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Poll: Americans See Clash Between Capitalism, Christianity

© 2011 Religion News Service

Are Christianity and capitalism a marriage made in heaven, as some conservatives believe, or more of a strained relationship in need of some serious couples' counseling?

A new poll released Thursday (April 21) found that more Americans (44 percent) see the free market system at odds with Christian values than those who don't (36 percent), whether they are white evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics or minority Christians.

But in other demographic breakdowns, several categories lean the other way: Republicans and Tea Party members, college graduates and members of high-income households view the systems as more compatible than not.

The poll, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that although conservative Christians and evangelicals tend to want their clergy to speak out on issues like abortion and homosexuality, they also tend to hold left-of-center views on some economic issues.

“Throughout the Bible, we see numerous passages about being our brother's keeper, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and healing the sick,” said Andrew Walsh, author of “Religion, Economics and Public Policy” and a religion professor at Culver-Stockton College.

“The idea that we are autonomous individuals competing for limited resources without concern for the welfare of others is a philosophy that is totally alien to the Bible, and in my view, antithetical to genuine Christianity.”

The findings add a new wrinkle to national debates over the size and role of government, and raise questions about the impact of the Tea Party's cut-the-budget pressure on the GOP and its traditional base of religious conservatives.

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Obama Evokes Christian Beliefs at Easter Prayer Breakfast

© 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday (April 19) said Jesus' death and resurrection on Easter “puts everything else in perspective,” at a White House event that showcased his increasing comfort with discussing his faith.

Using the kind of personal religious language that he had once shied away from in public, Obama spoke of “the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross” in an Easter prayer breakfast for about 150 guests and staff.

“And we're reminded that in that moment, (Jesus) took on the sins of the world -- past, present and future -- and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection,” Obama said.

The Easter event displayed the president's willingness to engage religion on his own terms, even as he has decided not to be a regular churchgoer or fully embrace public events like the annual National Day of Prayer.

The Easter breakfast -- Obama's second, and following a Passover seder at the White House on Monday -- also reflects an ongoing effort to combat lingering doubts about the president's faith.

Last year's breakfast came in the wake of polls that revealed as many as one in five Americans believe he is a Muslim. Since then, Obama has talked more openly about his personal faith, particularly around holidays like Easter and Christmas.

“He's had this problem with how to practice his faith; every president's had this problem,” said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, who attended Tuesday's breakfast.

“And I was thinking this morning that this sort of event is at least one way that he's found, very authentically, to have his faith nurtured,” he said.

Obama quoted from the Book of Isaiah -- “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities,” which Christians see as a prophecy of Jesus' death and resurrection.

“This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this `Amazing Grace' calls me to reflect,” Obama said. “And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I've not shown grace to others, those times that I've fallen short.”

White House officials said they held the event before Easter so the breakfast wouldn't conflict with participants' own worship services.

Attendees included several members of the White House faith-based advisory panel, including Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Orlando megachurch pastor Joel Hunter and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie.

The event also drew several prominent conservatives who have not always seen eye to eye with the White House, including National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson, the Rev. Tim Keller of New York's Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl.


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Lost Letter Sheds Light on Lincoln's Faith

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, a long-lost letter surfaced that describes President Abraham Lincoln's belief in God.

The Raab Collection of Philadelphia plans to sell a recently discovered letter written in 1866 by William Herndon, a Springfield, Ill., lawyer and Lincoln confidant.

"Mr. Lincoln's religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary — supernatural inspiration or revelation," wrote Herndon of the nation's 16th president.

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Embattled Religious Freedom Envoy the New "Iron Lady"

© 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's embattled nominee for religious freedom ambassador is comparing herself to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she tries for a second time to land the post.

“They called Margaret Thatcher the `iron lady,'” the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook said Tuesday (April 5) in an address to a dinner of religious liberty advocates.  “Change the name. It's mine now.”

Cook was nominated for the post last June but her nomination stalled and expired in December. President Obama renominated her in February after critics complained the longtime vacancy reflected a low priority for the issue.

Critics, including some on Capitol Hill, have questioned whether the retired New York City pastor lacks enough direct experience to help guide policy on an issue that's at the heart of numerous international conflicts.

“This will go down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest nomination,” she said. “But we thank God to just be in the number.”

Cook was introduced by the legislative affairs director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who said attendees hope she will be the next ambassador. As she did at her recent Senate confirmation hearings, Cook recounted her international travels and work after 9/11 as a New York police chaplain.

The Baptist minister known as “Dr. Sujay” retired in 2009 as pastor of a Bronx, N.Y., church she founded in 1996.

In her address to some 200 ambassadors, lawmakers and church leaders, Cook mentioned recent examples of religious turmoil, including the “arrogant” assassins who killed Pakistan's Christian minister for religious minorities. She called a Florida church's recent burning of a Quran -- which led to deadly riots in Afghanistan -- a “despicable act.”

Without singling out any country by name, Cook said governments often give lip service to religious freedom while also taking steps to limit it. “Laws are too often broken by their own governments,” she said, “and their people suffer.”

Cook said U.S. diplomacy on religious freedom should involve not just forging relations with government officials but working with religious leaders abroad who can help influence political leaders.

“The front lines demand strategic action, not emotional nor reactionary tactics, but strategic, prayerful action,” Cook said. “Either we deal with it now or fundamental extremists can fill the power vacuums where regions have lacked democratic institutions.”


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Millionaire Buys Painting So Church Can Keep Them


CANTERBURY, England (RNS/ENInews) A self-effacing multimillionaire has become a local hero after buying a series of 17th-century religious paintings and then donating them back to the Church of England in a bid to help boost art tourism.

Jonathan Ruffer, 59, paid 15 million pounds (about $21.3 million) for a series of paintings of the biblical patriarch Jacob and his sons by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, according to ENInews.

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