Paul and Oreta Burnham behind hostage deal
What's most shocking? That a $300,000 ransom was reportedly paid to free American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham? That their captors, the militant Muslim Abu Sayyaf, apparently reneged on the deal? Or that Martin's parents, Paul and Oreta Burnham, made the deal (Or, at least, made some kind of deal)?

The elder Burnhams have denied that they were involved in the payment, but Paul went on Radio Mindanao today to ask the abductors to keep their word. "The family of Martin and Gracia are deeply saddened and disappointed to learn that the Abu Sayyaf has broadcast its intention to continue holding Martin and Gracia and Deborah Yap until additional demands are met," he said. Apparently a deal was made March 13, and on March 19 the Abu Sayyaf said they'd release the hostages within five days. As that deadline came and went, the negotiator again said they'd be released soon.

 "On behalf of the family and children of Martin and Gracia we respectfully ask the Abu Sayyaf group and [Abu Sayyaf leader] Khadaffi Janjalani to honor their agreement with us," he said. "If not, how can anyone ever trust the Abu Sayyaf again?" Again? Paul Burnham also defended trusting them in the first place. "Is it evil to make an agreement with them?" he asked.

In many people's minds, the answer to that question is yes. But it depends on the agreement—and the elder Burnhams' deal with the Abu Sayyaf may not have been the $300,000 ransom. Paul Burnham didn't explicitly mention the ransom payment, but it sure sounds like what government officials confirmed two weeks ago. But a CT reporter just this morning reached Oreta Burnham, who said, "We did not pay the ransom."

Back to Paul Burnham's question. The Washington Times is among those who believe ransoming hostages could be considered an evil. "Payment to Abu Sayyaf sends an unmistakable message to al Qaeda that what works in the Philippines will probably work elsewhere," the paper editorialized April 15. "How can we expect other nations to help us stop the flow of money to terrorists when we ourselves are sending it?"

Likewise, New Tribes Mission reiterated its policy not to pay ransoms, and says it "was not aware the family members were involved in a deal until they revealed it to mission representatives in confidence Saturday, April 20."

Even without Senate bill, Bush's faith-based initiative is working
"The number of faith-based groups using government funds to provide social services has grown in the past two years, and state and federal agencies seem more willing to parcel out smaller grants to ministries," The Washington Times reports, summarizing a study by the Hudson Institute and the Center for Public Justice. The study's Web site summarizes the main findings (and has the full report):

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State and local governments are increasingly turning to the faith community for support in serving low-income families; frequently contracts are being written with "new players" [faith-based organizations] that do not have a longstanding history of receiving government funds; government agencies have greatly expanded the range of social services they are purchasing from [faith-based organizations]; and more contracts are being written with individual congregations, and not only faith-based nonprofit organizations, than ever before.

Then there's this paragraph in the Times article:

Meanwhile, [director of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Jim] Towey said his office is "working hard to pass legislation in the Senate" that, when combined with a House bill, would provide more incentives for charitable giving and support of faith-based services.

So does that mean the White House is pushing for the differences between the already passed House bill and the massively scaled back, yet to be passed Senate bill to be negotiated in conference committee? If so, that could be great news for religious organizations who could use government funds. Senate leaders have earlier said they want to avoid such a conference committee, and just want the House to forget H.R. 7 and approve the Senate's version.

More articles

Church life:

  • Church faces £5m claim from racism victim | A woman who suffered racial and sexual discrimination while employed by the Church of the Seventh-day Adventists demanded record compensation of £5m yesterday after claiming she had been treated as a "leper" and cast out. (The London Independent)

  • Church of Scotland seeks salvation in Billy Graham | A team led by the Church of Scotland is to study the preaching methods of Billy Graham in the hope that his charismatic evangelism can help to spark a revival in the kirk's popularity. (The Sunday Times, London)

  • Youth seen as church saviors | Congress on Vocations closes with call to 'find a way to be Christian in the modern world' (Montreal Gazette)

  • Church gives community a place to exercise body | Since Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, opened a $4-million free and open-to-the-public fitness complex in September 2000, nearly 6,000 people have become church gym members, if not yet church members. (Detroit Free Press)

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Life ethics:

  • Crossing lines | A secular argument against research cloning (Charles Krauthammer, The New Republic)

  • Also: A weak argument against cloning | I'm glad that Charles Krauthammer is against cloning. But I don't think his argument makes sense, because he denies the premise  that would make sense of it. (Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Online)

  • Zygotes and people aren't quite the same | In order to develop a sensible and sensitive policy on cloning, President Bush must listen to the full debate of his advisory panel on bioethics. (Michael S. Gazzaniga, The New York Times)

  • Supreme Court to bypass First Amendment concerns in abortion protest case | Justices turn case into more technical review of whether federal laws on racketeering, extortion can be used as tools to cripple or deter abortion foes. (Tony Mauro, Freedom Forum)


Social justice:

Sex & marriage:

  • The marrying kind | Why social conservatives should support same-sex marriage (Jonathan Rauch, The Atlantic)

  • Abstinence moves to the head of the class | Topic gains favor, and funding, in sex education courses (The Washington Post)

  • Pastor's new love life splits church in two | Congregants of Daniel Mashimbye's Unity Christian church were shocked after their pastor, who has encouraged them to respect their marriage vows, came to church in the company of a young woman believed to be about 18-years old, and introduced her as his new wife (City Press, Johannesburg)
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Other stories of interest:

  • St George comes under fire | The dragon-slayer's red cross was the symbol of the Crusades against Islam and has been adopted by causes ranging from football fans to the Royal Navy. But some critics say St George's Day is best ignored. (BBC)

  • Wounded minister finds faith to forgive | Johannes Christian said he has forgiven a 16-year-old boy who threw a cannonball-sized rock off a highway overpass, shattering Christian's windshield, breaking nearly every bone in his face and blinding him last July (Associated Press)

  • Renewed faith | In an era of growing anxiety about our future and the increasing hollowness of much of today's popular culture, spiritual values are a good thing (Editorial, The Globe & Mail, Toronto)

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