Monthly Archives: November 2011

Anti-Mormon bias persistent in presidential politics

c. 2011 USA Today

(RNS) On June 27, 1844, vigilantes cornered a man who claimed to receive messages from God and gunned him down in an Illinois jail after his arrest.

At the time of his death, Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an announced candidate for president of the United States.

Today, 167 years later, as two of Smith’s adherents eye the nation’s highest office, religious discrimination remains an obstacle for Mormon political candidates for president and a vexation for church members.

Two Republican contenders — former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah — have sought to downplay the prejudice in presidential politics.

But a potential problem is hard to ignore: More than 1 in 5 Americans say they would not vote for a Mormon — a figure that has changed only slightly since the question was first asked in 1967, according to Gallup polls.

Dan Peterson, a Mormon and a professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, noted that slim margins decide presidential races in many states, and the anti-LDS factor looms in the background for Romney and Huntsman.

“Whether it will be fatal to their candidacies, I don’t know,” he said.

Mormons have run for president before: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, fell short in 2000; Sen. Mo Udall, D-Ariz., was unsuccessful in 1976; and Romney’s father, George, failed in 1968.

Still, history has a way of setting precedents while seating new presidents. At one time, pundits said a divorcee could not win the nation’s highest office, but Ronald Reagan disproved that in 1980, just as Barack Obama broke the color barrier in 2008.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., scion of a prominent LDS family, says Americans who claim they won’t vote for a Mormon may relent once they enter polling booths, just as avowed anti-Catholics changed their minds and helped elect John F. Kennedy a half century ago.

“When you have so many other topics to worry about — the economy and jobs — I think people care much less about what church you go to,” Flake said.

In October, Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas reignited the political controversy by urging Christians not to vote for Romney because of his faith.

“Do we prefer somebody who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress asked, “or somebody who is a good moral person but he’s a part of a cult?”

At church headquarters in Salt Lake City, spokesman Eric Hawkins declined interview requests but said in an email message that the church “doesn’t consider honest disagreements on theology to be anti-Mormon. We recognize there are distinct elements of our belief that are different from other Christian faiths. We also believe there is much we have in common and important efforts where we can work together.”

But antagonism doesn’t just come from the Christian right: Liberal Democrats are even more likely to reject an LDS candidate. In June, Gallup pollsters reported 27 percent of Democrats would not vote for a Mormon presidential contender, compared with 18 percent of Republicans. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Pundits note that Mormons are the most right-leaning major religious group in America: A January 2010 Gallup poll indicated that 6 in 10 describe themselves as conservative, especially on social issues, which may explain Democrats’ hesitancy.

Yet many Americans know little of Latter-day Saints beyond stereotypes. They see young missionaries on bicycles, wearing white shirts and dark ties, proselytizing door to door. They tell pollsters that, in their minds, Mormons are associated with plural marriage — a practice the church renounced more than a century ago.

Former church members, often the most virulent LDS critics, argue that voters are justified in excluding LDS candidates whose faith might influence public policy decisions.

Richard Packham, the 78-year-old president of the Ex-Mormon Foundation, writes that the church’s “ultimate goal” is “to establish the Mormon Kingdom of God in America and to govern the world as God’s appointed representatives.”

“I love the Mormons and hate Mormonism,” Packham told The Arizona Republic. “To me, the possibility that the Mormon church might control America is a frightening prospect.”

But Jeff Lindsay, a Mormon scholar who prolifically defends his church on the Internet, says Packham and other critics convey an “awful distortion” of LDS doctrine and practices.

“It’s paranoia. It’s not based on any example,” Lindsay said. “There is plenty of room for decent people to disagree with us. … But when someone strives to stir up anger toward the church and relies on misinformation or half-truths, then I’m inclined to apply the anti-Mormon label — especially when they do it for a living.”

Although Romney more recently has allowed others to rise in defense, during the 2007 campaign he delivered a pivotal speech to dispel public concerns: “No authorities of my church, or any other church, for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions,” he declared.

“Their authority is theirs … (and) it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

(Dennis Wagner writes for USA Today.)


Belief Bytes: Your Wednesday Religion News Roundup from RNS

Wednesday’s Religion News Round-up comes to you from Religion News Service‘s Daniel Burke. You’ll find a good dose of public sentiment Scrooge-ness in today’s edition.

Here’s a snippet:

“As bitter winter advances, religious communities from Portland to New York are opening their doors to Occupy protesters.

How many “Christmas among the Occupiers” stories do you think we’ll see this year?

Christmas, by the way, is on a Sunday this year. The vast majority of churches (91 percent) plan to hold some sort of worship service, according to Lifeway Research.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee says that anyone upset that he calls the blue spruce erected in the Statehouse a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree should hush up and go feed the poor.

Speaking of charity, donations are inching up, but it could take years to return to pre-recession levels, USA Today reports.

Thirty-five percent of Americans dread “having to be nice” during the holidays, according to a Consumer Reports poll. For some of us, that’s a year-round affliction.”

Read the rest of the post here.

Novena, Christmas Creche, Homemade Nativities

By Blogger Tracy Bua Smith

Starting November 29th, I am joining over 6,000 Catholics to pray the Immaculate Conception Novena!

Before I encourage others to pray the Immaculate Conception Novena beginning today, Nov. 29, HERE is information that answers “What are Novenas?”

I’m looking forward to the answered prayers from this amazing saint! With so many faithful Catholics around the world praying this novena, I thought I’d invite others to join too!

Do you have any special petitions to bring to Mary?

You can sign up for handy email reminders to get the the novena prayers here: Immaculate Conception Novena.

Let’s get as many as we can to pray this novena together for the Immaculate Conception!

Tis the season to see Nativity scenes displayed in homes, yards, businesses, Christmas cards, etc. But, do you know the history behind the Nativity Scene or Creche (French)? Believe it or not, the origin of the Christmas Creche dates back to the 1200s with St. Francis of Assisi.

One tradition our family does during the holy season of Advent is to prepare a soft bed/manger for Baby Jesus. I saw this idea on Holy Heroes Advent Adventure and thought this would be a fun and simple way to have my children prepare their hearts and souls for the true meaning of the Advent/Christmas season. So at the beginning of Advent we start with an empty manger (empty basket) and have a bowl full of “hay” (yellow yarn pieces).

Then as my children make sacrifices for family and friends (doing their chores without complaining, helping a sibling with school work, doing a kind deed for a friend, etc), they can put a piece of yarn in the basket. So by the end of the Advent season, the basket will be filled with yarn for a soft bed for Baby Jesus (at least that is the goal 🙂 )

On Christmas morning, we will place Jesus in our soft manger built with love and sacrifices and display Him under our Christmas tree.

I love this quote from the article, St. Francis and the Christmas Creche by Fr. William Saunders :

“Although the story is long old, the message is clear for us. Our own Nativity scenes which rest under our Christmas trees are a visible reminder of that night when our Savior was born. May we never forget to see in our hearts the little Babe of Bethlehem, who came to save us from sin. We must never forget that the wood of the manger that held Him so securely would one day give way to the wood of the cross. May we too embrace Him with all of our love as did St. Francis.”

Read more about Catholic family home life at Tracy Smith’s blog A Slice of Smith Life.

Meet Philip Stine, our Bible blogger

Here are a few things I didn’t know about Philip Stine, our Bible blogger – he once cracked a joke with Pope John Paul II, and he has worked with Catholics and Protestants on Bible translations.

Those are just a few things that qualify him to write about the Bible for us at Religion News Wilmington.

Here are the rest:
“Dr. Philip Stine worked for 30 years with the United Bible Societies (the American Bible Society is part of this global organization), initially as a consultant training Bible translators in Africa, later as the global director for all translation work in 135 countries as well as coordinating translation research, and subsequently as director for all global program development, publishing and marketing. In this capacity he worked with churches of all kinds, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and independent. He earned a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Michigan in 1968 and did post-doctoral work in biblical studies at Emory University. He is the author of numerous books and articles on translation and linguistics, most recently of a book on the history and impact of the King James Bible (forthcoming). Dr. Stine and his wife Veda Wilson have lived in Wilmington since 1999 and are members of Church of the Servant Episcopal.”

Welcome to Religion News Wilmington, Phil!

Noted Dharma Teacher Brendan Kennedy in Wilmington this week

By Blogger Steve Lee

Wilmington, NC is at the end of the line. Literally. The cross-country route of I-40 ends in Wilmington. The other end of the line is Barstow, Ca., a short two hours from Los Angeles. A quick search reveals over 40 Buddhist centers of one type or another in the Los Angeles area. Ha. There aren’t 40 Buddhist centers in all of North Carolina! And in Wilmington, we have no Buddhist teachers and one Buddhist temple—Wat Carolina—located near Bolivia. Wat Carolina is in the Thai forest tradition.

Because of Wilmington’s relative remoteness, people from our area must leave for other places to hear noted teachers, practice in a temple or center, or interact with other practitioners of the same lineage or tradition. To get a sense of Buddhist practice groups here, just visit All of the practice groups meet in homes or rent space from a church. All of the practice groups tend to be an eclectic mix of people who seem to be interested in basic Buddhist concepts first and specific traditions or lineages second.

So, when a noted teacher from a specific tradition comes to town, it’s always an occasion. This week and next, noted Dharma teacher Brendan Kennedy will be in town. Brendan Kennedy has been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for the past 27 years. His main teachers are: H.H. Dalai Lama, Khyentse Rimpoche, Chatral Rimpoche, Sokste Rimpoche and Lama Surya Das. Two Wilmington residents interested in Tibetan Buddhism—Bill Ruoff and Marvin Moss—know Brendan through their teacher, Lama Surya Das. They helped arrange for Brendan’s stay in Wilmington.

Brendan Kennedy

While here, Brendan will work with Beverley Foulks, an assistant professor of East Asian Religions who received an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. Brendan will participate in two of Bev’s classes. Brendan will also teach at a half-day retreat open to the public. This retreat is on Saturday, December 3. 2011. The event will be at the Community Action Center, 317 Castle Street, Wilmington. More information may be found here.

The opportunities in Wilmington to learn from well-known, prominent teachers are rare. You are invited to participate!

Belief Bytes Monday – Religion News Roundup from Religion News Service

What’s Cyber Monday got to do with faith? Religion News Service explains in today’s Religion News Round-up.

Here’s a sample:

“Welcome to Cyber Monday! Hey, it’s got to be safer than Black Friday: less chance of pepper spray, Tasers, fisticuffs.

At least in my house. Mostly.

Diana Butler Bass cautions we preachers and elitists from savoring the low-hanging fruit of consumer bashing:

“[T]he oddest thing about the folks in lines at those discount stores: They are mostly poor, working class, or marginally middle class. These are the very people who attend church regularly, express higher levels of belief in God, and are more likely to give a higher percentage of their income to those in need.”

The wealthy, on the other hand, don’t need discounts and tend to have personal shoppers. Rod nods.

Either way, we spent $11.4 billion on Black Friday this year, the Biggest Shopping Day Ever. And that’s what the season is all about, right?”

Read the rest of the post including black Atheists and reactions to the changes to the Catholic Mass here.

The Occupy Movement from a Buddhist Point of View

One of the powerful benefits of acquiring a Buddhist perspective is the application of that perspective to an understanding of current events.  What to make of the Occupy Movement, for example, from a Buddhist point of view?

I could pick any number of Buddhist doctrines, but I’ll stick with basics: the “Three Poisons.”  The Three Poisons are greed, hatred, and delusion.  In Buddhism, these unskillful qualities are the product of two things: ignorance about the true nature of existence, and grasping after a false nature of existence in search of happiness.

While certainly not free from greed, the individuals in the Occupy Movement are collectively calling out the unfathomable greed of the financial institutions embodied by Wall Street.  They are also calling out the equally greedy politicians who are paid to do the bidding of Wall Street.  These greedy cohorts—in their ignorance of the true nature of happiness—seek an unobtainable, lasting happiness by grasping after grotesque sums of money and limitless power.

The second poison of hatred is clearly evident in the criticism leveled at the Occupy Movement.  Castigated as dirty hippies, jobless freaks, or lazy-good-for-nothings that leach off welfare, the Occupiers are hated by others of the “99%” who are also suffering under the yoke of a corrupt and imperial “corporatocracy.”  I read a recent Facebook posting by a Marine serving in Afghanistan; it spewed hateful contempt at Occupy Wall Street:  “I’m occupying Bagram for you, a**hole!  Put down your dope, get off your a**, take a shower, and get a job!”

A Buddhist analysis of such anger points the finger at ego-identification as a probable cause.  For Buddhists, unexamined belief in a fixed, permanent ego-self is a cause of suffering.  A Marine is embedded in a culture and context that values duty, loyalty, and fidelity.  He answers the call to duty in his willingness to place himself in danger; he answers the call of loyalty to the United States by living up to his commitment to serve, even kill; he answers the call of “Semper Fi” by unswerving dedication to the welfare of his platoon members.

And the Occupiers?  Instead of being dutiful cogs in a corrupt economic and political system, instead of loyalty to the myth of the American Dream, and instead of faithful consumerism and consumption, the Occupiers challenge the fundamental nature of the very system the Marine is sworn to defend.  If the Marine has a strong ego-identification with the military values of duty, loyalty, and faithfulness, the allegiance of the Occupiers to a different set of values may become a threat.  I speculate that accepting the view of the Occupiers may set up a cognitive dissonance in the Marine that would be dangerous on the battlefield.  His deep aversion to the Occupiers may arise, then, as a misguided, psychic survival strategy or—at the very least—a form of futile ego protection.

The third poison is delusion.  What Occupiers have done well is to question the delusions surrounding our financial and political crisis.  Occupiers have given loud voice in calling out delusions known for years by thoughtful critics and bloggers marginalized by traditional media.  These delusions include the ideas that: failed and corrupt banks should be bailed out at public expense; the way out of overwhelming debt is more debt; and that we can grow our way out of increasing resource contraction while exporting jobs and profits overseas.  Occupiers routinely prick the bubble of these and other delusions.  They are a persistent voice for seeing things just as they are.  For Buddhists, learning how to consistently see things just as they are is an essential part of liberation.

From a Buddhist perspective, support for these widely-held delusions resides in ignorance and grasping.  The bankers have an irrational belief in the permanent capacity of the financial system to generate something for nothing with no risk involved.  The big banks are counting on a delusional hope in business-as-usual to permit the satisfaction of their greed.  The bankers and politicians grasp after permanence and the promise of happiness they believe comes from amassing money and power.  One of the marks of existence for Buddhists is impermanence.  Events arise by interdependent causes and conditions, and when the conditions change, the event will fade away.  Bankers do not understand this.  In their calculations, the debt bubble will never burst. Their ignorant belief in—and unskillful search for—permanence will lead to continued suffering.

Greed, hatred, and delusion.  The Three Poisons are a useful guide for understanding the Occupy Movement, the object of its protest, and its critics.  If one is sympathetic to the Occupiers and prone to vilify the bankers and politicians, however, another Buddhist doctrine will be most useful: dukkha, the doctrine of suffering.   Buddhists teach that we are all born into the grasping and ignorance so evident in the bankers and politicians.  No one is born exempt; we are all filled—to one degree or another—with the Three Poisons and suffer as a result.  But each one of us has the capacity to wake up, see things clearly, and live a life grounded in wisdom and compassion.  Every Buddhist tradition has a path to such liberation.  But until awakening or liberation is achieved, the only difference between the so-called 99% and the greedy elite 1%—in regards to the Three Poisons—is one of scale.  I am also prone to greed, hatred, and delusion.

Knowing, therefore, that I am not fully-liberated and that I do not fully see the world clearly or live in it just as it is, I am compelled to feel compassion for the bankers and politicians.  There—but for the grace of the Buddha’s teaching, the Dharma of Liberation—go I!

Teaching children the new Roman Missal

By Amanda Greene
Religion News Wilmington

As most Catholics entered their churches for Mass this morning, it was in a mood of slight uncertainty – for the first time in 40 years, they wouldn’t know all the words to the Mass. Priests across the country began using The Roman Missal, third edition, for the first time this morning, Nov. 27,  to mark the beginning of Advent and the start of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year.

In the revised Mass, the Gloria is different. The Penitential Act is more personal. Instead of saying “through my own fault,” Catholics now strike their breast saying: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Even the Nicene Creed had been tweaked to be closer to the theological origins of the Latin Roman Missal.

For children who are just learning the Mass, the challenge for parents to familiarize them with the words of their most holy weekly rite is perhaps double.

"Missale Romanum" 18th edition, 1915

Image via Wikipedia

Tracy Smith, who attends St. Mark Catholic Church in Wilmington and is also a Religion News Wilmington blogger, has been working with her children for weeks. She found a coloring book online that helps explain the Mass changes and their significance to a younger audience.

“For me personally, I don’t mind the changes if they’re trying to bring the Mass back to the more traditional and spiritual,” Smith said. “With these children’s Missals and guides, I think that will help.”

Smith also recommended a children’s booklet on the missal from the blog, Catholic Icing.

Also explaining what the addition of “consubstantial” to The Nicene Creed means to little ones could be a challenge, admitted Father Bob Kus, priest at St. Mary Catholic Church in Wilmington. But he said The Diocese of Raleigh had printed pew cards for the parishioners so everyone, including the children, can follow along.

“There will be places that won’t be smooth, like consubstantial,” Kus said, “who talks like that?”

But the Catholic Church’s intent in including technical language was more about meaning than language usage, said Edward Sri in A Guide to the New Translation of the Mass.

“Consubstantial with the Father” was added instead of “one in being with the Father” because “it is important to be as precise as possible when speaking about the nature of God,” Sri wrote. “The revised translation of the Creed aims at helping us more precisely profess a concept about the nature of the Son and his relationship with the Father.”

But Jack Miffleton with Oregon Catholic Press said in a recent post about children learning the new response to the priest’s greeting of “and with your spirit.” This literal translation from the Latin, ‘et cum spiritu tuo,’ is nothing new for those children and adults who participate in Spanish-English bilingual Masses.”

But at its core, this Mass, like all Masses before it, connects to the first one.

“It’s sort of like a Christmas tree. It may look different per house but it’s still a Christmas tree,” Father Kus said. “The Mass is meant so you can enter mysteriously into the original Mass.”

Sounds of Thanksgiving – Have a happy turkey day!

Just for fun, we at Religion News Wilmington would just like to send out a few vibes of Thanksgiving cheer. Here are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving songs.

Sly and the Family Stone singing “Thank You” on the Andy Williams Show

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Thanksgiving Song”

Adam Sandler’s “Thanksgiving Song”

And of course, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Feel free to suggest some of your favorite Thanksgiving songs. And have a super Happy Thanksgiving!

Meet Steve Lee, our Buddhism and activism blogger

Steve Lee will tell you that his path to a secular activist Buddhist practice began during a period of great doubt following his wife’s death that merged with his longtime interest in Eastern philosophies.

Steve grew up in Wilmington, spent many years working in the boating industry and teaching in local Lutheran churches before going back to the University of North Carolina Wilmington for his education degree. He taught at New Hanover High School until his retirement in 2011. Now he’s the secretary and treasurer for the Southeastern Alliance for Community Change and writes about Buddhist happenings for Wilmington Dharma.

He’ll be writing about the intersections between Buddhism and activism on Religion News Wilmington.

Learn more about Steve here:

“My students used to ask me all the time ‘Mr. Lee what are you?’ I actually struggle with that because I’m not sure I consider myself a Buddhist so I say I was raised Southern Baptist and spent most of my adult life in Lutheran church. Since my 20s, I had been reading Eastern spiritual literature, predominantly the writings of that 60s Eastern hippie Alan Watts. A lot of it I didn’t understand. Then my wife of 21 years contracted cancer and within four months was dead, and I was left with a 16-year-old and 12-year-old. . . I was full of this existential doubt – asking myself what’s real and what can you depend on? The fall of 1999 I encountered (the book) “Buddhism Without Beliefs.” I had tried meditation many times but mostly in conjunction with yoga classes. I decided I would start meditating. I tried sitting on my own. And it was hard. . .This secular Buddhist approach resonates with me. Buddhist social engagement is bringing Buddhist principles and world view to engagement with issues of social and racial justice where the status quo causes unnecessary suffering.”

Welcome aboard, Steve!