Is Lent for Protestants, too?
"For centuries, the one sure way to tell a Catholic from a Protestant was to look for the dark smudge on the forehead on Ash Wednesday," begins a story in today's Boston Globe. "No more. Reflecting an increasing demand for ritual and decreasing hostility toward Catholicism among Protestants, a growing number of Protestant churches today will be offering worshipers the traditional sign of penitence and mourning." The article notes that the tradition far precedes the Protestant Reformation (and, in a way, even Christianity). But while some Protestants will be eager to reclaim this tradition of repentance despite its association with Catholicism, for others it seems that the association is even more important than what the tradition symbolizes. "There was a time not so long ago when ashes were associated with the Catholic Church, and there was a lot more hostility between Catholics and Protestants," says one United Methodist pastor quoted by the paper. "Now I see us all as being part of one church." Earlier Christianity Today articles examined whether evangelicals should observe Lent. "On one side, our conscience serves to remind us that (if we are the practicing Christians we claim to be) we had better 'do something' about observing the most sacred season in the Christian calendar," a 1960 editorial noted. "On the other hand, a sense of indignation stirs within the Protestant breast, even to the pitch of revolt, at what the Church has done with Lent in the past." But the magazine encouraged evangelicals to observe Lent, leaving the form of that observance up to the reader. "What is all important is that the form support, not obstruct, the way of the Holy Spirit of God who brings life to ritual and free worship alike, and who turns ashes into new men." Fourteen years later, Sherwood E. Wirtalso encouraged evangelicals to at least capture the spirit of the season. "Lent can become a beautiful and deeply moving experience of walking spiritually with Jesus on his pilgrimage to the cross," he wrote. Ironically, though Ash Wednesday and Lent are the subject of several other articles, most focus on foods associated with the season, like fish sticks, pancakes, and pretzels. Isn't the whole point to take our minds off of things like food?

U.S. State Department raps China, other countries for abuses of religious freedom and other human rights
The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report Monday, and once again religious freedom set the tone for many of the criticisms. China was particularly criticized as it "intensified its crackdowns on religion and in Tibet, intensified its harsh treatment of political dissent, and suppressed any person or group perceived to threaten the Government." Beijing quickly fired back. "This is a typical action showing U.S. double standards on human rights," said the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The U.S. is clearly a "defender of power politics rather than human rights," as evidenced by the "non-stop partisan bickering" in the recent election (not to mention gun control laws and salary differences between executives and employees)," said the foreign ministry's responsive report on human rights in America. "Improve the human-rights record in your own country … and stop ordering other countries on the pretext of safeguarding human rights," it concluded. Besides, criticizing China for cracking down on religious groups while "going so far as to defend openly the anti-humanity evil cult Falun Gong" is itself a double standard. What China is doing to the Falun Gong, said the Foreign Ministry, is akin to a war on drugs. (Sorry, China. Colombia's war on drugs was criticized in the report too.) Meanwhile, Reuters looks at what the report may mean for American politics. "Although compiled from data gathered under former President Clinton, who took what many Republicans consider too soft a line toward Beijing, the report added to the impression of a tougher line emerging under Bush," the news service reported. Israel, Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea were also criticized in the report, but criticisms weren't as directed on religious freedom issues.

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More stories:

Premarital commitments:

  • Getting help before the honeymoon | Md. looks to push couples to take premarital courses (The Washington Post)
  • A vow for virginity | Millions of teens have pledged to abstain from premarital sex. A national study has found the commitment is indeed serious. (The Sun, Baltimore)
  • Deciding it's OK to wait | The abstinence movement is growing, but the issue of teen sexual activity is more complex. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Crime and punishment:

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Missions and ministry:

Other stories of interest:

  • Creating a capital Christ | There is a strong lobby in favor of erecting a statue of Jesus in Dublin's O'Connell Street (Hughie O'Donoghue, The Irish Times)
  • Virgin Mary | Would proclaiming her 'co-redeemer' be a promotion? (Editorial, The Dallas Morning News)
  • A new way to have children: the adoption of frozen embryos | Tens of thousands of human embryos lie frozen around the nation, the source not only of potential babies but of embryonic stem cells, which scientists say hold great promise for curing disease. Their fate is weighing heavily on the minds of fertility doctors and their patients. (The New York Times)
  • Can you Adam and Eve it? A cockney Bible | Archbishop of Canterbury offers foreward for translation describes Jesus feeding 5,000 "geezers" from five loaves of "Uncle Ned" and two "Lilian Gish". (The Daily Telegraph, London)
  • Church splits on same-sex | Ban on homosexual unions: Metro Atlanta Presbyterians vote no; Northeast Georgia's say yes (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
  • The religion of the south | The failure of the South has not been literary, but theological: a failure to fully incorporate belief into culture. (Paul Greenberg)
  • Music star Michael W. Smith gives free concert | Christian musician inducted into the Kenova, West Virginia's Hall of Fame (Associated Press)
  • In Indiana, a fair-weathered replica of Boston church | Nearly full-size version of Boston's Old North Church now a private residence (The Boston Globe)

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