Boy in faith-healing death had obvious symptoms, doctor says

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) A 16-year-old boy whose parents believe in faith healing had lifelong health problems from a urinary tract blockage that destroyed his kidneys and flooded his body cavity with urine, a medical examiner testified Thursday (Jan. 21). Jeffrey and Marci Beagley are charged with criminally negligent homicide for failing to provide medical care for their son Neil, who died in June 2008. Dr. Clifford Nelson, deputy state medical examiner, said Neil Beagley was born with a posterior urethral valve obstruction, which made urination difficult. Over time, pressure from the blockage distorted Beagley’s bladder and urinary system.

`Avatar’ leads the pack in Web site’s most `spiritual’ movies

(RNS) Movies about aliens, air travel, cooking, and the war in Iraq were all among the most “spiritually literate” films of 2009, according to the Web site SpiritualityandPractice.com Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, the Web site’s founders, say the 10 top spiritual movies all “raise our consciousness to a fuller engagement with our world” by depicting characters searching for meaning and applying moral values to daily life. The husband and wife duo are both members of a United Church of Christ congregation in New York, according to their Web site; he is an ordained UCC clergyman, while she is an interfaith minister. James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar,” which pits avaricious humans against pantheistic aliens, was “the spiritual surprise of the year,” said Mary Ann Brussat, for creating an alternate world where the “interconnectedness of all beings” is celebrated, and the natural habitat is revered. “Avatar” has already won Best Film at the Golden Globe Awards. The nine other films on the SpiritualityandPractice.com list are: — “Up in the Air” — “Julie & Julia” — “Amreeka” — “Away We Go” — “A Serious Man” — “Precious” — “Invictus” — “The Hurt Locker” — “The Messenger” All these films “show characters dealing with a diversity of spiritual challenges and opportunities,” the Brussats said.

Church-state battle brews over shuttered churches

(RNS) When a church is deemed no longer viable and is ordered to be closed, who gets to decide what happens to the building? Catholic dioceses in Ohio and Massachusetts are resisting moves by local officials to apply landmark designations to shuttered churches saying such moves raise issues of religious freedom and expression. Landmark advocates, meanwhile, say they are preserving the historic character of neighborhoods — a concern that isn’t always shared by bishops preoccupied with more immediate needs, like shrinking budgets and dwindling numbers of priests. On Dec. 29, the City Council in Springfield, Mass., voted unanimously to designate Our Lady of Hope Catholic church as a historic district.

Friday’s roundup

As we slide into the weekend, here’s how it’s looking out there: As we reported yesterday, the Michigan-based defense contractor says it will no longer inscribe Bible verses on its rifle scopes. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Opening arguments are scheduled today in the murder trial of Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion activist accused of gunning down abortionist George Tiller in the foyer of his Kansas church last year. The NYT has more extensive coverage of yesterday’s diverted USAirways flight after a flight attendant noticed a passenger retrieving something from his carry-on and wrapping him self in black straps; turns out it was an Orthodox Jewish teenager doing morning prayer. The Gray Lady also has a closer look at the Chinese Christians who have found themselves at the center of a court battle over the Prop 8 measure that banned same-sex marriage; lawyers pushing to overturn Prop 8 are expected to wrap their arguments today.

International Religious Freedom Ambassador

Now into its second decade, the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) has from the outset been seen by some as what might be called CEPA–the Christian Evangelization Protection Act. It originated in an effort to embarrass the Clinton administration, and its strongest advocates have always been folks in the conservative Christian world for whom the freedom of Christian missionaries to do their thing has always been a top priority. To be sure, there’s another side to this story. The mandated State Department watch list of countries that violate religious freedom has does some good, notwithstanding criticism that the U.S. shouldn’t be interfering in the religious affairs of others. The position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom established by the act has had capable occupants in Robert Seiple and John Hanford.

Scruggs installed as National Baptist president

(RNS) The Rev. Julius R. Scruggs was formally inaugurated as president of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. during a four-hour service Tuesday (Jan. 19) at the Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tenn. Scruggs, 67, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., for 32 years, will lead the 7.5 million-member denomination for a five-year term. He has been a vice-president for 10 years, serving alongside retiring Rev. William Shaw. Some 400 members of Scruggs’ congregation drove to Nashville for the event, including more than 100 members of the choir who overflowed the choir loft, said the Rev. Earla Lockhart, the congregation’s minister for congregational care.

Accused woman is religious but not crazy, doctor says

NEWTON, N.J. (RNS) A woman accused of starving her four children may be a deeply devout Christian, but her strong beliefs don’t mean she suffers from a mental illness, a psychiatrist testified on Wednesday (Jan. 20). Estelle Walker, 50, of Manhattan is on trial in New Jersey on four counts of second-degree child endangerment for allegedly starving her four children in 2006 when she lived in a cabin provided by her church. “She’s extremely religious, to an extreme degree, but I could not diagnose any psychiatric disorders,” psychiatrist Azariah Eshkenazi testified. “Her extremely strong faith is not a delusion.”

Muslim cops say anti-terror policies fuel `Islamophobia’

LONDON (RNS) A 2,000-member organization of Muslim police officers claims the government’s anti-terrorism policies are an “affront to British values” and are contributing to an upsurge in Islamophobia. The National Association of Muslim Police said in a seven-page statement to a parliamentary committee that Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “Prevent” strategy, aimed at halting the spread of violent extremism, actually is “stigmatizing” Muslims by targeting “so-called Islamic extremism.” The British government in recent years has been on a drive to recruit more police from ethnic minorities, including Muslims. The Muslim police body itself was organized three years ago and has been publicly supported by Brown’s ministers. But the association now claims the Brown administration’s efforts to deal with terrorism are instead inciting “hatred” against entire communities, including heavily Islamic ones. “It can be argued that there is a connection in the rise of Islamophobia and our ‘Prevent’ program as it feeds on the stereotypes that the media and some right-wing (political) parties promote …

Muslim scholars no longer banned from U.S.

WASHINGTON (RNS) The State Department announced Wednesday (Jan. 20) that two prominent Muslim intellectuals will no longer be barred from traveling to the U.S. based on past accusations that they had supported terrorism. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed orders allowing Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib to re-apply for U.S. visas, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who teaches at Oxford University in England, had been barred from entering the U.S. since 2004 for allegedly endorsing terrorism. At the time, he had planned to take a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Military contractor to pull Bible verses on weapons

(RNS) A Michigan military contractor said Thursday (Jan. 21) it will remove encoded scripture references on weapons it builds for U.S. military after a firestorm of complaints arose from both believers and atheists. “Trijicon has proudly served the U.S. military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate,” said Stephen Bindon, president and CEO of Trijicon Inc., which is based in Wixom, Mich. “We want to thank the Department of Defense for the opportunity to work with them and will move as quickly as possible to provide the modification kits for deployment overseas.” ABC News’ “Nightline” reported Monday (Jan.

Nearly half of Americans admit to anti-Muslim bias

WASHINGTON (RNS) Close to half of Americans admit to harboring prejudice against Muslims and negative feelings about Islam, a new study from the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies shows. The level of anti-Muslim prejudice — 43 percent of Americans admitted feeling at least “a little” — is more than twice as high as Americans’ reported feelings toward Buddhists, Christians and Jews. Fifty-three percent of respondents said their view of Islam was “not too favorable” or “not favorable at all,” according to a 32-page “Religious Perceptions in America” report that was released Thursday (Jan. 21). “It was interesting to note that Americans admit no more prejudice against Buddhists and Jews than they do against Christians,” said Dalia Mogahed, director of the Washington-based center.

Thursday’s roundup

A bit of theological navel-gazing this morning over Haiti: Jeff Weiss over at Politics Daily sees a silver lining in Pat Robertson’s the devil-made-me-do-it narrative on Haiti. Newsweek’s Lisa Miller asks why God seems to hate Haiti, the “Job among nations,” and Religion Dispatches ponders why many people search for God’s fingerprints in the rubble of a disaster. NYT writes how the Haiti earthquake is leading to another type of seismic shift: a New York village that has a mix of Orthodox Jews, Latinos and blacks has put aside cultural differences to come together to provide aid for Haiti disaster relief. Malaysian police have arrested eight Muslim men in connection with a fire-bombing of a church last month; violence has flared over whether non-Muslims can use “Allah” to refer to God. Vandals (Christians?

Evangelicals stake Lewis’ claim on liberal Mass. turf

(RNS) At the point where Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts come together, and about a mile from a forest called Satans Kingdom, Northfield, Mass., isn’t exactly what you’d call a hotbed of either conservatives or evangelicals. Yet when a new evangelical college opens there in 2012, founders hope to help end acrimonious culture wars and usher in a new era of cultural engagement marked by Christian charity. Named for a celebrated Christian author who counted atheists and skeptics among his closest friends, C.S. Lewis College will intentionally seek to prepare believers to engage and understand those who see the world differently. The school’s location near five secular and famously liberal colleges will allow students to follow Lewis’ example and learn from their non-Christian neighbors, according to C.S. Lewis Foundation President Stan Mattson, who unveiled plans for the school in December. “The problem for so much of our relationship with the secular community is we set up these debates (where) neither side is listening to the opposition, and both are waiting to see who scores points,” said Mattson, who will be the school’s first president.

COMMENTARY: A truly righteous Gentile

(RNS) Miep Gies died at age 100 in Holland on Jan. 11, a living reminder that while 6 million innocent Jews died one by one, there were also brave souls like Gies who tried to save and protect them, one by one. During World War II, Gies and four others in the Dutch resistance movement protected eight Jews, including teenager Anne Frank, who secretly hid in an Amsterdam attic for 25 months before her family was discovered and seized by the Nazis in August 1944. Anne and her sister Margot died of typhus in March 1945 in the Bergen Belsen camp, just two months before the war ended; their mother Edith was killed at Auschwitz. Only Otto Frank, the family patriarch, survived the war; he died in 1980.

Bankers indicted

I’m happy to report that someone in the New York office of Deutsche Bank has been searching Google for the words “practices of
the unscrupulous money-changers stand indicted in the court of public
opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men”–and as a result has happened upon this blog. The words are from FDR’s first Inaugural Address 77 years ago, and can be found in context here. Now, will Obama see fit to borrow them for his State of the Union?