Faith and Politics

Anti-abortion Priest Frank Pavone is Back With Eyes on Obama, Bishops

Rev. Frank Pavone, RNS photo by David Gibson

Rev. Frank Pavone, RNS photo by David Gibson

NEW YORK — A year ago, the Rev. Frank Pavone was facing an existential crisis in the unlikeliest of places.

The longtime head of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life, Pavone had been confined to the Diocese of Amarillo by his bishop, Patrick J. Zurek, who sent a letter to every other U.S. bishop declaring that he had so many concerns about the group’s $10 million budget that Pavone shouldn’t be trusted with donors’ money.

Pavone’s backers were stunned, and many stopped giving, which only exacerbated the problems that helped get Priests for Life into trouble in the first place. Pavone also couldn’t go on the road to reassure funders and drum up desperately needed cash.

Instead, the New York-born priest was stuck in a convent in the Texas panhandle where he served as chaplain to an order of nuns in a place called Prayer Town, a virtual prisoner in a war of words with Zurek, who had blasted his “incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop.”

After Romney Meeting, Billy Graham Website Scrubs Mormon ‘Cult’ Reference

RNS photo courtesy the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Billy Graham offered to "do all I can to help” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. RNS photo courtesy the BGEA

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed language labeling Mormonism a “cult” from its website after the famed preacher met with Republican nominee Mitt Romney last week and pledged to help his presidential campaign.

The removal came after a gay rights group reported that the “cult” reference remained online even after Graham all but endorsed Romney, a Mormon, on Oct. 11. 

Ken Barun, the BGEA’s chief of staff, confirmed the removal on Tuesday.

“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Barun said in a statement. “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

Young Evangelicals, Election 2012, and Common Ground

Alycia Ashburn / Sojourners

Panelists discuss the Young Evangelicals in the 2012 Election study. Alycia Ashburn / Sojourners

What culture war? At a survey release of young evangelicals and proceeding panel discussion, common ground was the pervading theme. 

While panelists ranged in religious and political backgrounds — representing groups like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, World Relief, Family Research Council, USAID, World Vision, the Manhattan Declaration, and Feed the Children — there was an overarching agreement that while young evangelicals are largely pro-life, life issues now extend to beyond the typical to things like creation care and immigration. 

“There is still a lot of tension that many young people feel in trying to identify with one political party or the other,” Adam Taylor, vice president of advocacy for World Vision. “… There is a real deep commitment to a pro-life agenda, but that agenda has now expanded and includes a core and strong commitment to addressing issues of poverty.”

Evangelical Coalition Rallies Behind Family Planning

Family planning illustration,  Luba V Nel / Shutterstock.com

Family planning illustration, Luba V Nel / Shutterstock.com

WASHINGTON — A coalition of evangelicals is calling on fellow Christians to support access to family planning across the world, saying it does not conflict with evangelical opposition to abortion.

The centrist New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good released a 15-page document on Monday calling for “common ground” support of family planning and the health of mothers and children.

“We affirm that the use of contraceptives is a responsible and morally acceptable means to greater control over the number and timing of births, and to improve the overall developing and flourishing of women and children,” said the Rev. Jennifer Crumpton, one of the advisers to the evangelical group.

Bhutan Bans Religious Activities Ahead of Elections

RNS photo by Vishal Arora

Two Bhatanese students carry the national flag. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI — Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation's constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”

A notification by the Election Commission of Bhutan asks people's "prayers and blessings" for the second parliamentary election, expected in June 2013. But it also states that religious institutions and clergy "shall not hold, conduct, organize or host" any public activity from Jan. 1 until the election.

The ban comes a year after the country's religious affairs ministry identified Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.

How the VP Debate Emphasized ‘Single-Issue’ Catholicism

Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

Vice President Joe Biden and candidate Paul Ryan at the VP Debate. Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

Catholicism’s social justice teachings have often been called the church’s “best-kept secret,” and after the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – the first such showdown between the first two Catholics to oppose each other on a national ticket – that may still be the case.

While moderator Martha Raddatz earned kudos for her performance, her only question about the candidates’ shared Catholic faith came near the end of the 90-minute debate, and she framed it solely as a question of how their faith affects their policies on abortion rights.

That was seen as a victory for Catholic conservatives and Republicans who want to reinforce the image of the church as a “single-issue” religion – that issue being abortion – and a setback for liberal Democrats and others who have struggled to highlight the church’s teachings on the common good as central to Catholicism’s witness in the public square.

“What a lost opportunity!” wrote Michael O’Loughlin at the blog of America magazine, a national Jesuit weekly. “If the moderator planned to discuss faith, and I’m glad she did, why limit the discussion to one issue, however important, when the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching is ripe for an expansive and thought provoking conversation?”

Where Does Faith Fit in Today’s Politics?

First 2012 Presidential Debate, Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

First 2012 Presidential Debate, Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s always annoyed me when people assume that, because I’m a Christian, I must also be socially conservative on all requisite issues. And while I understand those who lean further right because of their Christian beliefs, I take issue with those who suggest that being both a follower of Christ and a social progressive are mutually exclusive.

In fact, most of my positions on social issues can be traced back to my faith, which goes to show that the spectrum of beliefs taken from any given faith, as well as the many ways in which those beliefs are applied, is wide and arguably still growing as we continue to become increasingly pluralistic and intertwined.

Depending on your perspective, it could be argued that the landscape of presidential candidates either reflects such religious diversity, or that it’s still more of the same old majority rule at play, with a few minor cosmetic adjustments. For some, the fact that a Mormon is the Republican nominee is nothing short of astonishing, and what’s more, that the evangelical right is generally finding their way toward alignment with Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket.

It’s also worth noting that last week's vice presidential debate was the first time in history that we’ve had two Catholic VP nominees running against each other. The only fairly typical one in the group (unless you ask the Muslim conspiracy theorists, that is) is Barack Obama who is a member of the mainline protestant Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ.

The Nones: Skeptics Are the New Religious

Questioning Christianity illustration, Alberto Masnovo / Shutterstock.com

Questioning Christianity illustration, Alberto Masnovo / Shutterstock.com

Except for presidential candidates and some parts of the Bible Belt, the days when church membership was necessary for social acceptance are long gone. Many Americans view religion as suspect or superfluous or both.

In fact, the latest data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life say that a record-high one in five Americans -- and one in three adults under age 30 -- are religiously unaffiliated.

So why did all 1,500 seats sell out for a debate I moderated a few months ago entitled “Has Science Refuted Religion?” at the California Institute of Technology? Why should the brilliant minds of the Caltech community even care, especially since skeptics, rather than true believers, made up the majority of the audience?

As the dean of a theology school, the question is of high interest to me, and I think I know the answer.

Just the Facts Ma’am: Economic Analysis from the Congressional Research Service

Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

When we listen to political debates about which public policies will strengthen the economy, it is easy to get lost in a statistical maze. Each side presents economic data in a way that supports their own theory of the case.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a branch of the Library of Congress that can help us make our own assessments regarding public policy. According to the CRS website, its purpose is to provide “authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan” analyses to members of Congress. 

The relationship between tax rates and the economy is an issue in the current campaign. Thinking about this issue, the CRS looks at empirical data that may or may not confirm theoretical models or ideological assumptions. Thus, like the early TV detective Joe Friday, they want “just the facts ma’am,” and then they try to reach conclusion from these facts.

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