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Middle East

Rick Warren's Purpose in Syria

Plus: William & Mary removes its cross, the coming Democratic birth control campaign, and other stories from online sources around the world.
Today's Top Five

1. Rick Warren, criticized for Syria trip, says he was misquoted
After criticism from the Institute on Religion and Democracy and some other quarters for visiting Syria and meeting with President Bashar Al-Assad, Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allim, Higher Education Minister Ghiath Barakat, and Grand Mufti Sheikh Badr al-Din Hassoun, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren says his trip was misrepresented both by the government-controlled Syrian media and U.S. bloggers. In a letter to church members and others, he wrote:

In hindsight, I wish we'd been better prepared for our visit to Syria. We would have handled some meetings differently, watched our words more closely, and been more aware of the agenda of their state press. We wanted to just slip in and out, but that's nearly impossible for me to do anymore. It's been a learning experience. … As we left, the official state-controlled Syrian news agency issued some press releases that sounded like I was a politician negotiating the Iraq war by praising the Syrian president and everything else in Syria! Of course, that's ridiculous, but it created a stir among bloggers who tend to editorialize before verifying the truth. Does it seem ironic to you that people who distrust Syria are now believing Syrian press releases?

Warren's office has also issued a press release explaining that the visit to Syria "was neither official nor political, but rather came out of a promise to his Muslim neighbor in California." There are, however, some political statements in the press release: recognition of the Syrian government's treatment of its Christians and its welcoming of Iraqi Christian refugees, for example, as well as some encouragement for more dialogue between the U.S. and Syrian governments.

2. William and Mary removes cross from chapel
Gene R. Nichol, president of the College of William and Mary, America's second-oldest college, last month ordered the removal of the bronze cross from the school's Wren Chapel. This week, Nichol explained his decision:

Though we haven't meant to do so, the display of a Christian cross—the most potent symbol of my own religion in the heart of our most important building—sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others. That there are, at the college, insiders and outsiders. Those for whom our most revered place is meant to be keenly welcoming, and those for whom presence is only tolerated. That distinction, I believe to be contrary to the best values of the college.
It is precisely because the Wren Chapel touches the best in us—the brightened lamp, the extended hand, the opened door, the call of character, the charge of faith, the test of courage—that it is essential it belong to everyone. There is no alternate Wren Chapel, no analogous venue, no substitute space. Nor could there be. The Wren is no mere museum or artifact. It touches every student who enrolls at the college. It defines us. And it must define us all.

Judging from Google News, the debate seems to be heating up. The William and Mary after whom the college is named, by the way, became King and Queen of England in order to secure the country's Protestant character.

3. Some people don't like Eric Keroack
The Washington Post's front page today calls attention to Eric Keroack, the new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"The Keroack appointment angered many family-planning advocates, who noted that A Woman's Concern [an organization where Keroack has served as medical director] supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception, and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six centers in eastern Massachusetts," writes the Post's Christopher Lee.

The Post quotes the organization's website: "A Woman's Concern is persuaded that the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness."

4. The looming birth control war?
The Keroack appointment is more interesting news in light of William Saletan's Slate column today, where he urges Democrats to make contraception the focus of the their agenda and thus communicate that they're the party of responsibility.

"If ever there were an issue on which Democrats looked amoral, [abortion] is it," he writes. "The solution is simple: Democrats are for reducing abortion without banning it. The most effective way, short of abstinence, is through birth control. Birth control isn't about doing what feels good. It's about taking responsibility."

Saletan has been to this well many times. But if Democrats start listening, we may soon see a much louder debate on contraception than the one we've been having.

5. Clinton adviser: Welcome pro-lifers
Howard Wolfson, speaking to the annual meeting of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State, had a slightly different take than Saletan's. Instead of changing the abortion debate to contraception, he says, it's time for the Democrats to welcome candidates who oppose abortion. The party, he said, "has to be big enough to accommodate a wide range of views on this issue," even while it remains "the party of pro-choice America." Wolfson is "a key adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton," the Associated Press notes, and "it was in a speech to the same New York group in early 2005 that Clinton created a stir by saying abortion rights supporters needed to find 'common ground' with abortion opponents."

Quote of the day
"I didn't have sex until I was 23 and that was with a man. I made up for lost time after that in a hurry. I wish I could have had sex when I was, like, 14, 15, or 16 because that's such an exciting age to have sex."

—Elton John, in the same Observer interview where he said he "would ban religion completely," because "organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." Interesting that his comments on religion—something he has little control over—got much more play than his advocacy of sex between boys as young as 14.

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More articles

Sexual ethics & life ethics | Politics | Education | Church life | Crime | Abuse | Religious freedom | Books | Other stories of interest

Sexual ethics & life ethics:

  • Bush choice for family-planning post criticized | The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women" (The Washington Post)

  • Also: Abortion foe to lead on family planning | Bush taps activist to advise on policy (The Boston Globe)

  • Secret Lib abortion deal with fanatics | The Victorian Liberal Party has secretly won the support of a powerful fundamentalist Christian group—which advocates the destruction of mosques, casinos and bottle shops - by promising not to decriminalise abortion (The Australian)

  • Wolfson: Democrats need to accept anti-abortion candidates | A key adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told abortion-rights supporters Thursday that the Democratic Party "has to be big enough to accommodate a wide range of views on this issue" (Associated Press)

  • New magazine brings sex to Christian women | Intiem -- meaning "intimate" -- is a new, glossy, A5-size magazine targeting the national religious Afrikaans community that will be launched by publishers Media in Africa at the end of November (Mail & Guardian, South Africa)

  • Conservatives: Keep gay marriage out of the courts | The wave of marriage amendments — at least those that go beyond removing the issue from judicial resolution — should stop (David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, The New York Times)

  • The closet of self-hatred | Those whose families and workplaces and neighborhoods include openly gay men and women will always see Haggard as a poster boy for the real damage caused by the old-time ministry of self-hate (Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe)

  • A pro-life revival? | The seeds have already been planted. In the Democratic Party (Doug Bandow, The American Spectator)

  • Missionary position | Birth control, responsibility, and the Democrats (William Saletan, Slate)

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  • Megachurch pastor's trip draws criticism | A trip to Syria that U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren says was inspired by a backyard chat with a Muslim neighbor has triggered criticism and questions that highlight the potential risks when preaching meets international politics (Associated Press)

  • Evangelicals press Bush, Congress on environment | Letter from the new Evangelical Youth Climate Initiative is part of a growing movement to get evangelicals involved in environmental protection, though not all evangelicals agree on the scope of the problem (Religion News Service)

  • Liberals aim to ram measures in Congress | After years playing defense, liberal advocacy groups see the Democrats' takeover of Congress as a long-awaited chance to convert some of their goals into law. Their wish lists include workplace protections for gays, a broader hate-crimes law, and a multi-pronged push to reduce unplanned pregnancies (Associated Press)

  • Also: Issues backed by liberal advocacy groups (Associated Press)

  • Controversial ad hopes to produce a balanced GOP | Republican Pro-Choice Coalition ad criticizes Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, as well as the ousted U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • Christian conservative quandary | Politics often dulls the senses to morality and "values." That's because of an unholy alliance between people of faith and politicians that often ends in compromise on the part of the faithful and the cynical harvesting of their votes with little offered in return (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times)

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  • W&M chapel cross plan defended | Despite an online petition and some alumni opposition, the university's board stands by the president's decision to remove the symbol (Daily Press, Hampton Roads, Va.)

  • Save the Wren Chapel | An astounding bit of blabber from the president of William and Mary (Vince Haley, National Review Online)

  • Christians threaten legal action | Christians at a Devon university are threatening legal action against their students' union because of a row over equal opportunities (BBC)

  • By process of intimidation | A portrait of Jesus and a lawsuit (Dimitri Cavalli, The Wall Street Journal)

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Church life:

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  • Rwandan general, priest jailed for life on genocide | Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, who was tried in absentia, was sentenced to life after he was found guilty of complicity to commit genocide and rape (Reuters)

  • Former church staffer going to prison | To some parishioners at St. Dominic's Church, former bookkeeper Jane Reasor not only stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from their parish, she stole from God (San Antonio Express-News)

  • Church thief ill but gets prison time | A judge Thursday sentenced a critically ill former bookkeeper to 18 months in prison, despite leniency pleas from the pastor of a church from which he embezzled $1.2 million (The Kansas City Star)

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Religious freedom:

  • Religious freedom on PM's agenda | Harper meets with Vietnamese prime minister (Toronto Star)

  • Vietnam Catholics flock to church | While restrictions remain, harassment has eased enough that the United States decided this week to remove Vietnam from a list of the world's worst violators of religious freedom (Associated Press)

  • Christian group lauds Pak Lah's assuring message | The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia has lauded Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for his firm and assuring statements made in his presidential address at the opening of the assembly (The Star, Malaysia)

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Other stories of interest:

  • Thinking in tongues | What can we learn from a babbling brain? (Daniel Engber, Slate)

  • The soul patrol | From wrestlers to goths, a motley army of troubled young Americans is taking refuge in an evangelical fantasy-world of love and ignorance. Photographer Justin Lane captures the new faces of faith (Radar)

  • Separated by faith, clergy bond over Israel | Pastors, rabbis from Nashville tour Holy Land (The Tennessean, Nashville)

  • Nazarene Campers sue to stop sale to developer | Friends of the North East Nazarene Camp are suing the Church of the Nazarene's Philadelphia District and Rev. Newell D. Smith in an effort to stop the sale of the 89-year-old camp to a developer (Ceil Whig, Elkton, Md.)

  • Toys for Tots agrees to take Jesus doll | The Marine Reserves' Toys for Tots program has decided to accept a donation of Bible-quoting Jesus dolls, reversing course after saying earlier this week that it couldn't take them (Associated Press)

  • Photo: Pendants | A Christian pendant of the Jesuit sect, with the design of the Holy Grail, dated by archaeologists to the 19th century, was discovered in Jerusalem (Associated Press)

  • Onward Christian soldiers | British churchmen begin to speak up (The Economist)

  • Thank heaven for our history | Compassion, care for one's neighbour, liberty, justice — we owe them all to a Christian legacy (William Rees-Mogg, The Times, London)

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