A blow to biblical values?
Alabamans yesterday voted 2-to-1 to reject a $1.2 billion tax increase. In effect, says USA Today, they "rejected Gov. Bob Riley's plea that it was their Christian duty to help the poor and reform a tax system he called 'immoral.'"

Well, maybe yes and maybe no. Certainly Riley made his case for the tax increase largely on moral, biblical and theological grounds—something that's pretty common among Democrats, but rare among Republicans like Riley. But yesterday's vote may not have been a blow to biblical values, writes the Cato Institute's Doug Bandow in National Review Online.

"One will peruse the Bible long and hard to find a verse that says it is better to make a poor person pay more for cigarettes and services than in income taxes," he writes.

What these lay theologians are missing is that God focuses on our relationship with him and our neighbors, not on our use of political power to coerce those around us. While the Old Testament, particularly, is filled with denunciations of government oppression, nowhere does that mean a regressive tax system adopted by a democratic polity. Instead, it means an autocratic Israelite king or outside conqueror stealing and pillaging. In fact, much of what government does today also could be characterized as stealing and pillaging, but that results from too many, not too few, taxes. It is the endless soup line of special interest spending programs, shrouded with public spirited rhetoric, that most resembles Biblical oppression.

Still, many conservative Alabaman pastors and groups like the Christian Coalition of America surprisingly disagreed in this case. It will be interesting to see what happens next, both to Riley's tax plan, and to the Christian argumentations surrounding it on both sides.

Do your Palm Sunday fronds bear the label?
Each year, North American churches spend about $4.5 million on 45 million palm fronds for Palm Sunday services, according to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which monitors the environmental effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Monday, church groups met with Latin American farmers and government officials to discuss creating a system to certify that the palms are fairly traded. Currently, farmers earn less than one cent per frond, which go for about 10 cents in the U.S. That leads to overharvesting, the CEC says, which leads to environmental problems. The group wants churches to buy the fronds directly from farmers—and to pay more for them.

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"We're trying to ensure that the farmers get a better price for their palm," the CEC's Chantal Line Carpentier told The Ottawa Citizen. "Since the religious groups already have a social and environmental mission as part of their ongoing activities, it was a perfect small pilot project."

Sarah Ford of Lutheran World Relief's Interfaith Fair Trade Initiative agrees. "To get the palms certified … would fit nicely into church concerns for workers' rights [and] economic justice," she told the Associated Press.

"It sounds like a plan a certain Palestinian carpenter might have approved of," The Montreal Gazette editorialized.

It sounds good so far—just so long as denominational conventions don't start passing resolutions demanding apologies for the environmental degradation caused during the Triumphal Entry.

Sermon illustration alert update
Two weeks ago, Weblog noted a New York Times story about thieves who broke into Manhattan's Church of the Holy Cross and worked hard to remove a statue of Jesus from a crucifix before they stole it, leaving the cross behind. (The moral: We sinners want Jesus without the cross.)

Today comes a report that the Jesus statue turned up by the garbage in the alley by the church. Police told The New York Times that the garbage had been picked up since the theft, so someone must have brought the statue back.

The moral of the story now: When we try to take Jesus into our lives without taking up the cross, we always end up rejecting Jesus in the end.

More articles

Bill McCartney quits as head of Promise Keepers:

Boston's record clergy abuse settlement:

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Protestant cases of church abuse:


  • Muslim cleric accused of blasphemy killed in Pakistan | Maulana Sanullah Dogar died instantly when four attackers shot him on Saturday near a court in the town of Kasur (Associated Press)

  • DA refiles charge against priest in Pitt player's death | District Attorney Stephen Zappala said he disagreed with a deputy coroner's decision Monday to dismiss the charge and would petition to have another hearing, this time before a Common Pleas judge (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • Earlier: A charge in Gaines case is dropped | A hearing officer in Pittsburgh yesterday dropped a charge of involuntary manslaughter against the Catholic priest accused of providing alcohol to Billy Gaines, the University of Pittsburgh football player and former Urbana High School standout who was legally drunk when he plummeted to his death from the rafters of a church last June (The Washington Post)

  • They vowed: till death do us part | Soweto pastor Itumeleng Samuel Sibenye was given life imprisonment for paying to have his wife of seven years murdered (The Star, South Africa)

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Church music:

  • The pipes are gone but the organ resounds | After its organ was damaged on Sept. 11, the historic Trinity Church recently switched to an innovative digital organ (The New York Times)

  • Organ music 'instils religious feelings' | People who experience a sense of spirituality in church may be reacting to the extreme bass sound produced by some organ pipes (BBC, audio)

  • Genders singing from same songbook | Girls can sing as well as boys in cathedral choirs, despite the traditional view that their voices are inferior, according to a study presented yesterday to Europe's largest general science meeting (The Daily Telegraph, London)

Missions and ministry:

  • Churches pray for missionary's safe return | Churches in Oklahoma and Texas are hoping for the safe return of a missionary working in Mexico and jailed for possession of drugs commonly sold over-the-counter in the United States (Associated Press)

  • Toronto Jews mount response to Jews for Jesus' latest campaign | The Jesus campaign, which will last through Sept. 14, involves newspaper ads, billboards, leaflets, a telemarketing-style phone campaign and door-to-door canvassing in Jewish neighborhoods (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

  • Christian courses advert project launched | A major advertising campaign is being mounted across the province this autumn to publicize the fact that 160 local churches are running Alpha courses (Belfast Telegraph)

  • Using more than prayer to provide affordable housing | Pastors intend to create a network of churches that will work with real estate experts to keep housing affordable, even if that means buying, developing and selling at below-market rates (The New York Times)

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  • Man has his own cross to bear | Chuck Johnson has spent the past 16 years crisscrossing America while carrying a cross and delivering the message of Jesus Christ (The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.)

  • 9,000 women gather to refocus on Christian values | Equipped with journals, Bibles and tourism pamphlets, about 9,000 women gathered in Nashville yesterday for a daylong series of lectures and music sponsored by the Christian group Focus on the Family (The Tennessean)

  • 8,000 AIDS experts to meet in Nairobi | The International Conference on HIV/Aids and Sexually Transmitted Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) brings together health providers, government officials, politicians and non-governmental organisation delegates to share experiences on the continent's responses to AIDS (The Nation, Nairobi, Kenya)


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