Mainstream politicians and Black community leaders are demanding a better accounting of the “return on investment” offered by churches to the communities that fund them. Meanwhile, legions of faithful churchgoers defend their pastors and accuse their detractors of applying a double standard that ignores the largesse of wealthy, white televangelists, while underplaying the economic development and social service functions provided by the Black Church.
“The church has gotten caught up in materialism and greed, a lifestyle. Many ministers today want to live like celebrities and they want to be treated like celebrities. In other words, instead of the church standing with the community, the church has become self-serving. It has strayed away from its mission” according to Dr.Love Henry Whelchel, professor of church history at The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
Amen. BTW I don't know what "Black community leaders" they're talking about, because I haven't heard a soul (so to speak) speak out on this one, except the guy who wrote "Pimps in the Pulpit," but he didn't even get famous enough talking about it to become a regular commentator on cable news. There are intermittent complaints form some quarters of Black media, especially the Black blogosphere, but the complaints haven't altered the behavior of Black pastors, who seem to be in a headlong competition to be the biggest baller on the block, rather than the greatest advocate for the often economically deprived communities they're supposed to serve. So what is LiveSteez going to do about it?
LiveSteez’s investigative series will take a forensic editorial approach to quantifying the return to Black America for the $350 billion in tax-favored donations it has given to the Black Church, examining the arguments on both sides of the pulpit. In this series we will seek answers and advisory to the following questions:
- How often and how much do church leaders take advantage of the faith of poor black people?
-We will investigate and indentify the churches they are showing a strong return on investment that goes beyond inspiration.
- What does the black community have to show for the $350 billion in tax free dollars?
- Expert analysis on what could potentially be done with such a huge amount of money and how it could improve the state of our communities.
- Why do some church leaders refuse to participate in the Grassley congressional Investigation, which requested the financial records of several mega-churches.
Go get 'em, Steez. One other thing I'd like to see is what ever happened to all that Faith Based money the Bush administration doled out to try and buy support from church folk.
Cutié and his girlfriend, Ruhama Buni Canellis, plan to marry.
Father Alberto Cutié has left the Catholic Church, and plans to marry, prompting a mini-cat fight between the Catholic and Episcopalian leaders in Miami. Per the Herald:
The Rev. Alberto Cutié, the celebrity priest photographed nuzzling a woman on a Florida beach, has left the Catholic Church to join the Episcopal Church and marry his girlfriend -- a move that attracted a strong rebuff from Roman Catholic leaders.
While the Catholic Church requires priests to hew to a vow of celibacy, the Episcopalians, who broke from Rome in the 16th century, have no such rules. Cutié was formally welcomed into the Episcopal Church in a small, private ceremony early Thursday afternoon at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the church's South Florida headquarters in downtown Miami.
''I am continuing the call to spread God's love,'' Cutié said after the ceremony, adding that he has gone through a ``spiritual and deep ideological struggle.''
In attendance at Trinity was Cutié's girlfriend, Ruhama Buni Canellis, 35, a divorced mother living in Miami Beach. It was the first public sighting of the couple since compromising photos appeared in a Mexican magazine early this month that led the telegenic cleric to take leave from his South Beach parish.
Cutié sat smiling beside Canellis during the half-hour ceremony. Deacons and former Catholic priests now in the Episcopal Church were by his side -- many notably accompanied by their wives.
Bishop Leo Frade, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, officiated as Cutié and Canellis knelt in front of him to be received into the church.
The switch led to a sharp rebuke from the Catholic Archbishop of Miami, John Favolora. A rebuke of Frade...
At a news conference a few hours later, Archdiocese of Miami officials expressed disappointment in Cutié and had strong words for the Episcopal Church, especially Bishop Frade.
''This truly is a serious setback for ecumenical relations and cooperation between us,'' Archbishop John C. Favalora said.
Favalora said he had not communicated with Frade about the transition and had not spoken with Cutié since May 5, adding that Cutié never told the archbishop he desired marriage.
And then, it got personal:
''Father Cutié is removing himself from full communion with the Catholic Church and thereby forfeiting his rights as a cleric,'' Favalora said, later adding that Cutié is still ``still bound by his promise to live a celibate life, which he freely embraced at ordination. Only the Holy Father can release him from that obligation.''
Not so, Frade said Thursday afternoon. ''That promise is not recognized by our church. If you can find it in the Bible that priests should be celibate, that will be corrected,'' he said. ``The only thing we can say is that we pray for ecumenical relations. . . . I am sorry they are sorry, and we love them.''
Cutié, who gained media fame across the Spanish-speaking world doling out relationship advice on TV and radio and in print, had telegraphed his intentions for weeks in interviews, during which he spoke about his wish to marry and start a family.
And he'll bring that celebrity status to the relatively small, but obviously savvy, Episcopal Church, while the Catholics will continue to be mad, and to struggle. In the same Herald issue today, there's this:
South Florida Catholics may learn of struggling churches' fates Sunday, when pastors are expected to announce the closure of 14 churches in the Archdiocese of Miami.
Not saying the two are related, but I'm guessing that Father Cutié won't necessarily be leaving the Mother Church alone. Most Miami Catholics believe it's time to retire the celibacy vow, and I'd guess most Catholics everywhere wouldn't object to priests enjoying healthy marriages, as opposed to unhealthy sexual activity on the down low. Episcopalians have their own struggles (my Godmother's church in New York? Don't even get me started...) not least of which is the struggle between their conservative and liberal members. But here, it's hard to argue that the more liberal church didn't win this one hands down.
Father Cutié quits the Catholics, will marry his girl
Drop that collar! Cutié is changing religions.
Rick Sanchez just broke the story about his pal on CNN. The lovey-dovey priest is now an Episcopalian, and he will marry his SoBe sweetheart. Score one for the religion that doesn't force men to do the impossible.
... Bishop Leo Frade of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida announced in a news conference on Thursday.
Frade also said that he welcomed Cutié and his fiancée Ruhama Canellis into the church. Canellis stood at Cutié's side when the announcement was made.
"I want to continue sharing the word of God," Cutié said in Spanish. "I've seen how many married men serve God. Those who know me know that I would be unable to hurt anyone especially my family and the faithful community. My personal struggle should not interfere with the work of other priests. Today, I have officially joined a new spiritual family. I ask that everyone respect my privacy. In the last few days, there have been rumors and respectfully, I ask you to stop. That's enough. May God bless you all."
It will take about a year for Cutié to complete the process of becoming and Episcopal priest. And now for something that will probably have to change:
He will deliver his first sermon as a deacon for the Episcopalian church on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Church of the Resurrection at 11173 Griffing Blvd. in Biscayne Park. The church seats 250 people, and church officials said on Thursday that they don't have any plans to add any additional seating
Something tells me they're gonna need more seats...
BTW how long before Ruhama Canellis becomes the most hated woman in Catholicdom?
The drama surrounding a handsome, popular Miami priest has stirred up the age-old question of celibacy in the Catholic Church. And while you've got to wonder if there would be this many protests and sympathy on behalf of Rev. Alberto Cutié', who was caught by tabloid photographers, snuggling on a Miami beach with a woman (the photos were bought by a Mexican tabloid, TV Notas), if the snugglee had been a guy. Just sayin' ...
Anyway, you'd think that in 2009, the Catholic Church, given the myriad sexual scandals and lawsuits and abuse cases it's weathered, would rethink the idea of barring healthy, marriageable men from the Profession. And this is the same church, after all, who protected priests who cuddled -- and worse -- with children.
Pedro Alberto has apologized, and he has already lost his parish, his radio gig, and possibly his future as a priest.
Which leads to the more salient point: just why ARE Catholic priests celibate? For one thing (as a former Catholic) you can be assured that it's not because it's in the Bible, whatever believers might say, and although it has been decreed by various popes. Celibacy for priests is considered, not a dogma, but a rule. The church could change it any time they wanted to. For the first 12 centuries of the Christian church (which at one time was all Catholic,) priests did marry, and popes were not infrequently the sons of prior popes. That passing on of papal power and wealth proved threatening to the Roman Empire, and that brings us to the real origins of celibacy, which date back to the 12th century, and those are, power, money and real estate:
... the early church was legalized and made the official religion of the roman empire in AD 313 by Emperor Constantine. The small persecuted catacomb church of Yashua suddenly hit the world stage as the official religion of a world power.
Bishops were given privileges and civil authority over areas and the hierarchy and power that we see today in the Roman Empire Church was born. The Roman Empire Church became extremely powerful and wealthy. The problem was that the priests were often given property by nobleman and women grateful for there service. These married priests had children and this wealth was being handed down to the children and out of the hands of the church.
“During this time, the wealth of the church was also increasing, a development not lost on Rome. Many priests were leaving church lands to their heirs, and others handed down land of their own through primogeniture. The Holy See saw that a return to the celibacy rule would result in a real-estate bonanza, and in about 1018 Pope Benedict VIII put teeth in the Elvira decree by forbidding descendents of priests to inherit property.
Later, in the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII, who had assumed vast power by declaring himself the supreme authority over all souls, went even further by proscribing married priests from saying mass; he also forbid parishioners from attending masses said by them. Scholars believe that the first written law forbidding the clergy to marry was finally handed down at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.”
Whatever the origins, is it time for the Catholic Church to rethink its rules and allow priests to marry? I'm not a Catholic anymore, so my opinion doesn't count, but from the outside looking in, it sounds like it might be a good idea.
On second thought ... Joe Lowry's not for gay marriage either
Don't call it a flip-flop, apparently the MSM got this one wrong. I also erred, reporting in this post, that unlike Pastor Rick Warren, the Rev. Joe Lowry, who will give the benediction at Barack Obama's swearing in, is a supporter of gay marriage. Well color me corrected. On MSNBC's "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Rev. Lowry went to great pains to disabuse David Shuster of the notion that he supports gay marriage. "I'm for civil unions," said Lowry, but he said his religious convictions would cause him to eschew the "marriage" thing. Watch:
When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that's a civil rights issue. And I can't take that away from anybody.
That statement is interesting, in that nowhere in it, does Lowry state that he favors gay marriage. I think perhaps the media, in this case USA Today's Faith and Reason blog, and ABC, were looking for ideological bookends where none existed. I fault myself for not being more skeptical. As someone who grew up Methodist myself, and knowing the religion to posess the mildest of manners, and a long tradition of tolerance, I can tell you that despite that, Methodists read Leviticus in exactly the same manner as other Christians...
By the way, did Rachel Maddow jump the shark tonight with her big build-up to a supposed "gotcha" on Rick Warren over this 20-minute self-defense video on the Saddleback Church website? Maddow portrayed the extemporaneous video as damning, in the Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club sense, but the clips she played were, charitably, run of the mill. No bombshells. Nothing incendiary. And if the clips she played represented the "worst" of Warren's "screed," as Maddow called it, then it's a sleepy screed indeed. I'm starting to remember why I didn't enjoy Rachel's radio show when it was on down here. Sometimes, activist journalism can be interesting. Other times, not so much.
Things you don't see every day: Detroit chucrh prays for a bailout
A Detroit church backs the SUVs up to the altar to pray for help for the ailing auto industry. From Reuters:
DETROIT, Dec 7 (Reuters) - With sport-utility vehicles at the altar and auto workers in the pews, one of Detroit's largest churches on Sunday offered up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry.
"We have never seen as midnight an hour as we face this week," the Rev. Charles Ellis told several thousand congregants at a rousing service at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple. "This week, lives are hanging above an abyss of uncertainty as both houses of Congress decide whether to extend a helping hand."
Local car dealerships donated three hybrid SUVs to be displayed during the service, one from each of the Big Three. A Ford Escape, Chevy Tahoe from GM and a Chrysler Aspen were parked just in front of the choir and behind the pulpit.
Ellis said he and other Detroit ministers would pray and fast until Congress voted on a bailout for Detroit's embattled automakers. He urged his congregation to do the same.
Other Detroit-area religious leaders -- including Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders convened by Cardinal Adam Maida -- have urged Congress to approve an auto aid package.
But the service dedicated to saving Motown's signature industry at Greater Grace Temple was the highest profile effort to mobilize support yet.
"Everybody can't live on Wall Street. Everybody can't live on Main Street. But all of us have lived on the side street, the working class," Ellis said. "I call it the working class because everything tells me there is no more middle class." ...
Hm. Wonder if that has ever happened before? As a matter of fact, here's another example of SUVs on the altar, that might explain part of the problem: SUV bling has seen the church before...
(The London Daily Mail) - Beleaguered pop star Michael Jackson has converted to Islam and changed his name to Mikaeel, it has been claimed today.
The 50-year-old singer, who has previously been photographed wearing a traditional Arab women's veil, reportedly became a Muslim in a ceremony at a friend's house in Los Angeles.
The singer, who was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, is said to have sat on the floor and worn a small hat while an imam officiated at the home of Steve Porcaro, who composed music on his Thriller album.
He is said to have been encouraged by Canadian songwriter David Wharnsby and Phillip Bubal, a producer, who both approached him after he appeared 'a bit down'.
A source told The Sun: 'They began talking to him about their beliefs, and how they thought they had become better people after they converted. Michael soon began warming to the idea.
'An imam was summoned from the mosque and Michael went through the shahada, which is the Muslim declaration of belief.'
Well, changing religions can be a pick-me up ... Now, note the self-serving nature of his brother's support:
His brother Jermaine Friday, previously hinted Jackson was considering converting to the religion.
'When I came back from Mecca I got him a lot of books and he asked me lots of things about my religion and I told him that it's peaceful and beautiful,' said Friday, who embraced the faith in 1989.
'He read everything and he was proud of me that I found something that would give me inner strength and peace.
'He could do so much, just like I am trying to do. Michael and I and the word of God, we could do so much.'
WE??? I smell a Jackson inter-faith reunion tour coming on...!
The Associated Press reports that Dr. James Dobson is bringing down the wrath of ... Dobson ... on Barack Obama today on his radio show, accusing Obama of "distorting scripture." Wait for it. This one's all about abortion... But first, Dobson, in a pre-taped 18-minute sermon for which Focus on the Family's PAC bought time, attacks a speech Obama gave in 2006 before a liberal Christian group, Call to Renewal:
"Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?" Obama said. "Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?" referring to the civil rights leader.
Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."
"Folks haven't been reading their Bibles," Obama said. Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus' teachings in the New Testament. "I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson said. "... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."
Then, he gets down to business:
Dobson reserved some of his harshest criticism for Obama's argument that the religiously motivated must frame debates over issues like abortion not just in their own religion's terms but in arguments accessible to all people. He said Obama, who supports abortion rights, is trying to govern by the "lowest common denominator of morality," labeling it "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."
"Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?" Dobson said. "What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."
Meanwhile, over to the Denver Post, where a new Pew survey suggests that while most Americans believe in God, most do NOT believe in Dr. James Dobson ...
Most of the faithful, 70 percent, think there are paths to eternal life other than the one prescribed by their own religion. And 68 percent think there is "more than one true way" to interpret the teachings of their religion.
"That's higher than I would have intuitively thought," said Jacob Kinnard, an associate professor at the University of Denver's Iliff School of Theology. "But this has been a pluralistic country for a long time. People are much more exposed to religions other than their own."
Only Mormons (57 percent) and Jehovah's Witnesses (80 percent) have majorities who say that only their religion is the "one true faith leading to eternal life," the survey found.
About 57 percent of Evangelical Protestants and 56 percent of Muslims think many religions can lead to eternal salvation — a view also held by 89 percent of Hindus, 83 percent of mainline Protestants, 82 percent of Jews and 79 percent of Catholics. "One of the things that would be surprising to Americans is how Muslims answered," said Kinnard, referring to the fact that more than half of Muslims surveyed think many religions can lead to eternal salvation.
Sorry, Dr. Dobson.
The cable chat shows will be focusing on a New York Times story today about Muslim-Americans feeling snubbed by Obama. Congressman Keith Ellison is quoted in the story as saying that he too, got the cold shoulder from the Obama campaign. Ironically, the same cable shows that will harp on this story today have been central to whipping up Americans' anti-Muslim hysteria, "war on terror" mythology, and even questions about Obama's faith. As Chuck Todd just said on MSNBC, apparently paraphrasing Mike Barnacle, imagine how the mainstream media would erupt if Obama did visit a mosque. Just close your eyes and imagine the Fox News coverage alone...
Also in the Times, Zimbabwe continues to ride the handbasket to hell, with the opposition candidate for president taking refuge in the Dutch embassy, and the U.N. doing what it does: calling for all parties to stop the violence. Thanks, Ban Ki Moon.
WASHINGTON — An American ambassador helped cover up the illegal Chinese origins of ammunition that a Pentagon contractor bought to supply Afghan security forces, according to testimony gathered by Congressional investigators.
A military attaché has told the investigators that the United States ambassador to Albania endorsed a plan by the Albanian defense minister to hide several boxes of Chinese ammunition from a visiting reporter. The ammunition was being repackaged to disguise its origins and shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by a Miami Beach arms-dealing company.
The ambassador, John L. Withers II, met with the defense minister, Fatmir Mediu, hours before a reporter for The New York Times was to visit the American contractor’s operations in Tirana, the Albanian capital, according to the testimony. The company, under an Army contract, bought the ammunition to supply Afghan security forces although American law prohibits trading in Chinese arms.
The attaché, Maj. Larry D. Harrison II of the Army, was one of the aides attending the late-night meeting, on Nov. 19, 2007. He told House investigators that Mr. Mediu asked Ambassador Withers for help, saying he was concerned that the reporter would reveal that he had been accused of profiting from selling arms. The minister said that because he had gone out of his way to help the United States, a close ally, “the U.S. owed him something,” according to Major Harrison.
Mr. Mediu ordered the commanding general of Albania’s armed forces to remove all boxes of Chinese ammunition from a site the reporter was to visit, and “the ambassador agreed that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing,” Major Harrison said, according to his testimony.
Investigators interviewed Major Harrison by telephone on June 9, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee made excerpts of the transcript public on Monday.
At the time of the meeting, the company, AEY Inc., was under investigation for illegal arms trafficking involving Chinese ammunition.
AEY is an interesting company. It's CEO is just 22 years old. The leg work on the case was done by the great Henry Waxman, who "invited" the young CEO to testify before the House Government Oversight Committee back in April. (Little Efraim Diveroli's Army contract was suspended a month before the hearings.) So how does a 22-year-old get a $300 million defense contract? His dad:
AEY Inc. was founded in 1999 by Michael Diveroli, Efram's father. Michael Diveroli now operates a police supply company down the street from AEY's office.
More on Little Efraim, and his interesting history (and rap sheet) from TPM Muckraker back in March. Apparently, Michael has a new company now, Worldwide Tactical, which sells police and military uniforms, and which is registered with the federal government as "minority owned..." Apparently, the father is continuing the practices of his "former" company, falsely labeling his companies as "small disadvantaged businesses" to gain more contracting opportunities.
Over to the Washington Post, where the paper's top story online is the four Americans killed in a Sadr City explosion in Iraq.
A bombing inside a local government office in Baghdad killed two American soldiers and two civilians on Tuesday, the second attack in a week that the U.S. military has blamed on rogue Shiite "special groups" linked to Iran.
The blast, inside a district council office in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, also killed six Iraqis and wounded ten others, according to preliminary reports.
In an initial news release, U.S. officials did not provide details about the two civilians who were killed. The Reuters and Associated Press news agencies, attributing the information to an official at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, said that one of the civilians worked for the State Department and the other for the Defense Department.
They were attending a meeting of the local District Advisory Council in a section of Sadr City that was brought under U.S. and Iraqi military control after sometimes intense fighting earlier this year. The councils are part of a U.S. campaign to build the authority of local government throughout the country, an effort that has accelerated in other parts of Iraq as violence has ebbed.
The Bush administration's reaction should set at least some of your hair on fire, because they appear to be systematically laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran, which they hope to be able to label as "retaliation":
The release also made clear who the U.S. feels is responsible -- one of the Iranian-backed Shiite "special groups" that some officials consider a significant long term threat to Iraq's stability.
Except that Iran and Iraq are now friendlier than they have ever been, and friendlier than either country is with us...
The WaPo also reports on the upcoming meeting in Unity, New Hampshire between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and on Obama's moves to court women voters (whom he's already winning in most polls, but no matter! The story must go on!)
The Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis reports on Barack's tack to the center, which is irritating some left-leaning groups, like MoveOn.org. Could such a fight help Obama in the swing states? Writes Davis:
The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, conducted in early June, showed that 58% of voters perceive Sen. Obama as a liberal and 24% view him as a moderate. In contrast, 34% view Sen. McCain as a moderate and 48% see him as a conservative.
To be sure, the predominant view among party leaders is that a turn toward the center is smart politics, and that Sen. Obama's willingness to buck the left wing on issues such as the spy bill signals he is maneuvering to fight Sen. McCain directly for voters in the middle of the political spectrum.
"I applaud it," a senior Democratic lawmaker said. "By standing up to MoveOn.org and the ACLU, he's showing, I think, maybe the first example of demonstrating his ability to move to the center. He's got to make the center comfortable with him. He can't win if the center isn't comfortable."
More crazy James David Manning (or, will someone rid Hillary of this meddlesome nut?)
This guy is truly insane! Will Hillary distance herself from this weirdo? He even made up the name of his church: ATLAH ... says God told it to him in the middle of the night ... Here he is explaining himself in detail, including why you can't call him a racist (at the end of the video, if you can stand it all the way to the end, a woman comes on and invites you to a seminar to learn how to sell. I swear to you, it's there. Check it out:
Just to review: He doesn't think Frederick Douglas is "anything so great" ... he thinks Black people owe their eternal allegiance to the Clintons because of all the things those good white folks done for us (apparently one of those good things not being Bill opening an office in Harlem, since the Right Rev wants black Harlemites to boycott the white businesses to drive them out and to have a massive rent strike so that the city will be destroyed and ultimately abandoned to its "rightful black owners" ... he believes that blacks are weak and misguided, but that we will soon regain our "greatness!" primarily by following him ... he appears to despise white women, and yet worships one in particular (Hillary Clinton) ... and he is absolutely wild-eyed at the thought of interracial marriage ... he likes calling Barack "Barack Hussein Obama," but he gets an even bigger kick out of calling him "white trash" ... he thinks Barack has been "sent by the devil to derail you" (by "you" I mean black folk. ... I mean "negroes...") ... and he hates the bloggers and TV folk playing snippets of his Youtube without inviting him on their shows. He calls Roland Martin, publisher of the Chicago Defender and CNN contributor, a "copperhead," and he thinks that people are afraid of his intellect... actually, he kind of sounds like someone I used to work with... (ahem)
Want to be even more frightened? Check out his bio, from the ATLAH website:
James David Manning is the energetic and visionary pastor of the ATLAH World Missionary Church located in ATLAH, New York. He has founded three schools and developed a national church ministry. He holds a PhD in philosopy, the author of The Oblation Hour book, a former Marketing Executive with Proctor and Gamble and the Ford Motor Company.
Hey, I thought Procter and Gamble was The Devil's company! (But it does kind of explain why my late Ford Expedition was such a piece of crap...)
A new Pew Poll has bad news for organized religion. Americans are becoming, shall we say, more European in our outlook on organized religion. Spirituality without religion -- faith without structure (and bully-boy tactics on "tithes") ... may be the new "black."
I think I fall into that category. As I get older, I grow more disillusioned with "the church," more cynical about religious leaders and less inclined to seek, or to need, organized religion. It's a source of guilt for me because I think that organized religion provides a good, moralizing structure for kids, of which I have three. But I just find it hard to drink the Kool-Aid with all that I've seen, particularly in Miami, where some preachers are literally for sale (as I saw during the fight on gambling in Miami,) others are unbelievably timid when it comes to standing up for (or against) Big Things, and still others seem to be mostly in it for the bling. There are very few who truly work for social change or who openly confront the serious issues facing the communities they pastor. That's a shame, but not an unchangeable one.
Rev. Gaston Smith gets lots of support at "Save Our Pastor Day."
I asked a pretty well known preacher here in town this morning, why pastors only seem to come together and bring out the community to save the prominent and the powerful -- or to save each other -- but not so often for one of us regular schmoes. He admitted that pastoring these days is kind of a ballers club, and the rest of us are just not in the league. From today's Herald:
Inside a modest Baptist church -- beige with brown trim -- nestled amid dilapidated corner stores and low-rises at the corner of Northwest 58th Street and Seventh Avenue, a preacher known for his fiery oratory cracked a joke Sunday.
Noting the crowd that had packed into Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Gaston Smith said:
``Maybe I should get locked up more often so we can always get a turnout like this!'' ...
...Smith, who has led a neighborhood revival of sorts aimed at economic growth and whose sermons are often tailored toward fighting injustice, has his own trouble with the justice system.
Smith was arrested Thursday evening and charged with misspending a $25,000 county grant to a nonprofit he ran. The arrest is part of a continuing investigation into the financial dealings of Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.
Police say two checks given to a company owned by Spence-Jones' family from the minister's charity, Friends of MLK, were among several payments under investigation. Spence-Jones was among the more than 1,000 parishioners, civic leaders and black clergy who attended Sunday's rally.
''My prayers go out to him and his family,'' she said. ``Smith and Friendship have been a beacon in this community for many years and this will pass.''
Shaken by the thunderous applause, Smith thanked his friends for gathering on the communion Sunday.
''The support is overwhelming,'' he said. ...
And next, cue the "internal investigation" -- not of the wrongdoing, but of the investigation into the wrongdoing. Herald, take it away:
The fact that the city's sole black commissioner and now one of its most influential black ministers is under fire has stirred concern in Miami's black community.
... Bishop Victor T. Curry, head of the Miami-Dade NAACP, said the group is launching an investigation into Smith's arrest.
So what happens next? We get the Black community all riled up to "fight the power" that's trying to take down yet another one of our leaders, we scream bloody murder and perhaps the authorities back down ... and there's still nothing being built in the empty lots that $25,000 was supposed to help fill, no children who are going hungry or desperately in need of tutoring get it, and the money's long gone. Nothing changes, except that we've saved another one member of the club from going down. To what end? Will anything change?
I just finished working on a campaign in which I learned, first hand, that much of my community is for sale to the highest bidder -- including many of the pastors. How did we go from our clergy leading a mass movement for non-violent change, to our clergy hawking prosperity ministries and sticking up poor people for tithes that ultimately go into the pockets of the pastor, rather than into building the community outside and adjacent to the church's four walls?
This isn't just an issue in the Black community -- it's a very American cancer, and its rotting us away at the core. And yet, the rot is much more lethal in the Black community, because our position is so much more precarious to begin with.
There's something wrong with the way we're doing things in the Black community. Something very fundamentally wrong, and unfortunately, it just might start in our churches. ...
The ranking Republican on the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, is turning up the heat on six televangelists, according to CBS News:
Letters were sent Monday to the ministries demanding that financial statements and records be turned over to the committee by December 6th.
According to Grassley's office, the Iowa Republican is trying to determine whether or not these ministries are improperly using their tax-exempt status as churches to shield lavish lifestyles.
The six ministries identified as being under investigation by the committee are led by: Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn. Three of the six - Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar - also sit on the Board of Regents for the Oral Roberts University.
A spokesperson for Joyce Meyer Ministries provided CBS News with an IRS letter to the ministry dated October 10, 2007, that stated: "We determined that you continue to qualify as an organization exempt from Federal income tax." The letter could not be independently verified in time for this story. The ministry also pointed to audited financial statements for the last three years that are posted on the organization's Web site.
Hm. Can someone say "pimps in the pulpit" ... I mean, alleged pimps in the pulpit? More...
In a statement to CBS News, Creflo Dollar called his ministry an "open book" and said he would comply with any "valid request" from Grassley. But he noted that the inquiry raised questions that could "affect the privacy of every community church in America." ...
... The letters sent Monday were the culmination of a long investigation fueled in part by complaints from Ole Anthony, a crusader against religious fraud who operates the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, which describes itself as a watchdog monitoring religious media, fraud and abuse. "We've been working with them for two years," Anthony told CBS News. "We have furnished them with enough information to fill a small Volkswagen."
Anthony said after twenty years of working with media organizations to expose televangelists, he saw little reform. He says that's why he turned to another tactic, going straight to Grassley. He is confident that Grassley's inquiry will be different, "What we hope is that this will lead to reform in religious nonprofits."
The structure of many televangelist organizations - in which the leadership is often concentrated in one person or one family - has itself been the target of criticism. "Churches like these are ruled as a dictatorship," says Rod Pitzer, who directs research at Ministry Watch in North Carolina, which provides advice for donors to Christian organizations.
Wow. And isn't Paula White going through a mega-divorce right now that threatens to split her massive financial piggybank?
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Perhaps not the best choice of exclamation, but you get the picture...
How do you get up on Sunday and preach the word of God, and then turn around and stomp your wife out in a hotel parking lot? Bishop Thomas Weeks has some reconstructing to do...
Juanita Bynum, the fiery national evangelist whose sermons empower women to walk away from dead-end relationships, is suffering some man trouble of her own.
Her estranged husband, Thomas W. Weeks has been charged with felony aggravated assault and making terrorist threats after he allegedly struck her in a hotel parking lot.
wife, is expected to turn himself in to Atlanta police Friday, his lawyer said.
Police said Bynum, 48, has been whisked away by family as they decide what to do next.
Bynum and Weeks are co-founders of Global Destiny Church in Duluth. They were married in 2002 in a lavish televised wedding that featured a 7.76-carat diamond ring. They separated three months ago, said Bynum's sister, Tina Culpepper.
According to an Atlanta police incident report, Bynum said her husband "choked her, pushed her down, kicked and stomped her."
She told police Weeks "continued stomping" her into the ground until a hotel bell man pulled him away. Police also said Weeks threatened Bynum's life.
Culpepper said the couple was meeting for dinner at Concorde Grill in the Renaissance Concourse Hotel near Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Tuesday night.
Police said the couple had met to work out their differences. Things soured, and Weeks walked out to the parking lot about 10:30 p.m., police said. He then turned back around and attacked her, said Officer Ron Campbell.
Weeks also threatened Bynum's life during the attack, police said. "Anytime you tell a person, 'I'm going to kill you,' that moves it up to a felony," Campbell said.
The bruises found on Bynum also were serious enough to bring felony aggravated assault charges against Weeks.
In a comment posted on her MySpace page, the Pentecostal evangelist said, "I am currently recovering from all of my injuries and resting well ... this too shall pass."
Her publicist, Amy Malone, said Bynum wants to keep the matter private.
"People are interpreting it to mean the two of them were fighting," Malone said. "They were not fighting. She was assaulted."
And now for the really good part:
Bynum's husband has retained two lawyers: famed defense attorney Ed Garland to represent him in the criminal case; and Louis Tesser, to take care of the domestic matter.
Garland has in the past represented NFL star Ray Lewis in his murder trial and millionaire James Sullivan, who ordered the murder of his socialite wife.
"He very much regrets what happened and said he's sorry for what it's worth," Tesser said Thursday night.
Weeks loves his wife, Tesser said, and "he hopes he doesn't wind up getting a divorce."
What??? Wow. Dude, divorce is the least of your worries...
The Mitt Romney camp has launched a free media campaign aimed at getting the Mittster's poll number up where his fundraising and debate performance stats are. The vehicle: one Reverend Al Sharpton, who in a debate this week with noted drunkard atheist, author and friend to Kurds everywhere Christopher Hitchens, said the following:
"As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary situation..."
Now that would be perfectly awful, if Sharpton were going after Mitt's Mormonism. But wait, there's more to the story...
Team Romney culled the comment (audio here) from a New York Times blog entry, and went whole hog with it yesterday (it wound up in the Miami Herald this morning.) Said the Romnettes:
"It is terribly disheartening and disappointing to hear Reverend Sharpton offer such appalling comments about a fellow American's faith," said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. "America is a nation of many faiths and common values, and bigotry toward anyone because of their beliefs is unacceptable."
Well, thanks to our regional P.D., we got Rev. Sharpton on the line this morning on the big radio show, and he 'splained the context behind his comments on Mitt. According to Sharpton, he had just been pelted by the anti-religious Hitchens with a stream of invectives against religion in public life including a diatribe about the fact that in Hitchens' estimate, it's an outrage that we have a Mormon in the race for president whose religion advocates such things as the separation of the races. Sharpton says he responded that there's no need to worry about that, because "those of us who believe in God (as contrasted with Hitchens) would defeat that Mormon."
Not as much has been made as probably should have. In a debate between 10 Republican candidates for president, three ... 30 percent ... said that they do NOT believe in evolution (Huckabee, Brownback and Tancredo) ... is it really 2007?
The most frightening concept in human existence is death, which is why the avoidance of death occupies so much of our human energy (from medical science to the beauty and youth preservation industry to insurance to Medicare). It is for that reason that Christianity, Islam and other religions that carry a message of life after death, posess such powerful inducements to believe. There is endless comfort in the idea of resurrection, and endless terror in its absence.
The story of Jesus is one of the most powerful religious tomes ever written, because inherent in it are the incredibly seductive notions of miraculous hope, the endless love of God, and most importantly, eternal life, paid for with the blood of a perfect man: Jesus, who also happens to be the son of God (therefore posessing the authority to grant God's love to us.) But what if everything you ever read about Jesus was true -- the virgin birth, the miracles he performed, the message of love that he preached, his death at the hands of the Romans ... except, that he didn't physically "rise from the dead..." what if after his death, his body remained on earth, just like ours? Would that change your faith? Would it destroy it?
The idea of "debunking" the resurrection story of Jesus carries with it the potential to create massive, worldwide anguish and instability. It also is a tempting prospect for anyone who craves the spotlight, regardless of the cost. I think, despite my almost complete cynicism about, well, nearly everything, that if I were to find difinitive proof that Jesus' story was false, that I would be very, very tempted never to tell anyone. Then again, I'm not James Cameron:
Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you 'The Titanic' is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he's sinking is Christianity.
In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene.
No, it's not a re-make of "The Da Vinci Codes'. It's supposed to be true.
Let's go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua. Israel's prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn't associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn't afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.
There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christ's resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter's wife in a manger is the Son of God.
But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family. ...
Cameron plans to hold a press conference on Monday to announce his new documentary film, which will air in Britain, Canada, Israel and on Discovery Channel here in the States. At that time, he plans to show three coffins, which are supposed to belong to Jesus, his mother Mary and Mary Magdelene. Time will tell if Cameron eventually is remembered as a character out of the Da Vinci Code or as Geraldo Rivera circa Al Capone's Vault.
Whatever the eventual outcome TIME Magazine's Tim McGirk, who wrote the above blog post, makes the understatement of the year when he notes that "Here in the Holy Land, Biblical Archeology is a dangerous profession. This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics." No kidding. I sure hope Cameron isn't a Catholic. Because if he is, he's about to be excommunicated.
And then there are the political implications. Inevitably, we're going to be treated to a right wing assault on Cameron on Monday, and reminded, not least by Fox News, that Hollywood hates God, and that therefore, we must reject everything Hollywood -- including their political pals, the Democrats (didn't Barack Hussein Obama just raise $1.3 million in the Sodom and Gamorrah that is Orange County? Brace yourself.
But beyond the hype, and the political sniping, Cameron's "find" raises serious questions about the role of science and showbiz in society, and the moral implications of the former for the latter's sake. I honestly don't know whether I believe in life after death. I'd like to. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. But I think that the way Cameron is going about pulling off his documentary risks looking like a cheap stunt, carried out at the expense of the real sensitivities of hundreds of millions of Christians around the world. I'm not saying that if true, this information should necessarily be supressed. I'm just saying that it's disturbing to believe -- as I do -- that Cameron probably hasn't given the matter a second thought.
...and if his archeologists and he are wrong they're all going to look like complete horse's asses.
Leave it to the right to even screw up a smear. Insight Magazine's fairy tale that Barack Obama attended a Muslim "madrassa" school when he was but 6 years old has traversed the planes of right wing hackery, sling-shotting from Glen Beck's wacky world of low-rated cable TV (and high-rated radio), to the ultimate dumping ground for factually-sketchy slander against Democrats: Fox "News" Channel.
Well. That would be all well and good if the story was actually true. Here's the scoop from ThinkProgress:
Last week, Fox News and other Rupert Murdoch outlets amplified a right-wing report alleging that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) attended an Islamic “madrassa” school as a 6-year-old child. One Fox News caller questioned whether Obama’s schooling means that “maybe he doesn’t consider terrorists the enemy.” Fox anchor Brian Kilmeade responded, “Well, we’ll see about that.”
So what is a news organization to do when they want to "see about that?" It's called simple reportage. And CNN went one better:
Commenting on this report today, Wolf Blitzer said that CNN had done “what any serious news organization is supposed to do in this kind of a situation”: actually investigate and learn the facts. CNN’s Senior International Correspondent John Vause filed a report from Indonesia.
He visited the Basuki school, which Obama attended from 1969 to 1971.
"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school, told Vause. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."
Vause reported he saw boys and girls dressed in neat school uniforms playing outside the school, while teachers were dressed in Western-style clothes.
"I came here to Barack Obama's elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa ... like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Vause said on the "Situation Room" Monday. "I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that."
Vause also interviewed one of Obama's Basuki classmates, Bandug Winadijanto, who claims that not a lot has changed at the school since the two men were pupils. Insight reported that Obama's political opponents believed the school promoted Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam, "and are seeking to prove it."
"It's not (an) Islamic school. It's general," Winadijanto said. "There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian. ... So that's a mixed school."
The Obama aide described Fox News' broadcasting of the Insight story "appallingly irresponsible."
The Insight article even went to lowbrow as to accuse, not their own hackery, but Hillary Clinton's camp of cooking up the Obamarassa story, something Clinton's camp has called total junk (consider the source.) I mean, why take the credit for such a scummy story when you can pass the blame onto someone else?
Oh, and one other thing: if Barack Obama HAD attended a madrassa school at 6 years old, he'd be one hell of a terrorist prodigy, since madrassas are kind of like college -- they're for adults. Funny thing, that.