Friday, June 14, 2013

Reasons why Superman is Jewish

Quite a year for our old friend Superman.

 He's turning 75 -- he sure doesn't look it! -- and, starting Friday (June 14), fans of the Krypton-born superhero will be flocking to the multiplexes to catch his latest movie, "Man of Steel."

But how well do you really know this flying icon?

Yes, he's sometimes disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper.

But did you know he's also Jewish?

So says Larry Tye, author of the new best-selling bio, "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero."

Some have opined that the new movie, and a few of the older ones, cast Superman as Christ-like.

But this week, writing in The Jewish Daily Forward, Tye returned to Superman's roots, where he identified models from the Hebrew Bible and recalled the Midwestern Jewish neighborhood, circa World War II, that was home to the creator of the comic book hero.

The title of Tye's piece: "10 Reasons Superman Is Really Jewish."

Here are the first three, in the words of Mr. Tye.*

"1) Superman’s creator, Jerry Siegel, acknowledges in an unpublished memoir that he was strongly influenced by anti-Semitism he saw and felt, and that Samson was a role model for Superman.
Jerry also says he wrote about the world he grew up in: a Cleveland (Ohio) neighborhood that was 70% Jewish, where theaters and newspapers were in Yiddish as well as in English, and there were two dozen Orthodox synagogues to choose from but only one option, Weinberger’s, to buy your favorite pulp fiction.
 It was a place and time where weaklings — especially Jewish ones, who were more likely to get sand kicked in their faces by the bully down the block if not Adolf Hitler — dreamed that someday the world would see them for the superheroes they really were.

"2) If only we’d been paying attention, we’d have seen Siegel dropping hints of his hero’s ethnicity when Superman dropped down from a faraway planet.
On Krypton, Superman went by the name Kal-El as in Isra-el and the prophets Samu-el and Dani-el. It means God. Kal is similar to the Hebrew words for 'voice' and 'vessel.'

"3) The alien superbaby was not just a Jew, but also a very special one. Like Moses. Much as the baby prophet was floated in a reed basket by a mother desperate to spare him from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s death warrant, so moments before Kal-El’s planet blew up, his doomed parents tucked him into a spaceship that rocketed him to the safety of Earth.
 Both babies were rescued by non-Jews and raised in foreign cultures — Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, Kal-El by Kansas farmers named Kent — and all the adoptive parents quickly learned how exceptional their foundlings were.
The narratives of Krypton’s birth and death borrow the language of Genesis. Kal-El’s escape to Earth is the story of Exodus."

For the seven other reasons why Superman is Jewish, click here

*And full disclosure: Author Larry Tye has been a good friend of mine since the 1980s, when we were colleagues at The Anniston Star, a small, crusading newspaper in Alabama. Besides Superman, Larry has authored books about the Jewish Diaspora, Pullman Porters, and Negro Leagues pitching legend Satchel Paige.

The subject of his next book: Robert F. Kennedy.

By the way, his Superman bio, published by Random House, is now in paperback.

-- Tim Funk 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Huckabee to churches: Give up tax breaks to speak out

Former Arkansas Gov. -- and one-time Southern Baptist preacher -- Mike Huckabee says it may be time for churches to give up their tax-exempt status. That way, he says, they'd be free of the accompanying restrictions on political speech.

Huckabee's remarks, reported by Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press, came this week during a pastors' conference on the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Houston.

"You may not clap real loud for this, but at least hear me out and think about it and pray about it," the Fox News pundit and ex-GOP presidential candidate told the Southern Baptist pastors. "I think we need to recognize that it may be time to quit worrying so much about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God. And if that means we give up tax-exempt status and tax deductions for charitable contributions, I choose freedom more than I choose a deduction that the government gives me permission to say what God wants me to say."

Churches that want to keep their tax-exempt status can't openly endorse candidates and have to be careful how political their pastors get in the pulpit.

Huckabee said recent reports that the IRS had targeted certain conservative groups should also cause churches to be concerned about religious freedom in the United States.

Some of Huckabee's toughest comments during his speech were directed at those in the Republican Party want to re-brand the GOP and appeal more to young people by down-playing social issues important to conservative Christians.

"Of late, the Republican Party has tried to tell those of us who are evangelicals that maybe we need to dial it back a little when it comes to issues like the sanctity of life and the holiness of marriage," said Huckabee, who ran second to U.S. Sen. John McCain for the 2004 GOP presidential nomination. "Well, I've got a news flash for the GOP: I plan to take my last ride in life on a white horse, not on an elephant and not on a donkey. And I will stick with the word of God and if the party, any party, goes a different way, I stick with Jesus. I believe he is forever."

-- Tim Funk

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pittenger to help monitor treatment of religious minorities

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has been named to a joint congressional-executive branch commission charged with monitoring human rights abuses in China.

House Speaker John Boehner named the Republican congressman from Charlotte to the panel because of his past work supporting religious minorities in China and other countries.

Evangelical Christians and the Vatican have complained for years that the Chinese government routinely persecutes Christians. Though the government has allowed more Bibles to be published in recent years, it still restricts where and how many Christians worship. The Vatican and Chinese rulers continue to spar over the government's insistence on ordaining Chinese Catholic bishops without Vatican consent and detaining some bishops loyal to the pope.

The government has also been criticized for its occupation of Tibet, where two Buddhist monks recently set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and the continued exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Created in 2000, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China monitors human rights and development of the rule of law in China. It holds hearings and roundtables and must submit an annual report to the president and Congress.

One of Pittenger's main interests will be whether religious rights are respected in China.

His own years of Christian activism stretch back to after college, when he went to work for Campus Crusade for Christ. He worked on the staff for 10 years, serving as an assistant and advance man for Bill Bright, the group's founder. In that capacity, the young Pittenger also helped launch a ministry for elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill.

According to spokesman Jamie Bowers, Pittenger also traveled to several Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, to support persecuted Christians and underground churches.

Pittenger was in China on a mission trip in February 2012 when then-U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., announced she would not run that year for a 10th term. Pittenger, who got the news even though he was halfway around the world, was subsequently elected to succeed Myrick in the 9th congressional district.

Bowers said Pittenger has attended Central Church of God, a Pentecostal church in Charlotte, for 17 years. But because of frequent Sunday obligations, he and his wife now regularly attend Saturday evening services at Forest Hill Church, also in Charlotte. The Rev. Loran Livingston pastors Central Church of God; the Rev. David Chadwick is pastor at Forest Hill, an evangelical non-denominational church.

Over the years, Bowers said, Pittenger has gone on mission trips to Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, India, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Guatemala.

One other N.C. Republican congressman -- U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents the western part of the state -- sits on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairs the commission; U.S. Rep.Chris Smith, R-N.J., is co-chair.


-- Tim Funk 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Franklin Graham may stage 2015 event in CLT

Billy Graham held four crusades in his hometown of Charlotte. But son Franklin Graham, who calls his stadium-sized gatherings festivals, has yet to have one in the Queen City.

That could change in 2015.

The younger Graham and his people are in "preliminary discussions" with churches and others about the possibility of staging a festival in Charlotte, confirmed Ken Barun, chief of staff at Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

Several Charlotte churches have been holding team meetings about the possibility of a Graham festival here. Barun said the talks are in the exploratory phase now, to "see the level of interest."

Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA, has two overseas festivals scheduled for later this year: in Reykjavik, Iceland, Sept. 28-29; and in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Nov. 22-24.

In March of this year, Graham held a festival in La Paz, Bolivia.

Since 2009, he's also preached in several U.S. cities, including Buffalo, Green Bay, Denver, Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

Billy Graham held crusades in Charlotte in 1947, 1958, 1972 and 1996. That last one drew 336,100 people over four nights to what was then called Ericsson Stadium (now Bank of America Stadium).

Will Graham, Billy's grandson and Franklin's oldest son, is also a sometimes-traveling evangelist. His crusade-like events are called celebrations. And he tends to stage them in smaller U.S. cities, like Gastonia; Auburn, Ala; and Paducah, Ky. This year, he'll also preach abroad, in Kenya, Japan and Thailand.

-- Tim Funk