Caner sacked as seminary dean after probe into background

(RNS) After a seven-week probe into whether seminary dean Ergun Caner exaggerated his dramatic conversion from militant Islam to evangelical Christianity, Liberty University announced Caner will remain on faculty, but no longer as dean. The investigation, prompted by a growing coalition of skeptical Muslim and Christian bloggers, concluded Caner, 43, had converted from Islam as a teenager, but had fabricated or embellished “matters such as dates, names and places of residence” in public statements. Caner made a name for himself after the 9/11 terror attacks by giving interviews and speeches about Islam and his conversion story. He and his brother Emir, who is president of Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist school in Georgia, co-authored a 2003 book, “Inside Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs.” Since Caner became the first ex-Muslim to lead an evangelical seminary in 2005, enrollment at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary tripled during his tenure.

Beliefnet sold to Virginia media company

(RNS) A small Virginia-based media company that specializes in channeling a small portion of consumer spending to charity has acquired Beliefnet, a leading online website devoted to multi-faith news, commentary and content. BN Media LLC focuses on the “vast online market for spirituality and inspiration” by “bringing audio-visual and written content to the masses while helping people make a difference for their favorite nonprofit organization,” according to a news release. Over the past seven weeks, BN Media participated in what CEO Steve Halliday called a “whirlwind romance” of purchasing Beliefnet from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. With the acquisition of Beliefnet, BN Media builds on its existing relationship between Beliefnet and its subsidiaries, Affinity4 and Cross Bridge, which provides spirituality-based video and media. “We are very pleased with how our online community is growing,” Halliday said.

Warnings about sex, violence come to Christian movies

ST. LOUIS (RNS) To get to the movie section at Lifeway Christian Store in Bridgeton, Mo., customers pass by shelves of books, CDs and greeting cards. The rack of Christian DVDs isn’t huge, but it’s twice as big as it was a year ago and “growing all the time,” said manager Francine Evans. Some of the Christian titles these days, she said, tackle “touchy subjects” such as drugs, domestic violence or abortion. “These are movies that deal with issues that real people deal with,” Evans said.

Supreme Court rules against Christian legal group

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday (June 28) that a Christian student group must accept gays and non-Christians as members if it wants to be officially recognized by a public university. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court’s 5-4 majority, said the “all-comers” policy at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law is “reasonable” and “viewpoint neutral.” The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, pitted a campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society against the law school’s nondiscrimination policy that requires registered student organizations to accept any student as a member or potential leader. Registered student groups receive limited funding from the school, which is supported by public tax dollars. The law school had argued successfully in lower courts that the Christian group was seeking special treatment in seeking an exemption from the rules.

Monday’s roundup

Klansman-turned-Senator-for life Robert Byrd died early Monday at age 92. SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan begins her Senate hearings today. Not in attendance will be Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, who was scheduled to testify against Kagan’s attempts to bar military recruiters from Harvard as dean of the law school. Boykin, you may remember, got into trouble during the Bush administration for saying Muslims pray to an “idol” and framing the pursuit of terrorists as a religious war. A NYT op-ed says it’s a “cause for celebration” that no one cares about Kagan’s religion (she’s Jewish).

Americans getting more religious!

Well, maybe a little bit. Gallup shows an increase in self-reported “at least once a week” or “almost every week” church attendance over the past two-and-a-half years–from 42.1 percent in 2008 to 42.8 percent in 2009 to 43.1 in the first half of 2010. Meanwhile, the Labor Department’s annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS) shows an uptick in “spiritual and religious activities,” from .14 hours per day per adult in 2008 to .15 hours per day in 2009–i.e from 8.4 to 9 minutes. Although the Gallup result should not be taken as accurate in itself–it’s simply not the case that Americans attend church in such numbers–it does mean something that more people are reporting attendance, especially in light of the ATUS.Gallup notes that the inching up has occurred during a period when Americans’ confidence about the economy has also been increasing, That’s something of a counter-intuitive result as far as Gallup is concerned. Back when the recession hit, the organization released a poll showing no increase in church attendance, opining: It is not an unreasonable conjecture that the current recession would
cause Americans to increasingly turn to religion as a surcease from
their economic or personal sorrow.

Gulf Coast governors declare Sunday day of prayer for spill

BATON ROUGE, La. (RNS) Gov. Bobby Jindal called on all Louisiana citizens to unite in a day of prayer for perseverance on Sunday (June 27) as the battle continues to control the BP oil spill disaster. Jindal’s proclamation follows one adopted by the Senate last week at the request of state Sen. Robert Adley, who called for a day of prayer last Sunday. The Legislature on Monday also held a brief prayer service for those coping with the spill. Separate declarations naming Sunday as a day of prayer for the Gulf were also issued by the governors of neighboring Texas, Alabama and Mississippi.

Bishops say nun was wrong to allow abortion at Catholic hospital

(RNS) Citing “confusion among the faithful” after a controversial abortion at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, Catholic bishops issued a statement explaining when it is morally permissible to terminate a pregnancy. In May, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix declared Sister Margaret McBride, an ethicist at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, automatically excommunicated because she condoned an abortion to save a woman’s life. The case drew widespread media coverage and disagreement from some Catholics, who argued that abortions are permitted under church rules in such cases. Doctors determined that the gravely ill woman, a mother of four, would have died of heart failure if she continued the pregnancy.

Ore. psychiatrist to open assisted suicide clinic

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) A psychiatrist who the state has reprimanded for wrongly prescribing drugs says he plans to open a facility in Portland and charge fees to help patients end their lives under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Stuart G. Weisberg has mailed invitations to local doctors and politicians inviting them to a July 21 “presentation” at a restaurant to unveil his new business, End of Life Consultants LLC. Weisberg did not return calls Wednesday (June 23) seeking more information on his venture, which apparently would be the first of its kind in the nation. Weisberg filed incorporation papers with the state June 2.

An open letter to Madonna, from one mom to another

(RNS) Dear Madonna, Thank you. My family arrived home in California this week with our newly adopted son, Vasco Fitzmaurice Mark David Possley. His adoption would not have been possible without the bold actions you took in Malawi last year when its High Court denied the adoption of your daughter, Chifundo “Mercy” James. You didn’t take no for an answer. You didn’t buy their argument that allowing the adoption would encourage human trafficking.

Friday’s roundup

The U.S. Supreme Court made it much tougher for prosecutors to chase corporate executives accused of fraud; House and Senate negotiators reached a deal on a bill to increase regulation of Wall Street. Alaska officials decided a legal defense fund set up for former Gov. Sarah Palin was illegal; she’ll have to return about $390,000. SCOTUS also ruled that people who sign petitions on divisive public issues (see “Marriage, gay”) don’t have a right to keep their identities hidden. Michael Jackson’s older brother Jermaine, one year after the pop icon’s death, says Islam would have saved his brother. NPR looks at a new documentary on the “Sons of Perdition,” the young boys who escape (or are exiled from) Warren Jeff’s polygamous compound.

The Apostate Temptation

On June 29, 1106, a Jewish intellectual named Moses Sephardi had himself baptized into the Catholic church in Huesca, Spain. Taking the name Peter Alfonsi, he went on to achieve fame throughout Christian Europe as an astronomer and author. In his Dialogues against the Jews, he presents his present self arguing against his former self in the most important anti-Jewish polemic of its era. Just as Peter Abelard (at just the same time) established the Western model of the Parisian celebrity philosopher, so Peter Alfonsi established the model of the celebrity apostate. It’s a good gig because your new community treasures the special insights you have, or claim to have, into the (false) world of your old community.

Evangelical survey shows 40 percent drink socially

(RNS) A survey of evangelical leaders shows that 40 percent said they “socially drink alcohol.” Some leaders, in a survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals, noted that they imbibe “in moderation,” “on special occasions,” “occasionally” and “never in excess.” The other 60 percent said they did not drink. Among the reasons they cited were their denominational policy supporting abstention from alcohol, a family history of alcoholism or a desire to set an example for younger generations. The NAE polls its 112-member board on a different topic each month.