Faith or therapy first?

LifeWay Research asked three groups of Protestants—pastors, family members of people with acute mental illness (severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia), and those with such illnesses—when “psychological therapy” should be used. Before "sharing spiritual principles"? After? Few opposed therapy, though many were unsure.

Italy: Rick Warren gets standing ovation at Vatican

"What’s left to say?" began Rick Warren, the 28th speaker at Pope Francis’s high-profile marriage conference. Still, the Saddleback Church pastor received a standing ovation at the Vatican after he laid out an eight-step "action plan" to support and celebrate marriage. Other Protestant speakers included theologian N. T. Wright, Southern Baptist Russell Moore, Bruderhof pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, and black church scholar Jacqueline C. Rivers. Another marriage conference this September will bring Francis to Philadelphia for his first US visit.

Court upholds big pastor perk

Churches can stop worrying that their pastors’ best benefit will be taken away by an atheist group’s lawsuit—for now. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s high-profile decision that pastor housing allowances are unconstitutional. Since the Freedom From Religion Foundation hadn’t sought the allowance for its own leaders, the court said, it had no right to challenge the 60-year-old tax break. The Department of Justice has argued that atheists would qualify as "ministers of the gospel" under IRS guidelines. Legal expert Richard Hammar cautions it isn’t clear that the IRS would agree.

Kenya: New churches banned over fake miracles

Prompted by a TV exposé of a pastor who allegedly asks followers for advance payments on prayers and miracles, Kenya banned new religious organizations from receiving government approval. Attorney General Githu Muigai sought proposals to protect people "seeking religious nourishment" from a "miracle-faking spree," likely by letting denominations operate more like trade unions and political parties, which regulate their own members. (Currently, the Registrar of Societies vets new churches.) In 2012, the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya asked for similar powers to regulate questionable pastors who were "critically hurting the image of the church."

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Multnomah and Convergent publishers separate staff

A publisher has formally separated how its evangelical and progressive Christian books are produced. In May, the National Religious Broadcasters raised ethical questions when staff from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group worked on a theologically liberal book (God and the Gay Christian) published by a sister imprint, Convergent [July/August]. In November, parent company Crown Publishing Group moved Convergent out of the Colorado Springs offices it shared with Multnomah. An executive said this makes Crown the only publisher with "dedicated imprints to serve every major Christian tradition."

Turkey: Public schools will start teaching Christianity

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey must broaden its mandatory religion classes, which have favored Sunni Islam. In response, the Muslim nation is rolling out an elective in Christianity. Christian groups united to create the curriculum. However, reaching the required quota of at least 12 students per class will mean gathering Christian students from different schools, Mine Yildirim of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee told World Watch Monitor. Turkey has also turned one-third of its secular public schools into Qur’anic schools. World Evangelical Alliance’s Brian Miller noted many Christian parents now have no option but to submit their children to an Islamic education or pay for private schooling.

More cities restrict feeding the homeless

The arrest of a 90-year-old man and 2 pastors for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, spotlighted increasing tensions between ministries and cities. Over the past 2 years, 21 cities have restricted people from sharing food with the homeless, and another 10 are taking steps to do likewise, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. While some ministry leaders argue the bans restrict their religious freedom, FCS Urban Ministries founder Bob Lupton says handing out freebies “simply increases dependency” [September 2012]. In December, a judge halted Fort Lauderdale’s law.

Germany: Court upholds rights of religious groups

A doctor who was fired from a church-owned hospital after his divorce won’t get his job back, Germany’s highest court has ruled. Religious organizations have the right to ask their employees to abide by their own moral code, the Federal Constitutional Court maintained. Rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) are less clear. In 2010, it overturned the dismissal of a German church organist after he started another family while still married. But more recently, the ECHR narrowly affirmed the firing of a Catholic priest in Spain who was protesting clerical celibacy.

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Indonesia: Muslim nation’s capital gets Christian governor

Jakarta, the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, got its first Christian governor in 50 years this fall—but not through the normal process. When Jakarta’s mayor, Joko Widodo, was elected the country’s president, Indonesian law dictated that the rest of his term be filled by his deputy governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. A Protestant with a reputation for straightforward transparency, Basuki took office despite weeks of street protests from Islamists.

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