Friday, February 28, 2014

Charlotte diocese mum on survey results about birth control, other family issues

For years, many Catholics (including me) have expressed the hope that their bishops and popes would become less secretive and more interested in the opinions of those who fill the pews and collection plates.

Enter Pope Francis.

Last fall, the reform-minded pontiff signaled bishops that he wanted to know what their 1.2 billion-member flock thought about such issues as same-sex marriage, contraception, unwed couples living together and the church’s treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics.

The Vatican sent bishops a questionnaire covering these social and family issues and called on them to consult lay people in their dioceses. The plan was for the results of this survey to be available by the time Pope Francis convenes the world Synod of Bishops in October.

I wondered: What do Charlotte area Catholics think?

Before I tell you what the local diocese told me, here’s some context.

In response to the pope’s call, some bishops aggressively sought out the opinions of everyday Catholics and then publicly shared the findings.

Bishops in Germany and Switzerland, for example, reported that Catholics in those countries did not agree with the church’s bans on birth control, premarital sex, and homosexuality. Ditto, the church’s refusal to accept divorce and remarriage unless a Catholic tribunal rules the first marriage invalid.

In the United States, most bishops seemed less curious and less open about the view from the pews.

An exception: Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., reported on his diocesan website that more than 6,800 members of his flock weighed in.

On birth control, Lynch wrote, “the responses might be characterized by saying, ‘That train left the station long ago.’ Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject.”

So, what about the 46-county Charlotte diocese, which has more than 140,000 parishioners?

Spokesman David Hains, who works for Bishop Peter Jugis, said details about how to fill out the survey were spelled out on the diocese’s website and in one November issue of its weekly newspaper.

All told, 300 people gave their opinions. Hains said he also heard from some local Catholics who were unhappy that they had not seen the survey notices and had missed the three-week window to participate.

And the findings?

“We are not releasing it publicly,” Hains said. “Our charge was to pass it on to the (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). Our bishop … felt this was the best way to handle it.”

-- Tim Funk

Monday, February 24, 2014

Temple Beth El youth will lead North American group

A Mallard Creek High School senior who attends Charlotte's Temple Beth El has been elected the new president of the North American Federation of Temple Youth -- the Reform Judaism movement's organization for high school students.

Debbie Rabinovich, 17, is the daughter of Monica and Dan Rabinovich.

Debbie was elected at the national group's recent board meeting in Texas, and will be installed as president in June. She'll lead an organization that includes more than 10,000 high school students (grades 9 through 12) in the United States, Canada and parts of Latin America. More than 750 Reform congregations in North America sponsor Temple Youth Groups.

At Charlotte's Temple Beth El, Debbie has been active on many fronts. Besides serving on the synagogue's LIBERTY Board (its youth group), she has been a madricha (teaching assistant) in Beth El's religious school, and is a member of the Teen Band, the Teen Vocal Ensemble, and the Adult Choir.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, February 21, 2014

Born a Jew, he died a Catholic cardinal

Can someone be both a Christian and a Jew?

Jean-Marie Lustiger, who was born into a Jewish family but died a cardinal in the Catholic church, answered with an emphatic “Yes.”

But others – the chief rabbi of Paris, Pope John Paul II, and his own father – insisted just as firmly over the years that Lustiger could not be both and would have to choose.

Lustiger’s unique, compelling story is the subject of a fascinating new French film called “The Jewish Cardinal.” The Charlotte Jewish Film Festival is showing it at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Israel, 4901 Providence Road. The $10 tickets can be purchased here and at Temple Israel an hour before showtime.

Lustiger, played in the film by actor Laurent Lucas, lived a life of duality and turbulence.

1926: Born Aaron Lustiger, the son of Polish Jews who had emigrated to France.

1940: Converts to Catholicism at 13, is baptized and takes the name Jean-Marie.

1943: Mother Gisèle is murdered at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp.

1954: Ordained a Catholic priest.

1981: Named archbishop of Paris by Pope John Paul II.

1987: In negotiations with the Jewish community, paves the way for the departure of Carmelite nuns who had built a convent at Auschwitz.

2007: Just before Lustiger’s funeral Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, his cousin recites the Kaddish – the Jewish prayer that praises God while mourning the dead – in front of the portal of the cathedral.

The film portrays the Jewish cardinal with sympathy, but also shows his rough edges. Lustiger often erupts – with anger, passion and anguish.

Visiting Auschwitz for the first time, the Catholic prelate is overcome with grief for his murdered mother. He drops to his knees, sobbing, but finds he cannot say his Christian prayers to God. Instead, he keeps repeating her name and death date.

French director Ilan Duran Cohen has acknowledged in interviews – and in the film’s credits – that “The Jewish Cardinal” takes liberties with the facts. I suspect, for example, that the film’s well-written shouting matches between Lustiger and Pope John Paul II didn’t necessarily play out the way they’re presented.

Still, showing this film to a religious audience amounts to a gutsy move by the film festival.

Some Catholic viewers may bristle at how the pope comes across. Some Jewish viewers may feel uncomfortable when Lustiger tells the chief rabbi of Paris that he’s just as Jewish.

“The Jewish Cardinal” is the kind of film viewers of both religions will want to talk about afterward. So a panel discussion will follow Wednesday’s screening. The participants: Rabbi Murray Ezring of Temple Israel; Mark King, a deacon at St. Gabriel Catholic Church; and Danny Trapp, the new executive director of interfaith Mecklenburg Ministries.

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Elevation Church helps Pastor Furtick sell books

Elevation Church is going all out to promote pastor Steven Furtick's latest book, "Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice Above All Others."

Click on the church’s website ( and up pops a clickable box that’ll take you to info about how to order the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or elsewhere. Another click and you can order the "Chatterbox Challenge Kit," a small group Bible study, for $49.

Furtick’s sermon series this weekend will have the same title as his book, which has a list price of $19.99 but can be purchased for $7.99 on Kindle.

And last Tuesday, to celebrate “Release Day,” the church’s online radio station devoted hours to live talk about the book and its message.

Furtick was the main guest on the Elevation Network. But he also chatted with Lysa TerKeurst, an Elevation attendee who has authored some best-selling faith books of her own.

Several other prominent figures who have written Christian books, produced Christian films, and released Christian CDs called in to praise the book – and, in some cases, plug their own projects.

Mark Burnett, who produced TV’s “Survivor,” “Shark Tank” and “The Apprentice,” mentioned the upcoming film, “Son of God,” that he’s producing with wife Roma Downey, star of TV’s “Touched by an Angel.” The couple has released a novelization of the movie – a followup to their hit TV series, “The Bible.”

Sheila Walsh, a contemporary Christian singer and author, also called. “I can’t wait to read your book,” said Walsh, who has written a new book called “The Storm Inside.”

While Furtick and friends were talking, others were sending tweets. One came from Seattle pastor Kevin Gerald, a member of the Elevation board of overseers that votes on the church’s budget and Furtick’s salary.

“One of my favorite preachers/authors @steven furtick has a new book release today!” he tweeted. “Check it out!”

Furtick also talked on-air with Steve Smith, the Panthers' star wide received and a member of Furtick's flock.

After talking about the Furtick book's message -- that our internal critic can drown out God's voice -- Smith invited his pastor to come to his house for a few games of tennis.

"I'm putting an all-purpose court in my backyard," said Smith, adding that he planned to put up lights so they could play at night.

Furtick didn't mention his house, a 16,000-square footer in Weddington. He has said he's paying for it not with money from the church, but from the advances he gets on his book sales.

-- Tim Funk

Not even snow can stop this house of worship

Not everything was cancelled because of the snow that descended on Charlotte.

Ohr HaTorah, Charlotte's Orthodox Jewish community on Sardis Road, went ahead with its Thursday morning service.

And Rabbi Shlomo Cohen sent me this photo to prove how hearty his congregation can be:

-- Tim Funk

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Seminary in Matthews will unveil advanced robot

Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) is banking on becoming a leader in a growing field of study: the ethical dimensions of advanced technology.

So, of course, the school had to get a robot.

At 11 a.m. Friday (Feb. 14), weather permitting, the conservative Christian seminary in Matthews will unveil its new 23-inch-tall NAO humanoid robot. SES will also announce details then of a contest to name the ultra-modern critter.

Faculty and students will use the robot to do research on the ethical dilemmas that can pop up with the use of such advanced technology in everyday life.

Kevin Staley, an associate professor of theology at the seminary, is spearheading the NAO (pronounced "Now") robot research. He's an expert in the application of a Biblical worldview to moral issues, including those surrounding robotics, artificial intelligence and human enhancement technologies.

In the Christian Apologetics Journal, Staley authored a piece titled "Moral Perspectives for a Possible Posthuman Future."

Still not sure what they're talking about?

The research involving the robot is expected to focus on such questions as: Should robots do our jobs? Should they care for humans in a hospital or nursing home? And would such care take away the human touch and violate human ethics?

The NAO humanoid robot was created by Aldebaran Robotics, a French company based in Paris. He/She/It is programmable, with electric motors, a sensor network, two cameras, four microphones, a sonar rangefinder, two infrared emitters and receivers, a voice synthesizer, LED lights, and two high-fidelity speakers.

These NAO robots have been used in research schools and labs around the world, including at MIT, the University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon and Tokyo University.

SES is apparently the first seminary to get one.

Here's a video of the robot in action.

Professor Staley and Richard Land, the seminary's president, will convene the unveiling on the first floor of the school's main building, 3000 Tilley Morris Road.

Live streaming is available. Call 610-584-1096 for details.

-- Tim Funk