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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  September 22, 2013 10:00am-10:31am PDT

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betty rollin reports on the contentious issue of gay marriage in the united methodist church, where a prominent minister and scholar faces a possible church trial for officiating at his gay son's wedding. also, fred de sam lazaro on a 1300-year-old manuscript, the first translation of the christian gospels from latin into english, very old english. plus, a new exhibition of works created especially during the holocaust by artist marc
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chagall, who painted a crucified jewish jesus to personify jewish suffering. >> welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. faith-based groups are among those mobilizing to help victims of the massive flooding in colorado. as floodwaters began to recede this week, the magnitude of the devastation started coming into focus, although many areas are still inaccessible.
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state officials estimated that more than 19,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. churches set up shelters for thousands of people who were evacuated. religious groups are providing emergency aid, assessing long term needs and calling for volunteers. in the wake of this week's mass shooting at the washington navy yard, faith leaders called for prayers of consolation and healing. the tragedy also prompted some in the religious community to renew calls for stricter background checks before gun sales. the shooter, aaron alexis, was described as exploring buddhism prior to the attack. buddhist leaders condemned his actions. according to new figures from the u.s. census bureau, 15% of all americans, including one in five children, lived in poverty last year, virtually no improvement from 2011. many religious leaders warned the numbers will increase if
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congress does not protect federal food programs. this week, faith-based activists urged the house of representatives not to move ahead with a plan that would cut the snap program, formerly called food stamps, by $40 billion over the next ten years. in the midst of the jewish high holiday season, more than 1,000 rabbis and cantors urged congress to find a way through the impasse on comprehensive immigration reform. this week, jews have been celebrating sukkot, which marks their ancestors' exodus from egypt during which they built temporary shelters. the jewish leaders said their history, along with biblical instructions to care for strangers, compelled them to speak out for immigration reform. the 68th session of the
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united nations' general assembly officially got underway in new york with strong calls for world peace. un secretary general ban ki-moon rang a peace bell and called for a global ceasefire. he specifically cited the situation in syria, which will be high on the agenda as the world leaders meet over the next several weeks. at the vatican, pope francis repeated his appeals for a diplomatic, not military, solution to the syrian crisis. meanwhile, in his first extensive interview, pope francis warned that the catholic church needs a new balance with less emphasis on opposing abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and more on proclaiming quote "the saving love of god" and the church as a "home for all." the pope also said he had been asked whether he approved of homosexuality? he replied, "when god looks at a gay person does he endorse the existence of this person with love?" the pope continued, "we must al"
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the interview was published this week in several jesuit journals, including "america magazine." the issue of gay marriage remains a contentious one for many christian denominations, among them the united methodist church. united methodist teachings define marriage as between a man and a woman, and in 1999, the church defrocked a pastor for officiating at a same-sex wedding. the issue has split those who cite biblical passages against homosexuality, and others, who see jesus' inclusive vision as welcoming all. more church trials may be ahead, as betty rollin reports. >> reporter: the metropolitan united methodist church in washington, d.c., recently had an unusual celebration. the event, called "church
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quake," honored married couples of the same sex and the clergy who married them. retired bishop melvin talbert was the first methodist bishop to publicly endorse same-sex marriage, which is prohibited in the church's book of discipline. >> i felt the time had come for clergy to give leadership to their congregations and it's time for clergy to refuse to convict their colleagues for doing the right thing. >> reporter: one of those colleagues, who is facing a potential church trial for performing a same-sex marriage, is 79-year-old reverend tom ogletree, the retired dean of yale divinity school. the marriage that reverend ogletree performed was that of his own son, thomas. >> i was thrilled that he asked me to play a role because i've
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known he was gay for a long time and we've been watching him, you know, adjust and adapt to the demands of the culture in creative ways. >> reporter: since 1972, the methodist church's book of discipline has stated that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with christian teaching" and the book prohibits methodist ministers from performing same-sex marriages. reverend ogletree knowingly violated the law and says he is proud of doing so. >> i was inspired by dr. king during my participation in the civil rights movement when he said that an unjust law is no law. these are unjust laws, and therefore they do not really have the authority of law, even though technically they are established in the discipline. >> we can't all be a community and just decide that some laws
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are ones that appeal to us, others we think are unreasonable and we can go do whatever we want to without there being some kind of repercussions. >> reporter: reverend rob renfroe of the woodland united methodist church near houston is one of many members of the methodist clergy with a different view, a view that condemns the practice of homosexuality in general. >> there is not any passage in scripture that is condoning or accepting of that practice. that's why those of us who see the bible as god's word say we have to be true to what the bible teaches when it's clear, when it's unmitigated, then it's really a matter of whether or not we will be faithful to what god has revealed. reverend ogletree, who is a scholar of christian ethics, feels that the bible is often misinterpreted. >> if you look carefully at the scripture you'll find it has no concept of homosexuality or sexual orientation at all.
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and if you learn to read it in context and see the evolving traditions as we try to interpret it, then you realize that that's an oversimplified reading. after all, the scripture seems to accommodate slavery. so should we then have slaves? they say women should be subordinate to their husband. then let's tell women to shut up and stop talking to us, especially in public. the point is when you only select certain texts that support your prejudices, then you're not reading the scripture seriously. >> will the congregation please rise? i invite us now to be in a spirit of prayer. >> reporter: reverend scott summerville is the pastor of the asbury crestwood methodist church in tuckahoe, new york. he, too, is critical of the law and feels that the methodist church's stance on gay marriage is hypocritical. >> you can worship here, love to have you, but frankly you can never be fully 100% one of us. there must always be a
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distinction between us, you see our rule book demands that we make this distinction whether we wish to or not, but we love you. >> reporter: dorothee benz and carol scott married in reverend summerville's church. dorothee is the director of methodists in new directions mind which has mobilized methodist clergy who support and have agreed to conduct same-sex marriages. >> we have basically found a way around the paralysis that's caused by the church's requirement to discriminate, which is we're just not discriminating anymore. what the church does through its discrimination and prejudice has a wider effect. it gives moral cover to people who vote against us in legislatures. it gives moral cover to queer bashers who bash us in back alleys, so the effect is huge. >> reporter: at one point dorothee wanted to become one of
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the clergy herself but could not because of her homosexuality. >> you sit in the pew. you're not allowed to get married there, you're not -- maybe not even be a member there. what are you learning about yourself that god supposedly thinks about you and certainly that your fellow churchgoers and leaders think about you? that's a terrible message. >> because that message is not only going to the queer folks who are sitting in the pews feeling excluded and discriminated against and hated. that message is going to the straight people who are sitting there, to the kids down in sunday school who are growing up learning all of these people are less than, don't deserve as much as, or not equal, or whatever. >> but one day we're going to look back on our lives and we're going to wonder what did i do with it? >> reporter: but reverend renfroe feels that those who accept homosexuality in the church are just giving in to the politically correct view. >> i'm afraid that the church will give into the culture, i'm afraid that the church will sell it's birthright for a mess of
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porridge, that we will try to please a culture that is not really interested in the gospel of jesus christ, thinking that if we make little changes so that we appear to be warm and accepting, that they'll come our way. >> reporter: the methodist church is losing membership in the united states and gaining conservative members internationally, especially in africa where homosexuality is frequently reviled. >> the church where it's most liberal is declining most rapidly, so the number going to represent a progressive point of view will be even fewer in 2016 than it was in 2012. where the church is most conservative is where the church is either the most stable or it's the most growing, so the numbers simply are not in favor of changing our position in the discipline. >> reporter: meanwhile, reverend
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ogletree's trial is pending and could be dismissed. >> i believe that the methodist church is open to change here. and that it's important then to join the people within the denomination who want that change. >> reporter: and those on his side of the issue have some hope about amending the book of discipline. >> the book of discipline starts with a preamble that acknowledges the church's past failings and we are hopeful that maybe someday there's a new passage in there, so i mean, it's possible. >> reporter: but the next opportunity to change the book of discipline won't be until 2016, when the worldwide church gathers at the methodist general conference. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm betty rollin in washington, d.c. we have a glimpse today of one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the four christian gospels and the first to be translated into old english. it's called the lindisfarne
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gospels, and it's a 1,300 year old milestone in christianity's spread to the english-speaking world. fred de sam lazaro reports from the north of england. >> reporter: the large cathedral towers over the small city of durham, but durham cathedral's historical imprint is far wider. the foundation of christianity on the british isles was profoundly shaped by events, people, and relics connected to this 1100-year-old structure, including one relic that's come home to visit from safekeeping in the british library in london -- a book that is 1,300 years old. >> this is a book that has been dragged around the north of england on a cart, fleeing from the vikings, and the fact that it is still in near perfect condition shows how highly valued it was over the centuries, that people did look
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after it as well as they could. >> reporter: and to keep protecting it, professor richard gameson says visitors to the exhibit get to see just one open page of the lindisfarne gospels, the illumination of st. john that precedes his gospel. the space is kept cool and gently lit. >> the lindisfarne gospels is a remarkable book. >> reporter: scholars like gameson work off facsimiles. this one is a $16,000 exact replica of what he calls a technological and artistic masterpiece and a religious landmark, the first translation of the four gospels into english, an old english that it takes a scholar to interpret. >> "here begins," "on gynneth, on gynneth." it sounds a bit like "begin." "evangelium godspell," close to our "gospel." >> reporter: the book was first hand-written in latin around the year 700 from texts brought over from rome. three centuries later it was
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translated word-by-word in english between the lines of the original text by a monk named aldred. he took special care to clarify critical passages, like the one describing the relationship of mary and joseph. >> he added the old english word "bewedded," "wedded," we've still got the same modern word. however, "wedded" had sexual implications, and of course that would conflict with the doctrine of the virgin birth, and so he then adds various alternatives. he was still not satisfied, and so he added in a note saying that mary was "entrusted" to joseph, and he adds "in no wise to have as a wife, but for him to look after her." >> reporter: almost as important to gameson is a side-note written by translator aldred. it tells of the book's creation
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on the remote island of lindisfarne, just off england's east coast. >> there is a poem hidden within this that goes back to nearer the time the book was made and provides us with the key facts that eadfrith the bishop made the book, and now we're told the book is for god, for saint cuthbert, and all the saints on holy island. >> reporter: on holy island or lindisfarne the spirits of cuthbert and those long-ago saints can still loom large. mark douglas is with english heritage, a public agency that maintains historic sites and ruins, including those at lindisfarne island. >> the island itself has a certain draw. there's something special about this island. you find a lot of people actually coming for the spiritual benefits. you get this sort of a tingling of the spirituality of the place. >> reporter: it was here in the year 635 that irish monks set up the priory, establishing christianity in a largely pagan land and the cult of cuthbert, a revered early prior. the quiet monastic life ended when holy island was discovered by the vikings, notorious
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invaders from scandinavia. by the late ninth century, the monks decided they had had enough of the ever-present threat of viking raids. they decided to abandon this windswept island of lindisfarne. they took off for the mainland and took with them two of their most prized possessions, the body of saint cuthbert and the gospels. after a years-long trek across the north of england, cuthbert was reburied in durham cathedral, where the monastery was re-established. his tomb still attracts thousands of visitors. as for the gospels, the book wound up in private hands after king henry viii dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century, and it was later donated to the british library. today, gameson says it offers a chance to rethink a period often dismissed as the dark ages. this elegant calligraphy under daunting conditions, parchment from the skins of 149 calves, colored inks made from diverse animal and vegetable sources. also, amid the vivid display of
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his talent, the scribe bishop eadfrith was human and made mistakes. >> beautifully set out liber generationis, but we can see, as he gets to the last line, slight desperation. he has to fit letters in between other words, and here he even has to bend the frame in order to fit all the words in. >> it's really nice for the gospel to come back here where they belong, and we think they should stay here. >> it's in durham through september. after that it who l. take a trip to london's british library to catch a glimpse. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," this is fred de sam lazaro in durham, england. on our calendar, the seven-day jewish festival of sukkot ends wednesday. after sukkot, jews celebrate simchat torah, which marks the
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end of the annual torah reading cycle. the joyous celebrations often include dancing in the streets with torah scrolls. the prominent 20th century artist marc chagall is well known for his whimsical paintings of jewish village life in russia. less well known is that throughout his career chagall made over 100 paintings of a crucified jewish jesus to personify jewish suffering and persecution, especially during the holocaust. at the jewish museum in new york there is a special exhibit of these paintings. we spoke there with senior curator susan tumarkin goodman. >> chagall grew up in a shtetl in vitebsk, in belarus, and his family was hassidic. many of the images that we see
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throughout chagall's life derive from those early years. there's the fish that keeps recurring that, perhaps, references the fact that his father was a laborer in a herring factory, the violin, which must relate back to the klezmer-players that he heard when he was a child, and, as he's used it in many of the works, it seems to be a consoling instrument for these jews that are in such dire straits. he personally experienced and knew about jewish persecution and the pogroms that prevailed. "solitude" is an important work because it was created in direct response to hitler's election as
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chancellor in germany. that was pretty early for him to do a painting with such despair, where we see the angel flying away as if abandoning the jews to their fate. in 1938, chagall starts to use the image of the jewish jesus. he could think of no more powerful way to convey his anguish at the annihilation of european jewry. he equated the jewish jesus on a cross with the martyred jewish people, and he really did believe that if he could show the christian community that the persecution of the jews was essentially persecuting a jew just like jesus, who was one of
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"us" and one of "them." there was an equivalence there. that work that shows an explicit image of a nazi comes from revelations in 1945 about the death camps. and chagall was sitting in this country totally frustrated there was nothing he could do, and he felt the need to express it. it's a very idiosyncratic work. and, in fact, the jesus figure is nude, which is unusual for chagall, and he's wrapped in a tallit that covers his whole he didn't ever give up his an observant jew, but as opposed to many of his co-religionists who actually did convert, chagall never did. and, in fact he included and absorbed jewish culture within his paintings, even the ones where he uses the jewish jesus.
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in exodus, it's a complex theological painting, because there's a jesus figure, it's definitely not jewish, the figure is jesus triumphant and it seems to me that the artist, chagall, is identifying more with the jesus figure than with moses, who's relegated to the right-hand corner. the war was over. and the population needed a kind of spiritual uplift and hope, and to understand that the jewish culture had survived. and he was able to provide this in a way that no other artist at the time could do. if we can contextualize the art that he created during these years and think about what he was going through, his experiences at the time, i think we will come up with a better
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understanding, a new understanding of chagall. finally, some sad news this week in our "religion and ethics newsweekly" family. phil o'connor, our supervising producer and dear friend, died of cancer. he was a superb news producer, a genial colleague and an extraordinarily good man. he loved great stories, french wine, staying fit, the chicago cubs, jesuit retreats and his wife and family, to whom we send our deepest sympathy. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. and visit our website, where there is always much more, including audio and video podcasts of this program. join us at pbs.org.
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barry kibrick: today on "between the lines," the secret to a happier life with dr. john izzo. i'm barry kibrick. john was a past guest on "between the lines" with his best-seller "second innocence." now with his latest book, "the five secrets you must discover before you die," he takes us on a heartwarming and profound journey of life in the search for meaning and happiness. linda ellerbee: i'm a writer today because i was a reader when i was 11 years old, and it was... deepak chopra: you do not need to prove your state of happiness to anybody. warren christopher: most of these speeches were as much as a month in preparation. man: the characters, the heroes in this book are seekers of truth in a story that involves a lot of corruption. man: i get a chance to really

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