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The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

Canterbury tales

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams angered both church and state in a Feb. 7 speech proposing that some forms of Islamic law, known as Shariah, be incorporated into the British legal system. Calling for "a kind of plural jurisdiction" where the Muslim code could be applied in certain cases, Williams said that "citizenship in a secular society should not necessitate the abandoning of religious discipline." Senior leaders of the Church of England called for Williams' resignation following the lecture, which comes alongside a likely disintegration this year of the Anglican Communion in its dispute over ordination of gay clergy. Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett called the Williams proposal "catastrophic."

No go

Perhaps Steven Spielberg will succeed where the UN Security Council and countless heads of state have failed. On Feb. 13 Spielberg told Olympic organizers in Beijing thanks, but no thanks. Citing China's lack of progress in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the long-touted artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympic Committee announced he will not participate in the summer games. "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual," he said. China is the largest purchaser of Sudanese oil and supports over 30,000 Chinese workers and advisers in Sudan's capital of Khartoum.

Freed

Rejinald Humayun, general secretary of the Churches of Pakistan and a missionary doctor for over 20 years, was freed by captors who had held him since Dec. 8. Humayun, who served as medical superintendent of Bannu Christian Hospital in Pakistan's troubled North-West Frontier Province, was taken by armed men, and there had been no word of his whereabouts until his unexpected release.

Vatican

Heading into Lent and with an April visit to the United States planned, Pope Benedict XVI issued a new version of "the Easter prayer for the Jews" that is recited during Good Friday services by Roman Catholics. Jewish leaders were quick to call it "a disappointment" because it calls for Jews to accept Christianity.

Afghanistan

Considering that more than 750 people have died of severe cold and heavy snowfalls this winter in Afghanistan (and nearly 230,000 cattle), an uptick in U.S. casualty figures on Afghanistan's battlefields may seem less alarming. Over the course of the six-year war, the U.S. death toll stands at 483 and the NATO toll (including U.S. military deaths) at 766.

But the Bush administration is concerned that a surge in Taliban control of outlying regions is coinciding with battle fatigue among its NATO allies. In Munich U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told U.S. allies that Europe's security is at stake in Afghanistan, and he warned that opposition to the war in Iraq should not cloud the mission in Central Asia. "We must not-we cannot-become a two-tiered alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not," he said.

Momentous Mormon days

Momentous Mormon days

Changing of the guard in Utah and in political landscape

By Richard N. Ostling

Douglas C. Pizac/AP

Demonstrating his fidelity to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mitt Romney interrupted the final Super Tuesday push to attend the Feb. 2 funeral for its prophet and president, Gordon Hinckley. The following Monday Thomas Monson was proclaimed Hinckley's successor. By Thursday Romney, the first Mormon to get anywhere near a major party nomination, had quit the race.

Whatever Romney's political future, his candidacy undergirded Mormonism's visibility and ascendancy. But it also roused the perennial "are Mormons Christian?" issue and brought scorn from secularists, while a segment of voters expressed wariness about a Mormon in the White House. "The anti-Mormon whispering campaigns in the Bible Belt may also have permanently derailed the growing political alliance between Mormons and evangelicals," noted Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune. For now, Senate majority leader Harry Reid remains the most powerful LDS office-holder.

Monson told his first news conference "there will be no abrupt change." Not surprising, since Hinckley led notable advances on most fronts and Monson worked closely with him in the hierarchy for 44 years. This expanding denomination became America's fourth-largest under Hinckley and counts nearly 12.9 million members worldwide.

The church's tightly centralized authority structure is led by the president and his chosen first and second counselors, forming a collective First Presidency that works alongside the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. The man who became an apostle the earliest automatically becomes the next president, and Monson joined at age 35. Now 80, he's the youngest new president since 1973 and reports good health, though he has diabetes. Next in line is Boyd Packer, 83, seen as notably doctrinaire.

Monson holds an M.B.A. and was an advertising and sales executive with the church-owned daily in Salt Lake City, general manager of its commercial printing company, became an apostle in 1963, and entered the First Presidency in 1985.

Though he stressed continuity, Monson's first move was innovative: Nearly all First Presidency and apostle choices have not only been Americans but natives of Utah or Idaho, but Monson's first counselor will be Henry Eyring, 74, from Princeton, N.J. Though president of its Idaho college, Eyring was also a business professor at Stanford and earned a Harvard doctorate in business.

More intriguing is Monson's decision to bypass more senior figures to pick Dieter Uchtdorf, 67, for second counselor. Uchtdorf is German. He was senior vice president of Lufthansa airlines before becoming an apostle in 2004. Uchtdorf said his wife told him not to worry about his German accent when meeting reporters, since today more than half the church doesn't speak English.

-Richard N. Ostling is the co-author of Mormon America (HarperOne, revised edition 2007)

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