NEWS FEATURE: Families Asking to Witness Cremation Procedure

c. 2004 Religion News Service PORTLAND, Ore. _ For many years, funerals throughout the Pacific Northwest have taken on the same iconoclastic bent of the place itself. Here, cremations outnumber traditional burials; country clubs and favorite restaurants have supplanted churches and mortuary chapels as the venue for eulogizing. But now funeral home directors are getting an increasing number of requests from family members who cremate their loved ones: More and more, they are asking to watch the container that holds the body disappear into the retort, or creation chamber _ and even to press the incinerator’s start button.

NEWS FEATURE: Campaign Helps Poor in Nation’s Capital Help Themselves

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Ed. note: Photo to accompany this article is available from To download photos from the RNS photo Web site, call 800-767-6781.) WASHINGTON _ When Lora Hymes was in high school, she was concerned about other young people who had been dealt some bad breaks so she volunteered at the local youth homeless shelter. She never thought that one day she’d end up there herself.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Massachusetts UCC Endorses State’s Gay Marriage Law SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. (RNS) With an 80 percent majority vote, delegates of the largest Protestant denomination in Massachusetts voted Saturday (June 12) to “celebrate and affirm” the state’s new law to permit gay marriages. Delegates approved a resolution affirming the right of same-gender couples to legally marry in the commonwealth by a 4-to-1 margin at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. The vote taken among the 657 delegates assembled on the campus of Mount Holyoke College marked the first time since the law took effect May 17 that the membership of a major church body had gathered to make a statement on it.

COMMENTARY: When a Father Is Gone

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Tom Ehrich is a writer and computer consultant, managing large-scale database implementations. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. Visit his Web site at (UNDATED) A friend’s father died today, a week before Father’s Day. Now he must make his own way. I don’t mean holding a job, raising a family or making major decisions.

NEWS STORY: Baptist Conservatives Celebrate Takeover Resurgence

c. 2004 Religion News Service INDIANAPOLIS _ Hundreds of fans of the 25-year-old turn toward conservatism in the Southern Baptist Convention celebrated the milestone at a reunion event Monday (June 14). “Remembering the Legacy, Reaching the Future,” was the theme of the Conservative Resurgence Reunion held on the eve of the annual meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination at the Indiana Convention Center. Memories of key moments in those 25 years were rekindled for an audience of more than 500 as leaders of the movement received standing ovations and video footage of the late W.A. Criswell carried his sermons from the 1980s that spurred on those seeking the conservative control that now holds the denomination’s seminaries and agencies. Criswell spoke on “the curse of liberalism” in a 1985 speech _ whose mere topic drew cheers at that year’s annual meeting _ and said the people he considered liberals called themselves “moderates” at the time.

NEWS STORY: Supreme Court Says Atheist Has No Standing to Challenge `Under God’

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday (June 14) sidestepped a volatile dispute over the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling that a California atheist had no standing to challenge the phrase on behalf of his daughter. The court, in a lopsided 8-0 decision, dismissed the challenge brought by Michael Newdow because he does not have sole custody of his 10-year-old daughter and therefore cannot act as her legal representative. The girl’s mother, Sandra Banning, had told the court she does not object to her daughter hearing the words “under God” in the pledge. The ruling preserves _ at least for now _ the traditional language of the pledge, but does not address the larger question of whether the phrase violates the separation of church and state.

NEWS FEATURE: Do all Dogs Go to Heaven? Theologians Speculate

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Heaven can’t wait for a lot of family pets. In some households, a dog’s life could be considered paradise on Earth. An indulgent baby-boomer generation has given rise to such institutions as doggie day care, doggie spas and doggie vacations. Nor does the connection end in this life.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Catholic Bishops Begin Closed-Door Meeting in Colorado (RNS) The nation’s Catholic bishops convened a closed-door retreat in Colorado on Monday (June 14), with discussions scheduled on denying Communion to certain politicians and additional audits on sexual abuse. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting at the Inverness Hotel in Arapahoe County outside Denver. Once every five years, the bishops suspend normal business to focus on prayer and spiritual reflection. This year, however, the bishops will consider varying responses to dissenting Catholic politicians, and whether to authorize a second round of audits to measure compliance with two-year-old sexual abuse reforms. A handful of conservative bishops have said politicians who support abortion rights _ namely presidential candidate John Kerry _ should be denied Communion.

COMMENTARY: The Fragility of Civilization

c. 2004 Religion News Service (David P. Gushee is the Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.) (UNDATED) Despite having no big-name stars, this summer’s first true blockbuster movie is the ecodisaster thriller “The Day After Tomorrow.” I saw it recently and was deeply impressed by its powerful depiction of the coming of a new ice age caused by our indifference to global warming and other man-made environmental threats. The movie raises profound questions about the future of human civilization. No one is arguing “The Day After Tomorrow” has the realism of a science textbook. If we initiate such environmental devastation, it will almost certainly take far longer to develop than a movie has the time to depict.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Billy Graham Center Archives Spared in Fire at Wheaton College (RNS) The archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College were spared when a fire broke out in the roof of the center’s auditorium on Tuesday (June 8). Almost 100 firefighters fought the blaze and about 200 people were evacuated from the building, the interdenominational Christian college in Wheaton, Ill., announced. “The fire department’s response was quick and effective,” said college president Duane Litfin in a statement. “If they had not responded in a timely fashion and with the expertise they did, the building would have sustained much more damage.” The Barrows Auditorium, a lecture hall used for conferences and classes, was the only area that sustained damage.

NEWS STORY: Reagan Rites Mix Faith With Patriotism and Pageantry

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Thousands of invited guests filled Washington National Cathedral to bid farewell to former President Ronald Reagan Friday (June 11) in a state funeral steeped in religious tradition and political tributes. Military musicians joined world leaders in the ceremony officiated by the Rev. John C. Danforth, former Missouri Republican senator and Episcopal priest, and featuring eulogies from the two Republican presidents _ George Bush and his father, George Herbert Walker Bush _ who followed the 40th commander in chief in the White House. “Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant Ronald, and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints,” proclaimed Danforth as the 1 1/2-hour service began. Reagan’s flag-draped casket was welcomed and dismissed from the gothic cathedral by the U.S. Coast Guard band.

NEWS FEATURE: First `Mythic Journeys’ Conference Celebrates Scholar Joseph Campbell

c. 2004 Religion News Service ATLANTA _ A wildly eclectic lineup of more than 140 speakers and a vast range of activities _ from early-morning ecstatic dance sessions to a late-night rock opera concert _ drew more than 1,000 people, including artists, teachers, psychologists, religious leaders, game designers, and the just plain curious for a four-day exploration of myth and mythology. The June 4-7 Mythic Journeys conference, marked the centennial birthday of pioneering scholar Joseph Campbell, and was the first major undertaking of the Atlanta-based Mythic Imagination Institute. Michael Karlin, president and founder, says he launched the institute to bring Campbell’s ideas about myth to a wider audience. Over a 50-year teaching and writing career, Campbell collected and closely examined core stories from religions and cultures around the world.

NEWS FEATURE: Documentary Traces the Story of the `Lost Boys’ of Sudan

c. 2004 Religion News Service CHICAGO _ When he was a boy herding cattle in Southern Sudan, Santino Majok Chuor would sometimes look up and see a jet leaving contrails across the sky. He and his friends would joke that “a girl of America” was flying the plane. Chuor dreamed of one day going to America as a student and meeting an American girl. In September 2001, Chuor made it to the US _ not as a student, but as a refugee.

This story originally appeared on the Web site of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (

c. 2003 Religion and Ethics Newsweekly WASHINGTON _ William Martin, professor of religion and public policy at Rice University, and the author of “With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America,” talked with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly about Ronald Reagan, religion and politics: Q. What is the significance of Ronald Reagan for the Christian right today? Martin: They still look to Reagan as the paragon, the hero. I’m fairly certain that Reagan would have won without the Christian right’s votes _ certainly the first time, and surely the second time, because he won so much bigger. But they did vote for him; they did come out in force for him, and because he won, in their own minds they took a lot of credit for it.

COMMENTARY: Measuring Greatness in a President

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy analyst and social worker to the homeless. He currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J., and a fellow of the George H. Gallup International Institute in Princeton, N.J.) (UNDATED) In his 1987 memoir, “Man of the House,” former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass., argued that while he believed Ronald Reagan ranked among the nation’s worst presidents, “he would have made a hell of a king.” On the other hand, National Review, the intellectual flagship of the traditional right, has for many years praised all things Reagan. As the nation mourns the loss of the man The New York Times called “one of the most important presidents of the 20th century,” there is the inevitable struggle to place his life, and, in particular, his presidency, in perspective. How will history judge Ronald Reagan?