RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Atheist Group Sues Officials of White House Faith-Based Offices (RNS) The Freedom from Religion Foundation has filed suit against officials of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, saying their actions unconstitutionally favor religious organizations. The eight-page complaint, filed Thursday (June 17) in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wis., questions federal funding of faith-based groups as well as the national and regional conferences sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. Defendants named in the suit include Jim Towey, director of the office, executives of similar cabinet-level offices and several members of Bush’s cabinet. “The defendants’ actions have violated the fundamental principle of the separation of church and state by using federal taxpayer appropriations to support activities that endorse religion and give faith-based organizations preferred positions as political insiders,” the suit alleges.

NEWS STORY: Tucson Diocese May Declare Bankruptcy

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Tucson sent a letter to parishioners on Wednesday (June 16) warning them that the diocese may have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The letter, from Bishop Gerald Kicanas, explains why the diocese asked a state court on Monday for a continuance on a sexual abuse suit while it studies the feasibility of filing for bankruptcy. While the letter states that bankruptcy may be “the only option for the diocese,” the bishop said in an interview that no action is imminent and that the diocese “will continue to explore our options to heal the hurt of those who have suffered while also continuing the mission of the church.” If the Tucson diocese filed for bankruptcy, it would be the first in the United States to take that step. The Archdiocese of Boston appeared to be ready to make the move in 2002 but avoided it by closing 65 parishes and selling off millions of dollars in assets.

NEWS STORY: Vermont Episcopalians Unveil Rites for Gay Civil Unions

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Episcopalians in Vermont, in a “pastoral response” to the nation’s first and only civil unions law, have unveiled liturgical rites that gay couples can use in the state’s 48 Episcopal churches. The worship guidelines, which look and sound like liturgies used for heterosexual weddings, are believed to be the first anywhere in the Anglican Communion that convey church blessings on gay civil partnerships. The services are contained in a 36-page manual that is being distributed in briefing sessions to clergy this weekend (June 18-19). An 18-member committee began drafting the rites last October, and they are expected to become official in 2006.

New CDs Offer Cross Section of Christian Musical Sounds

(UNDATED) Three recent releases from Christian contemporary groups offer fans a cross section of sounds from this increasingly diverse musical genre. Hard driving rock, soft ballads, worship-style music and classic gospel comprise three new releases from Third Day, Caedmon’s Call and the Jacksonville, Fla., Youth for Christ Choir. Like the Bible, these CDs shimmer with word pictures, poems and stories. The singers know God well, seek more intimate conversation with the Divine and would enlist others to do the same. The Grammy and Dove Award-winning rockers of Third Day bring their best to their seventh studio album, “Wire,” on Essential Records/Provident Label Group.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Church Group Lobbies for Legal Medical Marijuana WASHINGTON (RNS) The fight for compassionate medical marijuana policy is getting a boost from religious organizations ranging from the Episcopal Church to the Union for Reform Judaism. Even though some of these groups have been supporters of legislative change for years, one Washington-area advocacy group is worried that lawmakers forget this broad religious support when it is time to cast their votes. “Politicians who say they oppose medical uses of marijuana say they’re doing it because of morality,” said Charles Thomas, executive director of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative. “But what I want to know is, where did they get their ideas about morality?” Thomas’ group sent letters to members of Congress on Wednesday (June 16) as part of a new campaign urging lawmakers to support an upcoming amendment that would protect a state’s right to decide if it will allow the use of medical marijuana.

NEWS STORY: What’s In a Name? Baptists Debate Dropping `Southern’ From Name

c. 2004 Religion News Service INDIANAPOLIS _ Does the name “Southern Baptist Convention” represent a region, a theology or something else? Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination engaged in a spirited debate that centered on that question Tuesday (June 15) after former Southern Baptist Executive Committee chairman Claude Thomas officially suggested a committee be created to study whether the name should be changed. The sentiments were split enough to prompt a ballot vote _ rather than a mere show of hands _ and the voters at the evening session rejected the study with 1,731 or 55.4 percent, opposed and 1,391, or 44.6 percent, in favor. On the convention floor, people lined up at microphones to express their regional and religious perspectives on the matter.

NEWS FEATURE: Van Angels: Couple Helps Churches Retrofit 15-Passenger Vans

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Mark Smith often contemplates what his daughter, Malori, would be doing now if she hadn’t been killed on a church mission trip to Mexico two years ago, six weeks after her high school graduation. “You can’t help wondering,” Smith said by phone from his Denver home. “All of her friends are coming home from college now, and I often think about what she would be doing, too.” Smith hopes that through a new nonprofit project, Van Angels, no other parents ever have a child killed while riding in a 15-passenger vehicle. The vehicles are often called “church vans” because of their popularity with church groups.

NEWS STORY: Southern Baptists, Ending Meeting, Hear Plea to Evangelize Schools

c. 2004 Religion News Service INDIANAPOLIS _ Evangelist Franklin Graham closed out the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting Wednesday (June 16) by announcing a new initiative to encourage public school children to be on-campus evangelists for Christ. “I want to see a child, at least one child, in every class in every public school in America who is trained as a witness for Jesus Christ,” said Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The association plans to enroll children in an Internet-based witnessing program that will give them cards identifying them as “certified evangelists.” The son of Billy Graham and the president of the Samaritan’s Purse relief organization urged Southern Baptists to be similarly vocal about their faith. “There is no other way to God except through Jesus Christ,” he said.

COMMENTARY: Reagan’s Senses of Timing and Humor Would Help American Bishops

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author of “Cardinal Bernardin’s Stations of the Cross,” published by St. Martin’s Press.) (UNDATED) The late Ronald Reagan had two things that our beleaguered Catholic bishops could use right now _ a sure sense of timing and a wonderful sense of humor. As when he observed ironically that the problem with government was exemplified by naming the office overseeing everything outdoors the “Department of the Interior.” Perhaps because they have become so Roman, many bishops have misplaced the Irish good humor that, as with Reagan, could save them from bad days and worse headlines and reveal a side of themselves they seem determined to hide. Take their relationship with the media about whose prejudices or failure to report their statements in context they frequently complain.

COMMENTARY: A Biblical All-Star Team

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) The other day I joined millions of fellow baseball fans in choosing the starting lineup for next month’s All-Star game in Houston. While the game itself has no real meaning, it is a yearly opportunity to vote for well-established stars, and to recognize outstanding rookies and lesser-known players who deserve the All-Star designation. It set me thinking: If we could choose a scriptural All-Star team, which personalities of the Hebrew Bible would get my votes? Here’s my list.

NEWS STORY: Presbyterians to Consider Proper Relations With Jews

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When the Presbyterian Church (USA) gathers for its General Assembly meeting in Richmond, Va., perennial fights over homosexuality are likely to be overshadowed by the future of a controversial messianic Jewish congregation outside Philadelphia. Avodat Yisrael, a fledgling Presbyterian congregation that looks and feels like a Jewish synagogue, has come under fire from Jewish groups as a deceptive attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. The congregation celebrates Jewish holidays, uses Jewish ritual music and sacred objects such as menorahs and Torah scrolls. Pastor Andrew Sparks says his congregation hopes to reach interfaith couples, nonworshipping Jews and Jewish converts.

NEWS STORY: Baptists Reject Effort Calling for Withdrawal From Public Schools

c. 2004 Religion News Service INDIANAPOLIS _ Southern Baptists turned back efforts Wednesday (June 16) to reject their involvement in public schools, ending a volatile and controversial debate that began with a proposal circulated prior to their annual meeting. A resolutions committee declined to recommend the controversial resolution to convention attendees, but its key proponent made an unsuccessful attempt to amend another resolution to address his concerns. Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination also passed a resolution supporting a federal marriage amendment. T.C. Pinckney, a former second vice president of the denomination, co-authored a proposed resolution that encouraged Southern Baptists to remove their children from public schools and instead place them in home schools and private Christian schools.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Catholic Bishops Submit Testimony to Democratic, GOP Platform Committees WASHINGTON (RNS) As the Republicans and Democrats begin to draw up their party platforms for this summer’s national conventions, the nation’s Catholic bishops urged them to “focus on moral principles” instead of “the latest polls.” “The central question should not be `Are you better off than you were four years ago,”’ the bishops wrote, echoing the campaign trope of recently deceased former president Ronald Reagan. “It should be `How can “we” _ all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable _ be better off in the years ahead?”’ The bishops’ platform testimony, “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Responsibility,” outlines the Catholic Church’s stance on a range of public policy issues, and is part of the bishops’ quadrennial political responsibility statement. The church’s teachings,“can inform the choices of all people who share our commitment to justice and peace in our nation and the world. We ask that you review the statement …

NEWS STORY: Catholic Bishops Approve More Sexual Abuse Audits

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday (June 15) to proceed with a second round of audits to measure their own compliance with sexual abuse reforms. The bishops, meeting at a closed-door retreat in Englewood, Colo., voted 207-14 for the audits, which are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year and released next February. There was one abstention. The bishops’ conference came under heavy fire from lay reform groups last month after more than 30 bishops urged that the audits be delayed or canceled altogether. The bishops initially agreed to the audits in June 2002 as part of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted after the sex abuse scandal erupted.