RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Homosexuality `Inconsistent’ With God’s Plan, New Mormon Booklet Says (RNS) Mormon officials have issued a new booklet on homosexuality that states that same-sex relationships are “inconsistent” with God’s plan, but some people may not be able to “overcome” such attractions. The document, “God Loveth His Children,” was posted on the Web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in late July with little fanfare. “While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life,” the new church document reads. Faith in the Atonement, Jesus’ sacrifice for human sins, can empower those with “same-gender inclinations” to resist improper conduct, it states.

Ecumenical Gathering Says Clarity May Provide A New Way Forward

c. 2007 Religion News Service CLEVELAND, Ohio _ For all the uproar it caused, the Vatican’s recent statement affirming Catholic claims to be the continuation of the one church instituted by Christ has created little turmoil among those working for Christian unity. Ecumenical leaders at last week’s “On Being Christian Together” conference at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, said the document may help clarify the hard work ahead as talks move beyond combating prejudice and working together for social good to confronting more difficult theological differences forged over centuries. “There’s nothing new. Nobody can say there’s a shocker here,” said the Rev. Martin Marty, a prominent Lutheran author and religious historian from the University of Chicago.

Silk Artist Draws on Designs From Sacred Art

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Angela Coppola’s idea for a company was born at a chance meeting and a glance at a stained-glass window in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral _ and what she calls “divine guidance.” Coppola, 64, is the president and creative director of Sacred Silks International, based in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., about 25 miles north of San Diego. The company makes silk squares, oblongs, pillows and men’s ties with artful designs from various religions and Christian denominations. The silks can be worn or used for decoration at home, especially for creating a sacred space. It all started when Coppola had lunch with the Rev. Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral, and his wife, who were looking for ways to make the cathedral’s gift shop more profitable.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Sick Sacred Hindu Bull in Wales is Slaughtered LONDON (RNS) After a prolonged dispute with the authorities, Shambo, the sacred bull revered by Hindus in Wales that tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, has at last been slaughtered. The Court of Appeals on Monday (July 23) overturned an earlier court victory for the monks of Skanda Vale, the Hindu monastery in Wales that numbered Shambo among its herd of cattle. When officials arrived Thursday morning to kill the bull, they found the gates barred and locked, with more than 100 monks and sympathizers holding a religious service outside the temple precinct in which Shambo was housed. Officials had to obtain a warrant from magistrates.

Religion Plays a Surprising Role in “The Simpsons’’

c. 2007 Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly ORLANDO, Fla. _ They’re silly, often irreverent, and sometimes downright wicked. But “The Simpsons” may also be one of the most interesting examinations of religion in contemporary pop culture. The release of “The Simpsons Movie” this weekend (July 27th) is grabbing new attention for the popular animated television series that has an often surprising take on spirituality.

More Congregations Embracing the Hug

c. 2007 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ Fellowship time during the early Sunday service at Morning Star Baptist Church brings smiles to worshippers’ faces from the moment they are told to “hug one another this morning. Show some love.” For several minutes, men and women, young and old, move about the sanctuary and embrace. Some exchange kisses on the cheek. A few women give especially long hugs and rub the backs of their older friends.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Pro-Gay Baptist Groups Excluded From Official Role in Unity Event (RNS) Leaders of an upcoming Baptist unity celebration have denied two Baptist organizations an official role in the event because they support gay rights. The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America learned in mid-July that they could not be “participating organizations” of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” that has been endorsed by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and will be held in Atlanta from Jan. 30 to Feb 1, 2008. The Rev. Alan Stanford, general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship, said fellowship officials decided the groups could not be members of the fellowship and thus could not be formal sponsors of the event.

Report: Religion Still Marginalized in Foreign Policy

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) U.S. foreign policy officials have shown an increased understanding of religion’s importance to American diplomacy, but the government’s activities in that area display a “lack of strategic thinking” that hampers efforts abroad, according to a new report. U.S. officials do not have “a clear set of policy objectives or tactical guidelines for dealing with emerging religious realities,” said the 92-page report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a non-partisan think tank in Washington. “Offices, programs and initiatives are more often happen-stance than coherent,” the report says. The report’s lead author was Liora Danan, a research assistant at the center.

Dems Go to School to Reach Young Evangelicals

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Bolstered by polls showing that a growing number of young evangelicals are turning away from the Republican Party, Democrats are on a campaign to reach them where they’re at _ in school. Republicans lost votes across all age groups in the 2006 midterm elections,but it was young voters who moved the furthest from the GOP. According to the Pew Research Center survey in February, support for Democratic candidates jumped from 16 percent to 26 percent among white evangelicals under 30 between the 2004 and 2006 elections. “Many people have become disillusioned by President Bush, but younger evangelicals have gone from being very enthusiastic supporters of the president to being markedly less so and their party IDs have also switched,” said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

COMMENTARY: Theology Plays Out on Big (and Little) Screens

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) With Homer Simpson hitting the big screen, creator Matt Groening isn’t worried about the competition because “minute per minute,” he muses, “we probably have more jokes in our movie than `Harry Potter’ or `Live Free or Die Hard.’ ” According to a new genre of culture-watchers, their proximity on the summer release schedule isn’t all the Simpsons and Harry Potter share in common; both play a role as theological shapers of today’s filmgoers. That the Simpsons are fertile ground for spiritual questing may be news to some, but not to journalist Mark Pinsky, author of “The Gospel According to the Simpsons.” He studied more than 300 episodes of “The Simpsons” and discovered that religion was a recurrent theme. As he noted: “Apart from Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell, America’s best-known evangelical is probably Ned Flanders!” (Recently, in a quasi pop-religion-versus-ancient-religion publicity stunt in the United Kingdom, a 180-foot painting of Homer Simpson lifting a doughnut heavenward was painted next to the 17th century chalk outline of a pagan fertility symbol.) In the 1960s I witnessed the divine moving beyond the religious arena and into our movies and music that sudden brimmed with sacred lyrics.

In Yoga, Author Says, Ethical Positions Are Important, Too

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Yoga has lost its moral compass as a result of its rapid rise in popularity in North America, says a book by one of the world’s leading yoga scholars. Georg Feuerstein, author of “Yoga Morality: Ancient Teachings at a Time of Global Crisis,” is worried that, in the process of becoming so many things to so many people, yoga has lost its ethical, philosophical and spiritual roots. Confined just four decades ago to the hippie or ethnic fringes of North American culture, yoga has become, especially in the past five years, thoroughly mainstream. Yoga now forms the heart of a $4 billion-a-year industry and is practiced by almost 10 percent of North Americans, with much higher participation rates on the West Coast, according to a poll by Yoga Magazine.

Noah Where To Hide

Little Movement Thinks Its Big Moment Has Arrived RNS’ G. Jeffrey MacDonald profiles the Noahide movement in this week’s full text article, linked above. Quote: “People that have migrated toward the Noachism (or Noahide way) are people that usually come from a fundamentalist background. They take their Bible seriously,” says J. David Davis, a former Baptist preacher and a founding figure of the Noahide revival movement that began in the 1980s.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Christian Leaders Mark 50 Years of Ecumenical Movement (RNS) Marking 50 years since a prominent ecumenical gathering in Oberlin, Ohio, representatives from a host of Christian denominations this week wrapped up a five-day conference promoting a new wave of interdenominational unity. Speaking to 300 attendees from 80 different Christian denominations and organizations, the Rev. James Forbes compared the effort, which was organized by the National Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission, to a revival. “If there ever was a time for a new Great Awakening to happen in our nation, the time is now,” Forbes said, telling ecumenists that they were “the salt of the earth.” According to the National Council of Churches, the modern ecumenical movement can be traced to a 1957 conference in Oberlin, the first to include Catholic representatives. This year’s conference gained a special urgency after the Vatican’s recent assertion that Protestant denominations are not churches “in the proper sense.” Attending the conference were representatives from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anglican and evangelical denominations.

Singing the praises of Charles Wesley’s work

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ As his fellow Methodists held their red hymnals and sang Charles Wesley’s hymns, the Rev. Jonathan Kerry of London kept his hands in his pockets while singing the prolific British writer’s words from memory. “They’re like the family jewels, really, that we share,” he said of Wesley’s lyrics, which include “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” “I always make a point of trying to sing them without the hymnal because that’s how I concentrate on the words and what they mean.” Kerry, who directs worship and learning for the Methodist Church in Great Britain, was among more than 130 people who gathered from across the globe to mark the 300th anniversary of Wesley’s birth at the Sixth Historical Convocation of the United Methodist Church July 20-22. Though the clergyman being celebrated was born three centuries ago, the gathering demonstrated through songs and speeches that Wesley’s words have found a place in 21st-century music and society. Wesley, whose more famous brother John founded the Methodist movement, created hymn texts that stretched well beyond Methodism to become part of the overall Christian music scene.

10 Minutes With … U.S. Rep. James Clyburn

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS) _ As the majority whip in Congress, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., is charged with keeping fellow House Democrats in line come voting time. But Clyburn exercises another role on Capitol Hill as well. The son of a Pentecostal preacher, the South Carolina lawmaker also heads the Democrats’ Faith Working Group, a forum for religious outreach and conversation. As the first federal minimum wage increase in 10 years goes into effect this week (July 24), Clyburn spoke with Religion News Service about the morality behind the increase, hate crimes legislation circulating through Congress and whether Democrats are “getting religion.” This interview has been edited for length.