African religious leaders admit shortcomings in AIDS fight
Yesterday was the first day of Nairobi's World Conference on Religion and Peace, in which more than 150 Roman Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders gathered from 30 African countries to discuss the church's role in combating AIDS.

The leaders admitted that they have remained too silent and passive as the epidemic swept through their countries and congregations. Leaders said they dragged their feet in education against AIDS and, despite their grassroots networks, had failed to support governments in combating the disease.

The group voiced the church's shortcomings in a declaration of principles:

We have been reluctant to speak openly about HIV/AIDS and have thus at times contributed to the silence and stigma that surround the disease. We have allowed fear and denial to prevent us from getting good information and education about HIV/AIDS and, in turn, sharing that information with the members of our conference.

The religious leaders vowed new activism in the fight against AIDS and to show compassion to victims, especially to AIDS orphans. "Some leaders are still afraid of them," the Rev. Jane Nuthu, told The New York Times. "They don't want to touch them."

The religious leaders also remained firm in their beliefs that abstinence, not contraception education, is the best means to fight HIV and AIDS.

"We started with condoms and have been flooded with condoms, and HIV is still spreading," Roman Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan told the Associated Press. "We believe it is possible for children to control themselves. We are teaching them that they are not animals, and they can control themselves."

Two monks killed in shooting; no motive found
A 71-year-old man armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle opened fire inside Missouri's Conception Abbey yesterday morning. Before committing suicide, Lloyd Robert Jeffress killed two monks and seriously wounded two others.

Killed in the attack were Brother Damian Larson, 64, and the Rev. Philip Schuster, 85. The Rev. Kenneth Reichert, 68, and the Rev. Norbert Schappler, 76, were wounded.

The attack appears to be a random shooting. The abbot of the Conception Abbey, Rev. Gregory Polan, said in a press conference that the man was a "total stranger. We have not found anything to connect this man to us."

Gracia says Abu Sayyaf is desperate, weak, and down to seven members
"Statements made by Gracia Burnham, the only hostage to survive Friday's rescue attempt, and information gleaned from letters written by her husband and recovered at the site, present a more desperate picture of the Abu Sayyaf's circumstances than many had expected," The Washington Post reports today. While 100 of the Muslim guerrillas held the missionary couple a year ago, their numbers had dwindled to 14 by the rescue. "Only 10 of the rebels had weapons, and nearly half of the 14 were teenagers." Subtract those killed in the Friday firefight and you have 10 left with six guns. Subtract the capture today of 19-year-old Basher Ordonez, who was wounded in the Friday's battle, and you have nine members. And Ordonez says there's only seven. They're low on food and supplies and have no support on the island of Mindanao where they're believed to remain.

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"Abu Sabaya's world is getting smaller and smaller every hour of the day," Major General Glicerio Sua, who commands the operations against the guerillas, told the Philippine Inquirer.

"They're definitely on the run, and the military is at the point now that they can just shoot without worrying about hitting hostages," missionary Jodi Crane told the Post after meeting with Gracia. "But they've got a pretty big job cut out for them. It's easy for the Abu Sayyaf to drop the guns, change clothes and blend in with the farmers."

Also notable in the Post story is one unnamed Philippine official's remark that the presence of the U.S. military in the country has staunched collusion between corrupt military officers and the Abu Sayyaf. "Something seems to have changed," the official said. "It looks like the U.S. presence has brought in more integrity."

Meanwhile, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is busy defending the military's rescue attempt Friday. At a wake for slain hostage Ediborah Yap, Agence France-Presse reports, the president "was given the cold shoulder … by grieving residents." Priest Cirilo Nacorda, for former Abu Sayyaf hostage, was one of the critics. "How can you call it successful? What is their measure? It took more than a year, and then this," he said, pointing at Yap's coffin.

President Arroyo is standing firm. "Our military commanders made the right call," she told a news conference yesterday. "They made the correct call." She criticized media who called the rescue attempt "a botched job."

The U.S. government is now adding morale support to the weapons and military trainers it already sent to the country. "The heroes are the hostages, the three of them—the two who died and the one who survived—and the AFP, particularly the Scout Rangers," Ambassador Francis Ricciardone said. "No one should try to suggest that the rescue was bungled or botched in any way; these guys are heroes, they are brave and skillful. And the criminals are the Abu Sayyaf."

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Study finds evidence of discrimination against faith-based groups
A study released yesterday finds that the government does discriminate against faith-based programs in the selection of groups to fund. Those groups that are funded, however, do not experience interference from the government or a loss of religious freedom.

"Working Faith" looks specifically at welfare-to-work programs in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The study, commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, considers 500 welfare-to-work programs and analyzes how the faith-based organizations differ from their government-run, for-profit, or secular non-profit counterparts.

Other findings include:

  • The Bush administration's faith-based initiative is merely an extension of current practice. Fifty percent of all faith-based welfare-to-work programs receive federal funds. These monies make up 50 percent of budgets of less-religious groups and 30 percent of those with deeper integration of religious elements into their work.

  • There is evidence of discrimination against faith-based groups in the disbursement of funds. For instance, 21 percent of all faith-based programs who applied for funding were turned down compared to a 7 percent ratio for secular nonprofits.

  • Only three out of 60 faith-based programs reported reducing religious practices as a result of receiving federal funds. However, nearly 40 percent of programs have an internal policy not to apply for federal funds because of such fears.

John DiIulio, former head of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and now with the Manhattan Institute, told The Washington Times that the study might be the best data yet collected on faith-based organizations.

Desmond Tutu criticizes Canterbury selection process
The Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey will resign his post in October. Within the next few months, his successor will be chosen by Prime Minister Tony Blair because the Church of England is an established state church.

Although not obligated to take the church's recommendations, the Crown Appointments Commission provides the prime minister with two candidates to consider. The Queen of England ratifies the decision.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu yesterday called the process "arcane" and is asking the Church of England to cut the state's "apron strings" and select its own leader.

Tutu also called for the selection process to be widened beyond England to open the possibility of an African or Asian Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Tutu is currently backing the Archbishop of Wales Rowan Williams for the job. "For my money the Archbishop of Wales really towers head and shoulders above any of the other people," Tutu said yesterday.

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Conflict in the holy land:

  • Israeli army reportedly blew up church | Local officials in the village of Aboud, near Ramallah, say an ancient church called Santa Barbara was destroyed on Friday night (Reuters)

  • How to bless Israel | Why do we evangelicals think support for Israel is the main thing on God's list of priorities? (Richard Mouw, Beliefnet)

Christian merchandise:

  • Jesus statues got game | Inspirational figurines depict Christ as sports guru for kids (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Are You Laughing With Me, Jesus? | Salt and pepper shakers resembling nun dolls, key chains with miniature Bibles, Jesus action figures and Virgin Mary tank tops are crowding retail shelves — promoted by merchants who subscribe to the credo that one person's object of devotion may be another's kitsch. (The New York Times)

Other stories of interest:

  • Some Christians sure could use a sense of hummus | Doctor's book says Jesus' diet was healthier than many Americans' (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Archbishop warns of resurgent bigotry | The trend towards secularism which had defined recent western history was now in retreat before resurgent religious bigotry and could also create a society whose priorities were "making the trains run on time—whether they are going to Eden or Auschwitz", according to the Archbishop of Wales. (The Guardian, London)

  • My wondrous cross | John Newbury explains why he wears a cross. (The Guardian, London)

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