More peachy news
'Tis the season for battles over religious displays (see the myriad related links below), so it's nice to see one such battle finally coming to an end after a decade.

Back in January 1994, a neighbor asked the city of York, Pennsylvania, to force Sybil Peachlum to remove her illuminated sign of a happy peach holding a newspaper with the headline, "Peachy News. Jesus is Alive." Peachlum pursued a permit for the sign, but the city rejected her request. She couldn't afford the $350 appeal fee, and the city again refused to waive it. She sued, but courts dismissed her claims.

In June, the tides began to turn. The 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals reinstated her lawsuit, even joining in on her penchant for puns. "Peachlum's claim," the court said, "is clearly ripe."

Friday, U.S. Middle District Court Judge Yvette Kane ruled in favor of Peachlum's sign, saying York's ordinance on signs "imposes discriminatory restrictions based on the signs' content." (As of this morning, the decision hasn't been posted on the court's web site, but is quoted in the York Daily Record and Associated Press.)

"God wins," Peachlum told the York Daily Record. "I've been harassed to the nth degree. I've faced multiple charges. This decision tells me I was right."

But wait a second. Yes, Peachlum won the case, but the newspaper says that Judge Kane ruled that York's sign ordinance did not violate or restrict Peachlum's freedom of religion, only her freedom of speech. That should temper some of the celebration. (But again, Weblog hasn't seen the full opinion, so Kane's logic may be sound.)

The other cloud to the silver lining: Peachlum didn't display the sign this year. She's apparently in financial distress, and lost her home in a foreclosure.

"If I ever get to that point [of having a home again], the sign is definitely going back up," she said. "I will use my home as an expression of my faith."

Theft of Jesus just a prank?
While we're on the subject of Christmas displays, it's worth noting that every year, many figures of Jesus are stolen from Nativity displays around the country. (It's not a new occurrence: Dragnet twice dramatized a stolen Jesus case reportedly from San Francisco in 1930. The first such episode, which aired Christmas Eve, 1953, was the only color episode during the series' first run. The second episode, from 1967, starred Barry Williams, who would later be known as The Brady Bunch's Greg.)

This year, St. Paul's Lutheran Church decided to use such incidents as the backdrop to its Christmas Eve drama, titled Stolen Jesus. Then somebody (apparently unaware of the play production) stole the church's own Jesus figure.

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Baby Jesus was returned this week, painted dark brown. The thief left a note, explaining, "Sorry I took your baby Jesus. It was a childish prank. As far as his new color, I thought I would point out that Jesus was not an Aryan but actually a man of color. Although you probably knew this but would rather not be reminded."

The Toledo Blade and other news outlets take the thief's side, quoting church scholars who "said the dark-skinned Jesus is probably more historically accurate than the light-skinned image commonly seen in the United States."

Even the church's pastor is nonplussed. "I think we ought to leave it, personally," Roger Miller told the Blade. "There's something poignant about this Jesus coming to us like this, representing another race. It's a reminder to us all that Jesus came for all people."

Uh, but then again, let's not forget that someone stole and defaced church property because he (presumably a male) didn't like its color, then left an note ignorantly criticizing the church as racist. Isn't such behavior often categorized as a hate crime?

Bibleman actor Aames says "eight is enough"
Last year, Weblog joked that Bibleman's secret power was the world's shortest retirement, as former Eight is Enough actor Willie Aames announced he was hanging up his cape, then a week later announced his comeback. After eight years, more than a dozen videos, action figures, and even his own Bible, Aames is leaving the role for real this time. But have no fear, citizens: The Sacramento Bee says he'll be replaced by former children's minister Robert T. Schlipp. The Bibleman web site, meanwhile, still lists Aames as Bibleman.

More articles

Potluck religion:

  • The national creed | These days political parties grow more orthodox, while religions grow more fluid (David Brooks, The New York Times)

  • Spiritual blend appeals to people of many faiths | 'I literally feel like I am at a buffet,' says one woman who finds solace in the practice of three religions with conflicting precepts (Los Angeles Times)

  • Faith and freedom | For better or worse, the American model of religious freedom has now evolved, after hundreds of years of careful honing, from the Puritans' desire to ban singing and keep Sunday holy into something best described as "religion a la carte": You pick and choose, take a bit of this and a bit of that, then go home and celebrate whatever you want (Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post)

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2003 religion news roundup:

2004 election:

  • Spirit isn't moving religion's left wing | Without the old emotional issues, liberals are losing their punch (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • His goal is to get clergy behind the Democrats | Lexington man heads new group pushing for political change (Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.)

  • Dean says his candidacy to remain candid | "Don't you think that [the Rev.] Jerry Falwell reminds you a lot more of the Pharisees than he does the teachings of Jesus?" Dean said at a town hall meeting in Waterloo, Iowa. "And don't you think this campaign ought to be about evicting the money changers from the temple?" (Los Angeles Times)

  • Render unto Howard | What, exactly, will Dean be saying about Jesus as he travels through the South? (Jay Bryant)

  • Howard Dean 'finds' Jesus | One hopes that the next journalist who gets a chance to ask Dean about this will inquire as to which Jesus he is talking about, if for no other reason than to gauge whether Dean is being sincere or a political opportunist who seeks to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats (Cal Thomas)

Politics abroad:

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More politics:

Social activism:

  • Inequity: Is it a sin? | The rich-poor gap in the United States has doubled in 21 years and is set to widen further under new tax cuts. People of faith say society has a moral responsibility to narrow that gap (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Forces unite to renew opposition to Indian casino | Opponents of a proposed Indian casino near Logansport renewed their resistance Tuesday morning by announcing plans to call for a national moratorium on Indian casinos and asking for a federal grand jury investigation into the involvement of some individuals alleged to be influencing the decision-making process (The Shreveport Times, La.)

  • Gaming and giving | With some once voicing opposition to the lottery, religious leaders now must contemplate some possible ethical issues (Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.)

Prison ministry:

  • 791 inmates, 26 religions in 'faith-based' Fla. prison | Gov. Jeb Bush told nearly 800 prisoners Wednesday that religion can help lead them to a better life as he dedicated the nation's first faith-based prison—an institution officials hope will lead to fewer repeat offenders (The Washington Post)

  • Where punishment must fit the faith | A state prison near Jacksonville, Fla., has become the nation's first "faith-based" jailhouse, combining spirituality with hard time (The Washington Times)

  • Bush dedicates nation's first faith-based prison | Groundbreaking facility opens in Lawtey (Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville)

  • Prison preaches rehabilitation through faith | A new prison in Florida's Bradford County focuses on rehabilitating inmates through religion. Critics say Lawtey's faith-based program violates the U.S. Constitution (Morning Edition, NPR)

  • Fla. gets nation's 1st faith-based prison | Along with regular prayer sessions, the Lawtey Correctional Institution will offer religious studies, choir practice, religious counseling and other spiritual activities seven days a week (Associated Press)

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  • Crackdown spooks jail witch | As a practicing Wiccan, Charles Risenburg wants to read tarot cards, study the daily moon signs and cast an occasional spell or two with a magic wand. But cell-block sorcery is forbidden in the Bedford County Jail (The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.)

  • In prison, a time for reflection | The holiday can be twice as difficult for inmates with birthdays today (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Missions & ministry:

Urbana 03:

  • Heightened security surrounds huge Christian student conference | Some of the 20-thousand college students attending the Urbana 03 missions conference report having to wait up to 45 minutes to get past security into the auditorium (Associated Press)

  • Finding their purpose | They've come by planes, buses and caravans from every direction in the United States and abroad to find their particular place in God's mission for the world (The News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.)

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  • Mission work on display | In a scene resembling a college job fair, about 300 mission agencies and seminars have taken over facilities at the Intramural Physical Education Building, the Armory and Huff Hall on the University of Illinois campus (The News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.)

  • Preparing for Urbana 03 | More than 19,000 college students and recent graduates nationwide will descend on campus Saturday for Urbana 03, a spiritual five-day convention (The News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.)

  • Students seek their life's mission | Christian convention helps young adults make career, study decisions (Peoria Journal Star, Ill.)

  • 20,000 students at U. Of I. for religious convention (Associated Press)

Bible and theology:

  • Illuminating the Scriptures | With swirls of gray, bold and bright reds, and blues the color of the sea, artist Nora Miller illuminates the history of Christianity (The Durango Herald, Colo.)

  • The triumph of orthodoxy | We are living through one of the least heretical periods in western history—and it is our loss (Hywel Williams, The Guardian, London)

  • There's something about Mary | One doesn't have to be an expert in early Christianity or comparative religions to think that choosing Mary, of all people, as a unifying figure for Christians and Jews, is a positively procrustean attempt at ecumenical bridge-building (Calev Ben-David, The Jerusalem Post)

  • The silenced voices of faith speak again | Christianity's modern diversity reflects its origins (Tom D'Evelyn, The Christian Science Monitor)


  • Americans ponder nature of Jesus | Adults in a poll were more likely to conclude that "Jesus was the son of God" and that "Jesus was divine than to believe the biblical accounts of his birth and death (Scripps Howard News Service)

  • Minnesota Poll: Most say religion has role in world's conflicts | Most Minnesotans say religion plays a role in causing war, and most also think that certain religions are more likely than others to encourage violence among their believers (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • Minnesota Poll: Most reject gay clergy | Most Minnesotans believe it is wrong to ordain sexually active gays and lesbians to the clergy, most object to giving same-sex couples the same legal rights as married people and most say homosexuality is a sin (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • Minnesota Poll: 78% definitely believe in God | Minnesotans' reliance on a higher power is steadfast (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

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Life ethics:

  • N.H. judge nixes abortion notification | federal judge Monday declared unconstitutional a state law that would have required parental notice before a minor could get an abortion (Associated Press)

  • How wider use of a pill could quiet abortion fights | Silence of traditional abortion foes suggests that rather than fuel the abortion wars, the morning-after pill encourages a much-needed détente (Editorial, USA Today)

  • Also: Pill poses grave risks | The morning-after pill is not "just another contraceptive," and even a passing glance at the facts is sufficient to prove it does not belong on the same shelf as Tylenol and baby aspirin (Tony Perkins, USA Today)

  • Continent death | Euthanasia in Europe (Wesley J. Smith, National Review Online)

  • Area citizens gather to pray for unborn | The event is held every year on Dec. 28 to coincide with the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, S.D.)

  • Lieberman defends abortion remarks | Roe stance misreported, senator says (The Washington Post)



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  • Iraqi Christians fear for their lives | More than 400 liquor stores run by Christians, the only community allowed to sell alcohol under the former Baathist government, were forced to close in the immediate aftermath of the US led occupation of Iraq (Reuters)

  • Not with a biblical bang | Looks like Saddam's not the End after all (Carl E. Olson, National Review Online)

  • Faith and freedom | If there is one new element we should try hard to leave behind after American troops withdraw or U.S. occupation ends, it is a far more basic notion of religious freedom (Anne Applebaum)

  • Man's mission is to evangelize in Iraq again | Hudson man can't wait to go back after group's trip to distribute Bible (Akron Beacon Journal, Oh.)

Anglican woes:

  • Zambians cut ties with U.S. Episcopalians | The Anglican Church in Zambia cut ties Monday with the Episcopal Church USA over its consecration in June of an openly gay man as bishop (UPI)

  • Local priest resigns over gay bishop issue | Rev. Sandra DePriest - the first priest in Mississippi to resign over the controversial issue - finished up with the Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbus and St. John's Episcopal Church in Aberdeen on Christmas Day (The Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, Miss.)

  • Evangelicals say 13m back anti-gay move | Evangelicals opposed to gay people within the Anglican communion presented an email petition yesterday to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, calling on him to provide alternative oversight for those congregations which oppose bishops supporting Gene Robinson, the gay bishop of New Hampshire (The Guardian, London)

  • Also: Anglican Mainstream delivers petition to Lambeth Palace (Press release)

  • Anglican bishop shuts down church | The Anglican bishop in Vancouver, four days before Christmas, closed a small church 40 miles east of here over its opposition to the church's approval of homosexual "marriages" (The Washington Times)

  • Changes in Episcopal Church spur some to go, some to join | The decision this year by the Episcopal Church USA to ordain an openly gay bishop has set off a wave of church switching (The New York Times)

  • It's time to cross the fine line that divides our two Churches | ask almost any layman of either Church what are the theological differences between the liturgies of the Church of England and Rome and I will bet 10-1 that he will get them wrong (Tom Utley, The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • 'Displaced' Episcopalians gather | About 100 "displaced Episcopalians" gathered for a Christmas Eve service at Phillips Exeter Academy this past week as an alternative to the mainline Episcopal churches that elected V. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church (The Exeter News-Letter, N.H.)

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  • How many Episcopal Churches? | Whatever their reasons for a slow response to earlier problems, the traditionalists are not walking away from the current dispute (David C. Steinmetz, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

Sexual ethics:

  • Zero tolerance | In a frank and open discussion on issues of human sexuality, local evangelicals have committed themselves to disciplining any of their leaders found guilty of sexual harassment or predatory behavior (The Barbados Advocate)

  • Was Jesus gay? | Noted Methodist theologian Rev. Theodore Jennings Jr. and Dr Morton Smith a world renowned Bible scholar at Columbia University say there is irrefutable evidence that Jesus was at least bisexual (

  • S. Florida teen girls discovering 'bisexual chic' trend | Debate rises over whether a kiss is just a kiss. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

  • Friends—and foes—cite Bible on gay issue | Among the issues raised during the bitter dispute over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church this year is why Christianity has upheld some Old Testament laws and discarded others (Associated Press)

  • 'Homophobic' church slated | The moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland used part of his Christmas sermon to accuse the Kirk of reinforcing hatred of gay people. (BBC)

  • Defining marriage is legislators' job | The issues before the SJC, of course, are constitutional, not moral, but it sometimes takes superhuman effort to separate the two (Richard A. Hogarty, The Boston Globe)

  • Pope pushes campaign against gay marriages | Pope John Paul II pressed his campaign against gay unions Sunday, calling for greater defense of the institution of marriage between man and woman and saying a "misunderstood" sense of rights was altering it (Associated Press)

Sri Lanka:

  • Sri Lankan churches 'under guard' | Security at churches at Sri Lanka has been stepped up following attacks on two Christian sites, reports say (BBC)

  • S.Lanka police on guard after attacks on churches | Churches in Sri Lanka have come under a wave of attacks this week, apparently at the hands of angry Buddhists, and while no one has been hurt, police are mounting extra patrols and posting guards to protect them (Reuters)

  • Religious intolerance: Conversions and attacks | As the curtain falls on the year 2003 today, the issue of religious conversions is gaining momentum drawing almost equal or perhaps more attention than the co-habitation crises (Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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France's ban on religious garb:

Religious freedom in India:

Religious freedom and persecution elsewhere:

  • Church-state separation as weapon | The sky isn't falling, but Christians are being scrubbed away from the public square, says David Limbaugh (Beliefnet)

  • A persecution complex | The time for Christians really to start worrying is when we find ourselves winning too many popularity contests (Richard Mouw, Beliefnet)

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  • Earlier: Persecution Is a Holy Word | Exaggerating our problems demeans the sacrifice of overseas believers (Editorial, Christianity Today, Nov. 7, 2003)

  • The Coptic path | For Egypt to democratize, it must end its discrimination against its Coptic population (Jonathan Eric Lewis, The Wall Street Journal Europe)

  • US condemns Eritrea over religion | Respect for religious freedom in Eritrea has deteriorated over the past year, according to a United States Government report (BBC)

  • Once banned, Christianity withers in an old stronghold | Japan's "hidden Christians" survived three centuries of bannings, burnings and beheadings (The New York Times)

  • Cardinal: Christians second-class in Muslim lands | Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who recently retired as the Vatican's foreign minister, told the French Catholic daily La Croix Wednesday that Christianity and Islam faced "an enormous task" of learning to live together in mutual tolerance (Reuters)

International aid:

  • Valley clergy urges quake relief | Congregations will be asked (Tri-Valley Herald, Pleasanton, Calif.)

  • The pain of good intentions | If we want to help North Koreans, the best approach is not a flamboyant Western solution, but a practical Asian approach: we should quietly encourage China and Russia to accept North Koreans (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)

  • Millions of AIDS orphans strain southern Africa | The United Nations Children's Fund estimates in a new report that 11 million children under 15 in sub-Saharan Africa have lost at least one parent to AIDS. About a third of them have lost both parents (The New York Times)


  • Sudan peace deadline in doubt | A peace deal to end 20 years of war in Sudan may not be signed this week as previously announced, a senior government official has said (BBC)

  • 'Lost Boys' find sanctuary | Sudanese who fled brutal war now worship in peace at Denver church (The Denver Post)


Creches and other Christmas displays:

  • Ho, ho, hum? | Where's the crèche? (Janice Shaw Crouse, National Review Online)

  • Decoration ban provokes criticism | After ordering firefighters to remove a Santa Claus figure, a Christmas tree and holiday lights from a Glenview firehouse, village officials were bombarded this week with calls and e-mails from across the country criticizing their decision (Chicago Tribune)

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  • ACLU adds to scene at the Nativity | Jewish, Islamic and solstice items set up near Santa Rosa Courthouse (Pensacola News Journal, Fla.)

  • Spiritual power, no matter how humble | The Metropolitan Museum's 18th-century Neapolitan Nativity has been a holiday staple since 1964 (The New York Times)

  • A row in a manger | A bank branch has thrown out a nativity scene that has been a feature for 20 years - because it might offend non-Christians (The Sun, U.K.)

  • 4 conservative groups offer to defend city against ACLU suit | At issue is the holiday display in front of City Hall that is an amalgam of diverse exhibits, including Santas, a snowman, a flock of pink flamingos and a Seasons Greetings sign (The Providence Journal, R.I.)

  • Public display of religions | The menorah is not the Jewish equivalent of a Christmas tree (Martin Dyckman, St. Petersburg Times, Fla.)

  • Christmas tree freedom | 'Tis the season to argue about Christmas trees, menorahs, nativity scenes, and the separation of church and state (Cathy Young, The Boston Globe)

  • Carnley lambasts religious timidity in schools | The head of the Anglican Church in Australia is to use his Christmas sermon to hit out at government schools that refuse to stage nativity plays and carol concerts for fear of offending students and families who are not Christians (AAP)

Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas message:

The Pope's Christmas:

  • Pope, in Christmas message, pleads for end to terrorism and war | John Paul II used his Christmas messages to plead fervently for an end to terrorism worldwide and to bloodshed in the Middle East, his concern over recent world events casting a shadow over his traditional holiday celebrations (The New York Times)

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  • Pope appeals for peace in holiday message | A frail Pope John Paul II in his Christmas message asked Christ to save the world from war and terrorism — "the great evils" afflicting mankind at the start of the third millennium (Associated Press)

  • Pope speech condemns terrorism (BBC, video)

  • Italian officials feared terrorist attack on Vatican | On Christmas Eve, hours before Pope John Paul II was to say midnight Mass, the highest officials of Italian government met to assess intelligence reports about potential terror attacks, possibly including one on the Vatican, a city official close to the mayor said Saturday (The New York Times)

Commercialization of Christmas:

  • Jesus and consumerist values | While many people deplore, and some even loathe, commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas, the fact is that if the capitalists had not spent so much time hyping Christmas and making loads of money out of it, the birth of Jesus would not get as much attention (Ian Boyne, The Jamaica Gleaner)

  • Holy after-Christmas sale! | This is how commercial Christmas evolved (Art Buchwald, The Washington Post)

The meaning of Christmas:

  • God, as we hadn't seen him | The core claim of Christianity, that God sent His Son to redeem the world, is one of the most liberating concepts in human history (E. J. Dionne Jr, The Washington Post)

  • The amazing grace of Christmas morn | The authentic story of the redeeming power of the Christmas message is nowhere more vividly illustrated than in the incredible life of an English slaver named John Newton (Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times)

  • 'Dad, is Santa more important than God?' | Andrew Gimson quizzes Ipswich bargain hunters about the real meaning of Christmas (The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Christmas means we are no longer alone | Christmas has become the most universal of festivals, celebrated the world over by Christians and others alike, because it appeals to our humanity (Editorial, The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Christmas joy 'all in the mind' | Dr Stephen Joseph, of Warwick University, found those with religious beliefs are happier at Christmas than those who have a more materialistic outlook (BBC)

  • Native Americans portray Christ's birth in their traditions | Christmas trees and poinsettias were placed at the sides of the stage, while animal furs, pine branches and the supports of a tepee rested in the middle (Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.)

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Non-Christians and anti-Christians at Christmas:

  • Non-Christians find ways to cope with Christmas | Christians consider it the 'most wonderful time of the year,' but for others, issues of gifts, school programs can be confusing (Associated Press)

  • Here's hoping for a Festivus for all of us | The whole idea of Christians thinking they've found the better way to live in this world - and bragging about it in public - didn't strike me as particularly Christian. I don't think that's what Jesus wanted from his followers. (Dan Rodricks, The Baltimore Sun)

  • Jesus just misunderstood | The Gospels aren't history. The virgin birth never "happened" nor did the miracles, including multiplying loaves of bread and turning water into wine. But, understood in their mystical sense, these Gospel moments can still transform our lives in the most powerful, intimate way. (Tom Harpur, The Toronto Star)

More Christmas stories:

  • Christmas in Romania | Romanian Christians are working to bind up Romania's festering wounds and — after decades of oppression — are relearning how to be salt and light in the surrounding culture (Anne Morse, National Review Online)

  • Hijacking "Him" for empire | Put it on your shield … or on your Christmas card, as did Vice President Dick and Lynne Cheney (Ray McGovern)

  • Three stories of Christmas: Hope, courage and faith | The story is eerily familiar: A pregnant woman and her devoted husband are desperate to find a place to rest before the baby comes. There is danger all around, especially from the soldiers. But despite the proximity to Christmas, Therese Npamfurayishylri wasn't on a donkey in Galilee.(The Orlando Sentinel)

  • O holiday tree, O holiday tree | December 25, generic federal holiday (Rich Lowry, National Review Online)

  • Tolerating Christians | Where are the diversityphiles now? (Deroy Murdock, National Review Online)

  • Sing all ye citizens, for heaven's sake | We sang "O come all ye faithful" at church on Christmas Day. And so did the Pope, or at least the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music posted a recording of it on its website (Christopher Howse, The Daily Telegraph, London)

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  • Plea against secular 'myths' | Christian leaders used their Christmas sermons yesterday to urge people against creeping secularism and the search for happiness through "pseudo-religions" (The Australian)

  • Christianity's toughest test of faith | Christianity is locked in a battle for dominance with neo-pagan beliefs in a contest that harks back to the establishment of the church 2000 years ago, researchers believe (The Australian)


  • A case of the Kwanzaa blues | In rejecting Christmas and Christianity, blacks reject the primary force for black American sustenance and resistance (Debra J. Dickerson, The New York Times)

  • The Kwanzaa question | Holiday's spiritual embrace debated in churches, mosques (The Denver Post)

Money and business:

  • Christian products fly off store shelves | Christianity hasn't just entered the mainstream, it is swimming to the lead (Detroit Free Press)

  • Marketing strategy splits the sacred and secular | David Michel is using a marketing approach that others are now trying — designing separate pitches and packaging to sell the same products to religious and secular customers. So Jay Jay presents himself in two versions, one secular and one Christian (The New York Times)

  • Helping farmers, a cup of coffee at a time | A poster on a wall at Equal Exchange, a food cooperative here, asks a question that literally hangs over the heads of its employees: What would Jesus drink? (The New York Times)


  • Music and spirit in harmony | Secular and sacred: Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers and her dad explore similar social justice themes (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Gospel music pioneer Vestal Goodman dies | Goodman and her late husband, Howard "Happy" Goodman, were part of The Happy Goodman Family act, which recorded 15 No. 1 gospel music songs and performed more than 3,500 concerts (Associated Press)

  • A voice of comfort sings out to quell despair | The singer Aaron Neville credits St. Jude with saving him from heroin addiction and chronic depression (The New York Times)

  • Music review: 'God's Got It' from Rev. Charlie Jackson | In the 1970s, Rev. Charlie Jackson strapped on an electric guitar and inspired the congregation in his hometown of Amite, La. He also recorded a series of blues tinged gospel 45s that became collector's items (All Things Considered, NPR)

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  • New songs from Johnny Cash 'Unearthed' | In the months leading up to his death in September, country music legend Johnny Cash recorded dozens of songs, wrote new ones and completed the liner notes for a CD box set called Unearthed. It includes the best of the singer's work from the past 10 years, plus previously unreleased material. (Morning Edition, NPR)


  • Christians 'are easiest target for TV satire' | Comedians and dramatists delight in "pouring scorn" on Christianity but are "timid" about mocking Muslims, a broadcasting watchdog chief said yesterday (The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • The God squad | Roseville couple to don the evangelical capes of Bibleman and Biblegirl (The Sacramento Bee)

  • A politically minded minister who preaches ecumenism | As Christian proclamations have become common in American politics, middle-of-the-road Protestants have sought to anoint a pulpit superstar to rival White House favorites like the Rev. Franklin Graham on the one hand and the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the other. "Speaking to Power: A 'NOW With Bill Moyers' Special Edition," on PBS, showcases one such effort (The New York Times)


  • Gibson film puts focus on traditionalists | For more than three decades, a small group of American Roman Catholics has been quietly worshipping in ways the Vatican told them to abandon (Associated Press)

  • Movie discussion draws hundreds to synagogue | "Perhaps Mel Gibson's movie will be like the Japanese film 'Rashomon.' Christians will see one movie and Jews will see another," said Rabbi David Elcott, speaking to a crowd of 400 at North Shore Congregation Israel (Wilmette Life, Ill.)

  • Anger at sex change for angel Gabriel | Tilda Swinton is getting ready for what could be her biggest challenge yet—playing the Archangel Gabriel, in a blockbuster comic-book adaptation with Matrix star Keanu Reeve (The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King:

  • Hope of fools | Tolkien's trilogy of good and evil (Rich Lowry, National Review Online)

  • Give the Hobbit a break | The Lifetime-ization of Tolkien (Gina R. Dalfonzo, National Review Online)

  • The end of the ring | "The Return of the King" is a flawed, disappointing end to Peter Jackson's exceptional Lord of the Rings trilogy (Jonathan V. Last, The Weekly Standard)

American Jesus:

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  • Jesus: Flexible fit for all reasons | "There really is a Gumby-like quality to Jesus in America—you can bend him in any direction," says Stephen Prothero,. author of American Jesus (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Jesus in America: his changing image | Every group in America - Christian or not - must deal with Jesus (Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor)

Other books:

  • Quo Vadis? | Planning for eternity with Anthony DeStefano, executive director of A Travel Guide to Heaven (National Review Online)

  • Godliness—in 40 days | The Purpose Driven Life turns the thesis of the typical self-help tome straight on its head (Dale Buss, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Tammy Faye writes self-help book | Deposed televangelist Tammy Faye Messner has three words in response to those who think ill of her: "Not true," and "onward." (Associated Press)

More pop culture:

Church life:

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  • Clergy's union in plea for job rights | The clergy trade union stepped up demands for clerics to be protected by employment law yesterday after a survey revealed that many feel insecure in their jobs (The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Clergy 'fearing for their jobs' | Almost one out of every two members of the clergy believe there are plans to abolish their jobs, according to a poll (BBC)

  • Priest ordered to stop treasure hunting | The Mines and Geosciences Bureau has ordered the parish priest of La Carlota City to stop illegal digging operations in search for treasure in the Ilog Roman Catholic Cemetery (Sun Star, Philippines)

  • A church's grand sacrifice | St. Paul's aging congregation decides to close early and share its resources with charities and a school (The Baltimore Sun)

  • The man building a cathedral no one wants | Justo Gallego has spent 40 years single-handedly building a cathedral, only to discover that his quixotic passion for the offbeat building was not widely shared (The Daily Telegraph, London)


  • Patriarch: Vatican relations must improve | The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says relations with the Roman Catholic Church must improve before he would agree to a visit from Pope John Paul II (Associated Press)

  • Cardinal wants slimmer Vatican, less focus on pope | A leading contender to succeed Pope John Paul has called for Roman Catholicism to scale back the power of its centralized papacy and focus less on the pontiff who heads the world's largest Church (Reuters)

  • Priestly celibacy rule 'is ignored' | Priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic church has largely broken down in many parts of the world, Father Timothy Radcliffe, former master general of the Dominican Order, which has 200,000 members worldwide, said (The Guardian, London)

  • Catholic archdiocese joins flu fight | The Boston Archdiocese is asking parishioners with cold or flu symptoms to forgo long-standing traditions of Mass — including communion and shaking hands as a symbol of peace — to avoid spreading the illnesses (Associated Press)

  • Search on for patron saint of Internet | 6th-century Spanish prelate in running, but nuns push for 20th-century priest (Toronto Star)


  • Missionary: Blade was in shoe for 'safety' | David McIntyre, 38, a missionary with the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, was on his way home from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with his wife and three children when he was arrested at Concourse B on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon (The Miami Herald)

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  • Mexican cardinal cleared of laundering | Deputy Attorney General Jose Vasconcelos said Friday that investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing (Associated Press)

  • U.S. cracks down on American sex tourists abroad | Child protection legislation signed by President Bush in April is making it easier for U.S. authorities to prosecute American citizens who engage in the child sex trade while traveling abroad (Morning Edition, NPR)

  • High hopes of slain Burundi envoy | The Vatican's ambassador to Burundi, who was shot dead on Monday, had cancelled his post-Christmas break to help bring peace, his sister has said (BBC)


More articles:

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  • In a new country, confusion and doubts | The course was called Exploration into Religion, and it was about—well, it had something to do with religion. That's why Kakenya Ntaiya signed up for it. (The Washington Post)

  • Respect the theology of our friends | I could not care less if the Mormons baptize me after I'm dead (Shmuley Boteach, The Jerusalem Post)

  • Thousands for prayers | Thousands of Christians are expected at the Mandela National Stadium, Namboole, for overnight prayers to mark the beginning of the New Year, 2004 (The Monitor, Kampala, Uganda)

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