Status report: Faith-based initiative breaks ten-figure mark
Despite Congress's refusal to guarantee faith-based organizations can compete for federal funds, President Bush's faith-based initiative has shows results through executive branch efforts, according to a Washington Post article today.

"The administration has stuck at it, and the dollars going to faith-based organizations are clearly going up. But in the overall scheme of things, we're not talking about huge amounts of money here," Alan J. Abramson, director of the Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program at the Aspen Institute, told the paper.

But in Washington terms, "not huge amounts of money" are still pretty big. The Post reports that in fiscal year 2003, faith-based charities received more than $1.1 billion in competitive grants—a figure that doesn't cover "all agencies or the full gamut of government grants," says Post religion writer Alan Cooperman.

There's no figure for last year, but individual comparisons suggest significant change: The Department of Health and Human Services had a 41 percent jump in the number of grants given to faith-based recipients from fiscal year 2002, and a 19 percent rise in dollars to these kinds of organizations.

"I think that we're seeing that when the playing field is leveled, faith-based organizations can compete with other nonprofits, but by no means are they getting all the money," said Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

WSJ: Beware of secular absolutism, "the most potent religious force in America"
Then again, perhaps we're entering a time when the "faith-based initiative" won't matter. After all, in the eyes of the California Supreme Court, none of the organizations that received the federal funding could be considered "religious," given that they aren't solely focused on "proselytizing," and don't "discriminate" in who they serve.

That's pretty loopy, says a Wall Street Journal editorial today (which you probably won't be able to read without a subscription):

When Catholic Charities insisted that as an avowedly Catholic organization it fit the religious exemption provided by the law in question, the court simply said it was not a religious organization. Catholic Charities? Leave aside the irony that of all America's Catholic institutions, Catholic Charities is arguably the most liberal and sympathetic to secular crusades. Even that didn't protect them. Nor did its practice of employing people outside the Catholic faith—which was used here as reason for denying its religious claims. If the state can order a Catholic organization to include contraceptive coverage as part of its health benefits or drop all drug coverage, it's not hard to see where that's leading. This is what passes for civil liberties now.

The editorial compares the court's decision to the Boy Scouts' legal woes, and says that both cases represent "an effort by liberal activists and their judiciary enablers to turn one set of personal mores into a public orthodoxy from which there can be no dissent, even if that means trampling the First Amendment. Any voluntary association that doesn't comply—the same little platoons once considered the bedrock of American freedom—will be driven from the public square."

Israeli scientists: Retest the Joash tablet
The debate over the authenticity of the James ossuary may have cooled, but another archaeological debate that many observers thought settled has reignited.

When Israel's Antiquities Authority called the James Ossuary inscription a forgery, it also called the Jehoash Tablet a fake. The tablet, which contains wording very similar to 2 Kings 12, is reportedly owned by Oded Golan, who also owns the James Ossuary.

While Biblical Archaeology Review has defended the James Ossuary, it has been more antagonistic to the Jehoash (Joash) Tablet, calling it a fake months before the IAA's assessment. Now the magazine has changed its position, publishing an article suggesting that the inscription may be authentic after all.

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"What do we really know about the Hebrew of official royal inscriptions of Judah in the ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E.? The answer is rather simple: not much," writes University of California at, San Diego historian David Noel Freedman. "To say, therefore, that the language of the Jehoash inscription is inconsistent with what we would expect of such a royal inscription from the time of Jehoash is to assert an authority that is not merely audacious, but imaginative. … for the moment, we must conclude with a Scottish verdict: not proven. The verdict at this time is in effect a non-verdict. We simply don't know with any reasonable certainty whether it is a fake or authentic."

"Four leading scientists" agree, and are calling for a new examination of the tablet, according to the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha'aretz.

"Scholars who expressed the clear opinion that the inscription was a forgery were invited to the committee, while those who believed otherwise, such as the two scientists from the Geological Institute, were disqualified," complains Haim Cohen of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "There is nothing philological in the inscription that attests to its being a forgery. I can categorically refute all the evidence that my colleagues have brought up in concluding that it is a forgery. I can explain everything written there from a linguistic point of view as suited to the biblical period, to the period of Jehoash, the ninth century BCE. And I am not the only philologist who thinks so."

Cohen and the three other scholars also allege that "professional errors were made in dealing with the issue, which led to hasty conclusions." (So far, the IAA isn't responding.)

Cohen still isn't a fan of the tablet's owner. "Golan has a lot of explaining to do," he said. "There are a lot of questions about his behavior. He needs to answer to the police on these matters, and if necessary in court, but our task is to fully examine his claims that the inscription is authentic, and this has not been done. I personally find it difficult to believe that Golan has the expertise to carry out such a high level forgery. We are dealing with one of two things. Either the inscription is authentic, or the forger is a genius, and I find it difficult to believe that Golan is a genius."

Meanwhile, Golan is defending himself against charges that he's part of a massive forgery ring. "The number of times that I have sold or mediated in a sale of antiquities in my entire life is smaller than the number of fingers on my hands, and this in itself is much smaller than the number of sales or exchanges performed by any serious antiquities collector I know in the world," Golan said in an article responding to a recent Israel television documentary. "In all my 42 years of collecting antiquities, I have never sold a single item to any individual or institution outside Israel."

More articles

Christian attacked in India:

  • Christians attacked at prayer meet | Nine people including three children who had gathered for prayers at a house in Koparkhairane, Navi Mumbai, last Friday, were assaulted by a large group of men (Mid Day, Mumbai, India)

  • Youths disrupt Christian prayer meet | In a mystifying show of aggression, a group of youngsters disrupted a private prayer meeting of Christian families at Koperkhairane on March 5, and beat up the men present (The Times of India)

Christians killed in Egypt:

  • Christians 'axed' to death | Egyptian police deployed several hundred men in a southern town on Saturday after a Muslim man axed to death two Christians, triggering fears of revenge acts and sectarian clashes, police said (AFP)

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Partial-birth abortion ban:

Abortion:

  • S.D. governor backs bill to ban abortions | South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds said today that he will sign a bill banning most abortions in the state providing that legislators clarify language to ensure that current restrictions remain in force while the new law is under consideration in the courts (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • One life or two? | Every time abortion is challenged, even tangentially, consciences stir. Just as, in antebellum America, the constant agitation of the slavery question exposed the immorality of slavery itself (Paul Greenberg, The Washington Times)

  • The law as seen by Blackmun | The papers reveal that rather than abiding by the Constitution, which justices and most high government officials take an oath to sustain, Blackmun believed the historic document he had sworn to uphold could, and in his view must, be altered to reflect personal biases (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times)

Life ethics:

  • Bioethics and stem cells | Keep a diversity of voices (Editorial, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • The privatization of stem cells | Sidestepping federal financing rules, several universities and a couple of states are moving this important field forward (Editorial, The New York Times)

  • A 'full range' of bioethical views just got narrower | At council meetings, I consistently sensed resistance to presenting human embryonic stem cell research in a way that would acknowledge the scientific, experimentally verified realities (Elizabeth H. Blackburn, The Washington Post)

  • Fertility's closed Italian frontier | A law takes effect Wednesday that curtails options in a former hotbed of reproductive treatments (The Christianity Science Monitor)

  • Muslim leader urges organ trafficking investigation | Muslim leaders on Monday urged authorities to pursue allegations of human organ trafficking in northern Mozambique, saying body parts were used in traditional witchcraft practices in the region (Associated Press)

Richmond Times-Dispatchseries on gay Christians and clergy:

Gay marriage:

  • N.J. orders halt to gay marriage licenses | The day after New Jersey's first gay marriage was performed, the state attorney general ordered city officials to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and performing gay marriages — or face criminal charges (Associated Press)

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  • San Jose recognizes same-sex marriages | In the face of heated public opposition, San Jose on Tuesday became the first city in California to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere—a move San Jose leaders took to expand city-worker benefits (San Jose Mercury News, Ca.)

  • Scandinavian marriage scorned as model for U.S. | Traditional-values supporters are using Scandinavia and its liberal embrace of domestic partnerships and unwed childbearing to argue why same-sex "marriage" would be unhealthy for American culture (The Washington Times)

  • State gay marriage bands:

  • Gay-marriage ban fizzles in Michigan | Amendment vote fails, but backers say they may do petition drive (Detroit Free Press)

  • Also: Michigan lawmakers block gay marriage ban | Michigan lawmakers blocked a measure on Tuesday that would have allowed voters to decide this fall whether to change the state constitution to ban gay marriages (Reuters)

  • Effort to pass less stringent ban on gay marriage fails in House | Unlike Senate Resolution 595, which also is pending in a House committee, Jamieson's proposal does not contain additional language that some people have said would restrict domestic partnership benefits extended to same-sex couples by private companies (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gay marriage in Mass.:

  • Gay-marriage lobbying builds | Activists on both sides converge on State House for crucial session (The Boston Globe)

  • Fragile compromise seen on banning gay marriage | After a weekend of polling and cajoling colleagues, state Senate President Robert E. Travaglini said he had marshaled a majority of lawmakers for Thursday's constitutional convention to support a compromise amendment that would ban gay marriage but create civil unions (The Boston Globe)

Federal Marriage Amendment:

Civil unions and benefits:

Religion and gay marriage:

  • The divided, the divisive, and the divine | Even as gay and lesbian couples began to circle the altar last Tuesday night, Tony Campolo brought home why homosexuality remains a divisive issue within the evangelical Christian (Steve Duin, The Oregonian)

  • Religious views on homosexuality and gay marriage | Here are snapshots of how major religious denominations address the issue (Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.)

  • Bishops assail gay marriages as a threat | Cardinal Edward Egan and other senior Roman Catholic clerics traveled to Albany yesterday to meet with Gov. George E. Pataki and top lawmakers to convey their church's staunch opposition to same-sex marriage (The New York Times)

  • Clergy torn over gay marriage | In Connecticut and across the nation, the fight against same-sex marriage has brought together Protestants from various denominations, Catholics and Orthodox Jews, who have endorsed President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexuals. But at the heart of this alliance are members of the black clergy, who have been among the most outspoken and visible critics of gay marriage (The Hartford Courant, Conn.)

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  • League to issue political 'gay list' | The Christian Civic League of Maine is asking supporters for "tips, rumors, speculation and facts" about the sexual orientation of the state's political leaders so it can post the information on its Internet site (Portland Press Herald)

  • Lenten festival cancelled when churches refuse to participate | The reason the churches refused to sing was due to the inclusion of Open Prairie, Princeton's new United Church of Christ Church, which recently hired a gay minister (Bureau County Republican, Princeton, Ill.)

  • Minneapolis Lutheran church picks a gay pastor | A third congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the Twin Cities has voted to call an openly gay pastor, defying ELCA policy that forbids ordination of anyone in a same-sex relationship (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • Bible's sexual morality would surprise many | Ancient standards revealed values we would find alien (Allen Brill, The Charlotte Observer)

  • Same-sex marriage fight relies on e-mail to rally troops | Conservative Christians and gay rights supporters in Georgia finally have found something they can agree on — the potency of the Internet as a weapon in the cultural war over same-sex marriage (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gay adoption:

Teen sexuality:

Other issues of sexuality and marriage:

  • On campus, rethinking Biology 101 | As more transgender students declare themselves, colleges are pressed to consider their particular needs (The New York Times)

  • With this ring | Marriage wasn't always an act of love (Albany Times-Union, N.Y.)

AIDS:

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  • Black churches soften to HIV-infected | More than 23 years after the onset of the AIDS epidemic, black congregations are softening their attitudes about the virus—to a point (The Miami Herald)

  • Black churches target AIDS | This is the 15th annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, part of a national effort to get churches to raise awareness about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.)

The Passion:

  • 'Passion' as fashion | From nail necklaces to witness cards, Christian symbols are hot. But some clergy question the trend (The Denver Post)

  • Gibson's next movie: A look at heroic Jews? | The first rumor flitting through the evangelical world is that the filmmaker intends to plow the profits from The Passion into a movie about the central characters of the holiday of Hanukkah, fighters called the Maccabees (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Cross words | A challenging film with the power to change lives, or a clichéd snuff movie lacking subtlety and depth? Christian artist Peter Howson and agnostic writer Muriel Gray lock horns over Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ (Sunday Herald, Glasgow)

  • Does violence of 'Passion' go too far? Critics differ | When does violence intended to evoke empathy for the suffering of others cross over graphic boundaries to desensitize viewers to its horror? (The Plain Dealer)

  • Teacher suspended for 'Passion' excerpts | An elementary school teacher was suspended this week after school officials learned that he showed students excerpts from the movie "The Passion of the Christ (Associated Press)

Passion and history:

  • Passionate about Aramic | Area doctor excited after seeing movie using language (The Times-Reporter, Dover-New Philadelphia, Oh.)

  • Echoes of Europe's dangerous divisions raise concern over Gibson's film | This vision, yearning for past obedience to the church as authority, could fuel antagonism (Robert Manne, Sydney Morning Herald)

  • History haunts 'Passion' | Without a knowledge of the history surrounding The Passion—how Christianity has carried the passion narrative into the world—there would be little controversy. Indeed, there might be no film at all (Marc H. Ellis, Houston Chronicle)

The critics:

  • 'The Passion' builds no bridges | The movie preaches to the converted but fails to communicate to many others (Tom Krattenmaker, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • Gibson's film a mirror for critics' views | Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" may well be, to some extent, a Rorschach test onto which different people project their expectations (Cathy Young, The Boston Globe)

  • 'Passion' plays to Bush's crowd | Personally, I think the film is a hymn to Mohamed Atta and his 18 ''martyred'' brothers of the 9/11 hijacking attacks (William O'Rourke, Chicago Sun-Times)

  • From: Disciples To: Jesus Re: The movie | What the people who were actually there might say about The Passion of the Christ (Peter Bronson, The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Passion and the Holy Land:

Christian response:

  • Worshippers take 'Passion' back to church | Evangelical pastors said visitors are flocking to their churches, new members are being added, and they are planning on an even larger number of visitors at Easter than usual (The Washington Times)

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Passion and Hollywood:

Passion in Canada:

Jewish response:

  • Misplaced passion | It turns out that Mel Gibson isn't the only one likely to make a bundle from his latest movie, The Passion of the Christ. The other big beneficiary, ironically enough, will almost surely be American Jewry's so-called defense organizations, for whom Gibson's film is, pardon the expression, a gift from heaven (Michael Freund, The Jerusalem Post)

  • 'The Passion' showed true colors of our Christian evangelical 'friends' | For all their talk of loving Jews and Israel, conservative Christians' No. 1 priority always has been to expand their influence and numbers at home and abroad (Arlene Stein, Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

  • Though they liked 'The Passion,' Christian evangelicals are our friends | One of the fascinating manifestations of the turmoil over Gibson's film has been to observe many on the left in the Jewish community saying, "We told you how bad evangelicals are," while many on the Jewish right, in a foolhardy effort to placate the religious right, defend a film with the potential to set back Christian-Jewish relations and to generate anti-Semitism (Abraham H. Foxman, Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

  • 'Passion' protesters' uniforms upset Jews | When a few Jews in New York decided last week to dress up in concentration camp uniforms to protest the screening of "The Passion of the Christ," they were hoping to make a point. They also upset a lot of Jews (Baltimore Jewish Times)

Vandalism at Denver synagogue:

Anti-Semitism:

  • Is the Gospel anti-Semitic? | To me, the greatest tragedy of human history is not the crucifixion of Jesus. (His death, after all, is a Divine Comedy for us believers.) The tragedy lies in how we Christians have used the story of Jesus to hurt the Jews (Roy Peter Clark, St. Petersburg Times, Fla.)

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Religion in pop culture:

  • Jesus as box-office superhero | The convergence of ancient religious traditions and postmodern pop culture challenges some of the most basic assumptions that many of us who write about popular culture bring to our work (A.O. Scott, The New York Times)

  • A religious revelation | After decades at the fringe of mainstream media, god seems to be everywhere in today's pop culture (San Jose Mercury News, Ca.)

'Judas' on television:

Television:

Theater:

Related Elsewhere:

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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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