Uganda push-back

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Uganda comes out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in his Christmas message. Money quote: “The recent tabled Anti-Homosexuality Bill does not pass a test of a Christian caring approach to this issue” Likewise, the leade of Uganda’s main opposition party:What two consenting adults do, the state has no business… absolutely! It is discriminatory. Me, I don’t understand this idea of “African
values.”

Donations pour in as suspect is arrested in church heist

VIOLET, La. (RNS) At Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Violet Tuesday night (Dec. 22), parishioners gasped with astonishment, and a few even cried joyfully, as they faced their organizational task ahead. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, a burglar broke into the St. Bernard Parish church and rifled through about 65 Christmas gifts destined for some of the parish’s needy children.

Vatican says Pius’ elevation not a `hostile act’ toward Jews

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A decree moving the controversial wartime Pope Pius XII one step closer to sainthood is not a “hostile act towards the Jewish people,” the Vatican’s top spokesman said Wednesday (Dec. 23). The Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said in a statement that Pope Benedict XVI’s Saturday decree that recognizes Pius’ “heroic virtues” and declares him “venerable” reflects an evaluation of the late pope’s personal holiness, “and not the historical impact” of his decisions. Pius’ new status makes him eligible for beatification, the rank just below sainthood. The move has drawn complaints of insensitivity from many Jewish leaders.

Grants to fund priests’ education in fast-growing dioceses

(RNS) Roman Catholic seminarians will get a financial boost in 2010 from a charitable organization targeting a chronic shortage of education funding in America’s fastest-growing dioceses. The Catholic Church Extension Society on Tuesday (Dec. 22) announced more than $3 million in grants next year to help train 509 seminarians. That represents more than a 100 percent increase from 2006, when the group contributed $1.5 million for seminary education. Funds will go to 32 dioceses, mostly in the South and West, where Catholic populations are growing fast.

Teens carrying the gospel in their hands with `Believer Bands’

HOOVER, Ala. (RNS) First there were the WWJD wristbands, and then Lance Armstrong’s yellow Livestrong wristbands, and Bono’s white One wristbands … Now there’s “Believer Bands,” multicolored rubber bracelets in the shape of familiar Christian icons that allow trend-chasing tweens and teens to share the gospel from the palm of their hand. It started last year, when the Silly Bandz City kiosk at a mall in Birmingham started the craze with stretchy animal-shaped wristbands. Here in the Bible Belt, it was perhaps inevitable that a religious version would emerge.

Wednesday’s roundup

The U.S. Catholic Bishops stepped up their campaign against the Senate’s version of the health care bill, saying it needs to change how abortions are covered and funded in order to “make it morally acceptable.” The final Senate vote on the bill is scheduled for Thursday. ELCA bishops have outlined a number of job creation propositions and delivered them to the White House and Senate. Five GOP congressman say Uganda’s proposed anti-gay law is antithetical to Christianity are urging the country’s president to veto it. One media report says that President Museveni has already assured Americans that he will veto the bill.

Christmas pageant evolves but endures

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Clearly, the length of gold tinsel draped around her neck was not what Melinda Smith was hoping for. “Is this all I get?” she pleaded with Beth Keys, director of the annual interactive Christmas pageant at Portland’s Presbyterian Church of Laurelhurst. Keys disappeared and returned with a long, white gown, its collar ruffled, its sleeves long and sweeping.

10 minutes with …Jack Brown

(RNS) Redeemer Covenant Church in Caledonia, Mich., decided on a different set of Christmas decorations this year: Instead of fresh poinsettias and artificial greens, Redeemer’s sanctuary is filled with canned goods and clothing that will be donated to the needy. The Rev. Jack Brown, who pastors the congregation with his wife, Sharon, explained why they made the change. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Q: Your church has been known for a big Christmas presentation in years past. How big or extravagant was it?

COMMENTARY: The Christmas gift you can give to yourself

(RNS) The following is an actual exchange, unedited, except to remove the profanity. The setting: Mid-morning at a suburban gift boutique. The time: The week before Christmas. The players: The pleasant store clerk, a 40-something soccer mom-type and me (browsing for stocking stuffers). Enter the frazzled soccer mom.

GUEST COMMENTARY: An unconscionable oversight

WASHINGTON (RNS) Conscience protection — or perhaps, the lack of it — is a key issue in health care reform. Forcing someone to violate his or her conscience is an act of violence no civilized society should tolerate. U.S. Catholic bishops are seeking conscience protection for two groups: Catholic and other institutions (especially health care institutions), so they can to be true to their mission; and all health care personnel, so they can be true to their conscience. The most obvious concern is the right of hospitals not to perform abortions. The Weldon Amendment, which is attached to the annual Health and Human Services funding bill, protects hospitals that do not provide, refer for or pay for abortions.

Jimmy Carter’s Al Het

I’ve had a hard spot in my heart for Jimmy Carter since 1988, when he tried to get me fired for writing an exposé of the Carter Center. (Happily, he didn’t succeed.) So what to make of his Chanukah greeting to the Jewish community offering “an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine” that might have “permit[ted] criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel”? “Wow,” said my wife, bless her heart. “Is he about to die or something?””Al Het” (“For the Sin”) is the name of the lengthy prayer Jews say numerous times on Yom Kippur to ask God to forgive them their trespasses. It list the sins alphabetically, comprehending wrongdoing from A to Z–the alpha and the omega of misbehavior.

WCC GenSec Kobia v. Uganda law

It can’t hurt that the Methodist cleric who serves as General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Samuel Kobia, has written a letter to Ugandan President Museveni expressing “concerns” about the proposed anti-homosexuality act. Coming from next-door neighbor Kenya, Kobia can hardly be accused of being just another neo-colonialist seeking to impose Western values on Africans.At the same time, the letter is not notably strong. Rather than urging Museveni to pledge to veto the measure it merely says:It is my hope and my prayer that you will join the African church
leaders and fellow people of faith, to abstain from supporting any law
which can lead to a death penalty; promotes prejudice and hatred; and
which can be easily manipulated to oppress people. Moreover, Kobia had nothing critical to say about the Uganda clergy who have been supporting the bill–in contrast to his criticism of politicized American churches after the 2004 election. Grade: B

Nazarene membership closes in on 2 million

(RNS) The Church of the Nazarene reported a total worldwide membership of 1.9 million after adding more than 165,000 new members in 2009. The denomination has a total of 24,285 churches, including established and fledgling congregations. The number of “organized” churches, which are self-sustaining congregations, increased by 1,178 to 17,277. The Rev. David Wilson, general secretary of the Church of the Nazarene, said the increasing totals reflect the ongoing missions initiatives led by Nazarene leaders. “From the very beginning of our denomination, missions has been at the heart of it,” he said in an interview Monday (Dec.

Covenant to bind Anglicans sent out to churches

(RNS) The final draft of a document aimed at mediating disputes between liberals and conservatives in the global Anglican Communion was sent on Friday (Dec. 18) to its 38 provinces for approval. The Anglican Communion, which is the world’s third-largest body of Christians with 77 million members, has been bitterly divided over homosexuality since the election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. province of the communion. Archbishop Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of Anglicanism, said the document, called a “covenant,” is “not going to be a penal code” but rather “a practical, sensible and Christian way of dealing with our conflicts.”

WCC head condemns Uganda’s proposed anti-gay law

GENEVA (RNS/ENI) The World Council of Churches has added its voice to growing concerns around the world about a proposed Ugandan law that would allow the jailing and possible execution of gays and lesbians. Current Ugandan law allows for people to be jailed for 14 years for engaging in homosexual acts; the new proposed law would raise that to life imprisonment, though no one has ever been convicted of homosexual acts in the country. The WCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, said he was “saddened and distressed” over the new law in a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. “It is my hope and my prayer that you will join the African church leaders and fellow people of faith, to abstain from supporting any law which can lead to a death penalty; promotes prejudice and hatred; and which can be easily manipulated to oppress people,” Kobia wrote. He also warned that “all the discussions, time, efforts and sometimes money, used on the issue of homosexuality distracts us from nonjudgmental and constructive discussions about the majority’s problems.”