Belief Beat

Coverage has snowballed in the week since conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck called on Christians to “run as fast as you can” if their churches preach about social or economic justice, which he defines as code words for Communism and Nazism. Summarized in Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times story today, angry backlash has come from a range of Christian leaders and organizations, ranging from the outraged Sojourners antipoverty group to offended members of Beck’s own Church of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

GetReligion’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey complains the coverage so far has focused on predictable reactions from Beck’s usual opponents, although several evangelical and conservative Christian groups also prominently advocate some form of social justice on their Web sites and in their charitable activities.

Interestingly, this includes Beck’s own church, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Frank Lockwood, at Bible Belt Blogger. After searching the official LDS site for the terms “social justice,” “economic justice,” and “social gospel,” Lockwood has advised the Fox News personality to “head for the hills!”

Do you agree?

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The Texas textbook wars are underway: the State Board of Education spent hours yesterday clashing over its public school social studies standards, including how to teach students about religious freedom and separation of church and state.

Republicans rejected a Democrat-backed motion that the Bill of Rights curriculum include teaching students to “examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring government from protecting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.” Other partisan disputes– also ultimately decided by the 15-member board’s conservative majority — included how to teach about race relations and the contributions of minorities, the impact of taxes and regulations on America’s economy, and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

As the Dallas Morning News explains, in addition to the 4.7 million public school students in Texas impacted by the board’s decisions, these changes also influence the curriculum in thousands of schools in other states, because

The growing Catholic sex abuse scandals in Germany – Pope Benedict’s homeland – and the Netherlands are making headlines all over the world, just as the Vatican had started to emerge from the furor over abuse of children in Ireland, Australia, America and elsewhere. The German story has a personal link to the pontiff: some of the accusers had belonged to a choir led by Benedict’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, for 30 years.

So far, coverage has floated three theories for the ongoing allegations of pedophilia and physical abuse. As usual, some are questioning the Catholic Church’s celibacy mandate for clergy (except for Eastern Catholics and married converts). The Holy See’s own daily newspaper has a story about whether the dearth of women in church governance plays a role, positing that the “veil of masculine secrecy” contributes to cover-ups. And several exorcists are debating whether the Devil has infiltrated the Vatican.

As my former colleague Gary Stern notes over at Blogging Religiously, these are dark days for Pope Benedict – and some fear that it’s just the beginning.

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The concept of separation of church and state may polarize politicians, but when it comes to access to the White House, it seems a range of religious leaders have President Obama’s ear — whether it’s to help shape policy or just offer spiritual guidance.

The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a diverse panel of 25 members who just wrapped up their one-year term, has presented a hefty list of recommendations on how the government can better work with faith-based groups to tackle poverty, interfaith relations, the environment and broken homes. The commission also wants clearer guidelines on church-state separation in faith-based funding, according to this JTA story.

Coincidentally, Religion News Service just ran an interesting feature profiling seven people who informally make up Obama’s “spiritual Cabinet” – five Protestants (including two women), one Catholic, and one Muslim. According to the story, they have been providing the president with spiritual guidance, both personally and in terms of shaping policies that involve interfaith relations and moral issues.

“In God We Trust,” indeed. Thoughts?

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