Parents of dead baby defend use of faith-healing

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) Two years to the day after their newborn son died, two parents accused of choosing faith healing over medical care said Tuesday (Sept. 27) that given the chance, they would do nothing differently. Dale and Shannon Hickman are charged with second-degree manslaughter for failing to provide medical care for their son David, who was born in 2009 two months premature and lived less than nine hours. After the Hickmans and other church members testified, defense attorneys rested their case on Tuesday, and jurors were scheduled to begin deliberations on Wednesday.

New Jersey leads U.S. in till death do us part

(RNS) Poor New Jersey — derided for “Jersey Shore,” aggressive driving and talking too fast. But when it comes to happily ever after, the Garden State is No. 1. A recent U.S. Census report shows the Northeast — and New Jersey in particular — has the lowest divorce rate in America, trailed closely by New York. The Bible Belt, meanwhile, home to Southern hospitality, church telethons and country music, has more “shotgun” weddings and the most divorces.

Report says trends for U.S. churches mostly pointing down

(RNS) American congregations have grown less healthy in the last decade, with fewer people in the pews and aging memberships, according to a new Hartford Seminary study. But there are also “pockets of vitality,” including an increase in minority congregations and a surge in election-related activities at evangelical congregations. The findings coming from the new Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey are based on responses from more than 11,000 Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations in 2010 and more than 14,000 congregations in 2000. In the first decade of the 21st century, the median worship attendance at a typical congregation decreased, from 130 to 108. “It means we have a lot more smaller congregations,” said David Roozen, author of the report, “A Decade of Change in American Congregations, 2000-2010,” and director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Shana Tova

While the coming year does not seem very promising in the sweetness department, you never can tell. A Happy New Year to Jews and Gentiles alike! 

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Happy New Year! It’s almost 5772! Just a few hours left to make your Jewish New Year resolutions. Christians in Syria are backing dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has afforded them some protection, as much of the Sunni Muslim country looks forward to his ouster. Christians are incensed in Britain that BBC broadcasters will on longer say “B.C.”

Tuesday Godbytes

Christian E-Zine Relevant takes a look at how video games engage the nature of God by highlighting a new game based on the Dead Sea Scroll’s version of the Book of Enoch. Still nothing about who Mario prays to, though. Sarah Posner over at Religion Dispatches examines “Bring Back the Holy Bible and Christian Prayer in Schools Month,” which is apparently a thing according to the Source of All Knowledge: Twitter. The Next Web reviews a new iPad app by British evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. The new app – which is a version of his book “The Magic of Reality” – reportedly spends some time pitting religious explanations of natural phenomena against scientific explanations.

Update: Church/jail sentencing program under review

BAY MINETTE, Ala. (RNS) An alternative sentencing plan that would give inmates the choice between time in jail or a year in church will be delayed for several weeks while lawyers review it to make sure there are no legal issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama sent a letter to city leaders on Monday (Sept. 26) demanding an immediate end to the program, which it says “flagrantly” violates the separation of church and state. The letter also requested public records on the program’s development and creation.

Christians outraged as BBC drops B.C./A.D. dating method

LONDON (RNS) British Christians are incensed after the state-funded BBC decided to jettison the terms B.C. and A.D. in favor of B.C.E. and C.E. in historical date references. The broadcaster has directed that the traditional B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, or Year of the Lord) be replaced by B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) in its television and radio broadcasts. The BBC said in an official statement that since it is “committed to impartiality, it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.” It described the terms B.C.E. and C.E. as “a religiously neutral alternative to B.C./A.D.,” although critics quickly pointed out that the new terms, like the old, were anchored around the birth of Jesus Christ. The new edict drew immediate accusations that the network was guilty of political correctness run amok as the BBC’s phone lines were jammed with irate listeners and readers.

Dead Sea Scrolls now available online

JERUSALEM (RNS) Five of the Dead Sea Scrolls that have been stored for decades in a climate-controlled exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem are now available in digital form to anyone with an Internet connection. A website ( developed by the Israel Museum and Google allows online visitors to examine the scrolls in minute detail with the help of a magnifying feature. Pages for each of the five scrolls — the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on the Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll — also contain brief videos and explanatory notes. According to the museum announcement, details invisible to the naked eye are made visible through ultra-high resolution digital photography at up to 1,200 megapixels each. Photographer Ardon Bar-Hama used UV-protected flash tubes with an exposure of 1/4000th of a second to minimize damage to the fragile and light-sensitive scrolls, the museum said.

`Values voters’ still motivated by gay marriage, abortion

WASHINGTON (RNS) Amid a political climate dominated by economic concerns, social conservatives are as concerned as ever about issues like abortion and gay marriage, a leading conservative activist said Tuesday (Sept. 27). Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), spoke about what “values voters” and evangelicals want in a presidential candidate as Republicans court a key constituency in the GOP. The media have given the impression that the economy will far outweigh social issues in the 2012 elections, Perkins said, but “that’s not the case with evangelical voters.” In fact, he said, social conservatives don’t see a dichotomy between social and economic issues, listing health care, tax policy, and jobs as “not just fiscal issues.”

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

Barack Obama really is the Antichrist, at least according to a heckler last night during the president’s fundraiser in Los Angeles. “Jesus Christ is still God!” shouted David Serrano before security dragged him off. “You are the Antichrist!” The president smiled and agreed with the first part, though he issued no formal denial of the second charge.

COMMENTARY: What would Jesus argue about?

(RNS) What if America truly were a Christian nation? Not a Southern Baptist nation, or an Episcopal nation, or a Roman Catholic nation. Not grounded in the doctrinal and ecclesiastical isms that have grown up over the centuries. But a Christian nation, doing what Jesus did. Well, we wouldn’t be arguing about sex, that’s for sure.

TV’s favorite serial killer finds religion

(RNS) That whole “Thou shalt not kill” part of the Ten Commandments seems pretty clear — except maybe to Dexter Morgan, the beloved serial killer protagonist in Showtime’s hit drama, “Dexter.” Dexter lives by his own commandment — the “Code of Harry,” bequeathed by his father to help his sociopathic son survive — by ridding the world of killers before they can harm anyone else. But for the series’ sixth season that begins on Sunday (Oct. 2), the unbelieving Dexter appears ready to find religion. Forever wrestling with his inner demons, the new season finds Dexter exploring issues of faith and spiritual conviction as he tries to enroll his son in a Catholic preschool and squares off against two men who are killing in the name of God.

Scalia and JFK

In his speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960, John F. Kennedy famously declared: I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views–in accordance with what my conscience tell me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.But if the time should ever come–and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible–when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.Speaking at the Duquesne Law School a couple of days ago, Antonin Scalia invoked a different standard: “If I thought that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be
immoral, I would resign. I could not be a part of a system
that imposes it.” Kennedy’s position has over the years drawn increasing criticism, especially from conservatives, for seeming to reject the influence of one’s religious tradition on one’s approach to public service.

Monday Godbytes

CNN has an article entitled “The gospel according to Justin Bieber.” Really, what else do you need to know? Tech blog Gizmodo is excited about a newly-digitized version of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Apparently Google made all the digital magic happen, and they’re available for your online perusal (how’s your ancient Hebrew?) here. The Friendly Atheist blog has a couple of interesting stories floating around the web.