American religious leaders urge U.S. involvement in Israel/Palestine cease-fire
Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups unite on issue
WASHINGTON — American Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders say there is an urgent need for U.S. leadership to negotiate a lasting cease-fire in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In a statement released Monday, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East expressed support for President Bush’s leadership in the region so far.
Now, the group says the U.S. and its partners should “press more urgently for meaningful, reciprocal, simultaneous steps by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to improve conditions on the ground and help restore people’s hopes that a peace agreement is possible.”
The steps that the group is advocating include having the Palestinian Authority block illegal arms shipments and disarm militias; a freeze on any expansion of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and reducing military checkpoints for Palestinians; and quietly urging Arab leaders to help form a new, unified Palestinian government that can govern both the West Bank and Gaza. Gaza is controlled by the Islamic militant Hamas, while the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement has a stronghold in the West Bank.
Among the more than 30 signers of the statement are Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington; Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Conservative Rabbi Elliot Dorff of American Jewish University in Los Angeles; Sayyid Syeed, national direc- tor of the Islamic Society of North America; and Imam Yahya Hendi, Georgetown University chaplain.
Lutherans to release sexuality statement
CHICAGO — The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will soon release a draft of its social statement on human sexuality, including proposed teaching on gay relationships.
The document “Free in Christ to Serve the Neighbor: Lutherans Talk about Human Sexuality” is scheduled to be made public on March 13 by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality.
Like many other Protestant groups, the ELCA has been struggling for decades to reconcile different views of what the Bible says about same-gender relationships.
Current church standards require clergy to “abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.” But last year the Churchwide Assembly adopted a resolution that “urges and encourages” bishops to refrain from disciplining clergy in “faithful, committed” same-sex relationships.
The task force has been working on the issue for years. The final version of the document is expected to be on the agenda for the next Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 7-13, 2009, in Minneapolis.
With about 4.8 million members, the ELCA is the largest Lutheran group in the United States.
The 2.5 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, based in St. Louis, believes the Bible is literally true and does not ordain gays.
Malaysian airport confiscates Bibles
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A church federation slammed Malaysian customs officials for seizing 32 Bibles, saying the incident shows the Muslim-majority country is becoming less tol- erant of other religions.
The Royal Malaysian Customs department said it was only trying to determine if the Bibles were imported for commercial purposes.
“It’s the normal procedure,” said Iskandar Jaafar, a Customs department spokesman.
Custom officials at an airport in Kuala Lumpur took the Bibles from a Malaysian woman Jan. 28 on her return from the Philippines, said the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia.
The woman was told that all religious materials have to be sent to the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit for clearance, Shastri said.
Shastri said he had never before heard of anyone being told to do this when bringing English-language Bibles into the country.
“It’s getting from bad to worse,” Shastri told The Associated Press. “This either points to a concerted effort to undermine the current practice of religious tolerance, or the religious enforcement authorities have been given a free hand and they are having a field day.”
The council called on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to publicly reassure Christians of their rights. Malaysian law forbids proselytizing by non-Muslims, although Muslims are allowed to encourage people to accept Islam.
Religion is an extremely sensitive topic in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of the 27 million people. But the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship for minorities, who include Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.
Spanish condemn bishops’ comments
MADRID, Spain — The Spanish government is protesting a veiled statement from Roman Catholic bishops that voters should shun the ruling Socialists in elections next month, the Spanish foreign minister says.
The Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, Francisco Vazquez, met Feb. 2 with a Vatican official to express “perplexity and surprise” over the bishops’ comments, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said.
The Spanish Bishops Conference had released a statement indicating that voters should not back parties that support gay marriage or other policies contrary to church teaching, nor should they support talks with armed Basque militants — clearly references to the governing Socialists.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero legalized same-sex marriage, streamlined divorce, and tried in vain to negotiate a peace accord in 2006 with the armed Basque group ETA.
Moratinos, speaking in the southern city of Cordoba, criticized Spain’s church hierarchy as “fundamentalist and neo-conservative.” He said the church does not represent a majority of Spanish Catholics and is “using terrorism politically to divide all Spaniards.”
“We want to maintain a better level of relations with the Holy See, but we do not understand this posture,” Moratinos said.
In Spain, leaders of the Catholic Church have long sided with the right. They supported the fascist forces of late Gen. Francisco Franco in the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War and his near four-decade dictatorship. Under democracy, church leaders, without naming a political party, have consistently indicated support for conservatives in elections.
Guru who taught Beatles meditation dies
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru to the Beatles who introduced the West to transcendental meditation, died Tuesday at his home in the Dutch town of Vlodrop, a spokesman said. He was thought to be 91 years old.
“He died peacefully at about 7 p.m.,” said Bob Roth, a spokesman for the Transcendental Meditation movement that Maharishi founded. He said his death appeared to be due to “natural causes, his age.”
Once dismissed as hippie mysticism, the Hindu practice of mind control known as transcendental meditation gradually gained medical respectability.
He began teaching TM in 1955 and brought the technique to the United States in 1959. But the movement really took off after the Beatles attended one of his lectures in 1967.
Maharishi retreated last month into silence at his home on the grounds of a former Franciscan monastery, saying he wanted to dedicate his remaining days to studying the ancient Indian texts that underpin his movement.
“He had been saying he had done what he set out to do,” Roth said late Tuesday.
With the help of celebrity endorsements, Maharishi — a Hindi-language title for Great Seer — parlayed his interpretations of ancient scripture into a multi-million-dollar global empire. His roster of famous meditators ran from Mike Love of the Beach Boys to Clint Eastwood and Deepak Chopra, a new age preacher.
After 50 years of teaching, Maharishi turned to larger themes, with grand designs to harness the power of group meditation to create world peace and to mobilize his devotees to banish poverty from the earth.
His rise to fame came with his association with the Beatles, who first attended one of his lectures in August 1967 in Wales as they looked for a way of attaining higher consciousness in the aftermath of that year’s Summer of Love.
The Beatles were so charmed by the self-effacing guru that they agreed to stay with at his India compound, starting in February 1968, an astonishing choice for what was then the world’s most celebrated music group.
But once there, Maharishi had a falling out with the rock stars after rumors emerged that he was making inappropriate advances on attendee Mia Farrow. John Lennon was so angry he wrote a bitter satire, “Sexy Sadie,” in which he vowed that Maharishi would “get yours yet.”
Maharishi insisted he had done nothing wrong and years later McCartney agreed with him. Deepak Chopra, a disciple of Maharishi’s and a friend of George Harrison’s, has disputed the Farrow story, saying instead that Maharishi had become unhappy with the Beatles because they were using drugs.
Faith can factor into college decisions
CLEMSON, S.C. — On one of the first visits to Clemson coach Tommy Bowden’s office, prized recruit Dalton Freeman noticed the Bible on the desk.
Freeman, an active churchgoer, learned that studying the Bible was as essential to Bowden’s routine as breaking down an opponent’s game plan.
“’It’s part of my daily life,’” Bowden told Freeman.
“Kids have a lot of respect for coaches when they hear that,” said Ben Freeman, Dalton’s father as well as his high school coach at Pelion High.
When Kenneth Page, an offensive lineman from A.C. Flora High, outlined his college choices last month, he noted Bowden was a “good Christian man.”