Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Was the California couple killed by Somali pirates on Tuesday motivated by a love of sailing, or missionaries fired by faith? No reason Jean and Scott Adam couldn’t be both, I guess, but it’s interesting to see how differently the AP and LA Times treat the deceased couple’s beliefs in these two stories. The AP has written several other more faith-centric articles about the Adams, though. Speaking of carrying the flame, the Dalai Lama’s extended family says they will complete the walk begun by Jigme Norbu, who was killed in Florida last week while marching for Tibet. Shiites in the Middle East, a persecuted minority in some countries, are taking a very close look at what’s happening in Bahrain, Reuters reports.

Religious voices enter Wisconsin union debate

(RNS) The pro-union rallies in Wisconsin have a retro feel to them — particularly for people of faith. Clergy and faith-based groups were historically on the front lines of the American labor movement, but priorities shifted with the rise of the religious right and the weakening of unions. In the Wisconsin protests over the governor’s budget proposal to reduce collective-bargaining rights for teachers and other public-sector employees, however, religious voices have re-entered the fray. Groups like Faith in Public Life and Interfaith Worker Justice have mobilized coalitions that include Protestants and Muslims, in addition to the Catholics and Jews that dominated pro-union efforts in previous generations. Clergy have led invocations and prayer vigils throughout Wisconsin, written letters and sent delegations to meet with Republican lawmakers.

Navy reverses self on C.O.

Back around Thanksgiving, we brought you the story of Michael Izbicki, the ensign and Annapolis grad who had sued the Navy in federal court for turning down his application to be discharged because his Christian faith had led him become a conscientious objector. The good news is that after two years the Navy has seen the error of its ways and granted Izbicki his honorable discharge. He got the news a month ago, but now the ink is on the paper and he can leave New London and return to his family in California in peace.Paul Vitello does a fine job telling the tale in today’s New York Times, but there remain a couple of lessons worth pointing up. First, it’s clear that the Navy and most likely the other services need some education in how to handle C.O. cases, and specifically in how to reckon with the varieties of religious experience that can lead personnel in that direction. Despite having his petition supported by chaplains inside and outside the military, the officers who received his petition and the investigators who questioned him had never dealt with a C.O. case before, and somehow believed that their job was to judge Izbicki according to their own personal religious lights.Second, we should bear in mind that however the military personnel on the ground handle the preliminaries, it’s the lawyers in the Pentagon who make the decisions once the case gets to court.

Budget cuts target the poor, faith groups say

(RNS) Get ready for more undernourished infants, dangerously cold homes and disease-stricken communities in developing countries if proposed federal budget cuts become law. That’s the message coming from religious advocacy groups, who’ve been rallying supporters and blanketing Capitol Hill since budget debates kicked into high gear last week (Feb. 14-18). Declaring budgets to be “moral documents,” they’re prodding lawmakers to honor their respective faith traditions by sparing poverty-related programs from the cost-cutting axe. But efforts to save funding are meeting resistance — not only from number crunchers, but also from others with different views of what constitutes moral budgeting.

Religious groups fight for tax deductions

(RNS) For the third time in three years President Obama’s proposed budget will attempt to reduce tax deductions for high-end charitable donors, and for the third time nonprofits and religious organizations are pushing back. Many religious nonprofits, which supplement their budgets heavily with donations from wealthy donors, are concerned that reducing the tax write-offs for charitable donations will cause a decrease in giving, said Diana Aviv, the president and CEO of Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofit organizations. “The question is, `Do tax incentives work, do they stimulate more money than they cost?”‘ Aviv said, “Experts estimate that this proposal could reduce charitable giving by $7 billion dollars.” Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 includes a 30 percent reduction in itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers. Individual donors making more than $200,000 or families earning more than $250,000 would be able to claim 28 percent of any donation as a tax deduction rather than the current 35 percent.

Christians concerned about conscience clause

WASHINGTON (RNS) Catholic bishops and Christian medical groups are “disappointed” that the Obama administration has rescinded Bush-era conscience clauses for health care workers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday (Feb. 18) issued its new guidelines, which govern medical staffers who object to procedures for religious or moral reasons. The department said in a statement that it is “building upon provisions of the Bush administration rule that established an enforcement process for federal conscience laws, while rescinding the definitions and terms of the previous rule that caused confusion and could be taken as overly broad.” The debate over conscience regulations involves a range of ethical dilemmas, from a physician’s refusal to prescribe birth control pills to patients who fear discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Suit accuses televangelist of breaking moral clause

(RNS) Christian publisher Strang Communications has sued evangelist Benny Hinn, claiming he violated a moral clause in a book agreement and owes the company more than $250,000. “Strang discovered that Mr. Hinn was engaged in a public, romantic and otherwise inappropriate relationship with another high-profile minister, who was divorced,” according to the suit, filed Feb. 15 in a Seminole County, Fla., circuit court. The company said it learned of the relationship last summer when Hinn was divorcing his wife, Suzanne Hinn. At that time there were news reports that Hinn was seen holding hands with evangelist Paula White of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla.

Number of Catholics worldwide edged up, Vatican says

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The number of Catholics in the world edged up 1 percent in 2009, the Vatican said, bringing to 1.18 billion the number of adherents of the world’s largest church. The statistics appear in the latest edition of the Vatican’s “Annuario Pontificio,” or pontifical yearbook, which was presented to Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday (Feb. 19). About half of the world’s Catholics live in North and South America, with 24 percent found in Europe, 15 percent in Africa and nearly 11 percent in Asia. The number of bishops increased along with their flock, by about 1 percent, from 5,002 to 5,065.

Oregon bill would end protections for faith healers

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Oregon prosecutors and lawmakers endorsed a bill Monday (Feb. 21) that would remove special legal protection for parents who treat seriously ill children with faith healing instead of providing medical treatment. Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote and others told the House Judiciary Committee that House Bill 2721 would help halt needless, avoidable child deaths. The bill is a response to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church with a history of children dying from treatable medical conditions.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Oops! … They did it again. The Obama administration again made big religion news last Friday (before a holiday weekend, no less!) though, to be fair, it wasn’t as late in the day as the faith advisory council announcement. The Dept.

COMMENTARY: Budget battles disregard the vulnerable

INDIANAPOLIS (RNS) My sister and I stood in the assisted-living apartment set up for our 94-year-old father and realized the moment had passed. He needs to be in the health care unit at his retirement center. Assisted living would be too demanding. He will never again sleep in this bed, knit scarves for the homeless in this wingback chair or watch “Lawrence Welk” in privacy. The coffee table he built for our family home will be donated for auction.

The Great Commission Recession

BaptistPlanet explains why the latest numbers from the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches understate the decline of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Palin’s narrow escape, thanks to God

Politico’s definitely got the scoop of the day, in the form of disgruntled ex-Palin aide Frank Bailey’s unpublished e-mail-laced tell-all memoir. Best reported e-mail quote, by Palin after she was disinvited from a GOP congressional fundraiser in favor of Newt Gingrich:
Yes, (Newt/GOP) are egotistical, narrow minded machine goons… but all
the more reason God protected me from getting up on stage in front of
5000 political and media ‘elites’ to praise him, then it be shown across
the nation. At some point Newt would have shown his true colors anyway and we would
have been devastated having known we’d earlier prostituted ourselves up
in front of the country introducing him and acting like that good ol’
rich white guy is the savior of the party. Gotta admit, I’m with Sarah on this one.

What a mea culpa is worth

Earlier this month, the big dog in the Catholic hierarchy, Tim Dolan of New York, told
NCR’s John Allen that church leaders needed to project a “sense of
contrition” if they are to recover their pre-scandal credibility.”What we have to do, and the bishops have to lead it, is one big fat mea
culpa,” Dolan said. “We can’t get tired of that, and we have to mean it.”So
it’s interesting that it was not Dolan but Sean O’Malley of Boston, the
other American hierarch on the Vatican’s team looking into the Irish
church, who made
the big fat mea culpa two days ago. In a Dublin cathedral, O’Malley and
Diarmuid Martin of Dublin washed and dried the feet of eight victims of
clerical sex abuse. As Martin put it, “”For covering up crimes of
abuse, and by so doing actually causing the
sexual abuse of more children… we ask God’s forgiveness.”

Happy Presidents’ Day

The Religion News Roundup is off today for President’s Day. I admit, though, that I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to honor the holiday. (Or how it should be spelled. Whither the apostrophe?) We should all come up with a good President’s Day celebration idea before the car dealerships completely take it over. Until then, we’ll see you back here on Tuesday.