“Returning” Allen’s integrity

Quote of the Day: Pastor Joshua Harris of Gaithersburg, Md. “Our concern is for his soul. Our desire-and Claude shares this -is for him to walk with humility and integrity.” -Senior Pastor Joshua Harris of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., on church member and former Bush administration adviser Claude Allen, who is facing felony charges for allegedly trying to secure refunds for items he hadn’t bought at a Target store.

St. Augustine Parish; fighting for evolution; Roe v. Wade for men

Protesters are occupying an historic New Orleans church to save it, reports Bruce Nolan in Tuesday’s RNS report: Activists opposed to the closure of historic St. Augustine Parish occupied its vacant rectory before dawn Monday (March 20) and said they would not leave until the Archdiocese of New Orleans promises to reopen the parish, which operated for 165 years before it was recently closed. An activist inside the rectory in the Treme neighborhood declined to say in a telephone interview how many people were inside. He said, however, that they belonged to a hurricane relief organization not affiliated with the parish. Another man, speaking from a second-story window, said several hurricane relief organizations were represented.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Two More Episcopal Bishops Enter Race for Presiding Bishop (RNS) The race to become the next presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has gotten more intense with the entrance of two new nominees _ Bishop Charles Jenkins of New Orleans and Bishop Francisco Duque-Gomez of the missionary diocese of Bogota, Colombia. The nominations of Jenkins and Duque bring the total number of candidates to seven. The church’s new top leader will be elected to a nine-year term by the denomination’s General Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on June 18. Jenkins and Duque were added to the mix by petition.

In Ghana, More Than 1,000 Women Exiled to Hell of `Witches Camp’

c. 2006 Religion News Service YENDI, Ghana _ Mariama Bawa is a witch. At least that’s what her family members say. They believe she caused her 25-year-old son to be struck and killed by lightning, so they have sent her here, to the Ngani witches camp in the northern lands of this West African country. A somber, 60-something widow, jarringly dressed in a festive print as she shades herself under a majestic Balboa tree, Bawa tries to explain.

Hindus of India Believe Cremation Eases Soul’s Passage Into Next World

c. 2006 Religion News Service VARANASI, India _ In the Hindu religion, fire is considered a sacred gateway to the spiritual world, explained Hindu priests in India. A cremation ceremony is intended to dissolve the attachment between the soul and the physical body, so that the soul can have a smooth transition to the next world. Many Hindus are cremated outside on wooden pyres, though the use of cremation chambers is increasing. After cremation, ashes of the person’s remains are placed in a pot, which might be immersed ritually in any of Hinduism’s holy rivers by the family, with an attending priest.

India: Land of Holy Cities, Hindu Temples and Erotic Statues

c. 2006 Religion News Service PUSHKAR, India _ We came a long way for a camel fair, and we left with a blessing. The town of Pushkar, on the edge of a sacred Hindu lake surrounded by stone steps and a sea of sand, was about as far from home as my wife and I got in a three-week tour of northwestern India. We rode into Pushkar in a camel cart. We slept in a tent.

Witch hunt in Ghana; the cultural riches of India

In Monday’s RNS report Sherry Amatenstein reports from Yendi, Ghana, on widows who are labeled and treated as witches because their communities no longer believe them to be valuable human beings: Mariama Bawa is a witch, her family members say. They believe she caused her 25-year-old son to be killed by lightning, so they have sent her to the Ngani witches camp. Bawa, according to international relief workers, has been caught in an intensifying human rights abuse. At least 1,000 women-most older widows-have been labeled witches by superstitious villagers and now live in exile at one of the six camps in this region. They have been blamed for everything from deaths to bad crops.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Presbyterians Say They Must Cut National Staff (RNS) The Presbyterian Church (USA) must cut $9.15 million from its budget and may be forced to lay off as much as a quarter of its 600-person national staff, most of whom work at denominational offices in Louisville, Ky. The denomination’s General Assembly Council (GAC) will vote on the budget cuts at an April 26-29 meeting. Budget reductions must be made by 2008 and resulting staff cuts will probably be announced May 1, the denomination announced on Tuesday (March 14). No final decisions about exact positions to be cut have been made.

Students, Many Motivated by Faith, Clean Up New Orleans on Spring Break

c. 2006 Religion News Service NEW ORLEANS _ Thousands of college students who might have spent spring break sunning in Acapulco or on Florida beaches this year are pouring into New Orleans to sleep in dormitory tents or on classroom floors, eat off paper plates and spend a week of vacation hauling foul muck out of homes ruined by floodwaters. For many attached to campus ministries it is an exercise in faith, or what Steve Griffing, a Naval Academy midshipman from Augusta, Ga., called “practical love.” Others, like an estimated 1,000 students spread among several encampments of the Common Ground Collective, are more political: They see spring break as an opportunity not only to help hurricane victims, but also to study the landscape of race and class that shaped the devastation they see. They are urged to go home and use the lessons of New Orleans to agitate for social change. They come from all over the country.

Graham interview

Quote of the Day: Evangelist Franklin Graham “If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, just go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home. Just live there. If you think Islam is such a wonderful religion, I mean, go-go and live under the Taliban somewhere. I mean, … you’re free to do that.”

Spring break in New Orleans; Big Love

In Friday’s RNS report Bruce Nolan reports that college students are spending spring break this year helping out in New Orleans: Thousands of college students who might have spent spring break sunning in Acapulco or on Florida beaches this year are pouring into New Orleans to sleep in dormitory tents or on classroom floors, eat off paper plates and spend a week of vacation hauling foul muck out of homes ruined by floodwaters. For many attached to campus ministries it is an exercise in faith, or what Steve Griffing, a Naval Academy midshipman from Augusta, Ga., called “practical love.” Others, like an estimated 1,000 students spread among several encampments of the Common Ground Collective, are more political: They see spring break as an opportunity not only to help storm victims, but also to study the landscape of race and class that shaped the devastation they see. They are urged to go home and use the lessons of New Orleans to agitate for social change. Peter Ames Carlin reviews the new HBO drama “Big Love,” which focuses on religious polygamy: Polygamy has existed in this country for centuries, and for a time was one of the central tenets of the Mormon Church.

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RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service U.S. Muslim Groups Demand Release of Funds Held by Suspect Charities (RNS) Muslim organizations demanded Thursday (March 16) that the U.S. Treasury Department release millions of dollars in donations held by charities whose assets have been frozen because of suspected ties to terrorism. “If the government obstructs the purpose of charitable giving, then the government must provide a remedy that ensures that the money goes to those who need it,” said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. The demand was made after a Thursday meeting in Washington of representatives of 10 charities, advocacy and civil rights groups who discussed the closure of KindHearts, a Toledo, Ohio, charity. The Treasury Department shut it down while it investigates allegations that the group’s money went to terrorists. “The donors’ rights are not being honored when the government seizes the assets of a Muslim charity.

Southern Baptists at Less Than 1 Percent of Baptism Goal

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) A Southern Baptist Convention campaign to baptize 1 million believers in a single year has barely gotten off the ground as it approaches the six-month mark. The program’s Web site lists 1,555 baptisms from 141 churches as of Thursday (March 16), meaning only a fraction of a percent _ just 0.16 _ of the 1 million goal has been reached. April 1 marks the campaign’s midway point. Officials from the country’s largest Protestant denomination say they are not worried because many Southern Baptist churches report baptisms at the end of the year.