Is this the same charitable choice?
The good news is that charitable choice legislation allowing religious organizations to compete for federal social service funds has made it out of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 20 to 5. The bad news is that the legislation isn't nearly what was promised. Weblog hasn't heard from John DiIulio, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, nor from deputy director Don Eberly, but it seems to Weblog that in large measure, the heart has been ripped out of President Bush's faith-based initiative.

The amended legislation, which is also being debated in the House Ways and Means Committee, now requires that any program receiving federal funds must carefully distinguish its social services from its religious components, including religious instruction, prayer, worship, or evangelism. And it must allow anyone who wants to opt out of such religious activities to do so.

That means that Teen Challenge and other organizations that integrate religion throughout their work won't be eligible for federal funds. (Although it seems like they've been excluded from any discussion of direct grants ever since DiIulio's famous speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. But even then, DiIulio and others were at least talking about substituting direct grants in such cases with vouchers, which seems to have dropped off the table completely.) Wasn't allowing such groups to compete for funding one of the basic points of the faith-based initiative? Weren't drug counseling programs permeated with the yeast of biblical teachings touted as more effective than secular alternatives just a few months ago? Didn't Eberly just tell reporters, "These are the groups where we want to say, 'We're not going to change your character; that's what makes you effective'"? Weblog supposes the Feds are still saying they won't change the groups' character—but they can't receive federal funds, either. And we're right back where we started.

The legislation had already required that secular alternatives be available in any community where there was a federally funded faith-based organization. So if First Baptist Church had a soup kitchen that incorporated prayer before the meal, a secular soup kitchen had to be available down the street. So why take the extra step of requiring First Baptist Church to distinguish between feeding the body and feeding the soul? It's one thing to tell an organization it has to spend federal money on bread, not Bibles; it's quite another to tell it how much of the Bible it can quote if it accepts government funds.

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House Republicans stanched an amendment requiring federally funded religious organizations to hire workers of all religions. But while belief is protected, the current bill says religious practices can't be weighed in hiring decisions. (Gender and race can't be considered, either.) Even Democrats are wondering what this legislation does that's not currently allowed by law.

In fact, the current bill may actually limit—not expand—the options open to faith-based organizations. The Supreme Court's recent decision in Good News Club v. Milford Central School is only the latest ruling against viewpoint discrimination: if you open the door to some private organizations, you have to open it up to religious ones as well. The Good News Club wasn't told to distinguish between teaching about religion and actively evangelizing for it. Like after-school clubs, charitable choice is about fairness.

If religious conservatives have been skittish about charitable choice until now (at the time of Weblog's writing, CT's poll on charitable choice was only barely running in favor of the faith-based initiative), expect naysayers to grow in numbers and volume. Marvin Olasky, one of the original architects behind Bush's faith-based initiative, is already launching an attack. "This new dispensation," he writes in the latest issue of World, "may make the world safer for theological liberals, but it tells theological conservatives, 'Get lost.' … What's needed above all is for President Bush to make the case for compassionate conservatism by showing America what groups like Teen Challenge do and why it's unfair and unwise to discriminate against them."

More on Bush's faith-based initiative (news):

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More on the faith-based initiative (opinion):

  • Compromise or compassion? | Frankly, I'm amazed at the number of Christians who've raised questions about President Bush's plan for faith-based solutions. (Charles Colson, Breakpoint)
  • Where faith gets the job done | John Street has made Philadelphia the foremost laboratory for what President Bush calls "faith-based initiatives" (George Will, The Washington Post)
  • Serving America: What role for religious faith? | As the Bush administration seeks to harness the energy of faith in an expanded social-service effort, it will be important that the line between soul work and social work be clearly defined (Editorial, Star Tribune, Minneapolis)
  • Faith-based reparations? | The last thing the black community needs is another government handout, laced with paternalism and religion, in the form of "secular" good works undertaken by religious entities (Michael Myers, The New York Post)
  • Godphobes and the faithful | Given all the lamentation against suffering and deprivation that we hear in the public discourse, surely it is better to try this new approach than simply to reject it and let the suffering around us suffer more. (R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., syndicated columnist)
  • Afraid for the church-state wall? Have faith | Bush revives his initiative to get faith-based organizations into the social-services mix. The plan's enemies are its best defense (Frank Pellegrini, Time)
  • Bush's charity plan hasn't got a prayer | The President means well when he encourages corporate support for faith-based groups, but religion and business just don't mix (Richard S. Dunham, Business Week)
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Abducted missionaries still ministering
Back home in Kansas City, friends and family are gathering to support the children of Martin and Gracia Burnham, the New Tribes missionaries taken hostage by Abu Sayyaf rebels in the Philippines. But, reports The Orlando Sentinel, the Burnhams are still working as missionaries—it's just that their mission field has changed. "Filipinos who have escaped or been released by Muslim extremists say the Burnhams … are leading daily prayers and keeping fellow hostages sane by talking about things such as Gracia Burnham's recipe for apple pie," reports Pedro Ruz Gutierrez, who's doing an amazing job at covering the abduction. The Burnhams, Gutierrez writes, "have emerged as a strong force helping their fellow hostages cope with the crisis" despite malaria and, in the case of Martin, shrapnel wounds. But they've also become a bargaining chip for the rebels, who say they may execute the missionaries to destabilize the country's government. "If we chop off the heads of people like Mr. Burnham, the Americans would intervene, and so would the Arabs and [Osama] bin Laden's groups. What will happen then to the Philippines?" Sabaya told the Associated Press. "This problem would never end. Actually, many more of these [attacks] could happen."

In the beginning was the Word—then they changed it to W
Perhaps the company is trying to associate itself more with the President of the United States. Fifty-year-old Word Publishing is changing its name to W Publishing Group. Actually, the company is making the move to "reflect a greater diversification in its publishing program." That is to say, it's now dealing with more than just words. A very clever campaign advertising the change illustrates the point. Amid Chuck Swindoll saying, "Word won't be getting any more grace from me," and Ravi Zacharias saying, "Publish with Word? That's illogical," other authors praise the company for expanding beyond the printed page. Max Lucado ("I'm no longer inspired by Word") notes that He Chose the Nails went from a book to "an industry-wide evangelism initiative, with gift books, curriculum and music." Frank Peretti ("The idea of staying with Word gives me chills") notes how, with The Wounded Spirit, Word found "ways to reach more people with spin-offs like a youth curriculum and video." With the Christian Booksellers Association meeting next week, expect some disgruntled writer to use the name change to again lament how unimportant books seem to be to the Christian book world.

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You angel, you
If that statue of St. Michael that sits on top of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway, looks familiar but misplaced, it's because the model is more often seen strumming a guitar than blowing an apocalyptic trumpet. Sculptor Kristofer Leirdal has admitted to the Norwegian daily newspaper Adressavisen that it's an image of Bob Dylan, "a representative of American opposition to the Vietnam war." Well, apparently we know where Leirdal stands on the whole "Is Dylan Saved?" question.

Pat Robertson, oil baron:

Church and state:

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Ten Commandments:


Alleged persecution:

Life ethics:


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Sexual ethics:

  • Prayer tackles sex on autobahn | Churches, concerned that new rest-area sex shops will lead motorists into temptation, are fighting back by opening chapels where weary drivers can pray or seek silence and solace. (The Daily Telegraph, London)
  • Racy clothes catalog rankles some | Critics from conservative Christians to liberal feminists call Abercrombie & Fitch's latest catalog soft porn, and now they've joined forces to boycott the trendy, youth-oriented retailer (Associated Press)

War on porn:

  • Louisiana video-store chain on trial for renting sex tapes | Prosecutors argue movies violate standards of most residents in New Orleans area, but defense contends standards have relaxed since state obscenity law was drafted. (Associated Press)
  • Tanzania's anti-porn drive | President Benjamin Mkapa's pledge to combat pornography went down well at the opening ceremony of the Christian Council of Tanzania's general meeting. (BBC)


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Battles for the soul of the Anglican Church:


  • Love the sinner, hate the sin | The Denver Catholic Archdiocese wisely withdrew its financial support from Colorado's Council of Churches after the council welcomed into its membership the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a predominantly gay denomination. (Ellen Makkai, The Denver Post)


  • Losing faith in the clergy | We Catholics are people of great faith, but it is asking too much for us to believe that the church has taken abuse claims "very seriously" (Rod Dreher, New York Post)
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  • What's a good Catholic to do? | One can't help but wonder if the Catholic Church has been taken over by sociological researchers conducting a massive experiment on faith. They seem to be testing how far good Catholics can be pushed before they run screaming into the nearest Unitarian service. (Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Reuniting Latinos with Catholicism | Parishioners go door-to-door to win back those who left church (Los Angeles Times)

LA Weekly on the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God:

  • Demons on Broadway | Miracles. Exorcism. Catholic-bashing. Going for broke in the Universal Church. (LA Weekly)
  • See the light | Ex-church members struggle to reclaim happiness and financial health (LA Weekly)
  • The rebel preacher | Boiling over with hatred for Bishop Macedo (LA Weekly)

Church life:

Pastoral life:

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  • Holy cow! Pastor is mugged twice | By the same man, in a four hour span, no less (New York Post)
  • Tom Jones disciples flock to pop pastor | Pastor Jack Stahl is so convinced of Jones' inspirational powers that Stahl even dresses like the Welsh singer for his services at the Progressive Universal Life Church in Sacramento. (New York Post)
  • Vicar plans record 36-hour sermon | The rules are strict - no repetition, no reading, no gibberish and no pause of more than 10 seconds. Every eight hours a 15 minute break is allowed. (The Guardian, London)
  • Also: Vicar fights to keep his job with longest sermon | Record may focus local attention on Church of England financial changes, marathoner hopes (The Guardian, London)

Church history:

C.S. Lewis's Narnia:

  • Narnia under vandal siege | Vandalising the churches, bulldozing the temples, only proves the philistinism of the perpetrators. In the end, the real story goes on forever. (Tom Morton, The Scotsman)
  • The lion, the witch, and the nonsense | Squeezing the Christianity out of "Christian culture" leads to absurdities (Bill Murchison)

Popular culture:

  • Christians in dialogue | Can popular music ever be a conduit for Christian values? (Mark Joseph & Nancy Pearcey, National Review Online)
  • God's advertorials | Given that Australians have an insatiable appetite for American sitcoms and dramas, it should come as no surprise that we also import their religious television (Chris Middendorp, The Age, Melbourne)
  • Holy Land must render unto Caesar | Biblical-based theme park will have to pay property taxes just like any other tourist attraction despite its theme and ownership by a religious organization (The Orlando Sentinel)

Polling belief:

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Science and health:

  • Seeing faith through science | An astronomer and minister looks to biology, physics and other fields in an effort to prove the Bible's truth. He draws fire from scientists and fundamentalists alike (Los Angeles Times)
  • Drugs, scalpel … and faith? | Doctors are noticing the power of prayer (U.S. News & World Report)
  • Looking for God at Berkeley | A provocative theory called "intelligent design" claims evolution is hogwash. But it's not the usual religious zealots leading this latest attack on Darwin. It's scientists and professors at Cal. (San Francisco Weekly)

Other stories of interest:

  • Religion 101 (The short course) | A review of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Life of Christ (Los Angeles Times)
  • Bible to speak in native tongues | The religion accused of wreaking havoc on native Canadians by very nearly destroying aboriginal culture, language and spirituality, is now helping to pump new life into native languages through translations of the Old and New Testaments (The National Post)
  • New president resigns from evangelicals | Supporters of NAE head Kevin Mannoia believed evangelicals needed an influential national voice to lead a "movement." But others say that was a miscalculation, since traditionally the leader had been a quiet manager who consulted everybody. (The Washington Times)

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