COMMENTARY: And the truth shall set you free

(RNS) Judging from a recent Gallup Poll, politicians, corporations, the entertainment media and religious institutions are in a close competition to prove which is least trustworthy. A jaded public has come to expect the worst, and regularly receives it. Headlines about politicians’ lies hardly warrant attention anymore. We’ve gone from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, to an elected elite who appear incapable of telling the truth. In corporate America, big tobacco stonewalled and suppressed the facts when they knew nicotine was an addictive carcinogen. BP doctored photos of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and for weeks understated the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf.

Mormons see potential in online proselytizing

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Not so long ago, Mormon missionaries were prohibited from using the Internet, even to contact their families. The system then loosened a bit to allow weekly e-mails home and some occasional viewing of church materials. Now the nearly 14 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is attempting to revolutionize the way Mormons find converts — and it's all online. The move involves experimenting with blogging missionaries, self-produced member profiles and stereotype-busting videos. The American-born church, which has been harnessing technology to promote the faith since the 1920 radio days, sees great potential in fast-paced storytelling.

Thursday’s roundup

As a federal judge struck down major portions of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, a majority of Americans thinks the waves of immigration a century ago are no longer helpful. Religious groups, who claimed a major victory in the ruling, vow to press on. “Left Behind” co-author Tim Lahaye says President Obama is bringing us “closer to the apocalypse.” Remember that Ohio science teacher who taught religion in his public school classroom and burned a cross into a student’s arm? He and the student’s family have reached a settlement; terms were not disclosed.

Religious Liberty in Tennessee

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who happens to be running for governor of the Volunteer State, has caught a bunch of flak for his recent comments on the stump suggesting that Muslims might not merit First Amendment protection. Asked to comment on the proposed construction of an Islamic community center in Murfreesboro, he said, “You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion or
is it a nationality, way of life or cult, whatever you want to call it. Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is
something we are going to have to face.” This has tempted me to wonder out loud if Ramsey’s understanding of the First Amendment is that laws can be made prohibiting the free exercise of cults, to point out that one man’s cult is another’s religion, etc. But averse as I am to shooting fish in a barrel, and always actuated by a desire for deeper understanding, I figured I’d try to determine where Ramsey’s coming from.Where he comes from is Blountsville, which is about as deep as you can get into Upper East Tennessee.

Senate Democrats plead for religious support on key bills

WASHINGTON (RNS) Top Senate Democrats said Wednesday (July 28) that Democrats need the help of religious groups in overcoming Republican opposition to key pieces of legislation. In a media roundtable hosted by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Democrats’ Steering and Outreach Committee, senators said the majority of “the faith community” is fully on board with Democratic policies on immigration, health care and clean energy. Senate Democrats said the progress they’ve made on economic recovery and job growth is due to the continued support of faith communities. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, cited a common thread of “economic and social justice” between Democratic lawmakers and religious groups. “We would not have passed (any of the bills) …

July 28, 1989

It’s really a great experience to look back and see what was happening in times gone past. Here at RNS, we’ve got some archives from past years, so I will occasionally pick up and look to see what was happening on a given date in, say, 1989, or maybe 1994. I don’t have links to any of them, of course, but I do have some of the highlights from the stories that I will share. In July 1989, the world had finally gotten somewhat accustomed to that wall that split Berlin. Fashion style called for sweaters (zebra arm optional) with big hair and lots of denim.

Gospel singer Doug Oldham dead at age 79

(RNS) Doug Oldham, a prolific gospel singer and ministry partner of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, died July 21 at the age of 79. Oldham, who was a soloist at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and helped the evangelist raise money to start Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., died at a Virginia hospital while awaiting back surgery. “My father and Doug Oldham were an evangelistic team who brought the gospel to nearly every home in America every Sunday morning on the `Old Time Gospel Hour,”‘ said Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. in a statement. “The names Jerry Falwell and Doug Oldham were synonymous as Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea. …

Muslims, ACLU seek data on FBI profiling

WASHINGTON (RNS) Muslim American groups and the American Civil Liberties Union are demanding the FBI turn over records relating to agency guidelinesthey say permit the FBI to collect and use racial and ethnic data. The groups allege that the Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide, an FBI policy manual published in 2008, gives FBI agents the authority to map and investigate communities based on ethnic behaviors and lifestyles, cultural traditions, and “ethnic-oriented” businesses, even when there is no evidence of criminal activity. While the guidelines don’t mention Muslims specifically, opponents say they are used almost exclusively against Islamic followers. Critics say such policies are not only unconstitutional, but ineffective, and often counter-productive. “It drives a wedge between the police and the communities they are sworn to serve,” said Michael German, an ACLU lawyer and former FBI agent.

Jordan River called `too polluted’ for baptism pilgrims

JERUSALEM (RNS/ENInews) Concerns about pollution and water quality have prompted an environmental advocacy group to call for the banning of baptisms in the lower Jordan River, where the Bible says Jesus was baptized. “For reasons of public health as well as religious integrity, baptism should be banned from taking place in the river,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East. Israeli authorities said on Tuesday (July 27) that tests done on the water of the lower Jordan River show the popular site for baptismal ceremonies at Qasr el Yahud on the West Bank meets health ministry standards. Bromberg, however, said the ceremonies should not take place until pollutants are removed from the water. The site, inside an Israeli controlled military zone, faces another baptismal site on Jordan’s side of the river.

Pension fight raises moral and legal concerns for ELCA, publisher

(RNS) As the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) fights to stay out of a legal battle over unpaid pension benefits, all sides agree on at least one point: More is at stake than the millions of dollars owed to some 500 pensioners of Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA’s publishing arm. Last month, the ELCA asked a federal court to be dropped from a suit filed by stakeholders in Augsburg’s recently dissolved pension plan. The ELCA contends it bears no responsibility under the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act because Augsburg Fortress’ pension program is a “church plan.” Church plans are exempted from ERISA requirements, which include sufficient funding to meet promised obligations. Some Lutherans, however, don’t like what they’re seeing.

10 minutes with … Andrew Kosorok

(RNS) Sculpture professor Andrew Kosorok certainly has his hands full for the next three years making representations of the names of God — all 99 of them. Having gained an interest in Islam after 9/11, Kosorok found that many parallels between his Mormon faith and Islam. Islam’s traditional 99 names for God — “The Provider,” “The Compassionate” — inspired Kosorok to dive deeper into Islamic theology. Kosorok, who teaches at Brigham Young University, aims to produce one glass sculpture for each of the 99 names, and one final piece to represent all the names together — 100 installations in all. So far, he’s finished seven pieces;five are in production and 13 others are planned by year’s end.