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Library of Congress seeks inaugural sermons

WASHINGTON -- The Library of Congress' American Folklife Center is seeking sermons that are preached in U.S. houses of worship during inaugural week.

The library said it would mark the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president by adding sermons from a range of houses of worship and secular settings to its spoken-word collection.

"In anticipation of citizens' efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009," the center states on its Web site.

"It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The American Folklife Center is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible."

The collection will include written texts and audio and video recordings from Jan. 16-25. They must be sent to the center by Feb. 27.

Obama to use Lincoln's inaugural Bible at swearing-in

WASHINGTON (RNS) President-elect Barack Obama has chosen the Bible used at President Lincoln's first inauguration for his own swearing-in on Jan. 20, inaugural planners announced.

It will be the first time a president has used the historic Bible at an inauguration since it was first used by Lincoln himself in 1861.

Hope for HUD: Excellence overtakes cronyism

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A longtime bureaucratic backwater, home to more cronyism and corruption than a Bernard Madoff hedge fund or Rod Blagojevich appointment process, provides one of the best yardsticks to measure Barack Obama’s commitment to effective government.

HUD -- the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- was subject to a rare combination of incompetence, chutzpah and malfeasance during the Bush presidency. That, it seems, is about to change. On Dec. 13, Obama named Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development under Republican-turned-Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to head the department. The baby-faced 41-year-old Harvard-educated architect is hailed by leaders in every segment of the housing industry; realtors, developers, low-income housing advocates, lenders and those who administer the nation’s public housing authorities all praise the choice.

Review of funding faith-based projects called for

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WASHINGTON -- Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on Tuesday (Dec. 16) called on religious leaders to play a prophetic role in the public square but criticized faith groups that use government money to forward a sectarian message.

“The idea that faith-based groups should have special entree to government funding just makes me twitch,” said Jefferts Schori, who leads the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church. “It makes me twitch when groups funded with public funds will only hire their own members, or use the funds to advance sectarian” views.

Speaking at the National Press Club here, Jefferts Schori also said she hopes the incoming administration of president-elect Barack Obama “is asking questions” about whether to continue President Bush’s faith-based initiative.

Jefferts Schori, 54, was elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2006, and has seen her church rent by infighting over homosexuality and the Bible. Earlier this month, a group of conservatives announced plans to form a rival church in North America.

The future of conservatism in a nation of mutts

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Conservatism RIP?

American conservatism has crashed and burned and its carefully constructed religious cornerstone, based on an uneasy alliance of white evangelicals and “blue collar Catholics,” sits atop the ash heap.

This reality is not attributable solely to Obamaism, though that is part of it. Rather, it is about the past, namely the contradictory impulses of American conservatism, and the future, specifically a demographic tidal wave that threatens to bury a once powerful political tradition.

The history is effectively explained in White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (Atlantic Monthly Press). American University history professor Allan Lichtman refutes the idea that modern American conservatism dates back to the 1955 founding of National Review, the erudite and pugnacious product of William F. Buckley’s vivid imagination and abundant energy.

NCR Commentary: The Republican captivity

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In their long history, the People of God have seen many captivities, both literal and figurative: the Babylonian Captivity; the Constantinian Captivity, the Carolingian Captivity, the Holy Roman Empire Captivity, the Avignon Captivity. In each of these situations, civil authorities captured God’s people and used them for their own advantage. One would think that history has seen enough of such “captivities,” and that the church, having learned from this history, would be wary of it ever happening again.

What then explains the current captivity, perhaps more figurative than literal, of the Catholic church in America by the Republican Party? This captivity was again in evidence earlier this month in Baltimore as the bishops met. The more vocal bishops were obviously unhappy with the election results, and some of the more extreme statements, such as prohibiting the vice president elect from a return to the town of his birth unless he changes his ways, sound like Republican ward heelers. How did this happen? Why are these bishops acting like functionaries of the Republican Party?

How a bill doesn't become a law

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Opponents of the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), legislation supported by President-elect Obama that would establish a federal statutory right to abortion that goes beyond Roe v. Wade, must act urgently to halt its passage.

Or so the nation’s leading antiabortion advocates would have you believe.

“WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! WE MUST ACT IMMEDIATELY!!!” screams the flier produced by the National Right to Life Committee, formed in 1973 to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki said this month that FOCA “could mean discontinuing obstetrics in our hospitals, and we may need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our Catholic hospitals entirely.” Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops’ conference, agreed, saying that Paprocki’s warning was “well-founded.”

Here’s the reality: FOCA has as much chance of passage as the 0-10 Detroit Lions have of winning the next Super Bowl.

Will Obama be good for Israel?

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Israeli reactions on Obama run from fear to cautious optimism

Except for professions of unqualified support of Israel by both candidates, little was said specifically during the recent presidential campaign about the principle U.S. ally in the Middle East or about how each candidate might approach the seemingly intractable problems that would face a new administration.

Even though news cycles now are understandably overwhelmed by the deepening global financial crisis, the realities on the ground in Israel and its neighbors will inevitably demand the attention of the new president. The court of public opinion that president-elect Barack Obama will face in Israel is very mixed, running from skepticism to an assessment that considers his election “a miracle.”

Part of that mix involves Christians, whose primary interests are the peace process and ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

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