First up from the God Machine is a new video from President Obama, who released a message this week to "people of faith," coming at least in part in response to attacks from the the right against his faith and his commitment to religious liberty.
"I know faith is often used as a wedge in our politics, and with a new election year comes new attacks [but] the American people should know this: In a changing world, my commitment to protecting religious liberty is and always will be unwavering," Obama said. He also spoke directly about his own "Christian faith, which has guided me through my presidency and in my life."
But of particular interest, was the way in which the president connected his policy record to his faith, by stressing "shared moral obligations."
"When we took action to rescue the auto industry, we stood with workers, families, and communities that would have suffered had we allowed our auto companies to go bankrupt -- because a good job isn't just about a paycheck; it's about the dignity that work brings.
"On health care reform, we stood with the mother who no longer has to worry about whether her child will be able to get care because of a pre-existing condition.
"On issues like education, poverty, and immigration, I'm standing on the side of human dignity and a belief in the inherent worth* of human beings."
The thematic significance is part of a larger Obama goal: expanding the scope of what counts as "moral" issues, away from sex and reproductive health, and towards a larger universe of issues involving what benefits families and communities. It's why, as far as the president is concerned, he can and should stress health care and the auto rescue when it comes to connecting with people of faith -- because he defines "shared moral obligations" more broadly than his critics do.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Did Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) suggest the separation of church and state has been used by "Satan" to drive "people of faith from the public arena"? Pretty much, yes.
* Well, that's interesting: "A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: 'Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'"
* David Twede, a scientist, novelist, and fifth-generation Mormon, is facing possible excommunication from his church after publishing a series of articles critical of Mitt Romney on his MormonThink website.
* A scandal has rocked a 17,000-member Oklahoma megachurch, where five employees reportedly waited two weeks to report the rape of a 13-year-old girl in a campus stairwell, allegedly by a church worker (thanks to reader R.P for the tip).
* The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which had already been caught up in the international sex scandal involving the abuse of children, is facing another round of allegations, with eight men and a woman coming forward this week. The nine filed civil suits alleging the Archdiocese of "conspiring to conceal incidents of sex abuse, failing to address the problem and ignoring complaints about abusive clergy."
* And there was a fascinating and important Senate hearing this week on hate crimes and domestic terrorism, and members heard from Hapreet Singh Saini, a teenager who lost his mother last month when a white supremacist walked into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and shot her while she was praying. Saini asked that the FBI update its hate-crime materials in order to recognize Sikh Americans, who currently do not have a "check box."
(thanks to commentor locknpost for catching the typo)