RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Survey: Americans have conflicting values about Christmas (RNS) When asked by pollsters about how their neighbors and other Americans celebrate Christmas, most people _ 85 percent _ say others focus on the material rather than the religious or spiritual aspects of the holiday. By contrast, only 31 percent say they […]

c. 1996 Religion News Service

Survey: Americans have conflicting values about Christmas

(RNS) When asked by pollsters about how their neighbors and other Americans celebrate Christmas, most people _ 85 percent _ say others focus on the material rather than the religious or spiritual aspects of the holiday. By contrast, only 31 percent say they and their own families put more emphasis on the material than the spiritual.

At the same time, however, the poll _ commissioned by U.S. News & World Report _ found that more Americans cite secular activities rather than religious ones when asked how they celebrate Christmas.

According to the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, 77 percent said they exchange gifts, 72 percent said they send Christmas cards, 72 percent said they decorate a Christmas tree and 73 percent said they cook a holiday meal.

However, fewer people _ 63 percent _ attend religious services marking the holiday, while 57 percent said they take time out for religious reflection and 51 percent report that they read the Bible or another religious book during the holidays. Although 68 percent say they give food, money or clothing to the less fortunate, only 36 percent say the volunteer for charitable activities during the season.

The survey also found a gender gap in religious observances of Christmas: 65 percent of the women polled said they attend religious services during the season compared with 59 percent of men.

The poll also found:

_ 9 percent of adults said they still believe in Santa Claus; age 8 is the average age when people stop believing in Santa.

_ 20 percent said Santa Claus and the tradition of gift-giving enhances the religious celebration of Christmas, but 48 percent said Santa Claus detracts from the religious observance of the holiday.

_ 44 percent of those polled said they spend too much for Christmas, 48 percent said they spend about the right amount and 5 percent said they spend too little.

U.S. Jewish leader slams Israeli religious, political elite

(RNS) Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in his first speech since becoming president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, has sharply criticized Israel’s political and spiritual leaders, arguing Judaism is healthier in the United States than it is Israel.”Israel has succeeded in defending her borders militarily, but not spiritually,”Yoffie said Friday (Dec. 13) at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the UAHC, the congregational arm of Judaism’s Reform movement. The board met in Los Angeles.”Hebrew language and national sovereignty have bestowed upon Israeli Judaism a little bit of extra protection and a little bit of extra time, but that time is just about up.” Yoffie was especially harsh on Israel’s ultra-Orthodox leaders, who have a legal monopoly on religious affairs in Israel and who refuse to recognize the authenticity of the Reform movement.”The ultra-Orthodox have failed miserably in Israel,”he said, and even with their monopoly”find it necessary to impose their will through coercive legislation.”He said that in Israeli public opinion polls, the ultra-Orthodox are less popular than the Arabs.”Israelis know that a free and independent Jewish state was not established to return her citizens to the Jewish ghetto,”Yoffie said of the ultra-Orthodox efforts to legislate their views on Sabbath closings, marriage and other issues.”Sooner rather than later some sort of separation between synagogue and state will be implemented,”he added.

Yoffie also said that he is”greatly disappointed”with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions in both the political and religious arenas.”Within 10 years there will be nuclear weapons in the Middle East,”he said.”With the threat of nuclearization on the horizon, a regional peace becomes essential for Israel.” Instead, however, Yoffie said all that the Israeli government has done is make inflammatory statements, expand settlements and generate tensions with the most moderate elements in the Arab world.

Yoffie said he had hoped that Netanyahu,”this advocate of all things American,”would be an advocate for the American version of Judaism.”Even if he could do nothing practical for us, an enlightened voice from Israel’s highest-ranking elected official would have set the tone for tolerance and the possibility of change.” He urged American Jews to become involved in Israel’s religious life.”The task of bringing Torah to the citizens of Israel will challenge us profoundly,”Yoffie said.”Judaism in Israel will need to draw on the best that North American Reform has to offer, while adapting itself to the unique needs of Israeli culture.”

Boesak charged with `misuse’ of anti-apartheid donations

(RNS) Former South African clergyman Allan Boesak, one of the most prominent activists who led the fight against apartheid, has been charged with misappropriating more than half a million dollars in donations from international church and aid groups.

A Cape Town court Friday (Dec. 13) charged Boesak with nine counts of fraud and 21 counts of theft involving the misappropriation of funds donated to his Foundation for Peace and Justice, The New York Times reported.

Most of the donations came from Danish and Swedish relief organizations. Lawyers for one of the groups, DanChurch Aid, alleged that Boesak used hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to apartheid victims for his own personal expenses.

Boesak, who now lives in Berkeley, Calif., and is a fellow at American Baptist Seminary of the West, did not appear in court, but attorneys said the former Dutch Reformed Church minister would return to South Africa in January to face the charges.

Boesak did not respond to requests for comments about the charges. In previous statements, he denied any wrong-doing and demanded apologies from the aid agencies.

The charges come after an official investigation that lasted nearly three years. Prior to moving to the United States about a year ago, Boesak was a provincial leader of the African National Congress and South Africa’s representative-designate to the United Nations.

Boesak, who rose to international prominence for his efforts to convince the Dutch Reformed Church to officially condemn apartheid, was forced to resign his ministry in 1990 after admitting to an extramarital affair.

High court rejects appeal against Bible club policy

(RNS) The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court’s decision allowing a Long Island, N.Y., high school Bible club to have only Christian officers.

The justices without comment Monday (Dec. 16) rejected an appeal of the policy by the Roslyn Union Free School District, which had argued that the club discriminated against students of other religious backgrounds.

The case began in 1993, when senior Emily Hsu tried to begin a student-led, after-school Christian fellowship club. In the proposal she submitted to school officials, Hsu said that all club officers would be Christians.

But school officials told her such a provision violated the school district’s non-discrimination policy mandating that all student clubs be open to students of all religious beliefs.

In 1994, Hsu and her younger brother filed suit arguing that the school district was restricting their freedom of religious rights. They argued that a Christian club must have Christian officers to preserve its purpose and identity.

A federal district court ruled in favor of the school district, but that decision was overturned by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the school to exempt the Christian club from the non-discrimination policy.

The Supreme Court’s action Monday upheld the circuit court’s ruling, but did not address the merits of each side’s arguments.

The American Center for Law and Justice, the conservative legal advocacy group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, hailed the court’s action, saying it”sent a strong signal”that government should not regulate religious organizations.

Southern Baptist pastor charged in homeless dispute

(RNS) A Southern Baptist pastor in Buena Park, Calif., has been charged with misdemeanor criminal charges in a dispute over his church’s ministry to the homeless.

Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, was arraigned Dec. 9, along with church secretary Vondel Mumaw and treasurer Eugene Chance, reported Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. They each face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each of 11 counts.

Drake was the Baptist leader who prompted the June annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to threaten a boycott of the Walt Disney Co. because some Baptists thought the company was making”anti-family”corporate decisions.

City officials say Drake’s homeless ministry has prompted an increase in crime statistics in an area that links the entertainment complexes of Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland.”We have a significant public safety problem in the neighborhood,”said Assistant City Prosecutor Greg Palmer.”It’s a problem created by him (Drake) inviting more and more people to stay on the property.” The church, which draws about 75 people to Sunday morning worship services, has had some sort of ministry to the poor during the decade that Drake has been pastor.”I think the prosecuting attorney decided this is the time to shut us down,”Drake said.”It’s just one of those things where the city has said, `We don’t want homeless people in our city.’ To admit you have homeless is bad for business.” City officials say they have tried since May to work with the church, which has violated the city’s camping law by allowing homeless people to sleep on the church’s two-acre property. First, the church was given time to begin constructing a homeless shelter, but the church did not meet the deadline. Then the church was told to reduce its homeless population or hire security guards. Drake said the charges were filed because the church trained volunteers and a homeless person to act as security guards rather than hiring guards.

The church’s attorney entered no plea at the arraignment. The prosecutor told Baptist Press he would ask for a $200 fine and three years probation for Drake and the two other church workers if they plead guilty or are found guilty in a jury trial.

Cooperative Baptists appoint four missionaries anonymously

(RNS) The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has anonymously appointed two couples to serve as missionaries in regions considered hostile to Christian evangelism.

In what is being compared to the federal witness protection program, the couples are the first missionaries to be so appointed in the five-year history of the moderate Baptist group. It is feared that their work and their lives could be in danger if they were to be identified.

At a Dec. 6 missionary commissioning service at Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston, two couples sat almost unnoticed in the congregation as surrogates stood in for them on stage and gave their testimonies by proxy, reported Associated Baptist Press, an independent Baptist news service. Five other couples, their names and identities known, also joined the ranks of 140 missionaries during the fellowship’s annual Global Missions and Evangelism Conference.

The two unnamed couples will serve in the Middle East and North Africa.

One of the four compared the surrogate ceremony to an”out-of-body experience.”Another admitted to some sadness about losing a public identity in ministry.”It will be hard not to tell people what we do,”one said.”But as long as we can rally individual and family prayer support, the loss of public identity won’t be so hard. Please tell Baptists to pray for us.”

Quote of the Day: Kirk Franklin

(RNS) Gospel singer and songwriter Kirk Franklin said in a Dec. 11 USA Today interview that he was amazed that his near-fatal fall from a stage in November prompted such attention. The gospel star, whose”Kirk Franklin and the Family”was the first gospel debut album to sell a million copies, received more than 20,000 cards, bouquets, letters and gifts from well-wishers after his accident.”This situation really grew me up. It’s not just having fun, it’s a responsibility. I realize now that people are listening to gospel music who never listened to it before because of what God has done for me.”


Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!