RNS photo courtesy the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Mormons lower age for missionaries, setting off changes for parents, women, schools

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) In a surprising move that promises to transform Mormon social and spiritual dynamics, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is lowering the age of full-time missionary service to age 18 for Mormon men (down from 19) and 19 for women (down from 21). By Peggy Fletcher Stack and Lisa Schencker/The Salt Lake Tribune.

Should our bodies become bullets after death?

(RNS) When he dies, Clem Parnell expects his soul to ascend heavenward. He wants his ashes to be loaded into a shotgun shell and blasted at a turkey. “I will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that turkey will see is me screaming at him at about 900 feet per second,” says Parnell, 59. Parnell and his business partner, fellow Alabama state game warden Thad Holmes, believe other hunters have similar hankerings. This July, they launched Holy Smoke LLC, which offers to load the cremains of customers into shotgun shells, rifle cartridges and bullets.

RNS photo courtesy Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

St. Louis Catholics react to native son Bishop Finn’s conviction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (RNS) Bishop Robert Finn, a St. Louis native who was ordained in the St. Louis Archdiocese, is the first U.S. bishop convicted of failing to report criminal sexual activity by a priest. Local Catholics were polite but not subtle about the court ruling. By Jesse Bogan and Tim Towsend.

The roots of Rep. Todd Akin’s rape remarks

ST. LOUIS (RNS) Two pages from a 1972 article have influenced two generations of anti-abortion activists hoping to build a medical case to ban all abortions without exception. By Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard.

As candidates run for office, some run from their church

(RNS) On a recent Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann offered an Iowa church an intimate account of her pilgrimage from apathetic teenager to devout Christian whose faith has persevered through hardship, including a miscarriage. But when a reporter asked about the churches her family has attended, the Republican presidential candidate went mum. “We're not here to talk about anything other than just the church. Thank you,” Bachmann told IowaPolitics.com, referring to Des Moines First Assembly of God, where she recited her spiritual testimony before 500 fellow Christians — and potential caucus voters — on July 17. The Minnesota congresswoman's eagerness to bare her soul but not the site of her Sunday worship seems to reflect a convergence of wider concerns: evangelicals' increasing aversion to religious labels, a dread of being caught with “pastor problems,” and the cold political calculus of reaching the largest possible constituency.

Can a creedless religion make it another 50 years?

BALTIMORE (RNS) A recent Sunday service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore ended with an apology. Laurel Mendes explained that religious doctrine had been duly scrubbed from the hymns in the congregation's Sunday program. But Mendes, a neo-pagan lay member who led the service, feared that a reference to God in “Once to Every Soul and Nation” might still upset the humanists in the pews. “I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable by reciting something that might be considered a profession of faith,” said Mendes, 52, after the service. “We did say `God,' which you don't often hear in our most politically correct hymns.”

Richard Land accused of lifting Trayvon Martin comments

(RNS) Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention's top public policy ethicist, has been accused of plagiarism after he criticized Democrats and civil rights leaders for exploiting the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. By Greg Horton.

RNS photo courtesy of HarperOne

Man behind ‘near-death experience’ ponders the afterlife

(RNS) In his new memoir, “Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife,” Raymond Moody, the man who coined the term “near-death experience,” takes a look back, reflecting on his fascination with death, the effect of his life's work, and pondering what it's all meant. By Piet Levy.

Religion News Service photo by Christine Baker/The Patriot-News

Religious questions for Pa. voter ID law draw fire

HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonites can get an ID card if they have religious objections to being photographed after answering a series of questions on their faith and other personal information. Now that the state has passed one of the nation's toughest voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud, the scope of the questions is drawing criticism. By Jan Murphy.

RNS photo by B. Denise Hawkins

Five years later, mother of Virginia Tech victim wrestles with God, finds peace

CENTREVILLE, Va. (RNS) It's been five years since Celeste Peterson's only daughter was killed in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. And while the grieving mother has rediscovered her faith, it hasn't been easy. At first, her prayers were near obligatory: “Thank you for this day. I'm not talking to you. Amen.” By B. Denise Hawkins.

British lawmakers approve prayer at town halls

LONDON (RNS) The British government has fasttracked the right of cities and towns to hold prayers as part of their official business, overriding a High Court order to stop the practice. By Al Webb.

RNS photo courtesy Brigham Young University

Gay BYU students say ‘It Gets Better’ on Mormon campus

PROVO, Utah (RNS) Officials at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University say a group of two dozen students who posted a video about being gay will not face trouble as long as they abide by the school's no-sex honor code. By Rosemary Winters.