U.S. District Court: Broadly religious groups can hire and fire based on faith
Linda LeBoon's case against the Lancaster (Pa.) Jewish Community Center (LJCC) hasn't received much press, but it's a case that should probably get much more attention.

In one sense, you'd expect this headline to be bad news for the evangelical community: "'Jews for Jesus' Concertgoer Loses Employment Suit Against Jewish Center."

The LJCC argued that their firing of evangelical Christian bookkeeper Linda LeBoon had everything to do with economics, and nothing whatsoever to do with her attending a Jews for Jesus concert at her church, where she ran into a Jewish counter-missionary who had conducted a seminar at the center.

An LJCC receptionist testified during the case that the counter-missionary reported LeBoon's attendance at the concert to LeBoon's supervisor just days before her termination. Several LJCC board members were also notified, the receptionist said.

The LJCC fired her for religious reasons, violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, LeBoon's lawyers argued. Since the LJCC is "essentially secular," isn't affiliated with any synagogue or denomination, and offers its services to everyone regardless of religion, it can't claim Title VII's exception for religious organizations, LeBoon's lawyer argued. "It isn't spiritual," said Michael Considine, who has argued other religious liberty cases.

Actually, it's spiritual enough, U.S. District Court Judge Jacob P. Hart ruled. LeBoon's case, he said, "fails to take account of the fact that the LJCC seeks to sustain a specifically Jewish community … an environment where all members of the Lancaster Jewish community could feel comfortable participating."

(Hart's decision isn't available online yet, but it may soon be available here. All Weblog has seen so far is a detailed report in The Legal Intelligencer of Pennsylvania.)

Offering social services to all comers, Hart said, "does not change the underlying purpose and orientation of the organization."

And that's where this ruling becomes good news for Christians. Remember March's California Supreme Court ruling against Catholic Charities, which argued just the opposite: Employing and offering social services to non-Catholics makes the ministry non-religious. Remember also the U.S. government's revoking Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen's "special immigrant religious worker" visa because Fuller Seminary isn't tied to a denomination.

Where this may probably be the best news is in any expansion of the faith-based initiative. Some pundits and politicians have been adamant that publicly funded religious organizations be forbidden from making staffing decisions on religious grounds. Hart's decision may help to shore up the rights of faith-based groups to stay rooted in their faith. Religious organizations must have the right to fire employees whose actions and religious beliefs are diametrically opposed to that organization's mission.

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Those interested in this topic should be overjoyed with the release of The Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations to Staff on a Religious Basis, by Carl Esbeck of the University of Missouri-Columbia, the Center for Public Justice's Stanley Carlson-Thies, and Evangelicals for Social Action president Ron Sider. ESA is selling it for $10, but you can download it for free here or here.

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December dilemma news (U.S.):

  • Evangelicals use courts to fight restrictions on Christmas tidings | After years of legal assaults on municipal displays of Nativity scenes and Christmas observances in public schools, Christian groups are now mounting court challenges in the other direction (The Washington Post)

  • Parade of Lights satisfies pastor | Organizers agree that religious themes will be allowed in the event next year after a church float was excluded this month. Details are expected by March (The Denver Post)

  • Also: Parade okays religious entries | Rules to be changed to allow Christian themes in annual holiday event (The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Does Christmas need to be saved? | The debate over how to celebrate Christmas without promoting religion centers on whether or not the country has gone too far in its quest to be inclusive of all faiths (The New York Times)

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December dilemma news (non-U.S.):

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Saying 'Merry Christmas':

  • Merry fill-in-the-blank: fighting over the December dilemma | From Maine to California, Americans are arguing more than ever about how to celebrate the season of 'peace on earth, goodwill toward men' (Charles C. Haynes, First Amendment Center)

  • Say 'Merry Christmas' while you still can | For US columnists, the end-of-year column bemoaning the fanatical efforts to expunge all Christmas traditions from public life has become an annual Christmas tradition in itself (Mark Steyn, The Telegraph, London)

  • This season, greetings are at issue | A Southern church presses store workers to say 'Merry Christmas,' not 'Happy Holidays' (Los Angeles Times)

  • Activists: Save 'Merry Christmas' | Some Christians say Christmas observances by some cities and firms degrade the holiday's religious value (The Miami Herald)

  • A Jew says 'Merry Christmas' | I have never celebrated Christmas, but I like seeing my Christian neighbors celebrate it. I like living in a society that makes a big deal out of religious holidays (Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe)

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December dilemma, opinion:

  • Merry C-word | The American culture of victimization needs and nurtures people and controversies like this (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

  • Have yourself a merry little Holiday Season, in code | It's that time of year again. We've mailed our Seasons Greetings cards and wrapped our presents. So let's gather 'round that holiday tree in the living room, where we can drink eggnog and maybe sing a few solstice carols (Editorial, Portland Press Herald, Me.)

  • Merry Christmas | You must have Christmas without "Christmas" (Editorial, The Weekly Standard)

  • Peace on Earth? | Not with this season's Christmas wars (E. J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post)

  • Non-Christians in winter: Don't be rigid about greetings | Only recently have I discovered that wishing a Christian "happy holidays" is potentially insulting (June Wiaz, Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)

  • Holidays are for inspiration, not discrimination | This is the cry we're hearing in the first holiday season following the re-election victory of George W. Bush: a counterattack against the "creeps" and "secular progressives" who are trying to "cancel Christmas as holiday." (Howard Goodman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

  • Season calls for golden rule | Embrace diversity, but don't water down Christmas message (Mike Macdonald, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

  • Remember the real meaning of holiday | If Jesus Christ, whose birthday inspires this holiday, was the Prince of Peace, why are so many self-proclaimed Christians promoting self-righteousness and hatred? (Joanne Ditmer, The Denver Post)

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  • Christians must put up — or shut up | It is ironic, but for many traditional Christians, Christmastime can be the most un-wonderful time of the year. Yuletide is depressing for them because it is the season when they are most often reminded that their particular brand of faith is no longer the standard, or the norm in Canadian society (Dave Haskell, The Toronto Star)

  • Suspended: putting peace in Christmas | We're fighting over Christmas, as if the 2004 election brawl has spilled out of the political saloon into the street, knocking over and trampling the one holiday that is supposed to bring peace on Earth, goodwill toward men (Peter Bronson, The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • In search of Christmas | Defiance of the PC police may be catching on (John Leo, U.S. News & World Report)

  • The spirit of the season | If people are really worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, they might personally exhibit tolerance and charity, kindness and generosity (Anna Quindlen, Newsweek)

  • We are committing cultural suicide | Christianity is being insidiously erased from the map. It's time we fought back (Anthony Browne, The Times, London)

  • The true spirit of Xmas | How 4/5 of the country became an oppressed minority (Julian Sanchez, Reason)

  • Christ was out of Christmas a long time ago | For as long as I can remember there've been annual outcries to put "Christ back in Christmas," condemning the partygoing and commercialism of the season to the detriment of its religious meaning (Mitch Chase, The Decatur Daily, Ga.)

  • Yule tidings of a culture war | Along with the carols, fruitcakes and other signs of the season, we're all being treated to a preview of what a faith-based, value-conscious society might look like (Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times)

  • Merry Christmas! If we can keep it … | Merry Christmas everybody. Indeed, keep it your own way. But let's once again keep it in public -- not in some politically correct closet. (Colin McNickle, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

  • Grinch gets himself a lawyer | The folks at the Center for Arizona Policy wanted to make sure that our public schools don't ignore the religious traditions of Christmas and decided that the most humble, pious and Christian way of getting their point across was to threaten a lawsuit (E.J. Montini, The Arizona Republic)

  • Pardon my values, but Merry Christmas to all | What's with all the PC drivel from Christians? (Gary Lawrence, Los Angeles Times)

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December dilemma in school:

  • Schools face delicate balancing act with Christmas programs | Christmas, Jesus and God are not coming under blistering attacks from liberals and atheists in our public schools (Editorial, Springfield News-Leader, Mo.)

  • Holiday mix | Districts promote a diverse December (The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.)

  • Holiday parties go on at schools | Religious messages make appearance at festivities after judge's order allows kids to share faith (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Judge allows religious theme | A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order this week that allows students in Plano, Texas, schools to hand out religious messages during classroom holiday parties, decorate in Christmas colors and use religious-themed holiday decorations (The Washington Times)

  • Range of holiday traditions finds a place in schools | Attorney says no specific rules ban religious songs or symbols (Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.)

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Christmas images in public spaces:

  • Christmas trees get reprieve | Florida county attorney had banned evergreens from government buildings, saying they were unacceptable religious symbols (Associated Press)

  • Leaders approve holiday display | Yes, there is a Santa Claus. … And he's headed for the Parker County Courthouse after all (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

  • Night of caroling won't be silenced | A Republican in the blue state of New Jersey is bucking what some decry as a national trend to eradicate all traces of religion in public places (The Washington Times)

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Public crèches:

  • Manger returns to courthouse | Back for the sixth year, Nativity will be on display through Dec. 25 (Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Ind.)

  • Blow-up figures join holiday display to keep creche on Town Hall lawn | Town Manager John Healey has added an assortment of holiday decorations to Town Hall's front lawn so he can display a life-size creche on public property (The Boston Globe)

  • Bartow Nativity scene creates controversy | A Nativity scene put up in front of the Polk County Administration Building was erected last Wednesday by members of the First Baptist Church of Bartow (WTSP, Tampa, Fla.)

  • Nativity scene ban sparks city protest | Upset Christians will take to the streets tomorrow to protest "Christ" being left out of "Christmas." The protest is aimed squarely at the Melbourne City Council's refusal to host a nativity scene in the CBD (Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Courthouse Nativity is retired | A desert scene with painted cacti and deer decorates the Old County Courthouse instead of the traditional Nativity scene this year (Arizona Daily Star)

  • Nativity scene causes a stir | Man asks County Commission to remove display (The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.)

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Christmas at church:

  • Christmas fills churches' pews | Pastors welcome infrequent worshipers, see opportunity (The Denver Post)

  • It's a double dose of the Nativity | The Church of the Epiphany, the historic Episcopal parish on the upper East Side, will present its Nativity Pageant tomorrow, but with a production twist so unusual that even the Rev. Andrew Mullins is shaking his head. It has two Baby Jesuses. (Charles W. Bell, New York Daily News)

  • Lights, camera, sermon for local pastor | Chris Bowman, pastor of Oakton Church of the Brethren in Vienna, will the sermon during CBS's nationally televised annual Christmas Eve service (The Washington Post)

  • Clergy calls interference on Christmas Eve game | When the Rev. David Pleier of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Green Bay, Wis., announced that his church was eliminating its 4 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve because it conflicts with the 2 p.m. start of Friday's Vikings-Packers game, one congregant commented, "You mean to say you're putting football ahead of the birth of Christ?" (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • Dogma takes a holiday at churches' gathering | "There is more than one path through this season," a Unitarian Universalist minister says at a celebration that included Santa and P.T. Barnum (St. Petersburg Times, Fla.)

  • Advent is a time of waiting, hope | For Christians, the weeks leading up to Christmas can be filled with a deep sense of mystery and an anticipation that reflects both the birth of Christ, and his eventual return (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mo.)

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Christmas, non-U.S.:

  • England hosts 'biggest' service | Hundreds of churches and community groups are set to join together in what organizers hope will be the nation's 'biggest Christmas carol service' (BBC)

  • Praying for Christmas | Has the true meaning of Christmas been lost amid the retail madness and is society poorer for it? (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Whatever happened to baby Jesus? | Religion correspondent Alf McCreary reflects on the Christmas message in an age of celebrities (The Belfast Telegraph)

  • The born-again believers | This Christmas, just like last year, Kitty will enjoy a belly full of wine, spend some quality time with friends and cringe at her relatives' inappropriate jokes. But there will be one thing that's new. For the first time, Christmas will be about God. (Anna Smyth, The Scotsman)

  • You've got to have faith | London's Oxford Street is the scene of an annual Christmas shopping frenzy. Can spirituality have any place here? Surprisingly, Clare Dwyer Hogg and Andy Sewell find God is alive and well in the thronging heart of consumerism (The Independent, London)

  • Life is sacred: that's what Christmas really means | The essential message of Christmas is that in the birth of Jesus "we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the God we cannot see" (Peter Smith, The Telegraph, London)

  • The meaning at the very heart of Christmas | The birth of Jesus Christ, so movingly recounted in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, is a birth celebrated because of a life and a death, and a victory over death (Geoffrey Rowell, The Times, London)

  • Christmas celebrated in styles | In the end, the place and manner of the celebration of Christ's birth is in the end of little relevance. (David Hope, The Guardian, London)

  • Cities 'shun church at Christmas' | Churches in England's biggest cities see a "meagre" rise in attendance at Christmas, while it leaps 200% in rural areas, according to a study (BBC)

  • Also: Cathedral city prays while the rest of Britain plays | If you want to find the spirit of Christmas, head for Hereford. The cathedral city, in what is regularly voted one of the UK's most tranquil and beautiful counties, boasts the most ardent churchgoers in the land (The Observer, London)

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Christmas history:

  • The many faces of Christmas | Early Christians didn't observe Christmas until the fourth century, and Puritan settlers in America banned it for a time. It wasn't even a federal holiday until 1870. Celebrations evolved and blended many traditions - including pagan ones. What is Christmas like in other lands? (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Pagan origins not as bad as modern holiday idolatry | Some folks incorrectly imagine that they may safely speak derisively about Christianity around rabbis. They are wrong (Barry Block, San Antonio Express-News, Tex.)

  • Secrets of the company Christmas card | In the 150 years since some Victorian gent thought it would be rather jolly to send festive greetings to his friends and family and didn't fancy drawing - or getting his servant to draw - all of them separately, the Christmas card industry has grown into a massive concern (Evening News, Scotland)

  • 'Twelve Days' that kept a faith remembered | Costa Mesa mayor suckered by e-mail (Peter Buffa, Daily Pilot, Newport Beach, Ca.)

  • Truth: The Twelve Days of Christmas | It wasn't Christian code (Snopes.com)

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Christmas & the Bible:

  • Matthew's Nativity is charming and frightening … but it's a Jewish myth | The awesomely influential Nativity story in the first book of the New Testament is a speculative, rather than a historical text (Geza Vermes, The Telegraph, London)

  • What would Paul say? | If the apostle had written about the nativity, argues a biblical scholar, he would have filled the story with political metaphors that challenged Rome (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • The politics of the Christmas story | The single most important fact about the birth of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, is one that receives almost no emphasis in the American festival of Christmas. The child who was born in Bethlehem represented a drastic political challenge to the imperial power of Rome (James Carroll, The Boston Globe)

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  • The patron saint of dads | 2,000 years ago another father was haunted by fears about paternity. But he knew when to stay silent (Libby Purves, The Times, London)

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  • The Holy Land's "other" Bethlehem | Bethlehem HaGalilit, or Bethlehem of the Galilee, has no visible Christian presence, but once had an intimate connection to Christianity - and possibly, say a few outspoken experts, to the nativity itself (The Guardian, London)

  • Christians flee from Bethlehem | There is little reason to rejoice this Christmas in Bethlehem, where nearly a tenth of the Christian population has gone abroad in the past four years to escape the turmoil of the Palestinian uprising and Israel's attempts to crush it (The Telegraph, London)

  • U.N. report: Bethlehem is isolated town | As Christmas approaches, Bethlehem is an isolated town with boarded up shops instead of a bustling cultural and spiritual center hosting tourists and pilgrims from around the world, a new U.N. report says (Associated Press)

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Interfaith holidays:

  • Muslims and Christians: More in common than you think | Muslims also love and revere Jesus as a one of God's greatest messengers to mankind (Ibrahim Hooper, The Providence Journal, R.I.)

  • To tree or not to tree | For many Jews, that's a big holiday question (Margy Rochlin, Los Angeles Times)

  • Born-again president -- White House Hanukkah | The number of ultra-Orthodox at the White House, and their passionate support for an evangelical Christian named George W. Bush, made manifest what is already known: Orthodox Jews understand that the Jews' greatest allies are the only other group in the world to believe that the Torah is from God — conservative Christians (Dennis Prager, Los Angeles Times)

  • December dilemma | Interfaith couples face emotional choices: Christmas, Hanukkah, or both? (The Dallas Morning News)

  • That tree by the menorah | For Mila Gorbatoff and her mother, Ada, a menorah, a toy rabbi and a "New Year's tree" are just some of the signs of the holiday (The New York Times)

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  • Fooey to the world: Festivus is come | From Tampa Bay, Fla., to Washington, from Austin, Tex., to Oxford, Ohio, many real people are holding parties celebrating Festivus, a holiday most believe was invented on an episode of "Seinfeld" first broadcast the week before Christmas in 1997 (The New York Times)

  • Caribbean families embrace Kwaanza as Christmas becomes too materialistic | Many will go to church on Christmas morning in what they see as part of their Caribbean tradition. But Kwaanza is now also widely celebrated by black people across the Caribbean, the UK and rest of Europe, usually alongside Christmas, or even as a reaction against it (Press release, Economic and Social Research Council)

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  • Choirs that move a nation | Faith, disappointment, bitterness, joy -- the men of Wales give voice to it all in more than 100 choral groups (Los Angeles Times)

  • Santa & Jesus | Christmas songs fall into two categories — except this one (Rockford Register-Star, Ill.)

  • God rest ye same old Christmas carols | All over the continent in recent years, radio stations have been switching over to all-holiday-music formats weeks and weeks ahead of Christmas (Carl Wilson, The Globe and Mail, Toronto)

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Salvation Army and Target:

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  • Board president would like to see students gather for daily prayers | Mobile County school board President David Thomas said he wants to "push the envelope" on religion in schools, possibly by allowing students to gather daily to offer prayers (Mobile Register, Ala.)

  • Just say no to Pawn? | Could someone explain the big flap over Rossford schools' decision not to let a Christian rock-rap band play at a high school anti-drug event? (Roberta de Boer, Toledo Blade, Oh.)

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  • Teachers' critics argue compellingly | Everyone agrees on a bright line: A teacher should not try to convert a student. Where we disagree is whether Williams' Bible-related handouts -- and his open talk of Christianity -- cross that line. (Scott Herhold, Mercury News, Calif.)

  • Lesson plan for the nation | Students have been specifically deprived of their First Amendment right to receive information central to their education as Americans (Nat Hentoff, The Washington Times)

  • Cheerleading coach finds prayer not a team sport | Judge says the University of Georgia doesn't have to reinstate a woman fired for requiring girls to participate in religious activities (Los Angeles Times)

  • Muslim appeals school dress ban | A school that barred a Muslim girl who wanted to wear traditional "head-to-toe" dress behaved illegally, an appeal court has been told (BBC)

  • Also: Girl challenges court ruling on Islamic gown | A school that stopped a Muslim pupil wearing a full-length Islamic gown in class breached her human rights, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday (The Telegraph, London)

  • Let parents have full choice of schools, religious or not | The solution to the debate over religion in the public sphere? Pare down the public sphere. (Editorial, East Valley Tribune, Mesa, Az.)

Higher education:

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  • Christian college biologist sees the divine in evolution | Professional danger comes in many flavors, and while Richard Colling doesn't jump into forest fires or test experimental jets for a living, he does do the academic's equivalent: He teaches biology and evolution at a fundamentalist Christian college. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minn.)

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Pledge of Allegiance:

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Church & state:

  • Voters may be asked to remove Florida's church-state ban | Christian conservatives frustrated by court rulings that have found a school voucher program unconstitutional may have hit upon a possible solution: changing the constitution (Palm Beach Post, Fla.)

  • What is a chapel with no cross? | The hospital decided to remove the cross from the chapel. Chapel. There was a fear, apparently acted on by hospital administrators that the cross could be offensive to those who use the chapel but are put off their game by a crucifix. (Joe Soucheray, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minn.)

  • Wall of separation protects religious minority | Jefferson's phrase was originally used in support of Baptists (Kay McSpadden, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

  • Seal quietly changed in county hall | Residents to stage protest (Los Angeles Daily News)

  • Also: Measure would restore city logo | A group is collecting signatures for a ballot measure to bring back the Latin cross (The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Ca.)

  • Cross removed from vets' home | Townspeople have rallied to save a lighted cross that was taken down last week at the Vermont Veterans Home and have moved it across the street (The Berkshire Eagle, Mass.)

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Ohio Amish to be exempt from jury duty:

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  • Ohio Amish seek exemption from jury duty | Legislation awaiting Ohio Gov. Bob Taft's signature would exempt the Amish from having to serve jury duty. The bill's sponsors say the Amish are instructed by the Bible not to sit in judgment on other people (All Things Considered, NPR)

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Religious freedom:

  • Village tense after attack on Christian priests | Tension has gripped a village in Orissa after a group of Hindu fanatics allegedly attacked four Christian priests, police said Tuesday (IANS, India)

  • Catholic church set on fire in Sri Lanka | A group of unidentified people set fire to a Roman Catholic church and broke relics early today near here, in the second such attack on the church this year in Sri Lanka, police said (PTI, India)

  • Evangelicals see snags as French stress secularism | Evangelical Christians in France face growing problems as authorities enforce secularism, favor Muslims or view them as supporters of President Bush, French Protestant leaders say (Reuters)

  • Charges against Turkish patriarch dropped | A Turkish court on Monday dropped charges against Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Turkey-based spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, of barring a Bulgarian priest from conducting religious services (Associated Press)

  • Egyptian pope goes into seclusion | The top Coptic cleric has withdrawn to a desert monastery to draw attention to grievances among Egyptian Christians (BBC)

  • Charles fights death penalty for converts | The Prince of Wales is brokering efforts to end the Muslim death penalty on converts to other faiths (The Telegraph, London)

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Religious freedom in China:

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  • Sudanese government agrees to end hostilities | The Sudanese government agreed to stop military operations in Darfur yesterday, several hours after a ceasefire deadline expired (The Guardian, London)

  • Facing down the killers | A genocide is unfolding again, and rather than standing up to the killers, we're again acquiescing (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)

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  • UK charity pulls out of Darfur | UK-based charity Save the Children is pulling out of the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan after attacks that have killed four of its staff (BBC)

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Religious speech:

  • Don't you 'Jesus' me, irate settler leader warns veteran colleague | Shaul Goldstein, deputy head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, threatened to file a libel suit against longtime settler leader Elyakim Ha'etzni Monday for telling The Jerusalem Post that Goldstein reminds him of Jesus (The Jerusalem Post)

  • Christian group cheer student paper's eviction | News that staff of the student newspaper at St Andrews University have been kicked out of their offices after its editor made a joke at the expense of the Welsh has delighted the Christian prayer group she was targeting (Evening Telegraph and Post, Dundee, Scotland)

  • There is no right to vilify others | With freedoms come responsibilities, no matter in whose name the message is delivered (Editorial, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Tolerance a rational approach | Hostility toward atheists is everywhere (Diane Carman, The Denver Post)

  • Letter of law swayed jury | When federal jurors deliberated Friday, they readily agreed that former Fargo mail carrier Bonnie Jensen was the victim of workplace harassment (The Forum, Fargo, N.D.)

  • Jury foreman: Letter carrier was hassled, but law wasn't broken | Jurors who declined to compensate a Fargo letter carrier for alleged harassment at work were not convinced the woman was mocked because of her sex or religious beliefs, the jury's foreman said. Instead, jurors concluded Bonnie Jensen was harassed by co-workers because they disliked her (Associated Press)

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Religion & politics:

  • Evangelicals have a newfound faith | While the evangelical movement has disappeared from headlines and faded from public consciousness since the election, it has continued quietly in churches and homes, hinting at a more lasting shift in the dance between politics and religion (San Antonio Express-News)

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Same-sex marriage:

  • Social Security reverses on marriages | The Social Security Administration reversed course Monday and said it will accept marriage licenses issued for heterosexual couples in communities in New York and Oregon that briefly performed weddings for gay couples earlier this year (Associated Press)

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Religion & homosexuality:

  • No tidings of comfort or joy | A defrocked lesbian minister talks about Christmas, prayer and the baptisms she misses (The New York Times Magazine)

  • Okla. gays struggle to remain optimistic | Far from the coastal strongholds of the same-sex marriage movement, gays in the red states of the Bible Belt are struggling to maintain confidence and optimism in the aftermath of an election that many viewed as a stinging personal rebuff (Associated Press)

  • Gay Episcopal bishop offers concession | Gene Robinson said Friday that he has volunteered to reduce his role in one of the most important meetings of Anglican Communion leaders if it would mollify conservatives who believe his consecration violated Scripture (Associated Press)

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  • Sexual ethics:

  • Cohabitation is not promiscuity | The Uganda Law Society has attacked the provision in the Domestic Relations Bill that would make cohabitation after 10 years into a legal marriage (New Vision, Uganda)

  • Long silent, oldest profession gets vocal and organized | In a new wave of activism, many prostitutes are organizing, staging public events and coming out publicly to demand greater acceptance and protection, giving a louder voice to a business that has thrived in silence (The New York Times)

  • Cardinal says cut through condom debate | The cardinal chosen by Pope John Paul to head a new Vatican foundation to help AIDS victims has said too much time is spent arguing over the Catholic Church's opposition to condoms while too many people were dying (Reuters)

  • So be chaste, for goodness sakes | Saint Nicholas is a patron saint of virgins (Warren Throckmorton, The Washington Times)

  • Porn foes lament Ashcroft record on prosecutions | As Mr. Ashcroft prepares to vacate the highest law enforcement office in the land, anti-porn advocates are deeply disappointed with the Bush administration's record — under Mr. Ashcroft's guidance — for pursuing peddlers of smut. (The Washington Times)

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Morality & family:

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Life ethics:

  • Woes for California's stem-cell experiment | Regulation and ethical battles swirl ahead as the state figures out how to spend its $3 billion initiative (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • The adult answer | Moving beyond the embryonic-stem-cell debate (Michael Fumento, National Review Online)

  • Six million annual abortions in India: Study | At least six million Indian women undergo abortions every year — almost 10 times the official estimate —thanks mostly to its use as a family planning tool, says a new study (Indo-Asian News Service)

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  • Stem cell bone op in womb | Doctors have treated a baby with brittle bone disease while still in the womb, using stem cell technology (BBC)

  • Homo respect-us | The creature genetic engineers fear most. (William Saletan, Slate)

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Pro-life Democrats:

  • Democrats eye softer image on abortion | Leaders urge more welcome for opponents (The Boston Globe)

  • When Harry met Roe | The new Senate minority leader is no pro-lifer (Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard)

  • The Dems' pro-life gambit | They're serious about being nicer to pro-lifers, if only out of desperation. Should the GOP worry? (Sean Higgins, The American Spectator)

  • Welcome pro-life Democrats | Democrats for Life is recruiting members at the Statehouse, and hopes to begin building a grass-roots operation at county and precinct levels in the coming months, organizers said last week (David Yepsen, Des Moines Register, Ia.)

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War & terrorism:

  • A dark Christmas in Iraq | The nation's Christians, stung by insurgent attacks on churches, decide to cancel most yuletide celebrations and keep a low profile (Los Angeles Times)

  • Iraq Christian leader reschedules Christmas Eve mass | Chaldean patriarch Emmanuel Delly has ordered that the usual 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) December 24 service be moved forward to 5:00 pm, said Bishop Andreas Abuna (AFP)

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  • In custody, Aziz ready to name names | Saddam's foreign minister may finger U.N. officials in oil-for-food scandal (NBC Nightly News)

  • Iraq prison pictures show thinner, aged Tareq Aziz | The international face of Saddam Hussein's Iraq has grown thinner and greyer, prison images of Tareq Aziz in U.S. custody show (Reuters)

  • Where there's military sacrifice, a church helps | Fallbrook Presbyterian, near Camp Pendleton, helps families with loved ones in Iraq have a merrier Christmas. The support is multifaceted (Los Angeles Times)

  • Blessed anti-Nazi cardinal | The Vatican cleared the way Monday for the first German clergyman to be beatified for his courageous opposition against Nazi mass murder (Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI)

  • Religious hostility surfacing | Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders alike downplay the role of sectarian or ethnic hatred in the country's bloody insurgency. But gruesome killings illustrate how incidents that are often portrayed as reprisals against government supporters are sometimes motivated by sectarian animosities and understood by the victims and perpetrators as acts of religious vengeance (Los Angeles Times)

  • In U.S., 44 percent say restrict Muslims | Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll (Associated Press)

  • Judge okays evidence from Rudolph's home | A federal judge has ruled that investigators properly seized evidence from bombing suspect Eric Rudolph's trailer and shed in North Carolina, making it admissible at trial (Associated Press)

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Crystal Cathedral mourns death:

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Fraud & crime:

  • Former principal ousted from roster | Lutheran Church Missouri Synod takes action against former Trinity Lutheran principal accused of misappropriating school funds (The Times, Munster, Ind.)

  • Wise advice: Bring back the baby | You can't steal Jesus. Those signs and bumper stickers that say "Got Jesus" are not suggesting you go out and physically get a Jesus (Editorial, Daily Pilot, Newport Beach, Ca.)

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  • Diocese abuse effort falls short | Auditors flag N.O. district for 2 shortcomings (The Times-Picayune, New Orleans)

  • Grand jury indicts priest on child pornography charges | A grand jury has indicted a Fall River priest on two counts of possession of child pornography and one count of disseminating obscene material to minors (Associated Press)

  • Group tactics split church abuse victims | While many victims have embraced Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) as a support group and a means to win long-overdue justice, the group's tactics have alienated other Catholics and even some of the very people it hopes to help (Associated Press)

  • Struggling to keep the faith | Reverberations from a sex scandal still roil the Catholic Church (U.S. News & World Report)

  • Seattle archdiocese to settle abuse cases | The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle 12 claims of sexual abuse by priests, the majority involving a former pastor at several churches in the area (Associated Press)

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  • Saint-making Pope is ready to ditch the miracle clause | Candidates for sainthood will be exonerated from the requirement to have performed a miracle under guidelines being considered by the Pope (The Times, London)

  • Pope condemns Christmas materialism | Pope John Paul has warned against rampant materialism which he says suffocates the spirit of Christmas (Reuters)

  • Also: Pope's Christmas message worth hearing | It is the pope's job to remind the faithful of the holiday's true meaning (Editorial, Delco Times, Pa.)

  • Rooftop 'Basilica Bar' opens at St. Peter's | The view is hard to beat, the atmosphere can be, well, heavenly, and the coffee isn't bad either. St Peter's Basilica now has its own rooftop coffee bar (Reuters)

  • Catholic lawyers' awards create rift with archbishop | The Denver Roman Catholic Archdiocese is distancing itself from the group after its board of directors, in an emotional meeting Nov. 30, decided not to give Archbishop Charles Chaput final say on who receives its two annual awards (The Denver Post)

  • Ailing Pope seeks help | Facing his 27th Christmas as pope, a frail Pope John Paul admitted to senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy today that age and failing health means he needed more help from them and from God than he used to (AAP, Australia)

  • Labor and the Catholic Church: parallel lives | The church needs to embrace its members at grassroots level (Len Thomas and Peter Foley, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Paralysed by panic | The Catholic church has a vital role to play in 21st-century life. But it risks extinction if it fails to modernise (Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, London)

  • The way of the Catholic | George Weigel reminds that Catholicism is more than a Sunday obligation (Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review Online)

  • Beatification approved for Hawaii nun | The Vatican cleared the way Monday for the beatification of Mother Marianne Cope, a nun who worked for more than 30 years with leprosy patients at Molokai's Kalaupapa settlement in Hawaii (Associated Press)

  • From the pews, quiet rebellion | Ordinary Catholics in unusual fight (The Boston Globe)

  • Request to reopen church denied | 3 at Mt. Carmel vow to keep vigil (The Boston Globe)

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Church life:

  • Church or cult? | began with a group of earnest young hippies who loved Jesus and lived together at a Northern California commune. Today, the Gospel Outreach movement that emerged in the early 1970s lives in a handful of congregations nationwide (The Bergen Record, N.J.)

  • Worship divides parish | It is five years since a controversial Norfolk rector stepped down in a row over "happy clappy" services and his willingness to let historic churches crumble (Eastern Daily Press, Norfolk, England)

  • On Capitol Hill, a thirst for that 'heavenly brew' | St. Mark's has its own beer, and young adults beat a path to its door (The Washington Post)

  • A shepherd watching over her many flocks | Our correspondent finds it's no easy life raising lambs and working as a country vicar (The Times, London)

  • Chocolate bars woo church goers | Hundreds of people are returning to church following a scheme which used bars of fair trade chocolate to woo potential worshippers (BBC)

  • A champion for the disaffected | A Phoenixville cleric aims to unite Episcopalians who oppose the church's position on gay and female clergy (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • At last, church owns the walls of Jericho | 19,000-Member Pr. George's congregation rejoices after paying off mortgage (The Washington Post)

  • Praying for more men | What will bring them back to the church? (Henry G. Brinton, The Washington Post)

  • Hope exists for more neighborly relations | With the Christmas holidays upon us, I find myself thinking how ironic it is that two of the most contentious issues in Newport Beach this year have had to do with churches (Geoff West, Daily Pilot, Newport Beach, Ca.)

  • For its fair-weather friends, a church offers winter refuge | Another sign that winter is upon us: The sandwich board that debuted with the warm weather this year outside The Cathedral Church of St. Paul has been folded and put away. The sign that says: "All are welcome to sit on our steps; 45-minute limit, please. Thank you" (The Boston Globe)

  • West side glory | For 130 years, congregants have flocked to Myrtle Baptist Church (The Boston Globe)

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Freemasonry symbols removed from Kenya church:

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UCC ad:

  • Religion and advertising | CBS and NBC could not have done the United Church of Christ a bigger favor than when they decided against running an advertisement for the church on their networks (Peter Steinfels, The New York Times)

  • Inclusive message divides | Ad controversy puts UCC in spotlight (Daily Camera, Boulder, Co.)

  • Conquering fear in our church | As pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ, I view the CBS and NBC rejection of our denomination's TV spots as a conflict of political and spiritual values, and yet another example of how the church is being reformed again, all around us (Yvette Flunder, San Francisco Chronicle)

  • UCC ad aimed at unchurched, not other churches | The United Church of Christ is not saying that we are better than any other denomination (David R. Gaewski, Portland Press Herald, Me.)

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Missions & ministry:

  • Tending the flock of area's hungry | The first time Joan Nemeth heard the call to "Feed My Sheep," it merely meant finding some free bread for one hungry old man in Chester Township (The Plain Dealer)

  • Church's refuge inspected by city | New Life center is sheltering people left homeless by closure of ministry (Springfield News-Leader, Mo.)

  • City shuts down church, leaving many homeless | New Higher Ground had several safety hazards, building development director says (The News-Leader, Springfield, Mo.)

  • Kirk's cash crisis hits overseas missionaries | The Church of Scotland is cutting 10 missionary posts in poverty-stricken areas of the world because of a cash crisis at home (Scotland on Sunday)

  • Clean and productive | CityTeam helps addicts through Christian charity (San Francisco Examiner)

  • Uncharitable? | Nonprofit hospitals, with tax exemptions for serving the poor, are quietly charging indigent patients — and even suing over unpaid bills. How did an arrangement to serve the needy become so unhealthy? (The New York Times Magazine)

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Bible newspaper insert:

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Film & TV:

  • Preaching nobility in a stage whisper | 'The Hoover Street Revival,' Sophie Fiennes's artful but stingy documentary of a South-Central Los Angeles congregation, raises a mountain of questions and answers almost none (The New York Times)

  • Bible is 'lies and spin,' says C4 | 'Sensationalist' film sparks anger among church groups (The Observer, London)

  • TV rant preaches to the mired | Brent Bozell's group is not just fired up, it's getting more press than it's due (Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post)

  • Must-believe TV | Christianity gets a fair shake (S.T. Karnick, National Review Online)

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  • The power of Christian preaching over two millennia | Larry Witham reviews A History of Preaching by O.C. Edwards Jr. (The Washington Times)

  • Grace amid darkness | Hoosier Quakers expand on theme of their previous book (The Indianapolis Star)

  • Da Vinci Code nails Jesus | Best-selling book The Da Vinci Code may not have got everything right but its idea of "a very human Jesus" is spot on, according to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • For God's sake | John Cornwell admits his 1999 "Hitler's Pope" lacked balance. "Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans." (The Economist)

  • Lust, revenge and the religious right in 12th century Paris | The steamy, violent saga of medieval lovers Abelard and Heloise -- and their kinky letters -- uncannily anticipate today's battles over sex and religion (Salon.com)

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  • My new faith in humanity | Richard Holloway is offering Christianity a reinterpretation that might just save it from obsolescence or extremism (Stephanie Merritt, The Observer, London)

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Science & medicine:

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  • Jesus a historical figure | While writers theorize that Christ's birth is rooted more in fable than in historical fact, they fail to mention that these doubt-inspiring disclaimers simply do not measure up to the scrutiny of historical investigation (Alex McFarland, The Miami Herald)

  • Holy fake? | Just two years ago, the world of biblical archaeology was rocked to its foundations, and all because of a stone box that was discovered in Israel, and called an ossuary (60 Minutes)

  • Carsten Thiede dies | Archaeologist and New Testament scholar identified the site of Emmaus and boldly revised the dating of Matthew's Gospel (The Times, London)

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  • The persuader | Billy Graham's son and heir apparent discusses evangelism, Iraq and why he feels Christians are 'under attack' (Newsweek)

  • Her gratitude is ringing true | Shaking a Salvation Army bell is tedious, but it's Terri Brown's way of saying thank you (Los Angeles Times)

  • Agnes Mansour 1931-2004: Nun gained fame in state position | Effort to help poor, challenge power controversial (Detroit Free Press)

  • Kalaupapa nun a step closer to sainthood | The Vatican formally acknowledged yesterday what everyone in tiny, wind-swept Kalaupapa has been saying since 1983: Mother Marianne Cope is worthy of sainthood (The Honolulu Advertiser)

  • Textbook critic dies, leaving noted career | Mel Gabler, a nationally-known conservative textbook critic who emphasized accuracy and a Christian perspective in examining school children's books, died Sunday (Longview News-Journal, Tex.)

  • Also: Textbook critic Mel Gabler dead at 89 | Gabler, who died Sunday, was a conservative who emphasized accuracy and a Christian perspective in his critiques of children's schoolbooks (Associated Press)

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  • Families reflect on loss, new life for toddler | When Rachel and Richard Averett are out with their three boys, strangers often smile and say: "Oh, you need a little girl." They're not being cruel. They just don't know. A year ago Saturday, the Averetts' only daughter, Hallie, died after having the stomach flu. She was 10 months old (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Holy sage | It is fashionable to sneer at the Archbishop of Canterbury, but, says A.N. Wilson, he is a good man and profoundly Christian (The Spectator, U.K.)

  • Embattled Episcopal rector joins Anglican denomination | David Moyer, whose crusade against liberalizing trends in the Episcopal Church USA has made him an international figure, will become a bishop in the Anglican Church in America (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • Wind storm deadly | A snow-kite sailing trip across frozen Lac St. Anne ended in tragedy yesterday when 100-kmh winds slammed a man and his snowboard into the side of an abandoned church, killing him (Edmonton Sun)

  • Earley finds new calling, post-politics | Former Va. attorney general now ministers to prisoners (The Washington Post)

  • A chorus of adoration for bishop | Thousands gather to recall Pentecostal leader Sherman S. Howard's inspiring music, guidance (The Washington Post)

  • Ten Commandments Judge may run for governor of Alabama | "I'll be praying about it and considering it," ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore said Friday (Associated Press)

  • Rick Warren | One of Time's "People Who Mattered 2004" (Time)

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  • A taste of heaven | What folks believe about the afterlife (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Religious landscape diversifies in Switzerland | The religious landscape has changed in Switzerland, with the Catholic and Protestant Churches emerging as the biggest losers (Swissinfo / Neue Zürcher Zeitung AG, Switzerland)

  • We are all pagans now | Paganism is one of our fastest-growing religions. Mary Wakefield talks to a druid and finds out why witchcraft appeals to 21st-century Britain (The Spectator, U.K.)

  • Bishop cautions on devil worship | Devil worship is rampant in the country and had a hand in many mishaps, Bishop Arthur Gitonga of Redeemed Gospel Churches said yesterday (The East African Standard, Kenya)

  • Cold snap may have turned the heat on Europe's witches | Research into European witch trials has identified a chilling reason for the persecution of an estimated 1m women (The Times, London)

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Religion in 2004:

  • The politics of religion | Belief systems clashed often in courtrooms, voting booths and even churches in 2004 (Mary Adamski, Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

  • The spirit moved us | There was a lot of God, and plenty of decent music, around in 2004 (The Sydney Morning Herald)

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More articles of interest:

  • A candle that smells like Jesus | The candle representing the smell of Jesus Christ is the brainstorm of Bob and Karen Tosterud (WCCO, Minneapolis)

  • Is there censorship? | The definition of the C-word has loosened so much that the word has become nearly devoid of meaning (Rachel Donadio, The New York Times Book Review)

  • Meta-humbled | You know that certain modesty you're supposed to show when you've just triumphed? (Christopher Caldwell, The New York Times)

  • Scrooged | Are New Englanders as cheap as the Generosity Index makes us out to be? (The Boston Globe)

  • It's now a question of wisdom | Humanity needs to be kept on track by balance. This is a view that has to be heard (Martin Flanagan, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Travelers keeping the faith | For many, prayers follow the packing (The Washington Post)

  • Is Marcavage nuts, or is it all a shell game? | Michael Marcavage wasn't hard to recognize when I met him for lunch Friday. He was the one in the "Repent America" cap (Gil Spencer, Delco Times, Pa.)

  • God isn't a stranger in the suburbs | Believe it or not, God is back in fashion (Anne Henderson, The Weekend Australian)

  • Bishop blasts Sunday shops | The Bishop of Manchester has spoken out against shops opening on Sundays after his diocese was named the most Godless in the country (ManchesterOnline, England)

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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