hotel conference room that overlooked the Amazon. There was a big screen to show a sermon, and room for 150 chairs. It would do for now. "When it comes to Flamingo Road, because of the brand, we need large campuses," Mr. Gramling says. "We're not going to be satisfied with a campus running at 300."

On Sunday, Mr. Gramling preached to thousands at his Cooper City, Fla., headquarters, a 28,000-square-foot building outfitted with three 15-foot high movie screens and a 30,000-watt sound system. In his sermon, he encouraged people to tithe, saying God would bless them. Afterward, in the main church lobby, congregants lined up for free Starbucks coffee.

    Inspired by Starbucks Charismatic Pastors Grow New Flocks Overseas, Using Satellites, DVds and Franchise Marketing To Spread Their Own Brand of Religion., WSJ, 13.6.2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121331198629268975.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today






Pope Meets Bush at Vatican


June 14, 2008
The New York Times


ROME — President Bush visited Pope Benedict XVI here on Friday, touring the Vatican in the latest stop of what has been billed as his farewell European tour.

The pope welcomed Mr. Bush — who had his first meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in June 2007 — and the first lady, Laura Bush, near St. John’s Tower in the Vatican Gardens.

“Your eminence, you’re looking good," Mr. Bush said, the A.P. reported.

The two men met privately for nearly half an hour in the pope’s private study, and later walked through the gardens, amid palm, Italian pine, cedar and other trees, talking to each other along the way. They later stopped at the Lourdes Grotto where the pope stops daily to pray.

After meeting with the pope, Mr. Bush flew to Paris, where he was to give a speech at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the importance of the relationship between the United States and Europe, before having dinner tonight with President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla, at the Élysée Palace.

Mr. Bush’s tour of the Vatican follows the pope’s six-day trip to Washington and New York in April, his first official visit to the United States, when he visited the White House.

On a brief tour, Benedict and Mr. Bush peered out from a tower balcony, gazing at St. Peter’s dome, and the president seemed awed by what he saw, the A.P. reported.

“This is fantastic up here,” Mr. Bush was reported as saying. “Thank you so much for showing me this.”

The White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said Benedict and Mr. Bush discussed issues including human rights, H.I.V. and AIDS in Africa, and poverty around the world.At the end of their meeting, the president and the pope exchanged gifts Mr. Bush gave the pope a framed photo of the two men taken in April at the White House, the White House said. The pope gave Mr. Bush a framed photo and four volumes about St. Peter’s Basilica, according to the White House.

Closer ties between the United States and Europe has been the theme of Mr. Bush’s valedictory tour of Europe.

His Paris speech was expected to be a summing up of a relationship that was badly strained by the war in Iraq but which now at the end of Mr. Bush’s term appears to be improving — at least on a personal level.

In Rome on Thursday, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was particularly effusive in his praise of Mr. Bush.

The new mood of European cooperation was borne out earlier in the week at a European Union summit meeting in Slovenia, where Mr. Bush won European support for a harsher stance toward Iran, with an agreement to consider additional punitive sanctions against Iran if it rejects a package of incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

After Slovenia, Mr. Bush visited Germany and Italy.

During his visit to the United States, Benedict chose to address bluntly the sex scandal that has torn at the church, acknowledging his “deep shame” at the actions of pedophile priests.

On Friday, Mr. Bush is due to tour the American cemetery in Paris before a social dinner with the American ambassador and other officials.

On Sunday, he will meet Queen Elizabeth II in London and have a dinner with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, before visiting Belfast on Monday.

Steven Lee Myers reported from Rome and Graham Bowley from New York.

    Pope Meets Bush at Vatican, NYT, 14.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/14/world/europe/14prexy.html?hp






McCain Extends His Outreach, but Evangelicals Are Still Wary


June 9, 2008
The New York Times


Lori Viars, an evangelical activist in Warren County, Ohio, essentially put her life on hold in the fall of 2004 to run a phone bank for President Bush. Her efforts helped the president’s ambitious push to turn out evangelicals and win that critical swing state in a close election.

But Ms. Viars, who is among a cluster of socially conservative activists in Ohio being courted by Senator John McCain’s campaign through regular e-mail messages, is taking a wait-and-see attitude for now toward Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“I think a lot of us are in a holding pattern,” said Ms. Viars, who added that she wanted to see whom Mr. McCain picked for his running mate.

Ms. Viars’s hesitation illustrates what remains one of Mr. McCain’s biggest challenges as he faces a general election contest with Senator Barack Obama: a continued wariness toward him among evangelicals and other Christian conservatives, a critical voting bloc for Republicans that could stay home in the fall or at least be decidedly unenthusiastic in their efforts to get out the vote.

To address this, Mr. McCain’s campaign has been ramping up its outreach to evangelicals over the last month, preparing a budget and a strategic plan for turning them out in 18 battleground states this fall.

The campaign has been peppering over 600 socially conservative grass-roots and national leaders with regular e-mail messages — highlighting, for example, Mr. McCain’s statement criticizing a May 15 decision by the California Supreme Court overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, or his recent speech on his judicial philosophy. It has also held briefings for small groups of conservative leaders before key speeches. Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers, recently sat down with a dozen prominent evangelical leaders in Washington, where he emphasized, among other things, Mr. McCain’s consistent anti-abortion voting record.

Mr. McCain’s outreach to Christian conservatives has been a quiet courting, reflecting a balancing act: his election hopes rely on drawing in the political middle and Democrats who might be turned off should he woo the religious right too heavily by, for instance, highlighting his anti-abortion position more on the campaign trail.

“If McCain tried Bush’s strategy of just mobilizing the base, he would almost certainly fall short,” said John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Because the Republican brand name is less popular and the conservative base is restive, McCain has special needs to reach out to independent and moderate voters, but, of course, he can’t completely neglect the evangelical and conservative base.”

The instrumental role of evangelicals in Mr. Bush’s victory in 2004 over Senator John Kerry is an oft-repeated tale at this point. Mr. Bush’s openness about his personal faith and stances on social issues earned him a following among evangelicals, who represented about a quarter of the electorate in 2004. Exit polls in the 2004 election found that 78 percent of white “born again” or evangelical Protestants had voted for Mr. Bush.

In contrast, Mr. McCain’s relationship with evangelicals has long been troubled. In 2000, when he was running against Mr. Bush for the Republican nomination, Mr. McCain castigated Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance.”

In a sign of the lingering distrust, Mr. McCain finished last out of nine Republican candidates in a straw poll last year at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, a gathering for socially conservative activists.

James C. Dobson, the influential founder of the evangelical group Focus on the Family, released a statement in February, when Mr. McCain was on the verge of securing the Republican nomination, affirming that he would not vote for Mr. McCain and would instead stay home if he became the nominee. Dr. Dobson later softened his stance and said he would vote but has remained critical of Mr. McCain.

“For John McCain to be competitive, he has to connect with the base to the point that they’re intense enough that they’re contagious,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “Right now they’re not even coughing.”

The balancing act Mr. McCain faces in appealing to both moderate voters and evangelicals was starkly illustrated last month when he rejected the endorsements of the Rev. John Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley, prominent evangelical leaders, after controversial statements by the two came to light. Mr. Parsley has been vocally anti-Islam and Mr. Hagee, in a sermon, said Hitler and the Holocaust had been part of God’s plan to drive the Jews to Palestine.

Mr. McCain’s actions complicated his relationship with evangelical leaders, some of whom said in interviews that the senator’s actions contributed to the impression among some evangelicals that he did not know or understand them. They argued that he should have stood by them, while making clear that he did not necessarily agree with all of their views.

“I think that was a stumble that will add to the challenges here,” said Gary Bauer, president of the group American Values, who in February became arguably the most visible evangelical leader to begin actively working on Mr. McCain’s behalf. “Those are both very influential men and it will just make things more challenging to accomplish between now and November.”

Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain is decidedly reticent about religion on the stump. Mr. McCain grew up Episcopalian and shifted to a Baptist church after marrying his second wife, Cindy, but has not been baptized into the denomination. When asked about his personal faith at town hall forums, he often relates a familiar story. When Mr. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a guard who had once loosened his bonds while he was being tortured sidled up to him on Christmas Day and drew a cross on the dirt in front of them. But some evangelical leaders say the account sheds more light on the guard’s faith than on Mr. McCain’s.

Nevertheless, a small group of McCain staff members and surrogates have begun stepping up, largely behind the scenes, his outreach to evangelicals and other social conservatives.

The group includes Marlys Popma, a prominent socially conservative leader in Iowa who has been with the campaign since the beginning but about a month ago took on the title of national coordinator for evangelical and social conservative outreach; Robert C. Heckman, the campaign’s director of conservative outreach who was the political director of Mr. Bauer’s presidential campaign in 2000; and Brett O’Donnell, the campaign’s director of messaging who was a debate coach at Liberty University, Mr. Falwell’s institution.

Former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, a graduate of Wheaton College, an evangelical school, is also playing an active role, as is Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and a longtime social conservative stalwart.

The initial outreach plans call for replicating the campaign’s approach in the Republican primary, creating “Family Issues Leaders for McCain” committees for each state made up of key social conservatives who have endorsed him.

About a dozen people, including staffers and socially conservative leaders who are advising the campaign, have begun a weekly conference call to plot strategy.

Mr. McCain’s advisers said they were in a talking and listening mode with evangelical leaders, as opposed to seeking endorsements aggressively, in part out of recognition that many Christian conservatives remained suspicious of him.

Mr. McCain may be aided by Mr. Obama’s own problems lately among religious voters. Mr. Obama, who speaks comfortably about his own Christian faith, was once seen as the kind of candidate who could help Democrats close the gap with Republicans among weekly churchgoers, who voted for Mr. Bush in droves in 2004. But those efforts have been complicated by the incendiary remarks by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and the comments by Mr. Obama at a fund-raiser in the Bay Area about people in small towns clinging to guns and religion.

Nevertheless, the Obama campaign plans to add a full-time evangelical-focused staff member to its existing religious outreach team and is rolling out an effort over the summer to organize over a thousand house parties built around an hour-and-a-half-long curriculum on faith and politics. With the broadening of the evangelical agenda to include issues like poverty, global warming and AIDS, Mr. Obama’s advisers hope to peel off more moderate evangelical voters.

David Brody, a political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said he believed Mr. Obama’s comments had hurt his chances among evangelicals, but he added, “I think Obama has a great opportunity still, with the Jeremiah Wright controversy behind him, to re-introduce himself with the American people, especially with his spiritual walk.”

To make Mr. McCain’s case, his supporters highlight his speech on his judicial philosophy, in which he vowed to appoint judges with a “commitment to judicial restraint,” as well as his anti-abortion voting record, though his critics argue he has hardly been passionate about the issue over the years.

In 2006 Mr. McCain was featured in television advertisements supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Arizona, but he argued vigorously against a federal ban on the Senate floor that year, breaking with Mr. Bush and the Republican leadership, citing his belief that states should decide the issue.

Many conservative activists revile Mr. McCain for his sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul measure. Similarly, his support for federal financing of embryonic stem cell research puts him at odds with many conservatives.

Mr. McCain’s supporters, however, contend that if they simply outline Mr. McCain’s policy stances on issues that matter to social conservatives and make clear where Mr. Obama stands, the choice will be obvious.

“It’s my job to make sure the people out there in the leadership and the grass roots get a chance to know John McCain for what he really is,” Ms. Popma said.

    McCain Extends His Outreach, but Evangelicals Are Still Wary, NYT, 9.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/us/politics/09mccain.html






Opponents of Evolution Adopting a New Strategy


June 4, 2008
The New York Times


DALLAS — Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to “creation science,” which became “intelligent design,” which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are “creationism” or “intelligent design” or even “creator.”

The words are “strengths and weaknesses.”

Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.

Already, legislators in a half-dozen states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina — have tried to require that classrooms be open to “views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory,” according to a petition from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based strategic center of the intelligent design movement.

“Very often over the last 10 years, we’ve seen antievolution policies in sheep’s clothing,” said Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education, a group based in Oakland, Calif., that is against teaching creationism.

The “strengths and weaknesses” language was slipped into the curriculum standards in Texas to appease creationists when the State Board of Education first mandated the teaching of evolution in the late 1980s. It has had little effect because evolution skeptics have not had enough power on the education board to win the argument that textbooks do not adequately cover the weaknesses of evolution.

Yet even as courts steadily prohibited the outright teaching of creationism and intelligent design, creationists on the Texas board grew to a near majority. Seven of 15 members subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, and they have the blessings of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

What happens in Texas does not stay in Texas: the state is one of the country’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are loath to produce different versions of the same material. The ideas that work their way into education here will surface in classrooms throughout the country.

“ ‘Strengths and weaknesses’ are regular words that have now been drafted into the rhetorical arsenal of creationists,” said Kathy Miller, director of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that promotes religious freedom.

The chairman of the state education board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist in Central Texas, denies that the phrase “is subterfuge for bringing in creationism.”

“Why in the world would anybody not want to include weaknesses?” Dr. McLeroy said.

The word itself is open to broad interpretation. If the teaching of weaknesses is mandated, a textbook might be forced to say that evolution has an “inability to explain the Cambrian Explosion,” according to the group Texans for Better Science Education, which questions evolution.

The Cambrian Explosion was a period of rapid diversification that evidence suggests began around 550 million years ago and gave rise to most groups of complex organisms and animal forms. Scientists are studying how it unfolded.

Evolution as a principle is not disputed in the scientific mainstream, where the term “theory” does not mean a hunch, but an explanation backed by abundant observation, and where gaps in knowledge are not seen as grounds for doubt but points for future understanding. Over time, research has strengthened the basic tenets of evolution, especially as advances in molecular genetics have allowed biologists to read the history recorded in the DNA of animals and plants.

Yet playing to the American sense of fairness, lawmakers across the country have tried to require that classrooms be open to all views. The Discovery Institute has provided a template for legislators to file “academic freedom” bills, and they have been popping up with increasing frequency in statehouses across the country. In Florida, the session ended last month before legislators could take action, while in Louisiana, an academic-freedom bill was sent to the House of Representatives after passing the House education committee and the State Senate.

In Texas, evolution foes do not have to win over the entire Legislature, only a majority of the education board; they are one vote away.

Dr. McLeroy, the board chairman, sees the debate as being between “two systems of science.”

“You’ve got a creationist system and a naturalist system,” he said.

Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event — thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution — “I just don’t think it’s true or it’s ever happened” — is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it’s just not there.”

“My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science,” he said.

Views like these not only make biology teachers nervous, they also alarm those who have a stake in the state’s reputation for scientific exploration. “Serious students will not come to study in our universities if Texas is labeled scientifically backward,” said Dr. Dan Foster, former chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“I’m an orthodox Christian,” Dr. Foster said, “and I don’t want to say that Christianity is crazy.” But science, not scripture, belongs in a classroom, he said. To allow views that undermine evolution, he said, “puts belief on the same level as scientific evidence.”

Dr. Foster is a veteran of the evolution wars. He met with Mr. Perry in 2003 when the “strengths and weaknesses” argument last appeared, and more recently he worked to oppose an application by the Institute for Creation Research, which supports the teaching of creationism, to award graduate degrees in the state. (It was rejected on April 23, but the institute has said it will appeal.)

This time around, however, scientists like Dr. Foster see more reason for worry. Although the process might drag on till next spring, a state-appointed committee of science educators has already begun to review the curriculum requirements. Although the state education board is free to set aside or modify their proposals, committee members will recommend that the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase be removed, said Kevin Fisher, a committee member who is against the teaching of creationism.

“When you consider evolution, there are certainly questions that have yet to be answered,” said Mr. Fisher, science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District in North Texas.

But, he added, “a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness.”

Mr. Fisher points to the flaws in Darwinian theory that are listed on an anti-evolution Web site, strengthsandweaknesses.org, which is run by Texans for Better Science Education.

“Many of them are decades old,” Mr. Fisher said of the flaws listed. “They’ve all been thoroughly refuted.”

    Opponents of Evolution Adopting a New Strategy, NYT, 4.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/04evolution.html






Young Evangelicals Take Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the People


June 1, 2008
The New York Times


ST. LOUIS — Southern Baptists, as a rule, do not drink. But once a month, young congregants of the Journey, a Baptist church here, and their friends get together in the back room of a sprawling brew pub called the Schlafly Bottleworks to talk about the big questions: President Bush, faith and war, the meaning of life, and “what’s wrong with religion.”

“That’s where people are having their conversations about things that matter,” the Rev. Darrin Patrick, senior pastor and founder of the Journey, said about the talks in the bar. “We go where people are because we feel like Jesus went to the people.”

The Journey, a megachurch of mostly younger evangelicals, is representative of a new generation that refuses to put politics at the center of its faith and rejects identification with the religious right.

They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves.

“Evangelicalism is becoming somewhat less coherent as a movement or as an identity,” said Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Younger people don’t even want the label anymore. They don’t believe the main goal of the church is to be political.”

About 17 percent of the nation’s 55 million adult evangelicals are between the ages of 18 and 29, and many are troubled by the methods of the religious right and its close ties to the Republican Party.

In a January 2007 survey of 1,000 young people for the book “Unchristian,” one of its authors, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, which studies Christian trends, found that 47 percent of born-again Christians ages 40 and under believed that “the political efforts of conservative Christians” posed a problem for America.

None of that means younger evangelicals have abandoned the core tenets of their faith, including a belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus and the literal truth of the Bible. They think abortion and homosexuality are sins.

And so far, there is no clear evidence that supporting a broader social agenda has led young evangelicals to defect from the Republican Party in great numbers, as many liberals have predicted.

But shifts in thinking among younger evangelicals may lead to an easing of the polarization that has defined the country’s recent political landscape, many of them said.

“The easy thing is to fight, but the hard thing is to put your gloves down and work together towards a common cause,” said the Rev. Scott Thomas, director of the Acts 29 Network, which helps pastors start churches. “Our generation would like to put our gloves down. We don’t want to be out there picketing. We want to be out there serving.”

On a rainy Tuesday night, six couples from the Journey, all under 35, went to Jim and Megan Beckemeier’s home for a weekly Bible study.

“Did you see my boy Barack today?” Mike Fine, 28, said to Mr. Beckemeier, 31, as they sat down, referring to a speech Senator Barack Obama gave earlier that day. “I thought he did well, really well.”

Some in the Bible study grew up in evangelical homes, others in mainline families, and still others outside the church. Asked if they considered themselves evangelicals, they squirmed.

“I’m comfortable with the word as long as it means a believer of Christ who wants to spread his teaching,” Ryan Witt, 30, said. “But it doesn’t automatically mean that you are against stem cell research or voting for McCain.”

The older generation, the congregants said, had drifted away from Jesus’s example.

“What the church has done wrong is that it has created these ‘holy huddles’ of Christian magazines, music and schools that have set them apart from the world because the world is bad,” said Mr. Beckemeier, who grew up in an evangelical family. “Instead of doing what Christ did, and bring light to the world, they retreat from it.”

Younger evangelicals focus more on “the ethic of Jesus” than on political issues, said Adam Smith, editor of the religion and culture magazine Relevant. They gravitate toward practical social action, Mr. Smith and others said, like working with poor, academically troubled inner-city schools, a priority at the Journey, or against human trafficking. While older evangelicals are also involved in such issues, younger people shy away from their emphasis on political organizing.

“They are very much turned off by the suit-and-tie power brokers of the evangelical right,” said David P. Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia.

Within American evangelicalism more broadly, there has been some rethinking of its image and priorities. Younger evangelicals feed that new drive and are beginning to lead it. Their efforts have resonated with some older leaders, but they have also created a backlash.

Jonathan Merritt, 25, is a graduate of Liberty University, the son of a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and himself a former Republican precinct chairman in Georgia. A seminarian, he now calls himself an independent conservative. In March, he introduced an environmental initiative urging Southern Baptists to do more to combat climate change, saying their current position was “too timid.”

After beginning with 44 signers, the initiative now has about 250, including pastors, university professors and the current and past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention. But Richard Land, president of the convention’s powerful advocacy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, did not sign the initiative. He said his group had concerns about it that they had made known to some signers, who then rescinded their support.

On May 15, Mr. Land’s group introduced its own online petition called “We Get It!” that questions the science around global warming and warns that “millions of people around the world are threatened by extreme environmental policies.”

“There is so much resistance to the environmental initiative because it is a threat to the right-wing agenda that has crept into the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Dean Inserra, 27, a registered Republican and pastor of the Well, a Baptist church in Tallahassee, Fla., who signed Mr. Merritt’s initiative. “How is taking care of God’s creation a political issue? Since I am pro-life, I am pro-environment.”

Southern Baptist leaders, especially in Missouri, have criticized unconventional church outreach methods, like the Journey’s meetings at the Schlafly Bottleworks.

For Roger Moran, a lay Baptist leader in Missouri, being theologically conservative but culturally liberal could put evangelicals on the path to sin. To underscore that concern, the state convention will no longer finance start-ups of churches like the Journey.

“Any movement that undermines or takes away from the seriousness of sin, we need to pay close attention to,” Mr. Moran said.

Liberal evangelicals say the difference in approach and priorities among younger evangelicals signals a shift in their political allegiances, too. Surveys, so far, give a murkier picture.

A report last year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicated that in 2001, 55 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as Republican, far more than in the broader population. In 2007, 40 percent did. But a more recent Pew poll only of registered voters found that 60 percent of young white evangelicals identified themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, the same as all white evangelicals.

“This is the most pro-life generation I’ve seen,” said John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at the evangelical Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. “I don’t have any evidence that being green is going to trump pro-life issues in the voting booth.”

In a column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr. Merritt wrote that some younger evangelicals might vote for Mr. Obama, despite calling themselves conservatives.

Without a clear evangelical presidential candidate, he said, the younger generation seeks “which party stands for the issues their faith requires them to support.”

Mr. Patrick of the Journey estimates that 60 percent of his 2,000-member congregation are Democrats. At a discussion at the brew pub about immigration, the congregation’s varied political views came out, as some members sympathized with illegal immigrants and others criticized them.

“It’s the first church I’ve been in with such opposing views,” said Johanna Richards, 22, the daughter of a Baptist minister and an immigrant outreach worker for the church.

Letitia Wong, 32, who said she favored a fence along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants, added: “As much as our faith informs our political views, we aren’t united in one way of thinking. What unites us at the Journey is the power of Jesus Christ.”

    Young Evangelicals Take Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the People, NYT, 1.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/us/01evangelical.html?hp






Obama Leaves Church That Drew Wide Criticism


June 1, 2008
The New York Times


ABERDEEN, S.D. — Senator Barack Obama has resigned his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, which he attended for nearly two decades, following months of controversy about pastors and their political views.

Mr. Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, wrote a letter on Friday to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss, explaining that their estrangement from Trinity took root in controversial remarks by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who once was Mr. Obama’s spiritual guide.

“Our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views,” they wrote. “These controversies have served as an unfortunate distraction for other Trinity members who seek to worship in peace, and have placed you in an untenable position.”

But at a news conference after a town-hall-style meeting here on Saturday, Mr. Obama sounded pained as he confirmed his decision to leave the place he had considered his spiritual home. A sermon by Mr. Wright, a longtime pastor at the church, even provided the phrase — “the audacity of hope” — that became Mr. Obama’s campaign theme and the title of his latest book.

“I make this decision with sadness,” said Mr. Obama, speaking in subdued tones as he stood before a bland background. “This is where I found Jesus Christ, where we were married, where our children were baptized. We are proud of the extraordinary works of that church.”

Mr. Obama rejected suggestions that he denounce the church, which is one of Chicago’s largest and most socially active black churches, with a wide array of respected social programs. Several of the most prominent black theologians in Chicago attend the church.

“I’m not denouncing the church, and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church,” he said in response to a question. “It’s not a church worthy of denouncing.”

Mr. Obama said that his resignation was not a matter of political convenience, but rather that he had reached the point where neither he nor Trinity’s pastors and congregants could worship in peace. He noted that reporters now pored over sermons and that some had called sick members at home to ask about the church.

“I suspect if you were in my shoes, it seems plausible at least that you wouldn’t want your church experience to be a political circus,” Mr. Obama said. “I think most Americans will understand that.”

The church has proven to be a political albatross for Mr. Obama for many months. Earlier this year, television stations began playing an endless video loop of Mr. Wright damning the United States for its sins of slavery and genocide against American Indians.

Conservative critics lashed him for attending the church, and his membership fed into a line of criticism by some voters that he is unpatriotic and aligned with radicals.

The storm flared anew last Sunday when the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest, gave a guest sermon mocking Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, for crying in New Hampshire. The priest, known as a radical gadfly, accused Mrs. Clinton of feeling she was entitled to the nomination because she is white.

“While Hillary was crying and people said that was a put-on, I really don’t believe it was put on,” said Father Pfleger, who is white. “I really believe that she just always thought this is mine. I’m Bill’s wife, I’m white and this is mine.”

Mr. Obama distanced himself from these remarks, expressing his deep disappointment at “Father Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric.”

Father Pfleger, who is a friend of Mr. Obama’s, later apologized.

Mr. Obama said he and his wife would search for a new church but probably would not make a decision until after the election in November.

He acknowledged that the search would be a tricky business, not least because African-American pastors often pride themselves on speaking with a clear “prophetic voice” about social and racial injustices. Their aim is not to force parishioners to agree with every word, they say, but to spark thought.

“There is a cultural, a stylistic gap,” Mr. Obama said, between the tradition of some black churches and some white churches.

The ministers’ words, torn from their context, can detonate politically, he said.

“There is certainly a tradition in the African-American church to speak against injustice, against racism, against sexism, against economic inequality,” Mr. Obama said. “My hope would be that any presidential candidate can go to a church and hear a sermon and even hear some controversial statements without those views being imputed to them.”

Trinity’s pastors preach an often fiery philosophy known as Black Liberation Theology. It is not a separatist philosophy, but it argues that the poor and oppressed occupy a special place in God’s eye. Ministers are expected to provoke and push.

Mr. Obama had distanced himself slowly, a hesitant step here and there, from his church. When Mr. Wright’s most explosive remarks became public, Mr. Obama said he was not in church for those sermons, which was borne out by the records. But he began to edge farther and father away.

In a much-heralded speech on race in March, Mr. Obama denounced Mr. Wright’s more controversial views, even as he made the case for understanding how the minister’s experience with race in America had shaped his views.

Mr. Wright, however, emerged from retirement in April and spoke at the National Press Club, offering deeper and broader criticism of the United States and using mocking language. Among other things, he opined that the United States government may have had a hand in creating the AIDS epidemic.

This time, Mr. Obama eschewed subtle shadings and denounced his former pastor’s comments as unacceptable and repugnant to him.

Mr. Obama first encountered Trinity as a community organizer and nonbeliever. But upon hearing a 1988 sermon of Mr. Wright’s entitled “The Audacity to Hope,” he declared himself a Christian. He listened to Mr. Wright’s sermons at Harvard Law School and joined Trinity upon returning to Chicago.

Mr. Wright married the Obamas, baptized their children and dedicated their house. When Mr. Obama won his Senate seat in 2004, Mr. Wright was the first person he thanked by name in his acceptance speech.

Just over two years later, he invited Mr. Wright to speak at his presidential announcement but withdrew the invitation at the last moment for fear of controversy over statements Mr. Wright had made in sermons, according to an interview last year with Mr. Wright.

From that moment, Mr. Obama’s membership in the church created headaches for the candidate.

Now that Mr. Obama has addressed his ties to the church and pastor in a long speech and fully broken with both, it is not clear what else he can say or do to ameliorate the continued concerns of some voters about those associations.

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.

    Obama Leaves Church That Drew Wide Criticism, NYT, 1.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/us/politics/01obama.html?hp






Raid on Sect in Texas

Rattles Other Polygamists


May 8, 2008
The New York Times


COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — As the supper dishes were being cleared away and the rice pudding brought out for dessert, Marvin Wyler’s two wives, along with some of their children and a group of friends, began poring over the list.

The 44-page document, from a court in Texas, gives a glimpse of who is married to whom in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or F.L.D.S. — and in the hothouse world of religious polygamy, a list like that is a sort of Rosetta Stone to the usually hidden relationships of power, politics and piety.

“We are adding up the number of men who may be going to prison,” said Isaac Wyler, 42, the eldest of Mr. Wyler’s 34 children, who was examining the list on Sunday to see which men may have had wives under the legal age when they married.

Scenes like this have played out in recent days in polygamist communities on the Arizona-Utah border as the marriage list and other records, seized last month from the polygamist sect in Eldorado, Tex., along with 462 children in an investigation of possible under-age brides, have filtered west.

The information has families like the Wylers talking about some of polygamy’s best-kept secrets. Who would have guessed, for instance, that Wendell Nielsen, a high-ranking sect official with family here, had 21 wives in Texas, too? Or that he has 35 children on top of those here?

As law enforcement officials from Utah and Arizona prepare for what they expect to be a capacity crowd town-hall-style meeting on polygamy on Thursday — planned north of here in St. George, Utah, before the Texas raid but now proceeding with an added urgency — polygamist gossip is only one of the many consequences of the raid that they are encountering.

Rumors of an imminent Texas-style police crackdown — the authorities say none is contemplated — are among the new constants of life here, the historic heartland of the F.L.D.S. Some polygamists, who had considered moving to Texas, are putting down roots again here, even cooperating with the authorities. Others are speaking out publicly, trying to distinguish their forms of plural marriage (no under-age brides) from what the authorities say was practiced by the sect in Texas.

“Polygamy is not the problem,” said Marlyne Hammon, who belongs to a group called The Work of Jesus Christ, which practices polygamy in a town just a few miles from here. Ms. Hammon, of Centennial Park, Ariz., said child brides had no place in her group’s faith or practice. “This is about human error, not polygamy,” she said.

Fierce winds of change — from national political attitudes about polygamy to new economic stress and even down to the personal decisions about where to live in a post-Eldorado world — are buffeting the polygamist faithful.

Recent statements by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat and the Senate majority leader, calling for toughened enforcement of laws against polygamy, possibly with an expanded federal role by the Department of Justice, have sent a particular shiver, with questions swirling about what the states will do under federal pressure.

“They think they’re going to be next — that there’s so much pressure being brought on me that I’m going to raid them,” said Utah’s attorney general, Mark L. Shurtleff, a Republican. “They hear the rumors, and they call.”

Mr. Shurtleff said he planned no change in tactics, and no mass raids, which he said would only destroy the trust needed to protect people, including the young girls his office is trying to help. It is a point, he said, that he intends to make forcefully on Thursday night on a shared stage with the Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard, at the meeting in St. George, about 45 miles from here.

Mr. Goddard, a Democrat, said he too intended to continue pursuing accusations of abuse case by case, with no mass arrests or seizures in the offing.

“I don’t know how I can make a case that all the children in Colorado City are in danger,” Mr. Goddard said.

But some polygamist families say paranoia is only natural now. Even the Wylers, who left the sect years ago — he is 63 and his wives are 63 and 58 (a third wife died years ago) — are anxious. The 63-year-old wife said she risked losing her job if her name was used in this article.

But as the Texas raid’s impact is digested here, individual F.L.D.S. families are making new decisions. Over the last month, dozens of families have come forward to cooperate with a court-appointed officer, pay their bills and sign documents that could allow them to stay in their homes here, most of which are owned by a trust once controlled by Warren S. Jeffs. Mr. Jeffs, the F.L.D.S. leader, was convicted last year in a Utah case of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old.

Before the raid, said the officer, Bruce R. Wisan, people would not even answer the door when he knocked. The raid shook something loose.

“This raid in Texas just totally exacerbated their concerns and solidified the idea that we’re not going to be moving out of here,” said Mr. Wisan, who is also an accountant from Salt Lake City. “It’s a huge shift, from moving the whole community out, to paying and signing.”

The F.L.D.S. broke away from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has 13 million members worldwide, decades ago over the practice of polygamy; Mormons disavowed it in 1890 and now excommunicate polygamists.

The relationship between the sect’s core settlement here and its outpost in Texas called the Yearning for Zion ranch, was complex. Families sent to Texas by the sect’s leadership were favored and said to have been identified by revelation to the leadership from God.

“They were just gradually moving down there as things got ready, but they took the most elite and most chosen first,” said Shannon Price, the director of a group called the Diversity Foundation that works to help people leaving the fundamentalist groups.

Now there is a question, Ms. Price and others said, about who might be coming back from Texas — and whether it might include a few men who do not want to be found by the police.

The stress rippling out from Texas is also compounding economic woes. A power plant built under the leadership of Mr. Jeffs’s predecessor and father, Rulon Jeffs, in 1997 — with $21.4 million in municipal bonds — has been in default for years as customers for the power, including the city of St. George, walked away and fuel costs soared.

The power station was needed, the Jeffs men said, in anticipation of a prophesied collapse of American society in the year 2000 that would have left the F.L.D.S. humming along in its rural fastness with the lights still on. Now, the bondholders are going to court, and last week, the utility officers began considering a 25 percent rate increase, on top of what is already some of the most expensive electricity in the West, in an effort to stave off financial disaster.

The City Council in Hildale, Utah, sister community to Colorado City across the border, is to vote on the proposal later this month.

“We are in a financial cash-flow crisis,” said Jerry Barlow, the utility’s manager. “We will not be able to pay for the power without some kind of adjustment.”

Meanwhile, in the documents from the Texas court, the tapestry — if not the dirty laundry — of familial F.L.D.S. life has become the stuff of dinner table chitchat.

The reports hint, for example, at a network of safe houses where sect members can take refuge for reasons undisclosed. In some cases, wives and children are listed as living “elsewhere,” in “hiding” or living in a “house of hiding.”

The Wylers here in Colorado City were also particularly astounded to learn that Mr. Nielsen, the high-ranking sect official who everyone at the dinner table believed kept his wives and children in Arizona, had another family cluster in Texas.

According to the records, Mr. Nielsen, who was 67 in August 2007 when his “family information sheet” was completed, had 21 wives, ranging in age from 24 to 79, and 35 children, ranging in age from 6 months to 23, who were living at the Zion ranch until the raid.

The records do not include the dates of marriages, most of which would have been religious ceremonies with no state civil licenses issued. So the lists are more suggestive than conclusive, for now. Under Texas law, no girl under 16 can legally marry, even with her parents’ permission.

Raid on Sect in Texas Rattles Other Polygamists, NYT, 8.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/us/08raid.html




home Up