NEWS STORY: Probe Faults Military Official for Religious Speeches

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A Defense Department investigation of an undersecretary who said the war on terrorism was a religious battle has concluded that military officials should take “corrective action” against him for violating department rules. The report from an inspector general, obtained by The Washington Post and Reuters, states that Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin did not get clearance for his remarks and failed to clarify that his statements were not official. “We recommend that the acting secretary of the Army take appropriate corrective action with respect to Lt. Gen. Boykin,” the report stated, according to the news reports. The investigation also found that Boykin did not report a reimbursement for travel expenses from a nongovernment source.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Sikh Official Declines Invitation to White House Event (RNS) A top official of a Sikh organization has declined an invitation to a White House event because he would not have been able to bring a kirpan, or small dagger traditionally worn by Sikhs, into the event. Kuldeep Singh, chairman of the World Sikh Council _ American Region, chose not to attend the Wednesday (Aug. 18) event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The event marked the 400th anniversary of the formal placement of a Sikh holy book on Sept.

NEWS FEATURE: Health Ministry Reaches Beyond Healing to Wellness

c. 2004 Religion News Service HOMEWOOD, Ala. _ When people visit Dawson Memorial Baptist Church here, they often go to run, lift weights and work out their bodies, as well as their worship and prayer lives. They also come to find out if they have cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure. Dawson Baptist has placed an emphasis on health issues, with a gleaming recreation center and programs devoted not just to fitness, but to the overall medical health of the congregation.

NEWS DIGEST: Religion in Canada

c. 2004 Religion News Service Fix System, Not Sanctuary, Church Leaders Urge TORONTO (RNS) Canadian church leaders have condemned remarks of federal immigration and citizenship minister Judy Sgro, who earlier this summer called on churches to abandon the time-honored practice of providing sanctuary to people under the threat of deportation. In the wake of several controversial cases in which Christian houses of worship were used as sanctuaries by those dodging the law, a frustrated Sgro told Canadian Press that “frankly, if we start using the churches as the back door to enter Canada, we’re going to have huge problems. … People shouldn’t be allowed to hide anywhere.” About half a dozen individuals, most of them failed refugee claimants, are currently being sheltered in churches across the country _ a practice that dates either from the Old Testament or from the Middle Ages, depending on which scholar is asked. At a joint press conference this month, leaders of several Christian denominations said sanctuary is not the issue Canadian immigration officials need to address.

COMMENTARY: Why I Keep My Hair Under Wraps

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Judy Gruen’s latest book is “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout,” published by Champion Press. Visit her Web site at (UNDATED) A few weeks ago I found myself spellbound while watching the movie “Girl With the Pearl Earring.” The movie, based on the excellent Tracy Chevalier novel, is a fictional account of the history behind Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name. The novel revolves around a servant girl, Grete, who became a secret assistant to the painter in his studio. In this scene, Vermeer accidentally glimpses Grete with her hair uncovered.

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c. 2004 Religion News Explorers Unearth Cave That May Have Been Used by John the Baptist (RNS) Archaeologists have uncovered a cave they believe was used by John the Baptist for ritual immersions, one of the first discoveries linked to the distant relative of Jesus. The cave is located on a kibbutz about two miles outside Ein Kerem, the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist that is now part of Jerusalem. The cave contains what researchers believe is an immersion pool and crude drawings of the evangelist’s life. “John the Baptist, who was just a figure from the Gospels, now comes to life,” Shimon Gibson, a British archaeologist who first explored the site in 1999, told the Associated Press.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Vatican Offers to Mediate Conflict in Iraqi Holy City VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican offered Tuesday (Aug. 17) to mediate a cease-fire in the Iraqi city of Najaf if both the U.S. military and rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are willing to “embark on peaceful ways” to end their conflict. The Vatican made the offer in a brief written statement following a declaration by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, that “if requested, the pope will allow this mediation.” Pope John Paul II opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has urged United Nations collaboration to restore Iraqi sovereignty. U.S. forces and Iraqi police are battling al-Sadr and some 800 supporters who have taken a stand inside the venerated mosque of Imam Ali Ben Taleb at Najaf, a city holy to Shiite Muslims, 125 miles south of Baghdad.

NEWS FEATURE: Hindus Wage Legal Battle for Control of Temple

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The next chapter of an entrenched legal battle for control of one of the largest Hindu temples in North America will be written in federal court. The twisting tale of the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing, N.Y., is one of disputed bylaws, an authoritarian board of trustees and a group of members who want trustee elections to be held for the first time. At stake is the temple’s right to conduct its affairs without government intervention, a right, that if denied, is a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state, the trustees and their supporters say. The members who want elections say that the trustees rule in violation of the temple’s bylaws, and that new elections should be held as soon as possible.

COMMENTARY: Conflicting Paradigms

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) It is 6 p.m., a bad time for grocery shopping. Long lines, full baskets, and in my lane a slow clerk. The store manager hurries over, senses tempers flaring, can’t speed up the slow clerk, so he opens another lane and handles checkout.

NEWS FEATURE: N.C. Scholar of Islam Continues Embattled Approach

c. 2004 Religion News Service CHAPEL HILL, N.C. _ At 7 a.m. on a spring morning, religion professor Carl W. Ernst was nudged from his sleep by a long-distance phone call. The woman on the line asked if he would accept the Cairo-based Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Achievement in the Humanities. “The what prize?” asked Ernst. The Bashrahil Prize, the woman said.

NEWS FEATURE: Modern Pagans Reviving the Polytheistic Religions of the Ancients

c. 2004 (UNDATED) This year, Andrea Berman is watching the Olympics for the first time in her life. But she doesn’t care who jumps the highest, runs the farthest or swim the fastest. She is watching the games _ being held this year in Greece, their ancestral home _ for any mention of Zeus, Athena or Apollo. “I will watch it to see if anything even remotely resembles anything I would know as an ancient ritual and tradition,” Berman said.

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c. 2004 Religion News Service Christian Leaders Call for Separation of Church and Politics (RNS) A dozen Christian leaders from various theological perspectives have issued a statement urging the U.S. presidential candidates to “respect the integrity of all houses of worship.” The statement, called “Playing Politics With Church,” was spearheaded by Wake Forest University Divinity School professor James Dunn and Baptist sociologist Tony Campolo. “It is proper for church leaders to address social issues, but it is improper, and even illegal, for them to get their churches to endorse candidates or align their churches with a specific political party,” the statement reads. It calls on church leaders “to stand vigilant against entanglement in partisan politics.” Dunn told Religion News Service that news coverage of the Bush-Cheney campaign’s attempts to collect church directories sparked the joint statement. “I think they crossed the line when they started collecting church directories for the campaign,” said Dunn, a professor of Christianity and public policy at the divinity school in Winston-Salem, N.C. Other signatories included George Hunter, professor of evangelism and church growth at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.; Walter Shurden, executive director at Mercer University’s Center for Baptist Studies in Macon, Ga.; and Paul Raushenbush, associate dean of religious life at Princeton University in New Jersey.

ESSAY: Mercury Retrograde: Old God Has New Meaning for Modern Times

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Now that the Olympic Games have returned to their birthplace in Greece, the world is again reminded of the colorful gods and goddesses who centuries ago reigned over the pre-Christian Mediterranean world. Once-glorious deities such as the mighty Zeus and the beautiful Aphrodite have long since fallen from their pedestals. Yet for many, these pagan divinities live on in the age-old tradition of astrology _ exercising their heavenly influence as they once did from the heights of Mount Olympus. These days, one god in particular _ Mercury, the fleet-footed messenger god _ is enjoying a modern-day renaissance.

NEWS STORY: Both Campaigns Set Their Sights on Catholic Voters

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When President Bush appeared this month before a Catholic men’s organization, he basked in the approval of an enthusiastic subset of Catholic voters that both he and Sen. John Kerry covet _ but which neither can definitively claim. In an election year in which voters appear closely divided and a remarkable number have already chosen their candidates, polls show there are fewer “undecideds” than usual. But “look at any good study of undecideds and there’s a big hunk of Catholics in that group. They’re up for grabs,” said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron in Ohio and an expert on the relationship between religious affiliation and voting.

NEWS STORY: Pope AppealS to World to Respect `Sacred Gift of Life’

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A frail Pope John Paul II, celebrating an outdoor Mass in honor of the Virgin Mary at the French shrine of Lourdes, made an urgent appeal to the world Sunday (Aug. 15) to respect “the sacred gift of life.” John Paul spoke four days after the British government announced its decision to allow cloning of human embryos for stem cell research aimed at finding cures for such diseases as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The Vatican opposes any form of human cloning on moral and ethical grounds. The pope’s voice was hoarse and faltering, and he stopped frequently to catch his breath, but his message was clear.