NEWS STORY: Democrats Aim to Change Perception of `GOP: God’s Official Party’

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The Bible is full of stories of squabbling sons fighting to be declared their father’s rightful heirs: Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, the prodigal son and his jealous brother. The same might be said for Republicans and Democrats this election season as they compete for God’s blessing _ or at least the votes of his followers. “I think the Democrats are going to have to affirm that we all need to talk to God and ask, `Are we your children too, or are you only claiming the right wing?”’ said the Rev. James Forbes, pastor of New York’s Riverside Church. As Democrats gather in Boston next week for their convention, progressives are planning a serious effort to reclaim religion.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service United Methodists Elect 21 New Bishops (RNS) The United Methodist Church has elected 21 new bishops to serve in the United States, including three African-Americans, four Asian-Americans, a Hispanic woman and five white women. The new bishops were elected during five regional meetings last week (July 12-17) to serve at least one of the church’s 63 regional conferences. Twenty-nine other current bishops were appointed to additional four-year terms. Four other bishops will be elected later this year to serve the church’s 1.7 million members in overseas conferences. The new bishops included women and ethnic minorities who will bring greater diversity to represent the church’s 8.3 million U.S. members.

COMMENTARY: Joseph Harris Says Catholicism Neither Adrift nor Foundering

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) Catholics everywhere worry about whether there will still be a Catholic Church to serve their children and grandchildren. They would take great comfort from the analytic work of Joseph Claude Harris. While others search its surface only for dead bodies, indictments and bankruptcy papers, Harris pans gold out of the Mississippi of information streaming from the headwaters of American Catholicism.

COMMENTARY: Troubling Signs Among the Presbyterians

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) What’s up with the Presbyterian Church (USA)? At the church’s recent General Assembly in Richmond, Va., delegates passed resolutions that refused to shut down funding for deceptive missionary campaigns aimed at Jews, and called for study of a selective divestment of investments in companies doing business in Israel. But there was more. Perhaps concerned that many evangelical Protestants theologically support Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement, the Presbyterians rejected “Christian Zionism” as a legitimate expression of Reformed Christian belief.

NEWS STORY: Differences Within Parties Push Abortion to Background in Campaign 2004

c.2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ With significant shares of both Republicans and Democrats disagreeing with their parties’ stands on abortion, President Bush and his challenger, John F. Kerry, are soft-pedaling the issue where national audiences are concerned. Neither candidate has aired a national television ad on the subject. And neither seems troubled that same sex-marriage has pushed aside abortion as a priority in the 2004 election debate. In May, when the Gallup Poll asked whether respondents considered themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” 35 percent of Republicans said they were pro-choice and 37 percent of Democrats said they were pro-life. And in May, pollster Linda DiVall, in a survey conducted for an abortion rights group, Republican Majority for Choice, asked this: “Regardless of how you personally feel about the issue of abortion, do you believe a woman, her family and her doctor should make the decision regarding whether to have an abortion, or should the government make the decision?” Among Republicans, 73 percent said the woman, 13 percent said the government, and the rest had other opinions.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Poll: Protestant Numbers Shrinking, May Lose Majority Status (RNS) Protestants could cease to be the majority religious group in the United States within the next year and their numbers already may have dipped below 50 percent, a new study by the National Opinion Research Center says. From 1972, when the University of Chicago-based NORC began its General Social Survey, until 1993, the Protestant share of the population remained constant, averaging 62.8 percent. It then began to show a decline, reaching 52.4 percent in 2002. The study attributed the decline to, among other things, the fact that fewer children were being raised in Protestant homes over the past four decades.

NEWS FEATURE: Boston Archdiocese Averted the Bankruptcy that Portland Later Sought

c. 2004 Religion News Service BOSTON _ By December 2002, the threat of priest-abuse claims had forced the Archdiocese of Boston into financial straits that seemed so desperate its leaders saw just one way out: seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Cardinal Bernard Law, then head of the archdiocese, received grudging permission from the Vatican to file. But after Law resigned that month, church leaders across the country intervened to stop what they regarded as a dangerous precedent. “We were the story, and what was going on in Boston was having ripple effects across the country,” said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, an archdiocese spokesman.

NEWS FEATURE: Baptist Seminary Part of Reform Effort at `America’s Worst Prison’

c. 2004 Religion News Service BATON ROUGE, La. _ Most people call it Angola. Some simply refer to it as “the farm.” In 1954, Collier’s magazine called it “America’s worst prison.” And to those who’ve been there long enough to remember the way Louisiana State Prison used to be, it was hell on earth. In 1995, a new warden took over at Angola, pointing the notorious prison in a different direction.

NEWS STORY: Greek Orthodox Prepare for Contentious Assembly in New York

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Call it My Big Fat Greek Charter Dispute. An ongoing tug-of-war between Greek Orthodox Church leaders and restive parishioners is poised to heat up next week when clergy and lay delegates converge on New York City for a biennial legislative assembly. On the surface, the scuffle may seem little more than a family feud in a relatively small ethnic church. But, in many ways, the dispute holds important ramifications for what it means to be Orthodox in America as New World parishioners seek to loosen ties to Old World authority.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Ten Commandments Monument Hits the Road MONTGOMERY, Ala. (RNS) Motorcycle police with blue lights flashing led former Chief Justice Roy Moore’s controversial Ten Commandments monument out of town on the back of a flatbed truck Monday. A few dozen spectators and almost as many police and reporters watched as workers with Clark Memorials of Birmingham guided the 5,280-pound block of granite down a ramp from the state judicial building. The monument, stored in an unused judicial building room for most of the past year, was lifted by a crane onto the truck and wrapped in blankets and a green tarpaulin.

NEWS STORY: Religious Groups, Others Urge Court to End Juvenile Death Penalty

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ A wide array of nearly 30 religious groups have called on the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw the execution of minors. The high court is expected to hear oral arguments for Roper v. Simmons, a juvenile death penalty case, when its new term opens in the fall. On Monday (July 19) denominations that typically find little theological common ground joined to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in which they urged the court to heed “evolving standards of decency” and stop states from applying the death penalty to youths under 18 years old. Signatories to the brief include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Greek Orthodox Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the American Jewish Committee, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

NEWS FEATURE: For Many, Crafts Are a Kind of Prayer, Aid for Needy

c. 2004 Beliefnet (UNDATED) On Sunday, some people go to church to worship. On Saturday, some go to church to knit. “We are knitting prayers into shawls to bless those who will receive them,” said Julie Tampa, one of 40 women who show up, knitting needles in hand, to spend two hours each weekend knitting and praying at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in the Great Valley in Paoli, Pa.

NEWS FEATURE: John Perkins Speaks Out on Race, Poverty

c. 2004 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The Rev. John M. Perkins, 74, chairman emeritus of the Christian Community Development Association and civil rights veteran, grew up amid serious poverty in Mississippi. As a teen, he moved to California where he was converted in a Holiness church. Perkins returned to his home state, where he was ordained by a Missionary Baptist church. He fought for civil rights and later worked on racial reconciliation and community development.

COMMENTARY: Time to Get Serious

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) Michael Moore’s documentary film “Fahrenheit 9/11” isn’t for everyone. For some, it preaches to the choir, adding fuel to their dismay over President George W. Bush. For others, it seems an unfair attack grounded in unlikely conspiracy theories.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Religious Groups Chide Congress for Not Passing Welfare Reform WASHINGTON (RNS) A coalition of Christian and Jewish groups urged Congress to stop keeping welfare alive with temporary extensions and instead move to a long-term overhaul of the program. Ten mainline Protestant churches were joined by anti-hunger groups, Jewish organizations and a Catholic social justice group to urge a five-year reauthorization of the 1996 welfare law. “Congress is denying the states the certainty of funding and clarity of program direction that they need to operate their programs most effectively,” said a July 13 letter to senators from the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs. The welfare program, known as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), was originally set to expire in September 2002.