Downsizing Means New Life for Old Church Buildings

c. 2006 Religion News Service SPRINGFIELD, Mass. _ In a West Hatfield church, hungry diners eat barbecued ribs and pulled pork daily where families once attended Lutheran baptisms, weddings and Sunday services. In Holyoke, the place of worship for hundreds of Methodist-Episcopalians and later Christian Scientists now serves as a large residence for a family. In Pittsfield, a Catholic church built by devout French Canadians more than 100 years ago will soon contain studios for aspiring artists.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Malaysian Fatwa Says No Botox for Muslims (RNS) A council of Muslim clerics in Malaysia has issued an order banning the use of the popular Botox injections for wrinkles, citing the use of pig-derived materials in the treatment, The New Straits Times reported. The declaration by the National Fatwa Council does not carry the weight of law, though it would be considered sinful for Muslims _ a majority in Malaysia _ to violate the order. The fatwa allows an exception for medical uses, such as relieving pain associated with cerebral palsy. Botox, which is made from the toxin botulin, paralyzes facial muscles to get rid of wrinkles; it can also be used to stop small muscle spasms. The New Straits Times said many people in Malaysia may go to other countries for their Botox injections anyway, and doctors in the country indicated that Muslims make up only a minority of their patients who come for the remedy.

COMMENTARY: Sending Stickers to Lebanon

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) His round face stares out at us from the front of our refrigerator. Nicolas is his name, and although we have never met him, we have supported him for several years through World Vision, a Christian child sponsorship organization. From the moment we first saw his photo, our entire family was struck by the fact that he looked uncannily like my younger son at the same age. It was a simple arrangement until now.

A Confusion of Labels

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) In the past 50 years or so, Jeff Strang has been a churchgoer, an agnostic, an atheist and a humanist. If anyone knows what these words mean, it ought to be he. Yet even he admits to some “fuzziness” around the terms. Strang has his own working definition: “A humanist is an atheist or an agnostic with a social conscience,” he says. But then he can’t help adding some fuzz: “Some people say there’s room for religious humanists, too.” As religious and secular values clash in the Middle East, in Iraq and in our own country, what we believe _ or whether we believe _ often becomes a point of conflict.

Questions and Answers From African Archbishop on Anglican Unity

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, has seen divisive policies tear a society apart. But this fourth-generation Anglican cleric, who was jailed for three years under apartheid in South Africa, is determined not to let the same thing happen to his increasingly fractious Anglican Communion. Bitter divisions over the role of homosexuals in Anglican life have the 77 million-member Anglican Communion and its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, teetering on the edge of schism. The Episcopal Church’s election of the world’s first female primate in June heightened tensions between church conservatives and liberals.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Vatican Criticizes U.S. Stance on Middle East Conflict VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Thursday (July 27) offered a downbeat assessment of recent Middle East peace talks that failed to produce a consensus on the deepening conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. In an interview with Vatican Radio that was issued by the Holy See press office, Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo said the Middle East summit in Rome involving Arab, European and U.S. leaders on Wednesday produced “valuable” results, including the pledge to send a multinational peacekeeping force to patrol the region. He took issue, however, with the stance pressed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that conditions for a “sustainable” peace must be reached before any demands for a cease-fire are made. Critics say Rice’s position allows Israel to continue its bombing campaign with the aim of weakening Hezbollah.

Geneticist Seeks to Bridge Gap Between Faith and Science

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ After reading from his book on science and religion to an audience of 150 people at an independent bookstore here, Dr. Francis Collins saw the interactions he hoped would occur. Collins watched as audience members struck up earnest conversations, debating back and forth about one of the knottiest philosophical issues of the day. “It was just what I hoped for,” Collins said in reflecting on the event the next day. Collins’ new book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” is partly an effort to synthesize his beliefs as an evangelical Christian with his work as one of the world’s foremost scientists studying the human genome.

COMMENTARY: Ariel Sharon’s Long Goodbye

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Ronald Reagan’s death two years ago at age 93 ended America’s “Long Goodbye” to a president who suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for many years after he left the White House in 1989. Now the people of Israel are saying their own “Long Goodbye” to their own national icon: Ariel Sharon. Unlike Reagan, Sharon was “on the job,” serving as his nation’s leader when he was felled by a massive stroke in January. Despite world-class medical treatment by Israeli physicians, Israel’s 11th prime minister has remained in a persistent vegetative state since his attack.

Cease Fire Now

Christian Groups Press for Middle East Ceasefire Christian leaders are pressing for an immediate cease fire in Lebanon, as reported by RNS’ Senior Editor David E. Anderson, in the RNS full text article of the week, linked above. Quote: The Bush administration, however, has rejected calls for cease-fire as premature or “not sustainable.” Instead, it wants Hezbollah removed as a threat to Israel, either by the disarming of the organization, which is both a military force and a political party in Lebanon, or by removing Hezbollah weapons from a buffer zone along the Israeli border, according to wire reports from Beirut.

Rape Victim Denied Morning-after Pill

c. 2006 Religion News Service LEBANON, Pa. _ A hospital emergency room doctor in central Pennsylvania refused to give a rape victim a morning-after pill because it would be against his Mennonite religious beliefs. Rebuffed by the doctor at Lebanon County’s Good Samaritan Hospital on Saturday (July 22), the woman called her gynecologist, who wrote the prescription. Her local pharmacy told her it was out of the drug and referred her to another store about 25 miles away.

Catholic Youth Program Balances Playing Time

c. 2006 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ The gymnasium walls did not come tumbling down. Would-be Bobby Knights and the intense sports parents who enable them survived. And none of the more than 11,000 Northeast Ohio fourth- to eighth-graders who play Catholic Youth Organization basketball warmed the bench this year. A landmark program that puts Catholic values ahead of winning was such a success, Diocese of Cleveland officials say, that they will establish guaranteed-playing-time rules for youth volleyball and football.

Judge Says Coach Can Kneel While Players Pray

c. 2006 Religion News Service EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. _ A federal judge ruled Tuesday (July 25) that a high school football coach can bend a knee and bow his head while his players recite pre-game prayers this season, ending a dispute that had mushroomed into a nationally recognized test of the separation of church and state. After nearly two hours of arguments, U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh sided with the coach, Marcus Borden, declaring “taking a knee” isn’t praying. The judge also said the Middlesex County school district can’t order him to stand still while his players perform a locker room ritual that spans decades. “Tradition plays a part, and the overall actions and responsibilities of a football coach should be considered,” Cavanaugh said.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service President Vetoes Expansion of Stem Cell Research (RNS) President Bush exercised the first veto of his presidency Wednesday (July 19) to reject a bill that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Speaking at a White House event that included young children from the embryo program of a Christian adoption agency, Bush said that “these boys and girls are not spare parts.” The legislation Bush vetoed was passed by the Senate on Tuesday and by the House of Representatives in 2005. It would have lifted restrictions imposed by the president in 2001 on embryonic stem cell research. While many medical groups argue that the research holds the promise of cures for a variety of illnesses, conservative Christians and the Roman Catholic Church lambaste it because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

Connie Statz on AIDS discrimination

Quote of the Day: Connie Statz, Catholic laywoman from Minnesota “That really hurt me more than anything else, because that’s part of being Catholic. That’s part of the sacrament.” -Connie Statz, 50, who attended the 19th annual National Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry Conference in mid-July at Loyola University Chicago, describing how she still feels rejected 13 years after being told by a priest at her rural Minnesota church that her AIDS diagnosis prevented her from drinking wine at Communion. She was quoted by the Chicago Tribune.

Pharmacist fired for beliefs

Quote of the Day: Gene Herr, pharmacist who was fired in Denton, Texas “This was the worst-case scenario. This was the hardest decision I ever made. The heinousness of a rape is a horrible thing. But I don’t think you should punish a child for the sins of the father.” -Pharmacist Gene Herr, who was fired by a Denton, Texas, drugstore in 2004 after he refused to fill a rape victim’s morning-after pill prescription.