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Some Things Said… (Jan 06) (2)

Gay Groups Try to Stop Massachusetts Gay Marriage Petition

Boston (RNS) Gay leaders in Massachusetts on Tuesday (Jan. 3) asked the state’s highest court to bar a proposed ballot question that seeks to outlaw same-sex marriages. –Dan Ring, from a news update at Religion and Ethics Newsweekly 12.30.05

Did Jesus Exist? Italian Court to Decide

Rome – Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus evolution. An Italian court is tackling Jesus — and whether the Roman Catholic Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years ago. The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.

The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court later this month. “I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression,” Cascioli told Reuters.

Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is “Abuso di Credulita Popolare” (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is “Sostituzione di Persona,” or impersonation. “The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala,” Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against the Roman army.

A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has enough merit to go forward.

“In my book, The Fable of Christ, I present proof Jesus did not exist as a historic figure. He must now refute this by showing proof of Christ’s existence,” Cascioli said. Speaking to Reuters, Righi, 76, sounded frustrated by the case and baffled as to why Cascioli — who, like him, came from the town of Bagnoregio — singled him out in his crusade against the Church.

“Were both from Bagnoregio, both of us. We were in seminary together. Then he took a different path and we didn’t see each other anymore,” Righi said. “Since I’m a priest, and I write in the parish newspaper, he is now suing me because I “trick the people.” Righi claims there is plenty of evidence to support the existence of Jesus, including historical texts. –from an article by Phil Stewart, at Reuters News Service, 01.04.06

California Tells Christian Club it Must Admit Non-Christians and Homosexuals

A new Christian club at California State University–San Bernardino was recently denied official recognition by the university because it required its members to adhere to Biblical principles of morality. Some of these principles, as explained by the student organizer, Ryan Sorba, include abstaining from premarital sex and homosexual relations. Sorba says that in order to join his Christian group, a student must adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ and strive to avoid sinful behavior.

According to Cal-State San Bernardino President Albert Karnig, these membership restrictions violate Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations. This law states, “No campus shall recognize a student organization which discriminates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, age, gender, martial status, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability.”

Ostensibly, this law prevents discrimination and creates a more inclusive campus community. Students are prevented from hurting each others feelings since they cannot exclude each other from groups on a myriad of personal characteristics. While it is unfair for someone to be discriminated against because of something they cannot control, like a disability, it is ludicrous that the same anti-discrimination law should apply when it comes to personal beliefs and behavior, which students can control. Students choose their religious convictions with their own free will, and can decide to convert if they change their mind.

However, the state of California does not share this reasoning. Apparently California believes that it would be unfair for a student to be excluded from an ideological organization, even if that student does not agree with the teachings of the ideology.

The effect of this law is that it would prevent a Catholic student organization from denying membership to a Southern Baptist. It would prevent a Muslim student association from denying membership to a Hindu. –excerpted from an article by Brendan Steinhauser, at 01.02.06.

How to get God in the conversation…

It took 3,000 people dying in the Towers of New York for Congress to say “God.” –Brent Kercheville

Artifacts with links to Bible unearthed

JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists, screening tons of rubble scooped out of this ancient city’s sacred Temple Mount, have discovered hundreds of artifacts and coins, as well as jewelry, some with biblical links dating back more than three millennia.

Most of the stones and earth originally were taken to an organic garbage dump in nearby Bethany, the New Testament town known in Arabic as Al-Azariya, and could not be retrieved. But a substantial portion was diverted to the Valley of Kidron, mentioned in the Old Testament and located just outside the Old City’s massive walls.

This ambitious archaeological project, known as the Temple Mount Antiquities Operation, was started in November 2004, when Muslims excavated the sector north of Solomon’s Stables to build the massive underground Marwani Mosque. Its second season, now under way, will last until February.

The Waqf, or Muslim officials who administer the site — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — helped the Israelis arrange the transfer. Among the unusual finds extracted by Bar-Ilan University’s Gabriel Barkai and his team of students and volunteers is a “bulla,” or seal impression, thought to be used to close cloth sacks of silver.

“It bears the name Gedalyahu Ben Immer Ha-Cohen, suggesting that the owner may have been a brother of Pashur Ben Immer, described in the Bible [Jeremiah 20:1] as a priest and temple official,” Mr. Barkai said. –excerpted from an article by Jay Bushinsky in The Washington Times, 01.02.06.

Holy War: The Year the Muslims Took Rome

Roma, January 5, 2006 – A book published recently in the United States lifts the veil on a crucial aspect of Islam, one which too many understand poorly and know too little about: jihad, the holy war.

It is an aspect that meets with widespread silence, as if it were a taboo. Even among Christians, there are wide gaps on this topic in the general awareness of Church history.

An example? Many recall what happened in Rome, at St. Peters Basilica, the night of Christmas Day of the year 800. After the Mass, pope Leo III solemnly placed upon the head of Charlemagne the crown of the Holy Roman Empire.

That night, the basilica of St. Peter gleamed with breathtaking brilliance. A few years earlier, Leo IIIs predecessor, Pope Hadrian I, had covered the entire floor of the sanctuary with plates of silver; he had covered the walls with gold plates and enclosed it all with a balustrade of gold weighing 1,328 pounds. He had remade the sanctuary gates with silver, and had placed on the iconostasis six images also made of silver, representing Christ, Mary, the archangels Gabriel and Michael, and saints Andrew and John. Finally, in order to make this splendor visible to all, he had ordered the assembly of a candelabrum in the form of a huge cross, on which 1,365 candles burned.

But less than half a century later, none of this remained. And what happened remains generally unknown among Christians today.

What happened is that in 846 some Muslim Arabs arrived in a fleet at the mouth of the Tiber, made their way to Rome, sacked the city, and carried away from the basilica of St. Peter all of the gold and silver it contained.

And this was not just an incidental attack. In 827 the Arabs had conquered Sicily, which they kept under their dominion for two and a half centuries. Rome was under serious threat from nearby. In 847, the year after the assault, the newly elected pope Leo IV began the construction of walls around the entire perimeter of the Vatican, 12 meters high and equipped with 44 towers. He completed the project in six years. These are the “Leonine” walls, and significant traces of them still remain. But very few today know that these walls were erected to defend the see of Peter from an Islamic jihad. And many of those who do know this remain silent out of discretion. “Bridges, not walls” is the fashionable slogan today. –by Sandro Magister, excerpted from an article at posted 01.05.06

Pentacostalists to mark centennial

This year marks the 100th anniversary of a Los Angeles-based revival that emerged from humble beginnings to become one of the 20th century’s most significant religious events.

The Azusa Street Revival, a series of prayer meetings that began in the spring of 1906 in a former stable in downtown Los Angeles, will be commemorated this April at much more glamorous venues: the Faith Dome, the Angelus Temple, the Los Angeles Convention Center and West Angeles Cathedral.

“A handful of people in Los Angeles, led by a one-eyed black man who was the son of former slaves, has turned into a movement of over 600 million people around the world who claimed to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” said Billy Wilson, executive officer for the Azusa Street Centennial.

The revival, which lasted three years, was “critical” to Pentecostalism becoming the world’s fastest-growing form of Christianity, said Robert Graves, president of the Atlanta-based Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship.

“Without the 1906 Pentecostal revival in Los Angeles, there would have been no Pentecostal movement,” Mr. Graves said. –excerpted from an article by Julia Duin in The Washington Times, 01.01.06

Nearer, My God, to the GOP

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, sounded like an Old Testament prophet recently when she denounced the Republican budget for its “injustice and immorality” and urged her colleagues to cast their no votes “as an act of worship” during this religious season.

This, apparently, is what the Democrats had in mind when they vowed after President Bush’s re-election to reclaim religious voters for their party. In the House, they set up a Democratic Faith Working Group. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, created a Web site called Word to the Faithful. And Democratic officials began holding conferences with religious progressives. All of this was with the intention of learning how to link faith with public policy. An event for liberal politicians and advocates at the University of California at Berkeley in July even offered a seminar titled “I Don’t Believe in God, but I Know America Needs a Spiritual Left.”

A look at the tactics and theology of the religious left, however, suggests that this is exactly what American politics does not need. If Democrats give religious progressives a stronger voice, they’ll only replicate the misdeeds of the religious right.

For starters, we’ll see more attempts to draw a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a popular adviser to leading Democrats and an organizer of the Berkeley meeting, routinely engages in this kind of Bible-thumping. In his book “Gods Politics,” Mr. Wallis insists that his faith-based platform transcends partisan categories.

“We affirm God’s vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah,” he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality.

When Christians – liberal or conservative – invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our democratic discourse. Numerous “policy papers” from liberal churches and activist groups employ the same approach: theyre awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council.

Christians are right to argue that the Bible is a priceless source of moral and spiritual insight. But theyre wrong to treat it as a substitute for a coherent political philosophy. –excerpted from an editorial by Joseph Loconte in The New York Times 01.02.06

Church Can’t Put Up Pro-Life Message

Gospel Baptist Church in Bonita Springs, Fla., has been told it can’t put up a new billboard in a location it has leased for four years because the pro-life message on the sign is too political, reported. The proposed billboard shows a picture of a 3-month-old baby and the words “Abortion Kills Babies.” It was set to replace a current billboard that reads, “The Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction — Abortion — taking 43 million lives and counting.”

Bill Condon, general manager at the Lamar Advertising agency, said the new billboard is simply too controversial and the agency had to say “no.” “I try to be as fair as I can, but at the same time its difficult for me to put a pulse on what exactly may set the public off,” Condon said. “Its a judgment call.”

William James Lees, president of Wise & Time Advertising, the designer of the billboard, “theres never been a situation where a board has been rejected in my 14 years.”

John Boutchia, a pastor at Gospel Baptist Church, said it doesn’t make sense that his church cant take a stand against abortion because it might offend someone; he sees signs that are offensive to him all the time. “What I find amazing is all of these beer companies and gambling casino places can go ahead and advertise everything and anything that they want,” he said. “Here is a little church in a community helping, trying to keep the moral temperature of our society up.”

Bill Lytell, senior pastor at the church, said he hopes the church and the ad agency can come to an agreement. “We do not want to litigate them, but we are prepared to,” Lytell said. “I’d love to settle this very peaceably. Im hopeful we can.” –from Focus on the Family, 01.04.06

A good scripture to end things with on this page…

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. (Romans 6: 16 – 18)

Article contributed by Richard Vandagriff and Mark Zaveson

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