Today's Top Five

1. Lots of Jesus, but not all of Jesus' words, at National Cathedral
The state funeral for Gerald Ford at the National Cathedral was "a resounding repudiation" to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens's "radically secularist misreading of the establishment clause," Ed Whelan wrote at National Review Online. Explicitly Christian language permeated the ceremony, "from its opening words — 'With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother Gerald for burial' — through the many prayers, readings from Scripture, and homily, to the dismissal 'in the name of Christ,' " And that's not all, Whelan noted:

The United States Marine Orchestra and the Armed Forces Chorus not only performed; they sang explicitly Christian hymns. During the prelude, for example, the Marines sang "When Jesus Wept." During the service itself, the Marine Orchestra provided the musical accompaniment for Denyce Graves's singing of the Lord's Prayer, and the Armed Forces Chorus sang "Eternal Father, strong to save" — a prayer to the trinitarian God. The closing hymn, "For All the Saints," was sung by all and included lyrics like "thy Name, O Jesus, be for ever blessed."

However, complaints about the religious content in the Ford funeral is coming not from secularists, but from evangelicals. Kendall Harmon, one of the country's most prominent evangelical Episcopalians, noted that Robert Certain, the presiding Episcopalian priest truncated the gospel reading, John 14:1-6. In Certain's reading, verse six ended: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life.'" But verse six continues: "No one comes to the Father, but by me." "This seems to be another gesture of a church that cannot deal with Holy Scripture on its own terms," Harmon complained.

Other conservative Anglicans are frustrated that Certain's homily dragged Ford into the denomination's current fights. "Early this past summer, as I prepared to leave for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, President Ford's concern was for the church he loved," Certain said. "He asked me if we would face schism. After we discussed the various issues we would consider, particularly concerns about human sexuality and the leadership of women, he said he did not think they should be divisive for anyone who lived by the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor."

Wonderful. By all means, let's start having our governmental leaders weigh in by proxy on denominational disputes. Why aren't Clinton and Carter leading the debate on whether Southern Baptists should speak in tongues? If memory serves, Certain's church divided from its parent body in 1789 over whether a head of state gets to decide church disputes.

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2. Conservative Anglican scandal? Or politics?
Evangelical Episcopal priest Don Armstrong, executive director of the Anglican Communion Institute and a Colorado Springs pastor, has been put on paid leave from the Colorado Episcopal Diocese during an investigation into an accusation that he misused church funds. That's about all the news so far. No one is talking about the details of the allegation except to say that police have not been contacted. The Colorado Springs Gazette frames the story as similar to the resignations of New Life Church ministers Ted Haggard and Christopher Beard, but the connection is problematic. If the allegation against Armstrong had been about sexual immorality, the Episcopal diocese probably would not have put him on leave. More likely, they would have made him a bishop. Speaking of which: Armstrong is one of the chief internal critics of the Episcopal Church's recent leadership and direction, and he encouraged a protest of withholding funds from the diocese and the national Episcopal Church. Some bishops in the Episcopal Church have made comments suggesting they think such a protest would be a form of misuse of church funds. But if that's the basis of the allegations here, the Colorado Diocese is going to look awfully petty.

3. More Christian leaders criticize Saddam Hussein execution
You can skim the links below for the most-recent Christian remarks on the hanging. Most are pretty similar to those we noted in our last Weblog. Most focus on the death penalty in general rather than on the specifics of the Hussein case. Brian McLaren, for example, writes, "Taking the human life of a person in the name of human life brings no sense of justice or satisfaction to me. Rather, it brings the opposite. … Whether executions are justified or not, I feel dirty and ashamed whenever I hear of an execution, and Saddam's was no different. I hope I don't ever stop feeling that way."

Jim Wallis suggests that Iraq's executing of Saddam was as bad as the genocide he was executed for. "By taking his life, we sink to his level," he wrote. "If we truly believe that all human life is created in God's image, then no matter how distorted that life may become, we do not have the right to take it."

And here's Shane Claiborne: "For those who believe in hell, executing someone who may not yet know of the love and grace of Christ is doubly offensive. … Grace is hard to communicate with a noose."

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Then there are the ongoing condemnations from Catholic leaders. Following remarks from the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace that the execution was "a crime," Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, has labeled the hanging "a denial of natural justice and a sin." What's more, Vithayathil argued that Hussein "was not given an opportunity to be heard."

That Catholic leaders are using the news to reiterate their opposition to capital punishment is about as predictable as Southern Baptist leaders using the news to reiterate their support of it—or at least of the government's right to use it when necessary. But Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is far more critical of Hussein's execution than, say, Mark Tooley or Marty Peretz. "Simple justice demanded Saddam Hussein be found guilty by his countrymen and executed in the manner that befits such a war criminal, by hanging rather than a firing squad," Land told Baptist Press. "The justice that demanded his execution, however, was cheapened by the less-than-dignified manner in which the execution was carried out."

Baptist Press also got a statement from Leith Anderson, interim president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Noting that he's personally against the death penalty, Anderson said, "Governments and people need to make judgments; they need to make decisions. I hope capital punishment is used only in the clearest cases and with the most careful of applications. The execution of Saddam Hussein was done by a government other than the United States. It was, therefore, beyond our jurisdiction politically. I have no doubt he committed crimes worthy of this punishment. However, being pro-life I am always reluctant to see the use of capital punishment."

4. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese dies at 65
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, American history professor at Emory University, convert to Catholicism, and public intellectual, died January 2. She sat on the editorial board of Christianity Today sister publication Books & Culture, to which she contributed several articles over the years.

5. Parking rule violated religious freedom, judge says
When the City of Southfield, Michigan told Lighthouse Community Church of God that it couldn't hold services at a building it had purchased because it had too few parking spaces, it violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), U.S. District Judge Paul Gadola ruled Wednesday. The church says the city just wants to see tax-generating residences on the property instead of a church and notes that two other churches had previously used the space. The city argued RLUIPA is unconstitutional and shouldn't be able to trump local zoning regulations. City officials say they plan to continue their fight.

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Quote of the day
"It doesn't seem like something normal that religious people would do."

—Susan Heying, whose delivery trucks were vandalized with spraypainted messages "Jesus died for sinners," "Jesus loves you!" and "Jesus saves! Are you saved?" She was quoted by the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise.

More articles

Iraq | Life ethics | Politics | Oaths of office | Mitt Romney | Gay marriage | Anglicanism | Church life | Abuse | Crime | China | Religious freedom | Church and state | Education | History | Theology | Missions & ministry | Money & business | Entertainment | Video games | People | Deaths | Other stories of interest


  • Iraq to review abusive acts at Hussein's execution | Saddam Hussein was subjected to a battery of taunts by official Shiite witnesses and guards as he awaited his hanging (The New York Times)

  • Despite misgivings, White House says little against hanging | Spokesmen for President Bush said he had not seen the execution video, and Mr. Bush himself refused to answer questions about it (The New York Times)

  • Debate over Hussein execution extends beyond Iraq, into capital punishment | "The justice that demanded his execution, however, was cheapened by the less-than-dignified manner in which the execution was carried out," says Richard Land (Baptist Press)

  • Saddam Hussein's execution condemned across religions | Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, termed Hussein's hurried execution on Dec. 30 a denial of natural justice and a sin. He said the deposed leader was not given an opportunity to be heard (UCAN, Catholic news service from India)

  • The ugly death of Saddam Hussein | What should have been a symbolic passage out of Iraq's darkest era will instead fuel a grim new era of spiraling sectarian vengeance (Editorial, The New York Times)

  • Just desserts | In a final blasphemy, Saddam Hussein, who spent most of his life as a murdering secularist, went to his justified death holding a Koran and offering his soul to God, if God would accept it. If God does, He will have to commute the sentences of Saddam's mass murdering predecessors, including Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times)

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  • How does Saddam's execution make you feel? | If you felt as I did after the execution of Saddam Hussein, dirty, I wouldn't dismiss the feeling. I would say that it might be a redemptive dirtiness, and without it, I am afraid of what we could become (Brian McLaren, Beliefnet)

  • Religious leftist feels "dirty" over Saddam's execution | Most Christians will not, and should not, feel "dirty" over Saddam's execution. Instead, if they are mindful of their own moral traditions, they will feel mostly sadness that in our fallen world tyrants like Saddam are permitted to rule (Mark D. Tooley, FrontPage)

  • Abusing the art of the gallows | The hanging of Saddam illustrates the least savory aspect of capital punishment, the debasing and coarsening of the public sensibility in whose name death is done (Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times)

  • Morally justified | Categorical opposition to the death penalty is morally unsound (Bruce Fein, The Washington Times)

  • Don't cry for Saddam | Imagine -- the anti-death penalty crowd has found a new pinup boy. (Jeremy Lott, The American Spectator)

  • Iraqi — and Christian — in America | Christians in Iraq are a persecuted minority, which means hard times for their families abroad (CBS Evening News)

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Life ethics:

  • Debate over death penalty gears up | Texas, where more inmates were executed last year but fewer people were actually sentenced to die, is in the spotlight as lawmakers, judges, even community leaders in Italy are calling for change to the state's ultimate punishment (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex)

  • Italy urges global execution ban | Italy will campaign at the United Nations for a global ban on the death penalty, Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said (BBC)

  • China's Henan bans abortion drugs | The policy is part of the province's efforts to "keep gender balance among newborns" according to the China Daily newspaper (BBC)

  • Help-line furore widens | The Federal Government bypassed three pro-choice organisations in awarding a contract for a national pregnancy help-line to a company taking advice from pro-life agencies (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

  • Also: Abortion groups clash over counselling plan (AAP, Australia)

  • Stem cell bill a problem for pro-life Dems | Litmus test for pro-life Democrats | There is no doubt the new stem cell research legislation will pass both houses of Congress. What remains in doubt are the votes to be cast by newly elected Democrats who campaigned as pro-life advocates, particularly Pennsylvania Sen.-elect Bob Casey Jr. (Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times)

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  • Atheists challenge the religious right | Growing religious influence in the US government has led some nontheists to take positions some describe as 'secular fundamentalism' (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Clergy insist - MPs car demands selfish | They defend their own vehicles as belonging to the church, not to them personally (New Vision, Uganda)

  • A Christian political fast? | The original question concerning "how much" politics faithful Christians can stomach turns out to be the wrong question. A better question is how each believer should cultivate discernment -- a "discriminating taste," to continue the metaphor -- to engage the right political opportunities in the right way (Ryan Messmore, The Washington Post)

  • America's holy warriors | The radical Christian Right is coming dangerously close to its goal of taking over the country's military and law enforcement (Chris Hedges, Truthdig)

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Oaths of office:

  • Congressman to be sworn in using Quran | The first Muslim elected to Congress says he will take his oath of office using a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson to make the point that "religious differences are nothing to be afraid of" (Associated Press)

  • The truth about oaths | Use the Bible, the Quran, or nothing at all? The dust-up over the first Muslim congressman sheds light on what it means to be an American. (Jonathan Turley, USA Today)

  • Also: A history | The historical and legal basis for oaths is often misunderstood (Jonathan Turley, USA Today)

  • But it's Thomas Jefferson's Koran! | The holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance (Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts, The Washington Post)

  • Keith Ellison and the Jefferson Koran | On Thursday, it will not be Virgil Goode who pays tribute to Jefferson. It will be Keith Ellison (John Nichols, The Nation)

  • The newest oafs of office | So help me, God, I can't fathom the controversy over whether a congressman should hold a Koran when he's sworn into office (Carol Towarnicky, Philadelphia Daily News)

  • Almost related: Bible with ties to slave ship will be used for oath | Captives who rebelled on the Amistad presented Bible to John Quincy Adams. Deval Patrick will use it for his oath of office as Massachusetts governor (The Boston Globe)

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Mitt Romney:

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Gay marriage:

  • Court rules that child can have two mums | A five-year-old Canadian boy can have two mothers and a father, an Ontario court ruled this week in a landmark case that redefines the meaning of family and examines the rights of parents in same-sex relationships (Reuters)

  • Also: Court ruling allowing 3 parents for boy raises concerns for custody battles | Gay rights organizations applauded Wednesday while an evangelical group questioned just how many parents one child can have following a landmark Appeal Court decision that allows an Ontario boy to have three parents (Canadian Press)

  • Same-sex marriage ban advances | Lawmakers okay item for ballot, but hurdle remains (The Boston Globe)

  • A shameful reversal of rights | Sixty-two state legislators voted to shrink the civil rights of Massachusetts citizens yesterday when they advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (Editorial, The Boston Globe)

  • This battle's worth a fight | The struggle for civil rights is never a short or easy one, as the history of race relations in this country certainly confirms (Eileen McNamara, The Boston Globe)

  • Schwarzenegger's gay marriage misstep | If he hadn't vetoed a bill granting marriage rights to all, the governor could have saved the state a court battle (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

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  • Episcopal cleric in funds probe | The Rev. Don Armstrong, an outspoken foe of gay ordination and nuptials, is on paid leave. His lawyer denies the claims that church money was misused (The Denver Post)

  • Also: Rector of Episcopal church suspended | A prominent local pastor has been barred from his parish while his diocese investigates him for possible misuse of church money, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado confirmed Wednesday (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

  • Episcopal churches' breakaway in Va. evolved over 30 years | Truro and The Falls Church have been part of a "charismatic revival" within mainline Protestantism (The Washington Post)

  • Anglican Church waking up, says Orombi | "People said the Church of Uganda was dying. That it was a sleeping giant and pathetic. But it is now waking up. It is no longer the Church people knew. It has a new face. It is taking the possession of what God has given us; Uganda," Orombi said on Tuesday (New Vision, Uganda)

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  • Trouble in Anglican heartland | Like divorce, withdrawal from a family of churches is supposed to be a last resort, used only when all intermediate steps to reconcile existing differences have been tried and failed. The decision of the churches in Virginia to depart bears all the marks of impatience -- or, at the very least, of the failure of the Christian virtue of hope (David C. Steinmetz, The Orlando Sentinel)

  • The Virginia Episcopal schism: a wound in Christianity's heart | Whatever happened to the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, patience, gentleness? Couldn't we have waited together, perhaps cried together, certainly argued together, but kept on worshiping together for a little longer? (Jo Bailey Wells, The Baltimore Sun)

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Church life:

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  • Cars defaced with religious-themed messages | Phrases including "Jesus loves you!" were spray-painted on three vehicles (The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Ca.)

  • Judge rejects plea deal for Sanford minister | A Superior Court judge Tuesday refused to accept a plea agreement that would have allowed a Sanford minister to serve about five years in prison for the strangulation death of his wife two years ago (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)

  • Also: Judge rejects Pastor Bynum's plea | Bynum pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea agreement. But Judge David Lee said in court Tuesday afternoon that he is "not in the position to accept the plea as it is currently written," after hearing tearful statements from Marnita Bynum's relatives and reviewing the facts in the case (The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.)

  • Abortion provider killer on trial in NY | More than three years after James Kopp was convicted of gunning down an abortion provider in the doctor's home, federal prosecutors want to make sure the anti-abortion extremist remains in prison for life (Associated Press)

  • Also: Jury selection starts today for Kopp trial | Although Kopp stands convicted on the state charges, federal prosecutors say in court papers that he is technically eligible for parole after 25 years. The federal charges carry a mandatory life term (The Buffalo News, N.Y.)

  • Undercover cops go to Mass to stop collection thefts | They struck out during two holiday stings before catching James MacCaline at Sunday Mass on New Year's Eve morning (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)

  • Also: Usher charged with stealing from church collection plate | After a tip that a 75-year-old usher was stealing church donations, Cary police performed an undercover sting in the middle of Sunday Mass (WRAL, Raleigh, N.C.)

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Religious freedom:

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Church and state:

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  • Islamic reign apparently over in Somalia | For the first time in more than a decade, an internationally recognized government is operating in Mogadishu after driving out the Islamic courts movement that wanted to rule Somalia by the Quran (Associated Press)

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  • Creationism believer joins state board | In one of the quietest, most overlooked elections on Nov. 7, an amazing thing happened in an Ohio state school board race in Southwest Ohio. A little-known West Chester mom who'd never won elected public office knocked off an incumbent (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Christian group takes legal action | A Christian university group banned from the free use of premises by fellow students is to take legal action under human rights law in a bid to overturn the decision (UTV, U.K.)

  • Is tolerating intolerance a college's cross to bear? | Proof that tolerance is becoming intolerable: Students willingly attending a university that was founded at the request of the Anglican church are miffed because there's a cross in the sanctuary of the campus chapel (J.R. Labbe, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

  • My fragmented field | An associate professor looking to move to a better institution in religious studies has trouble finding positions to apply for (Rex Sayers, The Chronicle of Higher Education)

  • Putting God in his place | When a N.J. high schooler recorded religious comments by a popular history teacher, he started a furor not only in his hometown but elsewhere around this country (Nat Hentoff, First Amendment Center)

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  • Ancient latrine fuels debate at Qumran | Researchers say their discovery of a 2,000-year-old toilet at one of the world's most important archaeological sites sheds new light on whether the ancient Essene community was home to the authors of many of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Associated Press)

  • Scientists may have found Medici murder | Italian scientists believe they have uncovered a 400-year-old murder. Historians have long suspected that Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his second wife Bianca Cappello did not die of malaria but were poisoned — probably by Francesco's brother, Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici, who was vying for the title (Associated Press)

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  • Poll: One in four says Jesus may return in 2007 | Pollsters found that 11 percent of those surveyed said it is "very likely" that Jesus will return to Earth this year. An additional 14 percent said it was "somewhat likely" (Religion News Service)

  • Lust is a must | Carnal desire gets a bad rap, but it's an essential part of most relationships (Greg Morago, The Hartford Courant, Ct.)

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Missions & ministry:

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Money & business:

  • Sale reopens Cove Camp | The Billy Graham Evangelical Association has sold its summer camp for $5 million to a foundation that plans to revive the facility, the foundation's president said Wednesday (Asheville Citizen-Times, N.C.)

  • Social, religious funds have big returns | Some investors looking to better align their social or religious convictions with their investments have found sizable returns (Associated Press)

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  • Gospel singer in unlikely pairing with Jay-Z | Chrisette Michele was originally going to turn down recording the hook for "Lost One" (Billboard)

  • Toys bulk up the biblical | GI Joe begets action figures from Bible, including beefy Moses wielding a sword (The Baltimore Sun)

  • Can H'wood make friends with evangelicals? | For a group that professes to know with irritating certainty what happens after death, evangelicals clearly feel shortchanged by the media here on Earth, which they approach with a sizable chip on their shoulders (Brian Lowry, Variety)

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Video games:

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  • Robertson says God told him of ''mass killing'' in U.S. in 2007 | "The Lord didn't say nuclear, but I do believe it'll be something like that - that'll be a mass killing, possibly millions of people, major cities injured," Robertson said of terrorist attack (The Virginian-Pilot)

  • Also: Pat Robertson predicts 'mass killing' | In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Tuesday God has told him that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007 (Associated Press)

  • Coral Ridge minister recovering from heart attack | D. James Kennedy was sitting up and speaking with his family and was off life support, according to Brian E. Fisher, executive vice president of Coral Ridge Ministries (The Miami Herald)

  • 'A pastor's pastor' | Church on the Way founder Jack Hayford is a quiet force among nation's evangelicals (Los Angeles Daily News)

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  • The story of a well-lived life | Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, R.I.P. (Robert P. George, National Review Online)

  • Also: Remembering Elizabeth Fox-Genovese | She was a well-regarded scholar and a successful author, at home in both the academic world and the public sphere. But she was something more, as well, for she had a kind of solid common sense about ideas and where they lead (Joseph Bottum, First Things)

  • A tribute to Harald Bredesen | Bredesen was a Lutheran pastor who was greatly credited with inspiring and influencing the charismatic movement (CBN)

  • Rites and wrongs | The Ford funeral and Justice Stevens (Edward Whelan, National Review Online)

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Other stories of interest:

  • Religious-freedom group shifts emphasis | But Council for America's First Freedom still plans a museum in Richmond at 14th Street site (Richmond Times Dispatch, Va.)

  • Interview: Zev Chafets | Why do evangelicals support Israel so strongly? Is the American Jews' fear of fundamentalist Christianity based on constitutional principle, or social and cultural snobbery and political partisanship? (Haaretz, Tel Aviv)

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  • Patience is a virtue when seeking the big religion story | Events on this beat often seem to go in circles, with certain themes and conflicts appearing year after year, says Richard N. Ostling, who retired last year after three decades as a religion reporter (Terry Mattingly, Scripps Howard News Service)

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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.
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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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