President Obama

Photo Courtesy RNS.

Ken Hackett, left, nominated to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Photo Courtesy RNS.

President Obama on Friday nominated Ken Hackett, former head of Catholic Relief Services, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

It’s a savvy move, picking a Catholic whose career in the church has been dedicated to alleviating suffering as America’s representative to a pope who has made helping the poor a priority for his pontificate.

Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, who left the post last November to teach at the University of Dayton. Diaz is a theologian, which was a first for the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and that also seemed to make sense in that Pope Benedict XVI, whose retirement led to the election of Pope Francis last March, is a renowned theologian.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 06-11-2013

Unique fingerprint surrounded by data. Photo courtesy Maksim Kabakou/

What does the ancient arrangement of tents in an ancient Israelite encampment have to do with the ultramodern question of whether the U.S. government should be peering into the ultramodern phone and Internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans?

Or to put it another way, are there any spiritual and religious roots to the notion of personal and household privacy?

To start from the Bible: Many Jewish prayer services begin with a quotation from a non-Jewish shaman, himself quoted in the Torah (Num 24:5 — this passage of Torah will be read two weeks from now, on June 22.) There was a king, Balak by name, who hired an expert shamanic curse-hurler, Balaam, to curse the People of Israel who were swarming across the wilderness after their liberation from slavery under Pharaoh. 

President Obama spoke on US counterterrorism strategies at the National Defense University this month. Photo via StockPhotosLV

In his remarks at the National Defense University two weeks ago, President Obama stopped just one sentence short of declaring an end to the so-called “war on terror.” This is and always was a misnomer. It is a category error. A “war on terror” cannot be fought with armies and weapons of warfare. Terror is a response. Terrorism is a tactic. A terrorist is a criminal who ought to be apprehended, tried, and if convicted punished through the criminal justice system.

The Obama administration has been careful about using this term, speaking more about a war against al-Qaeda than an overall war on terror that is nothing but a declaration of perpetual war. President Obama said: “Our systemic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

He did not go so far as to declare the war on terror over.

Evangelist Franklin Graham preaches during a crusade in Mobile, Ala. in 2006. Photo courtesy RNS.

Evangelist Franklin Graham blasted the Internal Revenue Service probe of conservative nonprofit groups as “un-American,” saying both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the relief group Samaritan’s Purse were audited by the IRS.

In a Tuesday letter to President Obama, Graham said the two organizations he leads were notified last September that the IRS would review their records for the 2010 tax year.

The IRS inquiry, he noted, occurred months after the BGEA ran ads in April 2012 supporting a North Carolina amendment that banned same-sex marriage, which passed in May. The BGEA also ran ads last fall urging voters to consider candidates who make decisions based on “biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.”

Tom Ehrich 04-30-2013
Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

President Obama bows his head at the West memorial service held at Baylor University April 25. Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Five men who know what it means to be president of the United States shared a stage in University Park, Texas. Then the incumbent among them flew to Waco, to mourn 11 first-responders, killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas.

All presidents try to rewrite history to burnish their brief place in it. And in his new presidential library, George W. Bush will have his turn.

Barack Obama’s legacy is still a work in progress, though even sympathetic commentators are seeing him now, in his fifth year, as too slow to act, too cerebral to brawl, and too little respected by his political enemies.

In one role, however, Obama has excelled: “Mourner in Chief” — not one of his constitutional duties but oddly important.

President Barack Obama praised Bostonians for their actions “in the face of evil” during an interfaith memorial service on Thursday for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion,” Obama said.

The 90-minute service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross featured local political figures and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley shared a greeting with the congregants from Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father invokes God’s peace upon our dead, consolation upon the suffering and God’s strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response,” O’Malley said.

Obama opened his remarks with Scripture, and quoted it throughout his speech.

Beau Underwood 04-10-2013
Capitol Hill,  Brandon Bourdages /

Capitol Hill, Brandon Bourdages /

While immigration and gun violence issues are capturing most of the week's headlines, the budget battles have re-emerged in Washington, D.C. Last month House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released competing budget proposals. And today, President Barack Obama released his own plan, which aims to reduce the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. 

As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas note:

Today’s budget is the White House’s effort to reach the bedrock of the fiscal debate. Half of its purpose is showing what they’re willing to do. They want a budget compromise, and this budget proves it. There are now liberals protesting on the White House lawn. But the other half is revealing what the GOP is — or, more to the point, isn’t — willing to do. Republicans don’t want a budget compromise, and this budget is likely to prove that, too.

As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.

Antwan I. Saca 03-20-2013

Bethlehem-area Palestinian Christians hold a weekly prayer vigil to protest the Israeli separation wall.

Mr. President, just like the many other visitors that we receive here in this land, we would do our best to overwhelm you with our cultural hospitality and our traditions. I would seize this opportunity to not only welcome you to visit Bethlehem, but also to welcome all U.S. citizens to visit my small city.  

I invite you, Mr. President, to be in my city within the nation that has a dream of liberty — a dream that goes in rhythm with all nations’ right of self-determination. We have embraced, as other nations, our pursuit of democracy, human development, and security. We have tumbled through our pursuits and have made mistakes, and because like all humans, as part of our human nature, we slip. We have built, learned, developed, and made our existence known to all nations.

Mr. President, I hope that in your visit you would not only enjoy the blessings of the Holy Land, but be encouraged to return and experience this city to its fullest. After you finish your presidency you will be able to visit without a big security escort and you will enjoy wandering the old streets and spending time in the old city of Bethlehem when you come back with your family.

Munther Isaac 03-14-2013

Obama's campaign slogan appears on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

President Barack Obama is planning to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity as part of his visit to Palestine/Israel. The Church of the Nativity, of course, is not the only thing to see in Bethlehem. I suggest that as the president enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the separation wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the president will notice how the wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.

As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza Refugee Camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering.

Melissa Rogers, new director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Photo courtesy RNS.

Church-state expert Melissa Rogers will be the new director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“I’m honored to be able to serve President Obama by forging and promoting a wide range of effective partnerships with faith-based and secular nonprofits that help people in need,” Rogers said in a statement on Wednesday. Rogers succeeds Joshua DuBois, who left the office in February after serving throughout President Obama’s first term.

Rogers is already well-acquainted with the office she will direct. She chaired the office’s first advisory council and spearheaded its work to reform the office. In 2010, President Obama signed an executive order reflecting recommendations from the council that called for greater transparency and clearer rules for religious groups that receive federal grants.

Alessandro Speciale 03-13-2013

The new Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis I on Wednesday, after only two days of voting in the conclave tasked with choosing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

According to anonymous reports of the 2005 conclave, he was the leading contender against then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. Bergoglio, 76, has served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998 and was made a cardinal in 2001. He is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to rise to the papacy.

In his first address to the huge crowd that had gathered in St Peter’s Square, Francis asked for the prayers of “all men and women of good will” to help him lead the Catholic Church.

Jim Wallis 02-25-2013
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in Hart Building on the impacts of sequestration. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The sequester battle is a good but tragic example of how the idea of the common good is failing in American politics. By contrast, the growing bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform is an alternative example of how a moral issue can rise about our ideologically driven politics.

The faith community has stepped into both issues with a call for political leaders to serve the common good. On immigration, political leaders are listening to the faith leaders; on the debates about our nation’s fiscal soul, political leaders need to listen better.

Jim Wallis 02-21-2013
Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam /

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam /

I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.

Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.

It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.

And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.

Let’s break it down.

the Web Editors 02-12-2013
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Editor's Note: Below is the full text of the 2013 State of the Union on Feb. 12. For a response to the evening's remarks, see Jim Wallis' column HERE


Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.”  (Applause.) “It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union -- to improve it is the task of us all.” 

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report.  After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.  (Applause.)  After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs.  We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in 20.  (Applause.)  Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.  (Applause.) 

So, together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of our Union is stronger. 

Gary Houser 02-12-2013
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama during his inauguration. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"Lincoln’s writings speak to me ... that though we may have our differences, we are one people, and we are one nation, united by a common creed. ... Lincoln saw beyond the bloodshed and division. He saw us not only as we were, but as we might be."   - President Barack Obama   

"We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear President Obama,

Your words above aptly describe the greatness of Abraham Lincoln. Slavery was the moral crisis of his time, and because he fervently believed "we are one people," he took a stance which initially led to much adversity. But he rose to the challenge and the rest is history.       

In a speech to Congress in 1862, Lincoln said: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

Circumstances have conspired to place you at the presidential helm during a moment of unprecedented global crisis. Last year, we saw one of the most prominent features of our planet — as seen from space — altered beyond recognition. A huge portion of the snow and ice white of the Arctic was simply, and stunningly, gone.

Jim Wallis 02-08-2013
Photo: USDAgov via Flickr

Joshua DuBois, at the Consultation on Improving Latino Outreach in 2010. Photo: USDAgov via Flickr

Joshua DuBois has been running the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for President Obama for the past four years, but he leaves the White House today. That Joshua’s farewell party had to be moved to a larger location is just one sign of the respect and affection he earned during Obama’s first term. The President especially appreciated his young spiritual adviser, and read devotional biblical reflections from DuBois every day. At yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama lifted up Joshua’s importance to him and his administration, and said how much the young African-American Pentecostal pastor would be missed; the applause from the audience demonstrated the president wasn’t alone.

I have worked closely with Joshua, and want to wish him my own grateful farewell. I’ve watched this young man grow into this important job. He has been a good listener, facilitator, encourager, and convener; and has worked hard to put faith-based offices in executive departments throughout the administration — a first for any White House. Over the course of the last four years, Joshua has been successful because people both trust and like him, and the farewell comments at his going away party will show that. Joshua has especially worked hard to connect outside faith leaders and the faith-based community to key places and players in the White House to move agendas that we care about forward. 

Ivone Guillen 02-06-2013

In case you’ve missed the news surrounding immigration reform, here’s a brief update.

Last week, a bipartisan group of eight Senators unveiled a set of principles in support of immigration reform. The following day, President Barack Obama spoke at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas., where he released his proposal for a commonsense solution for immigration reform. Both parties see the moral and political need to address this issue.

President Obama is keeping up the pressure as he continues dialogue with numerous stakeholders to highlight the broad support for reform. On Tuesday he met with numerous external leaders hosting two separate meetings at the White House — one with progressive and labor leaders and the other with leaders from the business community — to discuss his continued support for an immigration reform package he hopes will pass this year.

Janelle Tupper 01-25-2013
Photo: Praying for creation, Tyler Olson /

Photo: Praying for creation, Tyler Olson /

President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Address this week included a bold statement about his vision for addressing climate change. In fact, he redefined the issue of environmental protection as not only morally important but a command from God. After the vacuum of discussion of climate change during the presidential campaign, this proclamation came as a welcome surprise.

Most analyses of Obama’s speech point to the fact that the reason he was able to say what he did is that American public opinion has solidified behind these ideas. Plenty of polls will tell you that the number of Americans who accept the reality of climate change has soared in recent years, perhaps partly due to the natural disasters the president mentioned.

Christian Piatt 01-24-2013

Rev. Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill church, has a true gift. Just when I think I’m making at least a modicum of progress toward tolerance – if not actual Christlike love – toward the guy, inevitably he does something to make me despise him all over again.

On the Monday, before President Obama’s inauguration ceremony, Driscoll sent out the following message to his more than 300,000 Twitter followers:

Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.

As of Thursday morning, the tweet has received more than 3,400 retweets and nearly 1,350 favorites. Driscoll’s next tweet was about an iPad Mini giveaway.

RNS photo by Donovan Marks/courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

The Obamas and Bidens at the Inaugural Prayer Service. RNS photo by Donovan Marks/courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

WASHINGTON — President Obama started his second term with a traditional worship service and a challenge to help heal the nation’s divides.

“We find ourselves desperately longing to find common ground, to find a common vision, to be one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for everyone,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, the Kansas City pastor chosen to preach Tuesday at the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral. “In this city and in this room, are the people who can help.”

The inaugural service carried that theme for more than an hour, presenting the nation’s rainbow of faiths and cultures with a bilingual welcome and reading from the Gospel of Matthew, and an imam and Christian and Jewish cantors taking turns calling the congregation to prayer.

The service of petitions and patriotism included a Sikh woman calling for “concern for our neighbors” and a Catholic layman urging a remembrance of Americans’ interdependence. The red, white, and blue theme extended to the altar flowers and a worshipper’s flag-festooned headscarf.