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Episode no. 1135

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Coming up — Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama and the messages of the black church.

And more controversial days ahead for Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Plus, remembering the late Shlomo Carlebach, the counterculture rabbi whose melodies live on long after he no longer sings them.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: Welcome. I’m Bob Abernethy. It’s good to have you with us. The global food crisis is escalating as high food prices are forcing humanitarian organizations to scale back operations. At the United Nations, leaders are appealing for more than $750 million dollars in new aid. At the White House, President Bush called on Congress to provide funds to help alleviate the emergency.

We spoke about the world food crisis with Reverend David Beckmann, president of the Christian anti-hunger lobbying group Bread for the World. He is a Lutheran pastor.

Reverend DAVID BECKMANN (President, Bread for the World): Routinely, 850 million people in the world are undernourished. But over the last 12 months the prices of the world’s basic staples — rice, corn and wheat — have all shot up by about two-thirds. So about another 100 million people are being driven into hunger. It’s partly that incomes have been going up in Asia and so there’s new demand for food in Asia. There were bad harvests in some important agricultural countries. Higher oil prices have also helped to drive up food prices. In our country, we’re using corn now increasingly to produce ethanol, that’s part of it. We ought to take a look at our ethanol policy, and maybe slow it down or modify it some because it is contributing to hunger around the world and that wasn’t — that clearly wasn’t our intention.

The effects of this hunger crisis are really grim. In Haiti, for example, many people are filling up their children with cookies made out of mud. There’re certain muds that have a bit of nutritional value in Haiti and so they take that mud with oil and sugar and make cookies, and gag that down. There’s a lot of desperation. And then that’s showing up in political unrest, in food riots and other unrest in about 30 countries.

We need more food aid for hungry people. Food aid goes especially to camps. These are the most desperately poor people in the world. And the money that’s been appropriated for food aid is not going as far. So rations in Darfur, for example, have been cut in half. The other thing that needs to happen is a strengthening of global agriculture, especially agriculture in the poor countries. The hidden hope in this crisis is that it can be solved especially by agricultural development in poor countries. There are about 100 million people, really poor people, who are suffering hardship because of the high food prices. But there may be 600 million equally poor people who are struggling to make a living in agriculture in poor countries. So if we can invest in agricultural productivity among those poor people, they can help to bring down the food prices and at the same time improve their own livelihoods.

I think this hunger crisis really is a religious issue because if we know anything about God, we know that God listens to the prayers of hungry mothers who can’t feed their kids. When that mother sighs and asks for help we know that God is there. And so responding to those mothers by the hundreds of millions is a profoundly religious act. It is sacred work.

ABERNETHY: David Beckmann of Bread for the World.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging the State Department to consider China one of the world’s worst violators of religious rights. The Commission’s new report says China regularly subjects religious minorities to abuse. Meanwhile, activists and faith-based groups continue to protest China’s human rights violations and its crackdown on Buddhist Tibet. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the religious voices urging world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: Senator Barack Obama this week denounced several recent controversial statements by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. On Monday, at the National Press Club in Washington, Wright addressed a crowd of both journalists and supporters and spoke out defiantly about recent criticism of him.

Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT: This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It’s an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition. And why am I speaking out now? In our community we have something called “playing the dozens.” If you think I’m going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition, and my grandma, you got another thing coming.

ABERNETHY: Some of Wright’s criticisms of the U.S. government offended many listeners, among them Senator Obama who interrupted his campaign in North Carolina to attack Wright the next day.

Senator BARACK OBAMA: I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. And I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.

ABERNETHY: So what does all this say about the black church, or better, churches? Harold Dean Trulear is a professor of applied theology at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington. He joins us from Philadelphia.

Professor Trulear, welcome.

Dr. HAROLD DEAN TRULEAR (Professor of Applied Theology, Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, D.C.): Thanks for having me.

ABERNETHY: Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama seem to represent two of many different traditions in the black churches. Would you just quickly tick off what the major traditions are?

Dr. TRULEAR: Well with respect to the approach to social issues, we would talk about the prophetic tradition. We would talk about community services. We would talk about individual services. And then we would also talk about churches that believe that spirituality and social issues don’t mix.

ABERNETHY: Let me ask you about the prophetic tradition — not prophetic in the sense of predicting the future — but prophetic in the sense of speaking out against those in power when you think they’re wrong. How prevalent is that?

Dr. TRULEAR: Well, it use to be central to the black church tradition in that the black churches were born out of discrimination in the North, when blacks were put out of white churches, and slavery in the South, when Negro spirituals included words like, “Go tell Pharaoh let my people go.” It’s resurrected to a center stage in the work of Martin Luther King who saw himself in the prophetic tradition. And now it exists along a variety of strands as our society has become more complex.

ABERNETHY: Is Jeremiah Wright a typical representative of the prophetic tradition?

Dr. TRULEAR: I would say he’s an exemplar because there are people who model their ministries after his.

ABERNETHY: Even though he can be profane and even though he can say things that a lot of people think are wildly wrong, mistaken?

Dr. TRULEAR: Well, many people thought the Biblical prophets were wildly wrong and mistaken. Many people thought that Jesus was wildly wrong and mistaken. So, that alone would not be sufficient to dissuade people from emulating him as a prophet.

ABERNETHY: Another tradition, another strand — and perhaps it’s represented primarily by younger people, maybe by Obama himself — is one that speaks more of reconciliation, of creating unity and looks ahead with hope rather than back with anger. How strong is that tradition?

Dr. TRULEAR: I think it’s very strong especially among the younger generation, as you mentioned. It also has to do with a certain historical naivete that has lost sight of the fact that there are still very many disaffected people in our nation and abroad. And any attempts towards reconciliation are going to have to take that disaffection into account.

ABERNETHY: I wanted to ask you what it’s going to take to bring about this unity that everyone hopes for?

Dr. TRULEAR: I think it’s going to take conversations that bring the disaffected to the table — that take into consideration that there’s a lot of hurt, there’s a lot of anger that’s not just historic but also exists today in many inner-cities, in many poor communities. Those are the people that Reverend Wright believes he speaks for and their concerns are going to have to be addressed if reconciliation is going to be true and not just papered over and ephemeral.

ABERNETHY: Many thanks to Harold Dean Trulear of the Howard University School of Divinity.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: In other news, a different controversy over religion and politics in New York City. Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan criticized former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for taking Communion at a Mass last month during Pope Benedict’s visit. Cardinal Egan said Giuliani should not have taken Communion because he supports abortion rights, a stance that contradicts church teaching.

Egan did not mention that Giuliani has also divorced and remarried, apparently without an annulment, which Catholic teaching says should bar him from receiving Communion. Giuliani said he would meet with Egan, but that his faith is a personal matter.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: Mainline Protestant denominations continue wrestling with issues surrounding homosexuality. The highest court of the Presbyterian Church USA this week found that a California minister did not violate church teachings when she officiated at the weddings of two lesbian couples. The court said since the church officially defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, the ceremonies weren’t really weddings. The court said PCUSA ministers may offer blessings to same-sex unions.

Meanwhile, United Methodist delegates meeting in Texas voted to maintain church policies that declare homosexuality, quote, “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and they refused to recognize or celebrate same-sex unions. The delegates did approve a measure to strengthen efforts against homophobia.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: Next month marks five years since the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire elected that denomination’s first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, a move that has brought the U.S. Episcopal Church and the entire worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism. Robinson has a new book coming out discussing his experiences and his controversial plans for the future. He spoke with Kim Lawton.

Bishop GENE ROBINSON (Diocese of New Hampshire, U.S. Episcopal Church): And this is my partner, Mark Andrew.

KIM LAWTON: In 2003, with his longtime partner Mark Andrew at his side, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and in the worldwide Anglican Communion which the U.S. Church is part of. Now Robinson is planning another ceremony likely to roil the waters again.

In June, Robinson and Andrew will have their relationship officially recognized at the New Hampshire statehouse. Then they’ll walk across the street and have the union blessed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Bishop ROBINSON: Frankly, a legal civil union, which the state of New Hampshire has allowed as of January 1, gives my partner and me some 400 of the protections that out of 1,100 that are accorded to heterosexual couples.

LAWTON: Because of strong opposition to homosexuality in many parts of the Anglican Communion, U.S. Episcopal bishops have agreed to quote “exercise restraint” in approving the blessing of same-sex unions. But they also pledged to provide for the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian Church members.

Bishop ROBINSON: We’ll keep the service private. It will not be in your face, so to speak. And yet, at the same time, I deserve the same kind of pastoral care from the Church that other couples do in my own diocese. So I’m trying to walk a fine line there.

LAWTON: The Bishop has continued to receive death threats since his election. Security was high for his consecration service where he wore a bullet-proof vest. Because of his ongoing safety concerns, Robinson says he wanted to have his union officially recognized before he heads to England in July for the Lambeth Conference, a once-every-10-years gathering of Anglican bishops.

Bishop ROBINSON: I’m just not willing to go to Lambeth and once again put myself potentially in harm’s way without protecting this person I’ve been with for 20 years as best I can. I think it’s something any husband or wife would do.

LAWTON: After some conservative Anglican bishops threatened a boycott, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams excluded Robinson from formally participating in the Lambeth gathering of more than 800 Anglican bishops from around the world.

Robinson is upset by this but says it has actually freed him up to still go and be a more vocal activist at sessions outside the official conference.

Bishop ROBINSON: I think I go with a greater sense of focus on gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people around the world. I think they are looking to me to represent them and be their voice in some way. I’m sure that’s not what the Archbishop of Canterbury was hoping for. And I suspect he would prefer me not to come at all.

LAWTON: U.S. bishops are planning two unofficial meetings where international bishops can meet Robinson.

Bishop ROBINSON: I know there are so many bishops around the world who have never had the opportunity to sit and talk with someone who is both openly gay and Christian.

LAWTON: Robinson says he’s discouraged by the divisions and what he sees as a lack of listening across the Communion. But in his new book, “In the Eye of the Storm,” he writes of the spiritual lessons he has learned amid the controversy.

Bishop ROBINSON: I don’t remember a time in my life when God seemed any more present, almost palpably close. Prayer has almost seemed redundant to me because God has seemed so close during all of this. It will surprise both conservatives and liberals how orthodox I am.

LAWTON: But determining what actually defines Anglican orthodoxy will be a major point of debate at Lambeth and well beyond.

I’m Kim Lawton reporting.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: In Israel, solemn observances of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. People throughout the country stood at attention while sirens sounded in memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: We remember the Holocaust today with a profile of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a Jewish troubadour in the 1960s and ’70s who preached love and peace and whose music has become a staple of religious observances in Jewish synagogues and homes. Carlebach was a Holocaust survivor who refused to lose his faith in God and in humankind.

Our reporter is Menachem Daum, in New York. He says every melody in this story was composed by Shlomo Carlebach.

Rabbi SHLOMO CARLEBACH: After the Holocaust it’s so easy to be angry at the world and it’s so easy to condemn the world. But we have to continue to love the world. We have to.

(Clip of Shlomo Carlebach in concert, playing guitar)

MENACHEM DAUM: In response to the Holocaust Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach stressed the power of joy and the ability of every individual to become God’s partner in fixing the world.

(Clip of Shlomo Carlebach in concert, playing guitar and whistling)

Voice of Rabbi CARLEBACH: The most important thing today every person has to do is to cleanse their hearts from anger. And the only way of getting rid of anger is when you fill your heart with a lot of joy.

DAUM: Carlebach was quite unorthodox for an Orthodox rabbi — giving up the pulpit to spread his message through music. While often at odds with the Jewish establishment, alienated young Jews of the ’60s and ’70s responded to his universal teachings. And he became known as the “rebel rabbi” of the Jewish counterculture.

Rabbi CARLEBACH (clip from concert, singing “The Song of Sabbath”): Let’s teach the whole world to sing a song of Shabbos. In cold Siberia this is what keeps them warm — they sing a song of Shabbos.

(in interview): You have to be so strong in this Jewishness that nothing in the world should move them, to un-Jewish them. But on the other hand, it has to be completely connected to every human being in the world.

(Clip of Shlomo Carlebach in concert playing guitar and humming)

Professor ARI GOLDMAN (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism): Shlomo had some way to electrify people and to inspire people. He felt, you know, one person at a time, he could change things.

CONCERT ANNOUNCER: Let’s hear it for Shlomo Carlebach and Ritchie Havens.

(Clip of Shlomo Carlebach and Ritchie Havens in Crown Heights, New York concert)

DAUM: Shlomo devoted much of his final years to improving the relationship between Jews and others. He was determined that hatred should never be passed on to new generations. He therefore performed for Jews and non-Jews at such places as Germany, Russia and Poland.

Many Jews, especially Holocaust survivors from Poland, condemned Carlebach for reaching out to the Polish people.

VOICE OF JEWISH SURVIVOR: They had hatreds towards the Jews. How can you make peace in a situation like that?

Rabbi CARLEBACH (on bus tour): I bet you know we are coming to Poland. And it’s like we have the privilege of the Polish people look at us. So maybe we can really bring them a little message from heaven that there’s hope for the world, because everybody wants the world to be better. Nobody wants the world the way it is. The only thing is nobody shows them a picture of a better world. If we can walk around and show them some good pictures — you know, the best picture is the way one human being greets another, that’s all there is to it.

(singing during concert in Poland): You know, my beautiful friends, I’m the first time in Poland and I had the sad privilege to be in Maidanek. But when I walked away I was full of hope.

CAMP GUIDE: They shot 18,000 Jews in Maidanek in one day and burned the bodies.

Rabbi CARLEBACH (singing during concert in Poland): When I walked the gas chambers it was clear to me — dawn was breaking. I want you to know, my beautiful friends, don’t ever give up on the world, don’t ever give up on any human being because we all are God’s image.

MONIKA KRAJEWSKA (Artist and Writer): We are Polish Jews and we have Polish friends. And many of those friends fell in love with Rabbi Carlebach. This is simply because of his message of love and peace. And, it’s not words like you read in the newspaper or statements made by politicians. But you feel it.

(1995 Clip of Pope John Paul II in Giants Stadium listening to performance of Shlomo Carlebach’s song, “Because of My Brothers and Friends”)

DAUM: Rabbi Carlebach died in 1994. A year later, his song of peace that he sang at every concert was chosen to honor Pope John Paul II.

(Clip of audience singing and clapping at the Pope John Paul II Concert in New York)

NESHAMA CARLEBACH (Rabbi Carlebach’s Daughter at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, performs “Because of My Brothers and Friends” during a Martin Luther King Day Concert): I think my father would have loved it. I think he would have loved just the feeling of the worlds coming together because that’s really what Martin Luther King was wanting to accomplish –and definitely what my father was wanting to accomplish.

(Clip of Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir performing “Because of My Brothers and Friends” with Ms. Carlebach)

Prof. GOLDMAN: The Jewish world embraced him after his death. When he was alive he was often a pariah. And, I don’t think anyone could have imagined the kind of impact that his music would continue to have these many years after his death. It’s remarkable.

(Clip of Shlomo Carlebach in concert, playing guitar and whistling)

Voice of Rabbi CARLEBACH: This person asks me: “What’s your message?” So I said: “My message is nothing you don’t know — the only thing is we got to do it.” Everybody knows it, but we never do it. My message is that: “there’s one God. We are one world. We are all brothers and sisters.”

DAUM: For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Menachem Daum.

# # #

BOB ABERNETHY: That’s our program for now. I’m Bob Abernethy.

There’s much more on our Web site, including Kim Lawton’s interview with Gene Robinson and more about the Jeremiah Wright controversy on our “One Nation” politics page. Audio and video podcasts of the program are also available. Join us at pbs.org.

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