Condoms: Is there nothing they can't solve?
Today's New York Times editorializes, "The United States will never contain deadly diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C without common-sense programs that distribute condoms in prisons."

Such programs "are unavailable in about 95 percent of this country's prisons … despite studies showing that same-sex encounters behind bars are more common than prison officials care to admit," the Paper of Record explains.

Uh, yeah, Weblog has seen some of those studies. One in five male inmates reports that he has been forced into sexual activity while in prison; about 10 percent say they have been raped. The Times editorial doesn't even mention prisoner rape (pity the paper didn't check its archives). Implementation of 2003's Prison Rape Elimination Act has been "slow" and "fraught with problems," says an update from Stop Prisoner Rape.

But The New York Times thinks it can solve the problem exacerbated by prison rape with condoms, just as Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thinks that condoms can solve the problems exacerbated by marital rape in Africa. Given that the Times has repeatedly reported that it's hard to get at-risk men in gay bars to use condoms, why does the paper think they'll be all the rage for rapists?

50 Shekel: the first Messianic Jewish rapper?
Coming soon to the cover of Relevant magazine? Media darling 50 Shekel made his mark as "the New King of Heeb-Hop" with his single "In Da Shul," a takeoff of 50 Cent's popular "In Da Club." His other songs, however, were not parodies. But is his conversion to Christianity and joining Jews for Jesus?

At first glance, it does look like a joke, a la Tool's Maynard James Keenan. On 50 Shekel's website, he's dressed in one of those Jesus T-shirts that are oh-so-cute among the ironic these days. And the five-second version of his conversion testimony should give the skepticism meters a workout: He says he was converted after watching The Passion of the Christ (shades of South Park's The Passion of the Jew). The site also promotes Chick Publications' anti-Catholic tracts (which CT exposed as false years ago).

But the longer version of 50 Shekel's testimony (his real name: Aviad Cohen) really doesn't read like parody—even a very subtle kind. And some Jews certainly think his conversion is legit: The Jewish newspaper Forward notes that Baltimore's Jews for Judaism is encouraging a 50 Shekel boycott, and Jewish sites Bang It Out and Jewschool are arguing who is to blame for his conversion. Quoth one Jewschool reader of Cohen: "Kill him. These Jews for Jesus give me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can't even describe the sheer and utter disgust and contempt I feel for these heretic mamzers."

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Even if Cohen's conversion is parody, such jokes have an odd way of boomeranging. After all, the first Christian rap album released in the CCM market, 1985's "Gospel Rap" by the Rap'Sures, started off as a joke, too. It became successful, and spawned several sequel albums; now Christian rap is a solid sub-genre. And let's not forget the classic ironic-rap-turned-megahit, the Beastie Boys.

To quote The Simpsons:

Teen1: Oh … he's cool.
Teen2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Teen1: I don't even know anymore.

Listen to 50 Shekel's latest album here and here.

Religion columnist: Bible will make you nuts
Palm Beach Post religion columnist Steve Gushee regularly gets a drubbing from GetReligion's Terry Mattingly, who considers him the worst (or at least, most hathotic) religion columnist working today. Weblog isn't quite on that bandwagon, but is eager to say what Mattingly will say about today's column, in which Gushee says it's basically a crapshoot whether Bible readers will be led to love or kill their neighbors:

The Bible is filled with wisdom. It is also laden with contradiction, archaic tribal customs, and passages that exult a vengeful God. Scripture has countless mixed messages, outdated social ideas, and cultural practices rooted in both mythical and historical background that need to be interpreted.
Some religious groups insist that no education is necessary to understand Scripture. They argue that the Bible is the literal word of God and need simply be read. That's naive.
The faithful need all the knowledge, spiritual formation, life experience, and grace possible to interpret and understand Scripture. The probability of dreadful misunderstanding is enormous.
The support of slavery, relegation of women to secondary status, justification for anti-Semitism, gay bashing and, for groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and some juries, license to kill, are obvious examples.

"The Bible has extraordinary gifts to offer," Gushee assures his readers, but says neither the laity nor the clergy can be trusted with the text. "The faithful cannot trust religious leaders to interpret God's Word by themselves, but the laity need their guidance. Reading Scripture together resolves both problems." Which means what? For Gushee, it seems to mean that the clergy and laity can explain the text away to each other until it doesn't mean anything.

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More articles

Evangelical agenda:

  • In evangelical world, a liberal view steps up | Following Carter's lead, progressives work to transform movement (MSNBC)
  • Evangelicals embrace new global priorities | Some top leaders want to broaden the focus from culture-war 'family issues' to helping the world's poor (Beliefnet)

Church life:

  • Islamic center to open in Allentown church | Some congregants say location of Whitehall center is inconvenient (The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.)
  • Churchgoers upset by parking clampdown | Car parking giant NCP today denied their parking wardens were targeting parishioners who parked on roads around a seaside resort church (PA, UK.)
  • Buildings 'holding back' Church | Maintaining the Church of England's historic buildings is holding back dioceses financially, a report says (BBC)

St. Paul's cathedral restoration:

  • The glory of St Paul's is unwrapped | Sir Christopher Wren's mighty St Paul's Cathedral has been covered with scaffolding and polythene for so long that it has been compared to a parcel lost in the post (The Telegraph, London)
  • Interior of St Paul's - brighter than even Wren saw it | £11m renovation restores cathedral to a standard not seen since it was built (The Guardian, London)

Qur'an sign church withdraws from SBC, other groups:

  • Church leaves BSC, SBC after sign controversy | The church that received national media attention late last month when its sign said the Muslim holy book should be put in a toilet has withdrawn from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the Baptist State Convention and the Sandy Run association (Biblical Recorder, N.C.)
  • N.C. church at heart of Koran controversy withdraws from SBC (Baptist Press)

Religion & homosexuality:

  • Church fury as ban on gay adoptions is lifted | Gay and unmarried couples in Scotland are to be allowed to adopt under proposals to be unveiled today by Holyrood ministers (The Times, London)
  • Anglicans spurn gay church cash | The Anglican Church of Kenya has rejected funding from the American Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion reported in London yesterday (The Nation, Kenya)
  • The 'anti-gay industry' | Report labels religious right as hate group (The New York Blade)
  • Also: Holy war | The religious right's anti-gay crusade heats up (Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center)


  • Aide orchestrates new power plan for pontiff | Nearly two months after Pope Benedict XVI's election to St. Peter's throne, his charismatic personal secretary is spearheading the German pontiff's consolidation of power in the Curia, the central government of the Roman Catholic Church, sources in the Holy See say (The Washington Times)
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  • Religion in the News: Demolishing churches | No national statistics exist on demolished or closed churches, but in the past 30 years, Catholics have increasingly traded urban life for the suburbs (Associated Press)
  • Denver's Chaput flogs Europe, saying it is forsaking Christianity | Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput waved a red flag before an -international audience Thursday in Spain, accusing Europe of growing religious intolerance and abusing Christianity (The Rocky Mountain News, Denver)
  • Parish leaders may attain priesthood | Australia's next generation of Catholic priests could include single and widowed men nominated by their parishes and trained outside the seminaries, under proposals to be considered by the nation's bishops (The Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Benedict's first 100 days | The five 'big ideas' of the Ratzinger pontificate (John Allen, National Catholic Reporter)
  • Benedict on the family | He wasn't just talking about gay marriage (John Allen, National Catholic Reporter)

Catholic school cancels graduation:

  • Tussle at Brighton school | The decision this week to cancel graduation ceremonies for elementary students at Our Lady of the Presentation School in Brighton opens a new chapter in clerical clumsiness for the Archdiocese of Boston (Editorial, The Boston Globe)
  • A lockout on caring | What are Archbishop Sean O'Malley and his band of brethren going to think up next? (Brian McGrory, The Boston Globe)
  • Catholic school lockout angers parents, officials | Graduation ceremony held on traffic island (The Boston Globe)
  • Many left puzzled, angry at timing of church move | Images of a Catholic Church that seemed callous to the human impact of its decisions were broadcast across the state yesterday, after the archdiocese abruptly changed the locks on Our Lady of the Presentation School in Brighton Wednesday and canceled graduation ceremonies for children as young as 3 (The Boston Globe)


  • Who gets to interpret Bible? | For those who insist on having the Bible taught in our public schools (specifically as a science book to explain the origins of existence) I have one question: Who gets to interpret the text? You? Me? In a pluralistic society do Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and yes, even atheists have a constitutional right to be employed as a school teacher? If they are, do you want them teaching Christianity to your children? Or would you want them teaching their faith and beliefs? (Miguel A. de la Torre, The Holland Sentinel, Mi.)
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  • Brooklyn prof in godless shocker | CUNY's discriminatory treatment of an atheist professor (Katha Pollitt, The Nation)
  • Teachers union objects to Hutcherson's church on school grounds | Antioch pastor should find new meeting place, leader says (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
  • At Chinese universities, whispers of Jesus | Some Christian students at colleges in China are quietly inviting classmates to join them in worship, even though the formation of such grass-roots religious groups is illegal (The Chronicle of Higher Education, sub. req'd)
  • Not so intelligently designed Ph.D. panel | Ohio State calls off dissertation defense amid criticism that faculty committee was set up to back questionable attacks on evolution (Inside Higher Ed)


  • An evolving controversy | A school official recently instructed the biology teacher to stop using the book (The Roanoke Times, Va.)
  • Also: Creationism teacher is told to stop | For 15 years, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, Larry Booher taught creationism in his high school biology class. He even compiled a textbook of sorts and passed out copies in three-ring binders. The school superintendent didn't know what was going on. Neither did the school board president. Then, they got an anonymous tip (Associated Press)
  • Dutch minister puts Darwinism in the dock | Last week, the Dutch Minister of Education Maria van der Hoeven, of the Christian Democrat Party, said she intended to initiate a debate on the theory of evolution and the idea that there is a creator behind life on earth (Radio Netherlands)

Church & state:

  • In Louisiana, a school prayer showdown | School district's disagreement could go before Supreme Court, experts say (WorldNews Tonight, ABC)
  • Boca girl takes religious complaint to U.S. Supreme Court | A former Boca Raton Community High School student who sued the school district when a principal censored her Christian art murals in 2002 was one step closer Thursday to being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court (Boca Raton News, Fla.)
  • State-sanctioned prayer differs from individual free speech | Why the ICLU is suing over invocations (Fran Quigley, The Courier & Press, Evansville, Ind.)

Missions & ministry:

  • Christian charity accused of bigotry | Teachers last night called for an investigation into Samaritan's Purse, an American evangelical movement that collects Christmas gifts from Scottish pupils and sends them to children in deprived parts of the world (The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)
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  • Group says Border Patrol hampers aid | Humanitarian groups setting up emergency camps in the desert to try to save some of the illegal immigrants who die trying to cross the border said Thursday that Border Patrol surveillance will hinder their efforts (Associated Press)

Life ethics:

  • U.S. relatively hospitable to stem-cell research | The concern about falling behind the rest of the world may be overblown (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
  • Illinois pharmacist sues over contraceptive rule | The pharmacist, Luke Vander Bleek, 42, says in his lawsuit that the order violates state law by requiring pharmacists to act against ethical and religious beliefs that oppose morning-after birth control pills (The New York Times)
  • Phoenix's stem-cell poster lad | Tanner Brinkman has become a poster child for embryo adoption and a weapon against embryonic stem-cell research (The Arizona Republic)
  • Muddled middle | With the country still divided over abortion, Dems focusing on 2008 are looking at new ways to talk about the issue (Eleanor Clift, Newsweek)
  • Bearing right, again | The abortion rights movement embraces "responsibility" (William Saletan, Slate)


  • Texas girl with cancer taken from parents | Michele and Edward Wernecke asked that doctors be barred from giving radiation therapy (Associated Press)
  • Genetic disorders hit Amish hard | Their children have medical conditions so rare, doctors don't have names for them yet (60 Minutes, CBS)


  • Abuse costs for Catholic dioceses tops $1B | The figure is guaranteed to rise — possibly by tens of millions of dollars — because of hundreds of still unsettled claims (Associated Press)
  • Also: Settlements in Catholic sex abuse cases | A list (Associated Press)
  • 6 priests accused of abuse are out | 'Left clerical state,' archdiocese says (The Boston Globe)

Human rights & religious freedom:

  • Evangelical Christians fight for a church | Dozens of evangelical believers stood stunned on Tverskaya Ploshchad across from City Hall, their protest banners lying in police vans, their pastor being carted off to a holding cell (The Moscow News, Russia)
  • Sudan arrests aid worker for "crimes against the state" | The arrest of Paul Foreman, head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland, for publishing a report on rape in Darfur has caused repercussions in Africa and Europe. But despite the outrage caused by his detention, the Sudanese government went a step further by also arresting the agency's Darfur regional coordinator, Vincent Hoedt (British Medical Journal)
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  • Chinese police detain 600 Christians | Chinese police have recently raided 100 underground churches in northeast China and detained 600 worshippers, including a group of university professors still being questioned, the U.S.-based China Aid Association said Friday (Kyodo News, Japan)

Religious hate crime law in UK:

  • Censorship or safeguard? | Critics and supporters of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill crossed swords over whether it will stifle freedom of speech or merely offer long-needed safeguards to Muslims, Hindus and other groups lacking protection under current racial hatred laws (The Times, London)
  • New hate law 'could have stopped riots' | Controversial laws banning the incitement of religious hatred could have prevented the riots which swept through northern English towns in 2001, a government minister said yesterday (The Guardian, London)
  • Now you face jail for being nasty to Satanists | Extremist religious groups that advocate child abuse will be given protection under a Bill published by the Government yesterday (The Telegraph, London)
  • Religion and the law | Good laws are not made by good intentions alone (Editorial, The Times, London)
  • A Bill built on flimsy foundations | There is no definition of "religious belief", towards which "incitement to hatred" will be punishable by a maximum term of seven years in jail. (Editorial, The Telegraph, London)
  • My right to offend a fool | Race and religion are different - which is why Islamophobia is a nonsense and religious hatred must not be outlawed (Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, London)

Billy Graham in NYC:

  • Words of faith | A rabbi explains why Billy Graham is a giant among preachers (Marc Gellman, Newsweek)
  • On a crusade | By the busload, area Christians plan to see legendary evangelist (The Express-Times, Easton, Pa.)


  • Postmodern evangelicals? | If Brian McLaren's new book reflects the "emerging church" in evangelicalism, then the movement may be all form and little content (Patton Dodd, Soma)
  • Christian author draws 17,000 to Dome | Under one of the biggest tents around, Christian author Beth Moore asked roughly 17,000 women at the RCA Dome on Friday night if they were ready for a revival (The Indianapolis Star)
  • Earlier: Inhabiting the Scriptures | Speaker Beth Moore infuses life and thought into Bible lessons set for RCA Dome (The Indianapolis Star)

More articles of interest:

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  • My date with Mr. EHarmony | Neil Clark Warren is the Christian evangelical who runs Internet dating titan eHarmony. I'm a pagan feminist who's leery of the religious right. Would sparks fly? (Rebecca Traister,
  • Guilty verdict in investment scheme | Co-founder of Md. club defrauded black churchgoers (The Washington Post)
  • Religion Today: Saving teens who save themselves | Even if pledging purity draws snickers, it's still gaining acceptance among some teens, especially those who attend Christian schools and churches. They say they're standing up to a barrage of sex-related messages (Associated Press)
  • Dean's tiny tent | Howard Dean's statement that the Republican Party is made up of nothing more than "white Christians" is wrong, reckless and offensive (Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Religion news in brief | One ELCA synod recommends gay pastors; Tennessee family sues over ban of Bible study during recess; Pet service; and other stories (Associated Press)

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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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