RNS Daily Digest

c. 1999 Religion News Service Update: New Indonesian Christian-Muslim strife leaves hundreds dead (RNS) More than 300 people have died in clashes this week between Indonesian Christians and Muslims In North Maluku province, some 250 people have been killed in violence that began Sunday (Dec. 26), a military spokesman said. The fighting on the island of Halmahera began when a mob of 400 Christians attacked a Muslim village, according to Lt. Col. Iwa Budiman, a local military spokesman.

MILLENNIUM FEATURE: A millennial balance sheet on Christianity

c. 1999 by MSNBC.com on the Internet, where it originally appeared, and is reprinted with permission.) UNDATED _ From the handful of followers who first heard the teachings of Jesus to the 2.2 billion members of various denominations alive today, Christians were to be a force to heal and transform the world. And after 2,000 years of believing, Christians comprise 33.1 percent of the world’s population. But beyond the numbers, exactly how successful has this faith been? What are its prospects for the future?

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1999 Religion News Service China maintains pressure on Falun Gong following sentencing of four (RNS) Beijing police detained several dozen members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement Monday (Dec. 27), one day after four key organizers were given prison sentences of up to 18 years in prison. In Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, five Falun Gong members attempted to raise a protest banner Monday but were quickly stopped by uniformed and plainclothes police stationed in the square, the site of frequent protests by the group since the communist government outlawed it five months ago. Police questioned many other visitors to the vast plaza and led several dozen into waiting blue-and-white police vans.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1999 Religion News Service Poll: Israeli Jews know little about Christianity _ or Christmas (RNS) Israeli Jews generally have positive attitudes toward Christians but have little knowledge of Christianity, including what day most Christians celebrate Christmas, according to a new poll. Released as a flood of Christian pilgrims arrives in Israel to mark the new millennium, the poll also found that most Israeli Jews have a positive opinion of the upcoming visit to the Holy Land by Pope John Paul II and consider American Christians generally supportive of Israel. The Gallup poll was commissioned by the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which seeks to foster interfaith dialogue. The poll found that just 25 percent of those surveyed knew that Dec.

COMMENTARY: Could Christians be mistaken?

c. 1999 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is publisher of Religion News Service.) UNDATED _ What if we got it wrong? What if da Vinci and Mozart and Michelangelo were all mistaken? What if Christ never came to earth to inspire cathedrals or cantatas or crusades? Think what the last 2,000 years might have been like if Christianity was mostly a private way of life instead of a public declaration.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1999 Religion News Service Vermont Supreme Court rules in favor of gay couple benefits (RNS) The Vermont Supreme Court ruled Monday (Dec. 20) that gay couples are entitled to the same benefits and protections that the state provides heterosexual married couples. The court said it is up to the state’s legislature to determine whether benefits will come through a system of domestic partnerships or through formal marriage.”We hold that the state is constitutionally required to extend to same-sex couples the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law,”the court ruled. The decision followed a recent Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that ended the possibility of gay marriages in that state.

NEWS FEATURE: Jain restaurant wins kosher label

c. 1999 Religion News Service VANCOUVER, British Columbia _ At first glance, Mahendra Shah, a follower of the Jain religion and owner of the Surat Sweet Restaurant here, and Orthodox Rabbi Levy Teitlebaum, an inspector for British Columbia Kosher, may seem like something of a spiritual odd couple. But they have something in common _ the food, and the belief that you are what you eat. While it is not uncommon for non-Jews to own and run kosher restaurants, both Shah and Teitlebaum say they believe the kosher label bestowed by Teitlebaum on Shah’s Surat Sweet is the world’s first Jain-run kosher restaurant.”Judaism has always said that everything you consume becomes part and parcel of you,”Teitlebaum said in an interview after granting Surat Sweet restaurant his coveted kosher label.”Your body is made up of every atom you ever ingest,”agreed Shah, sitting beside Teitlebaum, who has become a friend over the past few years. The kosher label means many things for how a restaurant must be run, including that certain vegetables are not served because they may contain insects; that milk products are never produced with utensils that might have touched the wrong foods; and that not even microscopic portions of some meat products, particularly pork, are ever allowed to touch other foods.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1999 Religion News Service Controversial painting of Virgin Mary sabotaged at Brooklyn museum (RNS) A controversial painting of the Virgin Mary was smeared with white paint Thursday (Dec. 16) by a visitor to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Dennis Heiner, 72, was arrested immediately after allegedly committing the act of sabotage on the painting, in which the Virgin Mary is decorated with elephant dung. He was charged with criminal mischief, a felony, the Associated Press reported.

NEWS FEATURE: `Flamingoed’ for mission

c. 1999 Religion News Service STUART, Fla. _ Three men sliced through the darkness in a white Ford pickup truck with their secret cargo. They carried flashlights and a slip of pink paper with their destination scrawled on the back. All over the age of 30, they approached their mission with the enthusiasm of boys playing G.I. Joe.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1999 Religion News Service Magazine names greatest preachers of the 20th century (RNS) Preaching, a bimonthly magazine, has named the greatest preachers of the 20th century, with the Rev. Billy Graham and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. among its top 10. The No. 1 ranking was given to the late James S. Stewart, a Scottish preacher and New Testament professor who served a two-year term in the 1960s as moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.”His books such as `Heralds of God’ … and `A Faith to Proclaim’ …

NEWS STORY: AMA endorses assisted suicide ban, but asks changes

c. 1999 Religion News Service SAN DIEGO _ The American Medical Association is asking for significant changes in a congressional bill targeting physician-assisted suicides in Oregon while affirming its general support of the legislation. In a voice vote Wednesday (Dec. 8) subject to several interpretations, the AMA’s House of Delegates expressed apprehension about federal investigators interpreting whether deaths are physician-assisted suicides or the unintended consequence of prescribing large doses of pain relievers. The delegates approved a resolution calling upon AMA leadership to work with other medical organizations to delete parts of proposed legislation establishing federal regulations for pain management and end-of-life care.

NEWS STORY: Visitor reports vision of Virgin Mary after sky flash

c. 1999 Religion News Service BIRMINGHAM, Ala. _ About 3,000 people gathered to see visionary Marija Lunetti on Wednesday in a rural field where she said the Virgin Mary appeared to her three days after nearby residents reported an unexplained flash of light had streaked across the sky. Caritas of Birmingham, which promotes the visions that started in 1981 with six children in Lunetti’s hometown of Medugorje in the old Yugoslavia, announced to the crowd that the mysterious flash of light was a sign from the Virgin Mary. “We really felt very strongly, this is Our Lady,” said Joan McDonald, a staff member of Caritas of Birmingham, which invited Lunetti to Alabama.

NEWS STORY: Salvation Army finds a shortage of volunteer bellringers

c. 1999 Religion News Service STUART, Fla. They are as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas lights and a shopping mall Santa Claus. When the Salvation Army bellringers arrive with their red collection kettles, you know Christmas can’t be far behind. But this year officials from the nation’s top-grossing charity are struggling to find volunteers to man the kettles in some parts of the country.

TOP STORY: ISRAEL’S WAR OF HOLY PLACES: Muslim prayer site to open beneath Temple Mount

c. 1996 Religion News Service JERUSALEM _ As the opening of an Israeli archaeological tunnel along the western wall of the Al Aksa Mosque compound triggered Palestinian riots and Muslim outrage in September, a small cadre of Arab volunteers were quietly laying the floors for a vast new Muslim prayer area in another ancient underground chamber not far away. The newly renovated Marawani prayer area, a chamber the size of a football-field underneath the mosque itself, is seen here as Islam’s latest trump card in the centuries-old competition for holy space between Jews and Muslims around the mosque compound, which was built on the ruins of Judaism’s ancient Temple Mount. The long-neglected chambers, which can accommodate thousands of Muslim worshipers, are expected to open within weeks and may represent the largest formal addition of prayer space on the Al Aksa compound since the early Islamic era, when Muslim rulers first built the Al Aksa mosque and the gold-plated Dome of the Rock. While some Israeli right-wing religious activists and politicians have protested the Muslim renovations, the hardline government of Benjamin Netanyahu has not moved to stop the work, knowing that any move by Israel could touch off another round of violence even more severe than what occurred in September.