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Afghanistan Kidnappers Kill Hostage as South Korea Debates Mission Work

Plus: Malaysia changes course on Shari'ah courts, remembering Tammy Faye, a church is attacked by Christian terrorists, and other stories from online sources around the world.

Today's Top Five

1. Blaming the victim: South Korea's anti-missionary backlash
Bae Hyung-kyu, associate pastor and co-founder of suburban Seoul's Saemmul Presbyterian Church, was found shot to death with 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest, and stomach, reports the Associated Press. His killers say they belong to the Taliban in Afghanistan, where Bae had led a group of 23 church volunteers (18 of them women) on a medical aid trip. The group was abducted last week while traveling in Ghazni by minibus. An unnamed police official says Bae, who suffered from lung disease, was killed because he had become too sick to walk. It was his birthday.

Bae's death has escalated outrage in South Korea and around the world. But the outrage seems directed at least as much against South Korean Christian aid workers and missionaries as against the Taliban.

"Religious groups should realize once and for all that dangerous missionary and volunteer activities in Islamic countries including Afghanistan not only harm Korea's national objectives, but also put other Koreans under a tremendous amount of duress," the large-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial Monday, before Bae's death.

It reiterated its view in a Tuesday editorial: "Volunteer work is good. But in a multicultural and multi-religious age and especially in a place like Afghanistan, where there is a sharp hatred of Christianity, a deeper understanding of indigenous conditions must precede the dispatch of volunteer workers."

The Korea Times agrees. "Religious organizations are asked to refrain from engaging in excessive missionary activities in risky areas, which will cause anxiety for the people and the government as well," said an editorial Sunday.

"Some of the abductees' own online postings have sparked anger here [in South Korea]," Chosun Ilbo reported in a news piece. "One of them posted a weblog entry about singing Christian hymns in an Afghan mosque. The group also posted a photo of themselves posing next to a South Korean government sign banning travel to Afghanistan."

Christians who aren't angry are concerned. "At this point, we should reflect on where we are and reconsider where we are heading to in our missionary work," Park Jong-soon, head pastor of Choongshin Church in Seoul and former president of the Christian Council of Korea, told Yonhap News Service. "Korean missionaries have strong emotional fervor but they are weak in strategy. Missionary work is about humbling ourselves, listening to what locals say, what other missionaries there say. … We cannot be combative delivering God's words."

The debate isn't just occurring in Korea and Afghanistan. Chris Cork wrote to The Times of London from Bahawalpur, Pakistan, that he has "not a shred of sympathy" for the Koreans. "Having lived and worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan for many years and seen the trouble that proselytizing [Christians] get themselves into fairly regularly — I have lost all sympathy for them," he wrote. "They consume vast amounts of resources when they are being extricated and queer the pitch in ways they simply do not understand for others in the aid community. Insecurity increases for all of us as a result of the activities of these God-driven lunatics. We have enough God-driven lunacy here — we don't need any more of it than we have already."

As Rob Moll noted in Christianity Today's March 2006 cover story, South Korea sends more missionaries abroad than any country but the United States.

2. After Lina Joy case, Malaysia's top court rules Islamic law
Malaysia's Federal Court ruled that disputes between Muslim and non-Muslims should be handled in civil courts, not Islamic Shari'ah courts, even in religious and family matters, New Straits Times reported today. Non-Muslims, Judge Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad explained, "can't be present to defend themselves in the Shari'ah courts."

The judge complained that jurisdiction conflicts between civil and Islamic courts are getting worse as intermarriages and conversions become increasingly common. He urged the legislature to pass laws making jurisdiction matters more clear. "Everyone looks to the court to solve the problem of the legislature," he said. "Without enacted laws, there is no jurisdiction by both courts."

In May, the Federal Court rejected an appeal from Lina Joy, a convert from Islam to Christianity who refused to get permission from a Shari'ah court to change her religion on her government identity card. "A person cannot, at one's whims and fancies, renounce or embrace a religion," the court explained then.

Reuters notes that the Federal Court's decision comes amid bitter debate in the country on whether Malaysia is an Islamic state.

3. In praise of Tammy Faye
With a few significant exceptions, she's being widely honored with displays of honest, uncampy affection. The television celebrity went from being a 1980s punchline to someone who apparently brought real joy, hope, and love to people. And, ironically, for someone associated with the health and wealth gospel, the thing she's being honored for most is showing people how to face death.

4. Christian terrorists
Police are calling it a terrorist attack. But Victory Family Church in Burleson, Texas, has to be the site of one of the oddest, most unexpected terrorist attacks in America. Four young men (including a minor, who was not charged) reportedly tried to bomb the church. The Cleburne Times-Review explains how they were caught:

While investigating the events at the church, police received a call about a fire in a field about two to three miles from the church. A resident saw a plume of smoke, heard screaming and saw a man run out of a wooded area and leave in a vehicle. According to reports, [Michael] Ragon was attempting to destroy evidence on the manufacturing of the explosive device. Police said Ragon, who was wearing sandals, doused the evidence with gasoline but did not realize he was standing in a puddle of gasoline when he lit the fire. His feet were burned in the fire. A MedStar ambulance treated him at the Burleson Police Department the next day, but he refused transport to the hospital.

Upon questioning, the three suspects reportedly admitted that they were involved in a religious group of 10 to 15 members who had made the bomb, and that the attack was both a test and an effort to draw attention to their cause. The paper continues:

Although the name of the group the three associate with is unknown, [police] said the men identified themselves as radical Christian activists who oppose government and organized religion. … Group members share common beliefs about the demise of society, which they believe has become too focused on self-improvement and self-gratification and lost it's focus on the glorification of God, police said. The group is attempting to wake up society by committing destructive acts, according to reports. Group members further believe there are too many denominations and churches, and there ought to be only one.
The group has three levels of membership, according to what the suspects told police. Weekly Bible study at a Burleson park is the first. Consensual fighting and involvement in destructive acts are the second and third, respectively. One of the core beliefs of the group, however, is free thought, so participation in the second two levels is not mandatory. …
Two of the suspects admitted to involvement in a fire at a recycling bin near CenterPointe Church … last spring. The two targeted a recycling bin, police said, because they believe the older generation is making the younger generation clean up the mess.

5. ESPN.com covers "arguably America's most evenly matched rivalry"
It's between Hope and Calvin, which are separated by only 55 points over 166 games, and the games are evenly split at 83 wins per school. "Like many heated contests," Lauren Reynolds writes, the rivalry "boils down to religion. The sister colleges, separated by a mere 30 miles, are of different faiths: Hope is connected to the Reformed Church in America; Calvin is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church. … [But] while everyone is excited for tip-off, the rivalry doesn't carry the animosity that's usually found when two schools compete so closely for so long."

Quote of the day
"I've covered a lot of non-religious stories, but I traditionally never got more vicious hate mail than from people of the faith — probably because they believe so much is at stake. This is a phenomeon attested to by religion writers across the country. But for whatever reason, this story provoked a different response. It was almost entirely loving and caring and gentle, whether from Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, or atheists."

—Bill Lobdell, former Los Angeles Times religion reporter, during an online chat about his front-page article this week on how he lost his faith on the religion beat.

More articles

Korean missionaries: News | Korean reaction to kidnappings | Freed priest | Indonesia | Malaysia | Baby remains at Indian hospital | Ugandan Pentecostalism | Wired pastor | Moravians in Tanzania | Rwanda | Other African stories | China | Iraq | Egypt | Church and state | Religious rights | Islam | Other religion | Democrats, Republicans, and God | 2008 candidates | Torture and prisoner treatment | Legislation | Crime | Abuse | McCormack going to prison | Roger Mahony and the L.A. abuse settlement | Religion reporter loses faith | Catholicism | Marriage | Education | Sports | Media & entertainment | People | Tammy Faye | Harry Potter | Art | History and architecture | Third Temple | Charities | Missions & ministry | Prayer | Anglicanism | Church life | Trespassing | Immigration/sanctuary | Homosexuality | Life ethics | Taxicab 666 | Other

Korean missionaries: News:

  • Afghan Taliban say Korean hostages in good health | Twenty-three South Korean kidnapped by Taliban rebels in Afghanistan are in good health, but any use of force to rescue them would put their lives at risk, a Taliban spokesman said on Monday (Reuters)

  • Elders talk with Taliban about hostages | Afghan elders and clerics were trying to negotiate with militants holding 23 South Korean hostages in central Afghanistan a day after a purported Taliban spokesman said the hard-line militia had extended its deadline for their lives until Tuesday evening (Associated Press)

  • Afghans, Taliban hopeful hostages freed peacefully | The Afghan government and Taliban rebels are hopeful of a peaceful outcome to free 23 South Korean hostages held by insurgents, the two sides said on Tuesday (Reuters)

  • Afghan governor rejects force to free Koreans | "We are hopeful that this issue to be finalised today through talks. By no means will military operations be used," he said (Reuters)

  • Church volunteers need to leave Afghanistan | Volunteer work is good. But in a multicultural and multi-religious age and especially in a place like Afghanistan, where there is a sharp hatred of Christianity, a deeper understanding of indigenous conditions must precede the dispatch of volunteer workers (Editorial, Chosun Ilbo, South Korea)

  • Afghan Taliban say patience running out on Koreans | Taliban rebels were running out of patience with talks over 23 kidnapped South Koreans, a spokesman said on Wednesday, but there was no word on the fate of the hostages after a rebel deadline passed (Reuters)

  • Taliban seek a deal for Korean hostages | Threatening to kill 23 South Korean hostages, the Taliban are demanding that an equal number of their own fighters be released by Monday (The New York Times)

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Korean reaction to kidnappings:

  • Vigils and questions over wisdom of missionaries | Since the missionaries' capture, Koreans have hotly debated whether the evangelicals — known for their risky activities in hostile countries —were right to have travelled to Afghanistan (The Times, London)

  • Hostage killing sends shockwave through S. Korea | The atmosphere was heavy in the church where about 700 to 800 Christian faithful held an overnight vigil to pray for the safe return of the kidnapped volunteers (Yonhap News, South Korea)

  • Hostage crisis fuels anti-Christian sentiment online | Some are fanning the flames of anti-Christian sentiment by posting insults to the victims and their families on the web (Chosun Ilbo, South Korea)

  • Abductions imperil relief work | A hostage crisis is shining a spotlight on the role South Korea plays in providing a sizable number of relief workers -- often sponsored by Christian churches -- to the world's danger zones (The Wall Street Journal)

  • South Korea ponders evangelical zeal after kidnap | The kidnapping of 23 Korean church volunteers in Afghanistan has raised questions in South Korea over whether the country's evangelical Christian groups may be too zealous in sending missionaries overseas (Reuters)

  • Asia's apostles | The Taliban's abduction of 23 South Korean Christian missionaries in Afghanistan last Thursday has put South Korea's evangelical fervor under a microscope (Suki Kim, The Washington Post)

  • Worsening hostage crisis | Innocent people's lives take precedence over everything else (Editorial, The Korea Times)

  • Devastating news from Afghanistan | Evangelical organizations still insist on going to the region for missionary and volunteer work. They should abandon such plans (Editorial, Chosun Ilbo)

  • Risky religious activities | Christians should refrain from inciting Islamic insurgents (Editorial, The Korea Times)

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Freed priest:

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Baby remains at Indian hospital:

  • Indian police find 30 bags filled with baby bones | Thirty polythene bags stuffed with the body parts of female fetuses and newly born babies have been found in a dry well near a private clinic in the east Indian state of Orissa, police said on Monday (Reuters)

  • Police say 40 babies were dumped in well | Police in Orissa have found 10 more skulls belonging to female foetuses and newly born babies in an abandoned well, taking the total number of skulls found to 40, officials said on Wednesday (Reuters)

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Ugandan Pentecostalism:

  • Govt to eliminate fake churches, says Buturo | The Government would soon weed out the 'mushrooming' fake Pentecostal churches, the ethics minister, Dr. Nsaba Buturo, has announced. "We are trying to put in place regulations that would control these new churches," he said (New Vision, Uganda)

  • I say, all Pentecostal pastors are frauds | None of them have renounced the dubiously simplistic notion that they are specially empowered (anointed) intercessors, standing between ordinary humans and the spirit world; that through them the will and the power of God are casually accessible. (Alan Tacca, The Monitor, Uganda)

  • Is the church a corrupt institution? | We, humans, are fallen and corrupt creatures. Therefore, we do not need to scream at the sin of others in order to justify ourselves (Andrew Rugasira, New Vision, Uganda)

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Wired pastor:

  • Pastor Yeboah to be sent to Ghana | Electrified pastor Kojo Obiri Yeboah's troubles are far from over (New Vision, Uganda)

  • Hand over wired pastor, Ghana police demands | Pastor Obiri-Yeboah Kojo is wanted in Ghana for "jumping bail" in an alleged financial fraud case, Police Spokesman Asan Kasingye said yesterday (The Monitor, Uganda)

  • Museveni warns pastors | Crafty pastors who use deceit and trickery to extort money from their followers should be arrested, President Yoweri Museveni has said (Sunday Vision, Uganda)

  • Taxes will not hurt religious freedom | The Pentecostal movement in cohorts with its American partners has turned into a huge commercial enterprise. The case for taxing religious property today is stronger than ever. The financial power of religious organizations has grown astronomically. (Moses Sserwanga, The Monitor, Uganda)

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Moravians in Tanzania:

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  • 2 Rwanda massacre suspects arrested | Two suspects in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a priest and a prefect, were arrested Friday in France on a warrant from an international court investigating the massacres, judicial officials said (Associated Press)

  • Rwanda urges France to extradite genocide suspects | In a statement, the Rwandan government welcomed last week's arrest of Catholic priest Wenceslas Munyeshyaka and another man, Laurent Bucyibaruta, who are accused of playing a role in the slaughter of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus (Reuters)

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Other African stories:

  • Prayer service in support of Archbishop Pius Ncube | A prayer service in solidarity with the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, has been organized for Wednesday by the parishioners in his constituency who said it is to confirm and reaffirm their support for what he stands for (SW Radio Africa)

  • Attempt on life of Bishop Ben Kwashi of Jos | For the second time in 18 months an attempt has been made on the life of Bishop Benjamin Kwashi, the Bishop of Jos, Plateau State in Northern Nigeria (Anglican Mainstream)

  • A godsend for Darfur, or a curse? | A newly discovered lake under the barren soil of northern Sudan is as likely to be a source of conflict as a solution to the bloodshed (The New York Times)

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  • Chinese Catholics ask pope to visit | A senior official in China's state-sanctioned Catholic Church said in comments published Tuesday that he would like Pope Benedict XVI to visit China (Associated Press)

  • Ties with Vatican | China Catholic Patriotic Association Vice-President Liu Bainian's widely quoted expression of eagerness to host a papal visit in Beijing left anxious decoders speculating on a change in stance on the Chinese part. Liu's own clarification yesterday ruled that out. (China Daily)

  • China rejects Vatican call on bishops—paper | China rejects the Vatican's demand that it stop appointing bishops without papal approval but is willing to talk, a state newspaper said on Thursday, adding to uncertainty over Beijing's next bishop (Reuters)

  • Confucius making a comeback in money-driven modern China | For many Chinese, a system of ethical teachings that stresses the importance of avoiding conflict and respecting hierarchy makes perfect sense, even if it was first in vogue centuries ago (The Washington Post)

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  • Iraqi Christians pray for the surge | An Iraqi archbishop tells a leftist rally he hopes Americans will provide security and democracy. (Mark D. Tooley, FrontPageMag.com)

  • Envoy urges visas for Iraqis aiding U.S. | Targets of violence are seeking refuge (The Washington Post)

  • Resolution: War at odds with Jesus | A resolution opposing the war in Iraq as contrary to Jesus' teachings was approved by a majority voice vote of the nearly 4,000 delegates at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly on Wednesday, although some expressed concern about the message the resolution would send to troops (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

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  • Egypt mufti denies saying Muslims can choose own religion | The body headed by Egypt's official religious advisor on Tuesday denied he had said that Muslims were free to change their faith, as had been reported by a US Washington Post-Newsweek forum on Islam. "The quotes attributed to the mufti were never said during the interview published by the Washington Post," Dar al-Iftaa said in a statement carried by the official Egyptian news agency MENA (AFP)

  • Egypt mufti reaffirms Muslim freedom of faith choice | Egypt's top religious advisor, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, reaffirmed his belief Thursday that Muslims could choose their own religion after the local press carried apparently conflicting statements (Middle East Times)

  • Gomaa: Muslims can choose own religion | Grand Mufti of Egypt stands by his comments on apostasy, right to choose one's religion (Middle East Online)

  • Earlier: The meaning of jihad in Islam | Can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can (Ali Gomaa, On Faith)

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Church and state:

  • Chavez calls Honduran cardinal a 'clown' | Catholic leaders have warned of alleged threats to individual freedoms under Chavez's administration and criticized his plans for a sweeping constitutional reform to transform Venezuela into a socialist state (Associated Press)

  • Does the religious majority rule? | With church-state issues, the answer is often 'yes.' In six communities where public religiosity was contested in court, an unfortunate theme emerged: 'Insiders' who crossed the majority view quickly became 'outsiders.' (Peter Irons, USA Today)

  • Criticism of Russian Church role | In an unusual move, a senior Russian official has joined academics in criticising what he described as "the creeping clericalisation" of Russia (BBC)

  • Breakdown Britain | Nowhere does Britain's breakdown and loss of direction appear clearer than in the inconsistent ways the courts treat faith (Cal Thomas, TheWashington Times)

  • U.S. backs lawsuit against Wayne | Federal justice officials are backing a lawsuit by an Albanian Muslim group that claims the township discriminated against it by trying to take its property even as it sought to build a mosque in town (The Record, Hackensack, N.J.)

  • U-46 Scout decision a church-state issue | Ruling on Scouts, other religious club part of evangelical attorney's influence (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs)

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Religious rights:

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  • Looking for a few good Muslims | On the Lancaster House conference on "Islam and Muslims in the World Today." (Philip Jenkins, OUPBlog)

  • What to expect when you're expecting a co-wife | Why American Muslims don't care to legalize polygamy (Andrea Useem, Slate)

  • Poll: More Muslims reject bombings | Muslims around the world increasingly reject suicide bombings and other violence against civilians in defense of Islam, according to a new international poll dealing with how the world's population judges their lives, countries and national institutions (Associated Press)

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Other religion:

  • In praise of Christian-Jewish interfaith dialogue | God had provided the cure even before we diagnosed the disease. For the first time since the advent of Christianity, mainstream Christian leaders - Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant - have extended a hand to us Jews in friendship, a friendship with far-reaching theological and political ramifications (Shlomo Riskin, The Jerusalem Post)

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Democrats, Republicans, and God:

  • God '08: Whose, and how much, will voters accept? | Would voters elect a president who believes in the Book of Mormon? What about one who venerates Muhammad, or Buddha? (The New York Times)

  • Democrats' abortion quandary | As '08 election nears, party weighs a more nuanced line on issue that divides U.S. (Chicago Tribune)

  • Democrats' newfound religious tolerance only goes so far | Religious believers who cannot be converted from their conservative ways still find themselves denounced as theocrats when they defend traditional morality or take politically incorrect stands in the public square, even when they do not rely on sectarian appeals to do so (Colleen Carroll Campbell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

  • GOP's albatross of faith comes home to roost | At this point, it seems that the Christian right, which the Republican Party has both cultivated and come to depend on, turns out to be a liability (Stanley Crouch, New York Daily News)

  • Democrats shift approach on abortion | As lawmakers and candidates appeal to religious voters, their language and policy goals on the issue have a ring of conservatism (Los Angeles Times)

  • Of church and state | Religion now looms larger than economic class as a source of political division (William Schneider, National Journal, via The Atlantic)

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2008 candidates:

  • Abortion questions fail to dim Thompson's conservative luster | Instead of viewing him with suspicion, leading social conservatives are rallying around Thompson, citing his eight-year Senate record as proof of his commitment to fight abortion (The Washington Post)

  • Thompson gains among social conservatives | "There's a consensus developing around him that's pretty clear and pretty profound," said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, an Orlando-based conservative group. "I've never seen anything like it in 25 years in politics." (The Boston Globe)

  • Romney, Tancredo campaigns criticize Brownback | His campaign questioned their opposition to abortion in automated phone calls to voters (Associated Press, third item)

  • Brownback courts Iowa evangelicals | A group of Iowa evangelical ministers emerged from a Wednesday meeting with Sen. Sam Brownback saying they believed religious conservatives would rally behind the Kansas senator as their political crusader at next month's GOP straw poll in Ames (Cedar Rapids Gazette, Ia.)

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Torture & prisoner treatment:

  • A return to abuse | President Bush authorizes secret -- and harsh -- interrogation methods for the CIA (Editorial, The Washington Post)

  • Bush signs new CIA interrogation rules | The long-awaited order prohibits some widely protested techniques used on terror suspects, but gives the agency special leeway (Los Angeles Times)

  • Bush approves new CIA methods | Interrogations of detainees to resume (The Washington Post)

  • An evangelical call on torture and the U.S. | Four months after its release, it's not clear that an anti-torture statement endorsed by a group that represents 30 million evangelicals has had much effect (Peter Steinfels, The New York Times)

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  • Wartime victim makes heartfelt plea for redress | Korean woman visits the Southland to build support for a House resolution urging Japan to apologize for sexual slavery in World War II (Los Angeles Times)

  • Theocrats deny 'end times' theology is cause of their push for war with Iran | At the Christians United for Israel Summit, Joe Lieberman embraces the Christian nation, Jewish journalists get expelled, and attendees fret about the Iranian president's "12th Imam" (Alternet)

  • Reform the farm bill | The Bible does not say anything about commodity payments, but it is clear that laws should be fair and helpful to people in need. Bread for the World and many church groups consider this year's farm-bill debate a test of our nation's values (David Beckmann, The Washington Times)

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  • Update: Not guilty plea in slashing at church | A woman accused of repeatedly slashing a pastor's wife with a box cutter after following her into a church bathroom pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges Monday (The Record, Hackensack, N.J.)

  • Police: Ex-employee stole from church | Officials of St. Mary Magdalen say more than $600,000 is missing. The former worker admitted to stealing $18,000 (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Tearful apology from woman who stole from church | The Tonawanda woman who stole nearly half a million dollars from the parish where she worked was sentenced today to 6 months behind bars. Maureen Durrell offered a tearful apology before her sentencing (WGRZ, Buffalo, N.Y.)

  • Former secretary at St. Christopher to serve 6 months | She pleaded guilty to stealing $488,000 (Buffalo News, N.Y.)

  • Priest facing charges suspended | A 63-year-old Episcopal priest is being temporarily barred from his official duties while he faces charges including public indecency and drunken driving (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Intoxicated policeman found in church | A Leavenworth police officer is said to be off of suspension after he was found a couple of weeks ago trespassing inside a church while intoxicated, according to a department spokesman (Leavenworth Times, Kan.)

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  • Church expresses sadness at abuse claims | The Catholic Church has appealed to the community not to be judgmental of two Canberra colleges embroiled in student abuse scandals (ABC, Australia)

  • Pastor gets 9 months in abuse of girl | The devil did not make him do it, said a Yuba City pastor convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a 12-year-old girl (Appeal-Democrat, Yuba City, Ca.)

  • State, men settle priest abuse suit | The agreement resolves all legal claims against the Rev. Michael Sprauer (The Oregonian)

  • Bible-quoting man guilty, sentenced to 99 years | William Dean Resto repeatedly urged jurors Wednesday to acquit him of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at their church on Easter 2005, saying his truthful testimony and Jesus' forgiveness had freed him under God's law (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

  • Settlement does not erase the scars | Sexual abuse allegations against some priests are undermining the integrity of the Roman Catholic Church and the faith of millions of followers (Thomas Monnay, South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

  • Diocese bankruptcy: 153 people file abuse claims | The number is approximately double what the chairman of the creditor's committee expected (Quad-City Times, Davenport, Ia.)

  • Teen describes assault in church | Cloaked as Satan for an Easter play, a 21-year-old man fondled a teenage boy who was portraying one of Jesus' brothers as the two waited in a darkened church hallway for their scenes, the teenager testified Tuesday (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

  • Evangelist denies he abused young girls | Former civil servant Keith Gasson, 67, is alleged to have committed offences against two girls while he lived at Rhydypennau Road, Cardiff, in the 1980s (South Wales Echo)

  • Rape suspect's murder sentence cut twice | A convicted murderer who is accused of raping a 12-year-old girl at an Assembly of God church last weekend had his minimum sentence for murder reduced twice by the Hawai'i Paroling Authority, changes that allowed the convict to be paroled after serving less than 24 years (Honolulu Advertiser)

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McCormack going to prison:

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Roger Mahony and the L.A. abuse settlement:

  • Questions linger about L.A. cardinal | Critics question whether Mahony should have done more to rein in predatory priests in the nation's largest archdiocese (Associated Press)

  • The Teflon cardinal | Mahony's history, going back to his days as a seminarian, could help him weather the abuse scandal (David Rieff, Los Angeles Times)

  • A higher authority's views | God on Mahony (Al Martinez, Los Angeles Times)

  • The fear of God | Victims of sex abuse by Catholic clerics say prosecutors lack the guts to prosecute Mahony (Pasadena Weekly)

  • Penance: $660 million | The more troubling question continues to be how the church hierarchy — in St. Louis, Los Angeles and across the nation — could have allowed such abuse of children to happen (Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

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Religion reporter loses faith:

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  • Pope renews call to end all wars | Pope Benedict XVI called Sunday for an end to all wars, describing them as "useless slaughters" that bring hell to Earth (Associated Press)

  • Papal mystery: is Benedict downplaying Vatican II by decrees? | Observers view the recent decisions as an effort by Benedict to correct misunderstandings of Vatican II and its teachings -- an effort some say could undermine the council's legacy (Religion News Service)

  • Return of Latin mass sparks old vestment hunt | A decree this month by Pope Benedict allowing wider use of the old Latin mass has spawned a veritable cottage industry in helping Roman Catholic priests learn how to celebrate the centuries-old rite (Reuters)

  • A mystery, undomesticated | The bishops of Vatican II wanted to keep an open mind about the future of the church (Fran Reilly, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • Which religion is the right religion? | I respect those willing to say I'm wrong about God. At least they see what's at stake (Rod Dreher, The Dallas Morning News)

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  • Student sues over loss of scholarship | If West Virginia University student David Haws had chosen to go to school elsewhere, it's unlikely the ormon would have been forced to choose between his religion and his state-funded merit scholarship (Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.V.)

  • Spreading the Word | Georgetown University tries to define what is acceptable evangelism on campus, while its Protestant students explore the most effective ways for respectfully sharing their faith (The Washington Post)

  • UF letter: Christian frat's rights not violated | UF officials say the fraternity hasn't even fully completed the application process, nor has it even been rejected (The Gainesville Sun, Fla.)

  • School prayer in San Diego: New twist in old debate | Administrators meant well, but their solution to accommodating Muslim prayer during school hours is the wrong way to do the right thing (Charles C. Haynes, First Amendment Center)

  • Take a breath | Meditation in schools is not a religious practice that raises any church-state issues (Nick Street, Los Angeles Times)

  • McGuinty pounces on Tory's proposal | Funding of faith-based schools would `segregate' students, take money from system, premier says (The Toronto Star)

  • Court tosses out challenge to board prayers | A sharply divided 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans threw out on Wednesday a 2-year-old lower court decision that had blocked prayers from being said at Tangipahoa Parish School Board meetings (The Advocate, Baton Rouge, fla.)

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Media & entertainment:

  • Scholars at Calvin for Christian media discussion | A group of about 40 academics from across the country gathered last weekend at Calvin College to compose an authoritative text on evangelical media. But the book's tentative title already might be outdated by fast-changing technology and consumer tastes (USA Today)

  • With Evan Almighty, Hollywood strikes out again in effort to appeal to faith-based audience | The systemic problem remains that major Hollywood studios continue to refuse to learn a central lesson of The Passion: Films must be shown early, perhaps as early as six to nine months before their release, to key leaders in the faith community both for their input and their support (Mark Joseph, Fox News)

  • Oleta Adams, turning her gifts toward God | Adams, an adult contemporary singer who once sang backup for the '80s English pop group Tears for Fears, has recorded steadily since her 1990 debut, "Circle of One," but has never duplicated the commercial success of that work (The Washington Post)

  • Testing limits of faith | "Saving Grace" isn't a drama after all, so much as a religious allegory with some very broad strokes (The Boston Globe)

  • The guys who go with the 'D'oh!' | Humor Has Long Been Family Value No. 1 for Creators of 'The Simpsons' (The Washington Post)

  • He's found his calling: comedy | Playing Jesus, Philbin Bowman questions religion and politics (The Boston Globe)

  • Deadwood of God and man | With the DVD release of its third, and final, season, I'd like to suggest that HBO's Deadwood is the finest theological drama ever made for an otherwise dismal medium (David Lewis Stokes, The Providence Journal, R.I.)

  • Papal robes, and deference, fit O'Toole snugly | Six decades after his altar-boy childhood and subsequent loss of faith, Peter O'Toole portrays the 16th-century pope Paul III in Showtime's series "The Tudors" (The New York Times)

  • Preacher sues '20/20,' alleging defamation | The Rev. Frederick K.C. Price may have two Bentleys, but a spokesman for his 22,000-member church says his Palos Verdes house doesn't boast 25 rooms and he definitely doesn't own a helicopter (Los Angeles Times)

  • The play by play pastor | Original radio voice of Flames finds new calling (Calgary Herald)

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  • Conrad Black's brush with Wheaton | Why would Conrad Black, a stout and devout Catholic who insisted on having a cardinal baptize him when he converted from Anglicanism, choose to spend his first post-conviction weekend in the "evangelical Vatican" (Canadian Christianity)

  • Deaf seminarian has visual sense of religion | "Whenever I see the Blessed Sacrament at adoration, the Eucharist, I see Christ there. I use visual imagination [to see] how Christ suffered and died. There's a picture inside my brain, like a movie. That's my spirituality. That's how I communicate with God." (The Boston Globe)

  • Privette leaves Christian Action League | Former state legislator Coy Privette, a Cabarrus County commissioner and retired Baptist minister facing charges related to prostitution, resigned from the presidency of the Christian Action League on North Carolina Saturday, according to the group's executive director (The Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

  • Preacher John's last appearance | Veteran preacher John Stott has been making his final appearances to packed audiences at this year's Keswick Christian Convention (News & Star, U.K.)

  • Pastor to power: Billy Graham and the presidents | Charles Gibson to Anchor a Special Edition of "20/20" (20/20, ABC)

  • He learned how to take 'em at Hold'Em | The Christian social worker who won $8.25 million playing poker had been forbidden from playing as a child (Los Angeles Times)

  • Lesbian minister Jane Spahr retires | The Reverend Dr. Jane Adams Spahr retired last weekend from the Presbyterian ministry after more than 30 years of activism in the church (Bay Area Reporter, S.F.)

  • Archbishop of York: Exclusive interview | In a wide-ranging interview, John Sentamu expressed exasperation with aspects of the Government and the Church but also confidence in traditional British values of honesty and fairness (The Telegraph, London)

  • De Klerk cited in SAfrica apartheid case: paper | Former South African president F.W. de Klerk has been implicated by apartheid-era security officials charged with attempted murder for allegedly approving their actions, the Sunday Times weekly reported (Reuters)

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Tammy Faye:

  • Tammy Faye Messner | It's tempting to dismiss Tammy Faye Messner, who died last week, as nothing more than a vivid eccentric. But that wouldn't do justice to what she stood for (Editorial, The Dallas Morning News)

  • Tammy Faye Messner, gay icon | What does she have in common with Miss Piggy, Princess Di, and Madonna? (Slate)

  • Tammy Faye displayed the healing nature of faith | For all the flamboyance of her life, Tammy Faye's death was a study in the calmness of the faithful. (Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star)

  • Tammy Faye dies at 65 | Key figure in dramatic rise, fall of PTL reinvented herself during cancer fight (The Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

  • Tammy Faye tribute on way | Son uses Web site to discuss cremation held Saturday (The Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

  • Obituary: Tammy Faye Bakker Messner | Televangelist whose TV empire collapsed amid spectacular scandal (The Times, London)

  • Goodbye, Tammy Faye | Her joy of life and big heart are worth remembering (Editorial, Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

  • Evangelism and eye makeup | She blended camp with church, and created a durable pop icon. Remembering Tammy Faye Bakker (Tom Watson, Newsweek)

  • Tammy Faye Bakker, 65, emotive evangelist, dies | The elaborately coiffed gospel singer built a commercial empire around television evangelism with her first husband, Jim Bakker, only to see it collapse (The New York Times)

  • Tammy Faye Messner dies at 65 | Live one day at a time, without fear, Tammy Faye Messner said earlier this month as she battled cancer, weighing just 65 pounds (Associated Press)

  • Televangelist Tammy Fay Bakker Messner dies | In a "final note" posted on her Web site on Monday, Messner said: "I have times when I feel good and times when I feel really bad. But, I have learned one thing about feelings. They have nothing to do with faith in God!!" (Reuters)

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Harry Potter:

  • Harry's spell | It doesn't hurt that the Harry Potter books carry a strong moral message -- of bravery, honesty and loyalty, of the difference between good and evil and the need sometimes for difficult choices and painful sacrifices in the service of something bigger than oneself (Editorial, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Christians learn to make peace with Potter books | Many now say they see valuable lessons, parallels to Jesus in stories (The News Journal, Wilmington, Del.)

  • Harry Potter comes to a magical end | unlike the predecessors to whom she is invariably compared, Rowling is neither illuminating Christian myth (C.S. Lewis) nor confronting a post-trench-warfare world of industrial corruption (J.R.R. Tolkien). Instead she is sharing a more populist message: The real quest in life is that of personal transformation, and not even the Chosen One can go it alone (Los Angeles Times)

  • Who dies in Harry Potter? God | Harry Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He lives surrounded by ghosts but has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn't. (Lev Grossman, Time)

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  • Strong views of kirk's take on big picture | Over the years, Mike Greenlaw has become accustomed to courting controversy with his murals at St John's Scottish Episcopal Church (Edinburgh Evening News)

  • Fresco fragment revives Papal scandal | A fresco painting by a Renaissance master which once decorated the bedroom of Pope Alexander VI in the Vatican has gone on show in Rome. A leading Italian art historian and curator says he has documentary proof that it was once part of a much larger painting depicting the aged Pope kneeling in front of his youthful mistress, Giulia Farnese. (BBC)

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History & architecture:

  • Symbol in NYC building a history mystery | 3-foot-by-10-foot section of brick wall, has three distinct, deliberate-looking triangular shapes. City tax records show the onetime warehouse was built for William Colgate — the civic-minded, deeply Christian soap entrepreneur who founded what is now Colgate Palmolive Co. and helped establish the American Bible Society. (Associated Press)

  • L.A. -- the city of sectarian angels | It began as a Catholic enclave, rose to prominence under Protestant guidance and is now returning to its roots (Raphael J. Sonenshein, Los Angeles Times)

  • Historical delight | Long-lost Rowley church records found in a bank vault offer rare details of daily life for early Colonists (The Boston Globe)

  • The American leap of faith -- and ignorance | Americans have always been interested -- seriously, deeply interested -- in building heaven on earth (George H. Rosen, The Boston Globe)

  • Churches challenge Leaning Tower of Pisa | It is a row where every side has its own particular slant on the matter. After nine centuries of undisputed fame as the world's most lopsided building, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is facing challenges to its title from two crooked church towers (The Telegraph, London)

  • A boost for the Book of Jeremiah | By confirming the historical accuracy of a tiny detail, a two-inch clay tablet long in the possession of the British Museum has given ammunition to those who believe that the Bible — specifically, in this case, the book of the prophet Jeremiah — is history. That, at least, is what the believers are claiming (Time)

  • Church and State should help Europe grow | Recognising Christianity's role in Europe's history could save the European project and reinvigorate democracy for the new century (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, The Times, London)

  • Students help restore Shaker barn | Under careful guidance, they chisel out old mortar chip by chip, trowel in new stuff and figure out how to refortify the stone walls that were first laid in 1859 (Associated Press)

  • Analyst sees new images in 'Last Supper' | But some experts were skeptical, dismissing the claim as another spin-off of Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code (Associated Press)

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Third Temple:

  • Should Jews build the Third Temple? | Assuming there were no Dome of the Rock and no Muslim presence on the Temple Mount, no Wakf and no Aksa Mosque, the pressure to rebuild the Temple would be enormous - but would it, in historical terms, be sound? (The Jerusalem Post)

  • The rabbis gave up first | The High Court of Justice has repeatedly dismissed petitions submitted by Jews regarding the Temple Mount because it knows, among other things, that the Jewish desire to visit the Temple Mount is not widespread (Nadav Shragai, Haaretz, Tel Aviv)

  • Visit the Temple Mount! | On Tisha Be'av our hearts turn to the Temple Mount, the site of the First and Second Temples, whose destruction we mourn every year. Therefore, it behooves us to ask: Does Jewish law permit us to go up to the Temple Mount today? (The Jerusalem Post)

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  • New research sheds light on what works in charitable appeals | Scholars have found that fund-raising appeals do best when they are crafted around a single gripping image, informing donors about big gifts that their peers have contributed helps expand giving, and holding an athletic marathon — or even a walk over smoldering coals — might do more to encourage donations than a picnic or gala ball (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

  • How they made the nonprofit jump | One of the most common questions that readers ask is how they can get a job with a nonprofit group (Mary Ellen Slayter, The Washington Post)

  • Tax exempts owe $1 billion in taxes | The Government Accountability Office said charitable organizations made up more than 85 percent of the $1 billion in debt owed by some 55,000 tax-exempt groups as of Sept. 30, 2006 (Associated Press)

  • 31% of donations by individuals benefit the poor, study finds | Contributions to charities meeting basic human needs, such as food and shelter, totaled $19-billion, or just under 8 percent of all donations from individuals (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

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Missions & ministry:

  • Saving teen souls in Rio slums | "Do you think God likes seeing you die?" asked Pastor Dione dos Santos as he hugged each young man. "Do you think he enjoys burying his sheep?" (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Teen sex rates stop falling, data show | The long decline in sexual activity among U.S. teenagers, hailed as one of the nation's most important social and public health successes, appears to have stalled (The Washington Post)

  • Couple's challenges, joys of first year as pastors | Over the next year, NPR will follow the Bishops and several other young religious leaders, from a spectrum of faiths, as they begin ministering to an increasingly diverse population of Americans (Morning Edition, NPR)

  • Exodus - From pulpit to parliament | An unprecedented high number of clergymen and women are making a beeline for elective politics, particularly parliamentary (East African Standard, Kenya)

  • Church evangelizing with service, not sermons | Keller congregation working to do its part in Vietnam (The Dallas Morning News)

  • In face of human tragedy, what's a pastor to say? | To stem losses in church membership, spiritual leaders search for better ways to explain awful events such as 9/11 and the Virginia Tech massacre (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • 'It's the power of music' | Twelve trombones wail over the quick beat of snare drums and cymbals as dusk settles on Dupont Circle. The musicians point their brass instruments to the sky as they hit the high notes, praising God (The Washington Times)

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  • Hollywood is in their prayers | Maverick Christian ministry calls for people to pray for celebrities instead of boycotting their movies (The Orange County Register, Ca.)

  • Neo-Moravians | Members of the 24-7 Prayer Movement don't just pray; they work in the community, too. (The Kansas City Star)

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  • Archbishop warns Conservatives in Anglican row | Archbishop of York John Sentamu warned Anglican conservatives on Monday that boycotting a church summit next year means they will effectively expel themselves from the worldwide communion (Reuters)

  • Ex-clerics condemn Episcopal lawsuits | Four retired Episcopal bishops have issued a challenge to their own denomination, asking where church leaders are finding the funds to mount simultaneous lawsuits against fleeing conservative congregations (The Washington Times)

  • All Saints' pastor stays with congregation | The Rev. John Guernsey, rector of All Saints' Church in Dale City, will not leave his 850-member congregation when he assumes his new position as a bishop for the Anglican Church of Uganda this fall (Potomac News, Va.)

  • Conservative Anglicans threatening boycott of major meeting | A committee representing many conservative Anglican bishops overseas says its members won't attend a critical once-a-decade Anglican meeting next year unless the U.S. Episcopal Church is disciplined for ordaining an openly gay bishop (Associated Press)

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Church life:

  • Harsh words amid the hallelujahs | Nigerians relocate after tensions at a Brooklyn church (The New York Times)

  • There's no place like home, these Christians say | Small gatherings in believers' houses are attended by 1 in 11 U.S. adults, a survey finds. Compared with huge church services, it's 'like a conversation. It's somebody talking to you,' one devotee say (Los Angeles Times)

  • Bridge builders | Eight metro Detroiters are pledging their expertise to break down racial, religious and cultural barriers (Detroit Free Press)

  • Pastor breaks down stereotypes | Stephen Marsh's dreadlocks, brightly colored African-style garb and prominent gold bracelet of intertwining crosses might have pegged him as a Pentecostal preacher. But he's a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a denomination with roots in northern Europe (Detroit Free Press)

  • Storefront neighbors keeping the faith | Two storefront Christian churches and one storefront Islamic masjid sit side-by-side at the street level of a four-story brick apartment building. They're smack in the shadow of the stately steeple of St. John's, but, really, they are worlds away (Connecticut Post)

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  • Churchgoers decry pastor's attitude | Karolyn Caskey made it through services on Sunday without getting arrested, which has become something of a rarity at the church she's attended over a span of six decades (Battle Creek Enquirer, Mi.)

  • Woman jailed again after visiting church | But this time prosecutor may not be as generous after woman's second arrest for trespassing (The Hillsdale Daily News, Mi.)

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  • Passion for justice | The Rev. Jim Manship may not be a major player in the national battle over immigration policy, but he has received a good deal of exposure in Connecticut because of his leadership at a time of profound stress for a community (The Hartford Courant, Ct.)

  • Does the Bible support sanctuary? | To understand the role that scripture plays in debates over the New Sanctuary Movement, it helps to be familiar with an insider term: prooftexting — the cherry-picking of Biblical quotations out of context in order to claim scriptural authority for a particular proposition (Time)

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  • Same-sex salvation | Wayne Miller, the next Bishop of ELCA's Metropolitan Chicago Synod, is pushing for abolition of celibacy requirements for gay and lesbian clergy (Chicago Sun-Times)

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Life ethics:

  • Birth without the bother? | Some of the most monumental decisions we will face in the coming years will involve where we draw the line making some genetic tinkering legal and some illegal (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)

  • $21 million awarded for 'wrongful birth' | A Tampa jury awarded more than $21 million to a couple who claimed a doctor misdiagnosed a severe birth defect in their son, leading them to have a second child with similar problems (Associated Press)

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Taxicab 666:

  • Good heavens! Cabby stuck with 666 | For taxi driver Michael Byrne, San Francisco's mean streets have turned a lot meaner since he was cursed with a medallion number he insists has brought him nothing but bad luck. (Los Angeles Times)

  • Taxicab No. 666 may be cursed, but so it will stay | San Francisco's Taxicab Commission voted to keep the Dark Lord's favorite number — 666 — affixed to an allegedly cursed cab (The New York Times)

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  • Chips: high tech aids or tracking tools? | Some Christian critics see implants as the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy that describes an age of evil in which humans are forced to take the "Mark of the Beast" on their bodies, to buy or sell anything (Associated Press)

  • Corrections: That porn priest story | The article repeatedly "referred incorrectly" (The New York Times)

  • Giving evil the eye | Juries don't always know heinous crimes when they see them, but this might help (The Washington Post)

  • Seven deadly sins | How to commit them (without, you know, doing anything wrong) (The Washington Post)

  • The business of religion | It used to be that companies were in the business of selling products and churches were in the business of promoting faith. Today the line between religion and the marketplace is blurring (Voice of America)

  • Praying against Zion | The National Council of Churches is concerned someone out there loves Israel. (Mark D. Tooley, FrontPageMag.com)

  • Patriarch consecrates bells for Harvard | Patriarch Alexy II on Tuesday consecrated 18 newly cast brass bells destined for Harvard University in a trade that will see the originals returned to Russia nearly 80 years after they were saved from Josef Stalin's religious purges (Associated Press)

  • Also: Moscow's oldest monastery wins back bells from US (Reuters)

  • Ave Maria not just for Catholics | The builders of Ave Maria, whose name is Latin for Hail Mary, have been struggling to get the message out that anyone can live here ever since Monaghan's headline-grabbing comments in 2005, when the site was still just a sod farm (Associated Press)

  • Polish priest denies anti-Semite charges | A Polish Roman Catholic priest on Monday rejected accusations that he and the radio station he operates were anti-Semitic, while his church superiors voiced their support for the embattled clergyman (Associated Press)

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Special thanks to assistant online editor Susan Wunderink for organizing the news links today.

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