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The God Debates of '08

Plus: More tragedy for Iraq Christians, another blow to Iowa's faith-based prison program, America's new pilgrimage points, and other stories from online sources around the world.

Numerous e-mail messages and some other indications suggest that, while you readers really like the new CT Liveblog, you also miss the old CT Weblog. So Weblog is back. Still, I doubt that any of you were reading all the way through those Weblog postings that had hundreds upon hundreds of links. So we want to make this more helpful to you, and we're eager to hear what you like most about the CT Weblog, what you don't like, what you want more of, what you want less of, and what you use it for. Let us know either via e-mail or (better yet) in our comments section below.

Today's (give or take a few days) Top Five

1. Democratic and Republican presidential candidates quizzed on religious belief and practice

The May 3 Republican debate asked all the candidates whether they believe in evolution, asked the Mormon candidate whether Roman Catholic bishops should deny Communion to parishioners who support abortion rights, and asked the Baptist minister-turned-governor whether he thinks the Mormon governor governed Mormonly enough. You got the sense that the questioners knew they wanted to ask questions about religion, but had no idea how to do it.

The first and second Democratic debates avoided this problem by not asking any questions about the role of religion in public life. But Monday's Sojourners Presidential Forum had plenty—John Edwards was asked about creationism, whether this is a Christian nation, how he prays, and (in a question that solicited boos from the audience) to name the biggest sin he's ever committed. Barack Obama was asked whether God takes sides in the war on terror but got very few questions on his own personal spirituality. (This for the candidate who made headlines last year for another Sojourners speech on how his faith relates to public policy.) Hillary Clinton was asked (as you've probably read by now) how her faith got her through her husband's infidelity, and what she asks God for.

After the Sojourners forum, CNN continued the faith questions with different candidates. Joseph Biden was asked whether he blames God for the loss of his first wife and daughter in a tragic accident, whether he prays every day, whether he can forgive the 9/11 hijackers, whether God takes sides in the war on terror, and why people of faith tend to vote for Republicans. Bill Richardson got the prayer question and hot-button policy questions (gays and abortion). Christopher Dodd was asked if he feels pressure to wear his faith on his sleeve, whether he thinks that homosexuals are sinners, whether he takes Communion, and how he would feel if he were denied Communion over his abortion views. Dennis Kucinich was asked if killing is ever justified, how he thinks God views the Iraq war, whether he thinks personal faith has been overemphasized in the presidential campaign, and the standard Catholic-who-disagrees-with-church-teaching question that the other candidates got in some form or another.

Tuesday night, sensing that the evolution question wasn't probed deeply enough in the first Republican debate, candidates got another chance to answer. Rudy Giuliani got the Catholic disagreement question, Ron Paul was asked perhaps the most vague church-state question in history, and Romney was asked to respond to voters who don't want to vote for a Mormon.

There are 517 days left until Election Day.

2. A particularly bad week for Iraqi clergy and churches
One thing all the presidential candidates seem to agree on is that Iraq is a horrible, horrible mess. This week, no one knows that better than Iraq's Christians. AsiaNews.it, a Catholic news service, reports that Christians there "have the impression that they are all alone, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he felt abandoned by the Father." AsiaNews reports on Sunday's killing of Chaldean priest Ragheed Ganni and three deacons:

After celebrating Sunday Mass, Fr Ragheed and his three aides were leaving the parish by car, accompanied by the wife of one of the sub-deacons, Gassan Isam Bidawed. In recent days the three insisted on accompanying Fr Ragheed to protect him. "They were young men alive with faith, who accompanied their parish priests every move, risking their lives for their belief in Christ," their friends [said]. Suddenly, at the corner of the road, their car [was] blocked by unknown armed men militants who ordered the woman to distance herself from the others and then, in cold blood, shot the remaining passengers, repeatedly. The aggressors then booby-trapped the car with explosives, with the aim of further carnage should anyone go near the car to recover the bodies. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the bodies remained, abandoned on the city street, because no one dared to approach. It was only towards ten p.m. (local time) that security forces finally defused the explosives allowing corpses to be recovered.

Wednesday, another Chaldean priest, Hani Abdel Ahad, was abducted in Baghdad. Earlier in the week, militants attacked and occupied a Chaldean convent. And Shiites have now joined radical Sunnis in demanding that Christian women in Baghdad wear veils. News agencies also report that Muslim groups are demanding "that Christians pay the jizya, the poll tax demanded by the Koran which all Christians and Jews must pay in exchange for being allowed to live and practice their faith as well as being entitled to "Muslim protection' from outside aggression."

Assyrian International News Agency further reports that Christian women are being forced into marriages with Muslims. It quotes Assyrian Patriarch Mar Addai II as saying, "Only the families that agree to give a daughter or sister in marriage to a Muslim can remain, which means that the entire nuclear family will progressively become Muslim."

Again, that's the news just from this week. The plight of Iraq's Christians is scheduled to be Pope Benedict XVI's top agenda item when he meets with President Bush on Saturday.

3. Prison Fellowship's Iowa InnerChange program faces July 1 shutdown
Following last year's controversial court ruling, declaring the Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Newton, Iowa, prison unconstitutional, Iowa lawmakers have dropped its $310,000 state funding. Prison Fellowship says it is close to finalizing private funding for the program, but Americans United for Church and State (which sued over the program) and state lawmakers say that may not be enough. Private funding "does not address some of the issues the judge found unconstitutional, including the preferential treatment of prisoners in the program, the delegation of authority to a religious group, the exclusive use of certain prison property by this program," Americans United's Barry Lynn told the Des Moines Register. Prison Fellowship apparently differs, and has some backing from Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Democrat. McCarthy told the paper he has concerns about the program (he seems to be rather negative about it) but says it should be able to continue if it's privately funded.

4. The summer of Christian tourist destinations
The new Billy Graham Library had ex-presidents. The Creation Museum had media cameras and protesters. But they're not the only Christian tourism destinations in the news this week. In fact, the Creation Museum isn't even the only new creation museum! The Big Valley Creation Science Museum opened in rural Alberta Tuesday. At 900 square feet, it's only 1.5 percent as big as its Kentucky cousin. But if you're a seven-day creationist driving through Big Valley (pop. 400), you'll probably want to stop.

The creationist museums are sustaining a fair bit of mockery, but First Things is doing some mocking of its own—this time of Bible Park USA, planned for Rutherford County, Tennessee. "The Bible park isn't religious; that would be bad for business, because it would jeopardize the state subsidy … so the holy stories are presented as secular 'history' by costumed archeologists as its evangelists," Michael Linton explains. "It all makes my head spin."

But the biggest news comes from (where else?) Orlando, Florida, where The Holy Land Experience has just been brought under Trinity Broadcasting Network's control. "Four members of the [Paul] Crouch family, who founded and control Trinity, will join Holy Land's board of directors," Mark Pinsky reports for The Orlando Sentinel. "They replace seven of the eight previous members. Michael Powell, the current president and chief executive officer of Holy Land, will remain on the new board. Because Holy Land is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, there is no stock ownership. Thus, the park passes to the Crouches by virtue of their control of the board. Trinity also is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization."

Paul Crouch says he wants to use the property for television production studios, as well as a back lot for its movie productions. "I'd love to have an aqueduct," Crouch told the paper.

Pinsky shows why he's considered one of the country's top religion reporters with this background paragraph:

The arrangement announced Tuesday represents something of a theological turnaround for Holy Land. Its founder, the Rev. Marvin Rosenthal, was a Baptist convert from Judaism. At the time Holy Land opened, he said the park would not employ Christians from the Pentecostal tradition, even as hot-dog vendors. Trinity's roots are Pentecostal, growing out of the Crouches' involvement with the Assemblies of God denomination.

5. Can Westerners really help Africa?
Niall Ferguson is certainly not the first person to suggest that Africa's problems are intractable — or at least much larger than Western nations' ability to solve them. (See also Philip Caputo's novel Acts of Faith, for example). But his brief, stark op-ed in Monday's Los Angeles Times is required reading for any evangelical interested in the continent. You won't agree with many of his conclusions and assumptions—at least, I hope not—but I hope that some of the evangelical movement's top aid organizations and advocates for Africa can respond to them. Actually, Africa's problems aren't his main point; rather, it's that you can't eliminate poverty at the same time you're combating global climate change — which makes me even more eager to read responses from evangelical leaders.

Quote of the day
Right now the United States is in many ways a theocratic state, not dissimilar to some of the other religious states in the world where religion has a huge part to play in government."

— Frank McKenna, Canada's former ambassador to the United States. Former American diplomat David Jones, who served in Ottawa, had a great rebuttal in the Ottawa Citizen.

More articles

Democrats' faith forum | 2008 candidates | Giuliani | Politics | IRS investigations | Church & state | Malaysia | Indonesia | China | India | Iraq | Middle East | Islam | Sudan | Africa | Mungiki | Crime | Abuse | Kevorkian | Death & dying | AIDS | Life ethics (U.S.) | Life ethics (U.K.) | Adoption | Sex and marriage | Homosexuality | Anglicanism | Church life | Catholicism | Sydney's Archbishop Pell | Education | Iowa State tenure dispute | Iowa State football chaplain | Evolution and creation | Creation museums | Billy Graham Library | Other museums and tourist spots | History | Uganda Martyr's Day | Books | Atheism and theism | "Horizon" play | Entertainment and media | People | Mike Jones and New Life Church | Money and business | Missions and ministry | Spirituality | Tongues | Mormonism | Other stories of interest

Democrats' faith forum:

  • Edwards, Clinton and Obama describe journeys of faith | The three leading Democratic presidential hopefuls opened up at a televised forum about their faiths, the role of prayer in their lives and the ways religion informs their views on policy (The New York Times)

  • Democratic hopefuls call on the Almighty | An unusual trend is emerging in the 2008 presidential election campaign: Democrats seem happier talking about God than Republicans (Financial Times)

  • Top Democrats open up on faith | Democrats took the stage to discuss their views on religion, values and poverty. But the three front-runners for their party's 2008 nomination also fielded questions much more personal in nature about their sins and prayer habits (The Washington Times)

  • Leading Democrats try to woo religious voters | The three leading Democratic contenders for the White House tried to woo the "Religious Left" on Monday, fielding questions about their belief in a televised panel that highlighted the importance of religion to politics in America (Reuters)

  • Clinton: Faith got me past marital woes | In a rare public discussion of her husband's infidelity, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that she probably could not have gotten through her marital troubles without relying on her faith in God (Associated Press)

  • Top Democrats discuss faith | Clinton: It helped me survive infidelity (Chicago Tribune)

  • Faith factor: Dems discuss religion, values | Religious Dems no longer 'in the closet' says host of rare forum (ABC News)

  • Democratic presidential contenders tell of faith | The three leading Democratic presidential contenders — New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barak Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — sat down with liberal religious leaders Monday evening to talk about faith (Morning Edition, NPR)

  • US Democrats play religious card | As the race for the US White House gathers pace, Democrat candidates are taking a lead from Republicans on religion (The World Today, Australia)

  • The Democrats' leap of faith | You know it's a different kind of candidate forum when Hillary Clinton allows that she sometimes prays (no doubt, she says, to some divine eye-rolling) "Oh, Lord, why can't you help me lose weight?" and describes how "prayer warriors" sustained her through the public dissection of her husband's infidelity (Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post)

  • When the presidential hopefuls talk to God | As the Democratic contenders laid bare the details of their faith at a "religious left" forum last night, they showed how faith-based forces frame our politics (Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect)

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2008 candidates:

  • America's great faith divide | The current US presidential debates are almost certain to see the candidates asked to comment on spiritual issues, but some Americans are worried about the trend towards religiosity in public life (BBC)

  • Fired McCain campaign aides sound off | Two former aides hired to spearhead religious outreach for presidential candidate John McCain say that they were virtually ignored by the campaign and that McCain's top campaign strategists are intent on winning votes of religious voters without having to develop serious ties to faith communities (U.S. News & World Report)

  • Debate evolves into religious discussion | Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, defends biblical creation narrative; John McCain, an Episcopalian, says "the hand of God" made us what we are; Sam Brownback, a Catholic, says religion and reason are not at odds (CNN)

  • Politico Playbook: Invoking JFK | In last night's third Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney had the most durable answer -- a description of his faith that delighted both evangelicals and fellow Mormons (Politico.com)

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  • Rhode Island bishop condemns Giuliani's position on abortion | Rudolph W. Giuliani has come under fire from the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence, R.I., who has criticized his support of abortion rights (The New York Times)

  • Also: Bishop criticizes Giuliani on abortion | A Roman Catholic bishop is criticizing Rudy Giuliani, a Republican presidential candidate of the same faith, for statements on abortion that he labeled hypocritical (Associated Press)

  • Document: My R.S.V.P. to Rudy Giuliani | Rudy's public proclamations on abortion are pathetic and confusing. Even worse, they're hypocritical. (Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Rhode Island Catholic)

  • Electrical glitch worries Giuliani at debate | An electrical glitch at a debate of Republican presidential candidates had Rudy Giuliani joking on Tuesday that he was about to be struck by lightning for differing with a Catholic bishop (Reuters)

  • Giuliani sidesteps questions of faith | Candidate's statement that his relationship with God is private matter could hurt standing among conservative Republicans, experts say (Newsday)

  • The Giuliani-driven Christians | Prioritizing foreign policy over cultural concerns, evangelicals testify for America's liberal mayor (The American Conservative)

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  • Also: The unfriendly theocracy | The separation of church and state is alive and well in the U.S., contrary to widespread anti-American opinion (David Jones, Ottawa Citizen)

  • Catholics to lobby voters | A group of concerned Catholics will put it to Christian voters in marginal seats that the Federal Government no longer supports a fair workplace (The Sydney Morning Herald)

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IRS investigations:

  • More than 350 charities examined by IRS for partisan activity during 2006 election | Many of the IRS's investigations against the suspected organizations remain open, but an interim report released today by the agency offers an early glimpse into how it is attempting to crack down on electioneering by nonprofit groups in the wake of controversy surrounding such activities during the 2004 campaign (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

  • Separation of church and state and tax exemptions | Florida evangelist Bill Keller says he was making a spiritual -- not political -- statement when he warned the 2.4 million subscribers to his Internet prayer ministry that "if you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!" (The Washington Post)

  • IRS questions church's activities | Pastor Mark Holick of Spirit One Christian Center, said the IRS sent him a letter last month asking him to respond to questions about political activities at the church (The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)

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Church & state:

  • Religious prison program in doubt | State halts new money for Newton inmate plan (Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  • Va. inmate can challenge denial of Thor's Hammer | Virginia officials may have violated the constitutional and statutory rights of an inmate when they denied him access to "Thor's Hammer" — a religious pendant of central significance for his Asatru faith — a federal judge recently ruled (First Amendment Center)

  • Their will hasn't been done | Lawmakers irked that monument remains off grounds (Associated Press)

  • Also: Keep Commandments off lawn | It seems every year or so some government body goes out of its way to try to impose a brand of religion on everybody by insisting that the Ten Commandments be displayed on public property (Editorial, The Cincinnati Enquirer)

  • Archbishop attacks assembly power | The Archbishop of Wales has criticised new law-making powers which are coming into force in the third Welsh Assembly Government (BBC)

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  • Malaysia top court doesn't honor Muslim's conversion | Malaysia's highest court refused to recognize the conversion of a Muslim-born woman to Christianity, ruling that the matter was beyond the jurisdiction of the country's civil courts (The New York Times)

  • Is religious conversion a crime? | The Federal Court's ruling on the Joy case undermines Malaysia's claim of tolerance (Time)

  • Malaysia's sad retreat | Malaysia's image as a tolerant Muslim nation that treats its religious minorities fairly was dealt a blow last week when the nation's highest court refused to recognize the conversion of a Muslim-born woman to Christianity (Editorial, The Toronto Star)

  • Malaysia's multicultural missteps | What the Lina Joy verdict reveals (Haroon Siddiqui, The Toronto Star)

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  • Another Christian church attacked in Bandung | After yet another attack against a Christian church this week in Bandung, West Java -- UK human rights movement Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW) research showing West Java is the launching pad for Indonesia's anti-Christian movement has once again been confirmed (The Jakarta Post, Indonesia)

  • Also: West Java: another Christian church attacked | Shouting 'Allah u Akbar', a group of men storm a church Sunday in Bandung in West Java (AsiaNews)

  • Hardline Muslims attack Indonesia Christians –teacher | Around 100 Muslim hardliners barged into a Christian reverend's house in Indonesia's Java island, beating his wife and a teenager during Sunday school, a teacher said (Reuters)

  • Right on cue, Bible-based ordinances appear | Local politicians in the West Papuan capital are working on an ordinance based on the Bible, braving protests and objections from all quarters, including the highest church authorities in Jakarta (Pandaya, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia)

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  • Keeping faith | Jin Luxian's 50-year struggle to keep Catholicism alive in China, balance Rome and Beijing, and build a Church for "100 million Catholics" (The Atlantic)

  • A church for China | Adam Minter, author of "Keeping Faith," discusses his article about Bishop Jin Luxian, the future of Catholicism in China, and life as a writer in Shanghai (The Atlantic)

  • The cross and the star | Articles from The Atlantic's archives illuminate the history of China's complex relationship with Christianity (The Atlantic)

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  • Group eyes lower India caste system spot | For a week, angry throngs from one of India's lower castes blocked roads with burning barricades, stoned police and clashed with rival castes to make a single, simple point: They want to be even lower (Associated Press)

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  • A Chaldean priest and three deacons killed in Mosul | Fr Ragheed Ganni, 34, was hit by gunfire in front of the Church of the Holy Spirit. Three deacons, who served as his aides, were also killed (AsiaNews)

  • Two Assyrian churches looted in Baghdad | An Iraqi government employee familiar with the situation, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being killed, told AINA that today St. Jacob Church Near the Asia Neighborhood (Hay Asya) in Dora was attacked and the Christian guards killed, the church was looted and will be turned into a mosque (AINA)

  • Pope condemns killing of priest in Iraq | Gunmen murdered a Catholic priest and three assistants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Pope Benedict condemned as a "senseless killing" (Reuters)

  • Pope to discuss Iraq with Bush | Pope Benedict XVI plans to discuss Iraq and the plight of Christians in that war-torn country when he meets for the first time with President Bush this week, the Vatican No. 2 said in an interview published Sunday (Associated Press)

  • Also: Bush to meet Pope for first time | While the pope is likely to express views at least obliquely critical of U.S. foreign policy, the meeting offers an unpopular president the chance to identify himself with the prestige of the Catholic Church and to highlight some of the more successful and popular aspects of his own record (Religion News Service)

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Middle East:

  • Pastor speaks on church rejection | "Freedom of religion in Kuwait is absolute and it's stated in our constitution. We are happy that we can practice our religion freely and we enjoy the support of the government," Reverend Pastor Emmanuel Ghareeb, a Kuwaiti pastor and a titular head of the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait told Kuwait Times yesterday on the issue on the alleged refusal of the Kuwaiti government to grant a permit to build a new church for Catholics in Hawally (Kuwait Times)

  • Coptic Christian fights deportation to Egypt, fearing torture | An Egyptian who was permitted to stay in the United States because of the threat of torture back home is fighting deportation on a murder charge in Egypt (The New York Times)

  • Bomb explodes in east Beirut, seven wounded | A bomb exploded next to an empty bus in a Christian suburb in east Beirut on Monday, lightly wounding seven people, a military source said (Reuters)

  • Jerusalem: Struggle for the heart of a holy city | A three-part series looking at Jerusalem 40 years after the 1967 war (Los Angeles Times)

  • Muttawa quizzed over man's death | Five members of the religious police have been arrested in Saudi Arabia and accused of being responsible for the death of a man in their custody, police said yesterday. Saudi press reports also said yesterday an investigation had been launched in the eastern Makkah region into how an Asian woman fell from the fourth floor of a building that was stormed by religious police last week (Gulf Times, Qatar)

  • A faith in dialogue | An interview with a participant in the recent delegation of American Christian leaders who visited Iran -- and met with Ahmadinejad (The American Prospect)

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Blair calls on moderates to reclaim the public debate over Islam | The Prime Minister, who has said he will take a special interest in interfaith affairs when he leaves office, said the true meaning of Islam had been hijacked by extremists (The New York Times)

A growing demand for the rare American imam | Some Muslim congregations are seeking native imams who can discuss issues that seem relevant to young people (The New York Times)

Britain to fund Muslim studies programs | Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Monday $2 million in funding to back Islamic studies at British universities as he urged the public to listen to the religion's moderate scholars rather than to its radicals (Associated Press)

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  • Saving Darfur, multiple steps at a time | Coalition's lobbying blitz is credited with spurring Bush's Sudan sanctions (The Washington Post)

  • Darfur advocacy group undergoes a shake-up | Even as advocacy groups attained the seeming triumph of President Bush's new sanctions against Sudan, the organization that helped bring the conflict in Darfur to the world's attention is in upheaval, firing its executive director, reorganizing its board and rethinking its strategies (The New York Times)

  • Bush's action on Sudan may fall short | New sanctions imposed over the bloodshed in Darfur are unlikely to have much effect, observers say (Los Angeles Times)

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  • Akinola counsels Obasanjo on life after Aso Rock | Primate of the Church of Nigeria , Most Revd Peter Akinola yesterday told former President Olusegun Obasanjo to dedicate his life to the service of his poor neighbors and to seek reconciliation with the people he had deliberately antagonized (Vanguard, Nigeria)

  • Also: Obasanjo should seek forgiveness, says Akinola | The Primate of Anglican Communion of Nigeria , Most Rev. Peter Jasper Akinola has advised the Ex-President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to shun unholy economic pursuit and other political exigencies but seek for forgiveness of sins (This Day, Nigeria)

  • Africa fooled us again | Generations of Western reformers have tried, and failed, to solve Africa's problems (Niall Ferguson, Los Angeles Times)

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Kenya's war on Mungiki cult:

  • Kenyan police feel heat after gang killings | Kenyan police faced protests on Wednesday after killing 22 people in a slum that is a stronghold of the Mungiki criminal gang whom the government branded "agents of the devil" for a string of grisly slayings (Reuters)

  • Church leaders condemn killing of 22 suspects | Religious leaders reacted angrily to the killing of 22 suspected Mungiki members and accused the Government of resorting to anarchy. (The Nation, Kenya)

  • Experts tell State to change tact in crime war | Sociologists have warned that the hunt for the Mungiki terror gang in the city's slums might "explode" into a catastrophe (The East African Standard, Kenya)

  • It's bloodbath as police strike back at Mungiki | The lives of 33 people were cruelly snuffed out in a single night, 27 of them killed by police battling Mungiki suspects in a swoop triggered by the murder of two security officers on patrol in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi (The East African Standard, Kenya)

  • Also: 27 killed in police revenge (The East African Standard, Kenya)

  • Outlawed sect beheads two more in Kenya | Members of Kenya's outlawed Mungiki gang beheaded two more people on Saturday, local media said, a day after the president vowed to crack down on those behind a wave of violence in the volatile run-up to elections (Reuters)

  • 2,464 sect suspects arrested in Kenya | Police have arrested 2,464 suspected followers of an outlawed religious sect whose members are believed to have beheaded several people in recent months, the government spokesman said Thursday (Associated Press)

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  • Winkler seeks new trial | Minister's wife also awaits decision on appeals court motion about her children (The Jackson Sun, Tenn.)

  • Also: Preacher's wife wants new trial | A minister's wife convicted of killing her husband will ask for a new trial when she returns to court for sentencing on Friday, a defense lawyer said Tuesday (Associated Press)

  • Angelika church poised to reopen | The church where the body of murdered Polish student Angelika Kluk was discovered is to reopen to worshippers (BBC)

  • Bomb set off at door of church | Two teenage boys were charged with setting off what police called a highly unstable and potentially deadly homemade soda acid bomb at the door of a Pentecostal church during religious services as part of a series of pranks on Sunday. (Bangor Daily News, Me.)

  • Pastor under scrutiny as police look for funds | The Rev. Tyrone D. Edwards, pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist, and the members were locked out after seven deacons had the locks changed on the doors. The deacons say they canceled Sunday's services in the wake of the investigation. (Opelika-Auburn News, Ala.)

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  • Texas Baptists cracking down on clergy sex abuse | Group publishes list of convicted workers, makes reporting easier (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Bankruptcy judge lifts stay on lawsuit against ministry | A bankruptcy court judge has lifted a stay that temporarily stopped civil litigation against the Rev. Sherman Clifton Allen, a minister accused of paddling and sexually abusing women (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

  • Pastor sentenced | David Troup was arrested in October for sexually abusing three boys under the age of 13 in 2005 and 2006 at the Borden Baptist church in Woodhull where he was a pastor. One boy was 12 years old at the time and the other two were 10 (WETM, Elmira, N.Y.)

  • Evidence shows Sinton kids as victims of child pornography | A San Patricio County Baptist youth minister was arrested over the weekend for alleged possession of child pornography (KRIS, Corpus Christi, Tex.)

  • Woman tells court about sexual relationship with pastor | Pastor Michael Peters began a sexually explicit relationship on the Internet with a 17-year-old girl that led to sexual encounters when she babysat at his home for his three children, the girl told a Denver jury today (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Naperville church savors end of suit against priest | Parishioners at a Roman Catholic church in Naperville are celebrating this week after hearing that a sexual abuse lawsuit against their pastor has been dismissed (Chicago Tribune)

  • Mexican cardinal faces grilling on priest abuse | Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Mexico's most senior Roman Catholic clergyman, will be questioned by lawyers and may have to appear in a U.S. court over accusations he protected a priest wanted for sexually abusing children, Rivera's spokesman said on Tuesday (Reuters)

  • Woman hopes Supreme Court allows her to sue Catholic Church | A Cincinnati woman will ask the Ohio Supreme Court today for the right to sue the Catholic Church, which she claims pressured her to put her baby up for adoption to protect the priest who got her pregnant (The Cincinnati Enquirer)

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  • Kevorkian speaks after his release from prison | In an interview, Jack Kevorkian says he will no longer advise terminally ill people how to die. But he still combatively advocates physician-assisted suicide (The New York Times)

  • Suicide doctor paroled after 8 years | Jack Kevorkian says he will no longer help patients to die but will work to change laws (Los Angeles Times)

  • Where is compassion in Kevorkian news? | Maybe if we heralded daily instances of showing true compassion and pursuing life with dignity, we would not be facing the grave specter of state-sponsored suicides (Jonathan Imbody, USA Today)

  • Dr. Death rides again | Jack Kevorkian's movement has done better -without him (Rita L. Marker & Wesley J. Smith, The Weekly Standard)

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Death & dying:

  • 'Rejoice always': a lesson in dying | Fuller Seminary's David Scholer, an internationally renowned New Testament scholar, keeps up a global ministry through hundreds of e-mails, letters and cards each day. He remains one of the most popular professors on campus (Los Angeles Times)

  • So they don't die alone | Some dying patients have neither friends nor family. Increasingly, volunteers are filling in (Los Angeles Times)

  • Bodies to be stacked double in old graves | Graves are to be reopened to allow bodies to be stacked one on top of another in a controversial move announced by the Government yesterday (The Telegraph, London)

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  • Bush requests $30 billion to fight AIDS | The near doubling of financing is part of an effort to burnish the president's humanitarian credentials (The New York Times)

  • Playing to the crowd: a real plan for AIDS | Leaders of the Group of 8 nations ought to follow President Bush's lead and raise their contributions to the vital global campaign against AIDS (Editorial, The New York Times)

  • This is compassion | Thanks to President Bush, the U.S. has emerged as the global leader in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS (Editorial, National Review)

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Life ethics (U.S.):

  • State's ban on some abortions is struck down | A Michigan law enacted after a petition drive in 2004 to ban some late-term abortions was declared unconstitutional Monday by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the latest in a series of confusing court decisions on the issue (Detroit Free Press)

  • Also: Appeals court rejects Mich. abortion law | A federal appeals court Monday rejected Michigan's attempt to ban a procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion, ruling the law unconstitutional because it could also prohibit other abortion procedures (Associated Press)

  • Panel okays aid for family planning groups | International family planning groups cut off from aid because of their position on abortion could gain access to U.S.-donated contraceptives under legislation approved by a House panel Tuesday (Associated Press)

  • Ohio drawn into executioner ID debate | Death penalty opponents say Christopher Newton's May 24 lethal injection was the latest in a series of botched executions nationwide, and that executioners' identities and professional credentials should be open to public scrutiny (Associated Press)

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Life ethics (U.K.):

  • Welsh prelate joins abortion row | Catholic MPs who vote in favour of abortion should not put themselves forward for communion, the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff has said (BBC)

  • The man who wants to lead a sensible debate on abortion | Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who described abortion as an "unspeakable crime" and controversially compared it with the massacre of schoolchildren in Dunblane 12 years ago (The Independent, London)

  • Abortion 'is a conscience issue' | Politicians should be free to form their own opinion on abortion - even if Church leaders tell them otherwise, Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly says (BBC)

  • MP calls for abortion counseling | A new bid to alter current abortion laws is to be made in Parliament - the third such attempt in eight months (BBC)

  • Update: Bid to change abortion law fails | An MP's bid to introduce compulsory abortion counselling and a week-long "cooling off" period has been defeated (BBC)

  • Church is trying to impose its will through back door | Do the cardinals and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church realise what a hornets' nest they are stirring up when they say that Roman Catholic MPs should follow the church's teaching when voting on abortion? They are messing with the democratic process - and Roman Catholic MPs could pay the price (Colette Douglas Home, The Herald, Glasgow)

  • Cardinals, back off from this war with women and state | The turbulence created by the Catholic church's revival of anti-abortion polemics cannot do it any good. That time is gone (Jackie Ashley, The Guardian, London)

  • Poison from the pulpit | When a cardinal threatens to withhold a God-given sacrament from politicians who fail to toe the line, it is surely time for us to voice our disapproval (Dani Garavelli, Scotland on Sunday)

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Sex and marriage:

  • Sex, with consequences | Why is it that in books, movies and on stage, jumping into bed is now fraught with danger? (The New York Times)

  • Porn in the mainstream | Industry has made inroads into everyday life (Los Angeles Daily News)

  • Model Gisele slams church and asks "who's a virgin?" | Supermodel Gisele Bundchen stepped into the debate over birth control and sexual behaviour in Brazil on Tuesday, saying Church opposition to condom use was ridiculous and women should have the right to choose on abortion (Reuters)

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  • Members vote in favour of 'gays' | The Presbyterian General Assembly has accepted by a decisive majority a set of new guidelines for the pastoral care of members with "same-sex attractions" (The Belfast Telegraph)

  • Also: Church wants to 'understand gays' | The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has voted to adopt a new policy on homosexuals at its general assembly. It does not change the church's theological stance - that homosexuality is wrong - but urges more understanding for gay parishioners in pastoral care (BBC)

  • To congregants, probe seems as shady as where church meets | Elders say the local church on Ridgewood Avenue is in a "state of reconciliation" to cool tempers and allow for an investigation of its pastor. To members of this gay-friendly denomination, the suspension is painfully ironic. (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

  • Gay group attacks Holsinger paper | 1991 church report by President Bush's nominee for U.S. surgeon general argued male sex unhealthy, unnatural (Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.)

  • New Hampshire adopts same-sex unions | Civil unions for same-sex couples in New Hampshire will be legal starting in January under a bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. John Lynch (The New York Times)

  • Both sides gird for forthcoming same-sex marriage ruling | Advocates for same-sex marriage are preparing for a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals that could come any day, with big consequences (The Washington Post)

  • Manhattan: Economic benefits of same-sex marriage | Legalizing gay marriage would bring New York City $142 million in economic benefits over the first three years, according to an economic analysis released yesterday (The New York Times)

  • After civil unions … polygamy? | Now that New Hampshire has joined a few other states in legalizing same-sex unions, some say the next battlefront over exchanging vows will be along religious lines (Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.)

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  • Church to impose 'rule book' of beliefs | Church of England bishops have drawn up plans for a "rule book" of beliefs that would expel liberals who refuse to abide by it (The Telegraph, London)

  • God's plan | Episcopal pastor extends pursuit of bishophood (Bakersfield Californian)

  • Church can't decide | Gay unions stump Anglicans (Canadian Press)

  • Anglican Diocese of B.C. reps favour same-sex blessing | The majority of the Anglican Diocese of B.C. representatives are in favour of the church blessing same-sex marriages, and have urged their delegates to the national conference that will decide the issue to approve the controversial topic which is splitting the church (CanWest News Service)

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Church life:

  • Is this ever OK? | Gaston pastor says 'blackface' performance at church event wasn't racist (Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.)

  • Also: Church skit stirs up racial controversy | Black leaders in Gastonia are coming together to discuss a skit at a church they said is "inconsiderate." (News14, Charlotte, N.C.)

  • 2 very different Seattle churches decide to unite | Only a parking lot separates Interbay Covenant Church and Quest Church, but the neighboring Seattle congregations hardly seem alike on the surface (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

  • Southern Baptists aim to fill more seats | When Southern Baptists meet June 12-13 in San Antonio, the focus will be on prayer for revival. But officials continue to hope for the same result: new energy that will reverse declining baptism rates and barely lukewarm increases in church membership (Religion News Service)

  • Adrian Rogers' son to be tapped for high spot at Southern Baptist Convention | David Rogers, a missionary and son of the late Rev. Adrian Rogers, will be nominated as first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention during that group's annual meeting June 12-13 in San Antonio (The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.)

  • Sex and property - signs of the times for Church | The Presbyterian Church faces new challenges as it meets for its General Assembly this week (Alf McCreary, The Belfast Telegraph

  • A downtown church to the down and out | Rev. Alan Edwards says the increasing number of homeless people needing services is straining the capacity of his Sandy Hill church, St. Paul's Eastern United, and the tolerance of area residents (The Ottawa Citizen)

  • Congregating to heal | Service at First Presbyterian first since Moscow shootings (Spokesman Review, Spokane, Wa.)

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  • Pope recognizes Austrian beheaded by Nazis | Pope Benedict XVI approved recognition of martyrdom for an Austrian who was beheaded by the Nazis for refusing to serve in Hitler's army, a step toward possible sainthood (Associated Press)

  • Man tries to jump into popemobile | A man tried to jump into Pope Benedict XVI's uncovered popemobile as the pontiff began his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square and was wrestled to the ground by security officers (Associated Press)

  • Gibsons' Latin-rite church in Unity ousts priest | An attempt by actor and director Mel Gibson to establish a church that would celebrate the Mass in Latin and attract similar believers outside mainstream Catholicism apparently has failed (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

  • Diocese may close up to 48 churches | Cleveland faces greatest loss with as many as 25 closings (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)

  • By hook or by crook | A resurgent Vatican's influence in Italy (The Economist)

  • Walking the church-state line | Tony Mauro interviews Mark Chopko, who is leaving as the general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to go into private practice (Legal Times)

  • Answering the call to full communion | An interview with Dr. Francis Beckwith (Ignatius Insight)

  • The Pope's language lesson | Pope Benedict XVI's decision to expand permission to use the pre-1960s Latin Mass will be hyped beyond all recognition, because doing so serves the purposes of both conservatives and liberals (John L. Allen Jr., The New York Times)

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Sydney's Archbishop Pell:

  • Vote against cloning, or else, Pell warns | Cardinal George Pell has warned Catholic politicians they face "consequences" in the life of the church should they vote for an "immoral" bill before the NSW Parliament to expand stem cell research (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Also: Pell 'risks comparison with sheik' | A NSW Labor frontbencher says Catholic Archbishop George Pell should apologise for his warnings to Catholic MPs or risk being compared to the controversial Muslim leader, Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Also: Catholic MPs to defy Pell over bill | TWO of the state's highest-profile practising Catholics, the Premier, Morris Iemma, and his deputy, John Watkins, will defy the church's warnings that they face "consequences" in their religious lives to support a bill to expand stem cell research in NSW (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Pell plans fidelity oath for principals | The Catholic archdiocese of Sydney wants its 167 school principals, its deputy principals and religious education co-ordinators to publicly commit to a "vow of fidelity" by adhering to church teaching on homosexuality, birth control and women's ordination (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Also: School leader oath 'not discriminatory' | Requiring Sydney's Catholic school leaders to take an oath of fidelity to adhere to church teachings on homosexuality, birth control and women's ordination is not discriminatory, the NSW/ACT Independent Education Union says (AAP, Australia)

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Iowa State tenure dispute:

  • ISU president upholds denial of tenure | Guillermo Gonzalez's advocacy of intelligent design did not factor into the decision, Gregory Geoffroy says (Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  • Tenure denial a clash of science, religion? | Academic freedom evaporates for faculty who support religion (David Klinghoffer, Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  • Rights are intact: Vote turns on question, 'What is science?' | The denial of tenure of an Iowa State University assistant professor who has studied the concept of intelligent design and has expressed his belief in it has stirred controversy about academic freedom and freedom of speech. His tenure denial violates neither of those principles (John Hauptman, Des Moines Register, Ia.)

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Iowa State football chaplain:

  • ISU chaplain plan faces opposition | More than 100 faculty members at Iowa State have signed a petition opposing football coach Gene Chizik's plan to make a chaplain an official member of the team staff (Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  • Chaplain issue at ISU sparks many questions | Debate over a proposed Iowa State University football chaplain and an evangelical Christian-based prison inmate rehabilitation program in Iowa should focus on how each operates - not simply whether they should exist (Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  • Read the faculty petition and see who signed it | Following is the text from a petition submitted by ISU faculty about athletic program chaplains. Names on the petition are of those who had signed as of Thursday afternoon, May 31 (Des Moines Register, Ia.)

  • Blythe, Meyer: A chaplain useful | Iowa State football players Todd Blythe and Bret Meyer said Wednesday night that a chaplain can be a valuable resource for players (Des Moines Register, Ia.)

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Evolution and creation:

  • Biblical battle of creation groups | An unholy war has erupted between a star of the US evangelical movement and his Australian flock, with claims of bullying and unbiblical behaviour (The Australian)

  • Evolution giveth … | If religious belief is innate then not even the reasoned arguments of antitheists like Richard Dawkins can succeed in talking us out of it (Zia Haider Rahman, The Guardian, London)

  • Has religion helped the human species survive? | Researcher explores the evolutionary origins of belief (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

  • Evolution vs. Intelligent Design | Chesterfield School Board takes up debate on different theories of life (Chesterfield Observer, Va.)

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Creation museums:

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Billy Graham Library:

  • Billy Graham: "A spiritual gift to all" | Graham was hardly the first preacher to have a White House pass; but he was the first to have one in 11 consecutive administrations, Democratic and Republican, led by men very different from each other who all somehow felt the need to have him by their side (Time)

  • Nixon's $5 check | What's the story behind the $5 check from Richard Nixon on display in the new Billy Graham Museum in Charlotte, N.C.? (Los Angeles Times, last item)

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Other museums and tourist spots:

  • Holy Land's debts erased in Christian network deal | Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world's largest Christian television system, has come to the rescue of the financially troubled Holy Land Experience, a Bible-based tourist attraction near Universal Orlando (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Nature museums nearly relics themselves | The great American natural history museum could be headed for the vulnerable species list, alongside the polar bear and the redwood tree (Los Angeles Times)

  • Rare scroll fragment to be unveiled | A rare Torah scroll fragment from the Book of Exodus dating back to the 7th century that includes the famous Song of the Sea will be unveiled Tuesday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the museum announced Monday (The Jerusalem Post)

  • Also: Israel Museum displays rare manuscript | A rare Old Testament manuscript some 1,300 years old is finally on display for the first time, after making its way from a secret room in a Cairo synagogue to the hands of an American collector (Associated Press)

  • Bible Park U.S.A. | But not a religious one (Michael Linton, First Things)

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Uganda Martyr's Day:

  • Violence sometimes necessary, Gen. Museveni tells Christians | President Yoweri Museveni yesterday said violence is necessary in handling some situations. He told thousands of pilgrims at Namugongo Catholic Martyrs Shrine, during the Martyrs day celebrations, that violence is inevitable since "it's written even in the Bible." (The Monitor, Uganda)

  • Martyrs - heroes or traitors? | Differing standpoints are largely dictated by a person's tribe, religious and traditional beliefs (Raphael Okello, New Vision, Uganda)

  • Martyrs' Day - Not just a fete | Martyrs Day is more than a national holiday, or the opportunity to feel proud of being Ugandan. It is the commemoration of an act of extreme heroism, when this small crowd of young men gave nothing less than their lives for what they considered right. But they could not have done this, in the first place, if they had not lived their faith seriously (Martyn Drakard, New Vision, Uganda)

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Atheism and theism:

  • Books' prey: Ol'-time religion | They may not agree with "In God We Trust," but they don't object to the money. A spate of books extolling the virtues of atheism has been hitting store shelves recently, creating a lucrative niche of anti-religious titles (Boston Herald)

  • The bogeyman of 'radical secularism' | How can we face a threat from "radical secularism" in a country where 96 percent of the citizenry believes in God? (Carol Towarnicky, Philly Daily News)

  • Atheism is pretentious and cowardly | God knocking is on the increase but the criticisms leveled at religion by militant atheists are often crude and short-sighted (Theo Hobson, The Guardian, London)

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"Horizon" play:

  • The eternal vaudeville of the spiritual mind | Even the fiercest secularist should find pleasure in Rinde Eckert's engaging performance piece about Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential American theologian (The New York Times)

  • Also: Losing, and finding, his religion | Who ultimately decides what it's all about? This question, central to every faith and creed, gets a workout in "Horizon," the latest entry in unclassifiable exegesis by performance artist Rinde Eckert (New York Sun)

  • Also: An allegorical tale beyond belief | Writer, composer and performer Rinde Eckert is one of those rare artists able to make an 85-minute show seem at least three hours long (The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.)

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Entertainment and media:

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Mike Jones and New Life Church:

  • New Life reacts to Mike Jones book | Rob Brendle says he doesn't think the new book will affect members of his congregation at all (KKTV, Colorado Springs)

  • Also: Mike Jones discusses book, Haggard (KKTV)

  • City turns its back on tell-all book tour | Conspicuously missing from Mike Jones's book tour itinerary: Colorado Springs, home to the megachurch Haggard built and several other evangelical organizations (Colorado Springs Gazette)

  • The whistle-blower | The escort who brought down the Rev. Ted Haggard talks about why he wrote a book about it, why the gay community is still divided on his having done it and the joys of Sea World (The New York Times Magazine)

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Money and business:

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Missions and ministry:

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  • Breaking free of suburbia's stranglehold | Families simplify lifestyles in quest for meaning that constant hustle obscured (The Washington Post)

  • Begging to differ | Imagine begging every day, sometimes for six or seven hours straight, sometimes longer. It would have to be an awful existence, wouldn't it? On the contrary, says Sister Marie Sophie Bax de Keating, a begging nun with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Northeast. It's a privilege, she says. (The Washington Times)

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  • 'Prayer language' belief defies ban | Fifty percent of Southern Baptist pastors revealed in a poll they believe the Holy Spirit bestows a "private prayer language" on believers, a repudiation of official denominational policy banning its missionaries from speaking in tongues (The Washington Times)

  • Baptist poll finds some support for speaking in tongues | A full half of Southern Baptist pastors believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people a "private prayer language," a new survey suggests (The Dallas Morning News)

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  • Split over the Mormon church, but maintaining some ties | Even after years away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, being shut out of a child's wedding can rekindle dormant emotions (The New York Times)

  • Romney candidacy has resurrected last days prophecy of Mormon saving the Constitution | It's Mormon lore, a story passed along by some old-timers about the importance of their faith and their country. In the latter days, the story goes, the U.S. Constitution will hang by a thread and a Mormon will ride in on a metaphorical white horse to save it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it does not accept the legend - commonly referred to as the "White Horse Prophecy" - as doctrine (The Salt Lake Tribune)

  • So American, yet so foreign | Two centuries later, Mormons still battle misinformation and mistrust (St. Petersburg Times, Fla.)

  • Swag of true believers | Big Brother contestant and Mormon Rebecca Dent may not be popular among her housemates but chances are she is getting some help from the faithful who bombard the show's voting lines (The Courier Mail, Australia)

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Other stories of interest:

  • Escape from North Korea | Brave conductors on a modern Underground Railroad (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)

  • Dance, dance, revolution | New Yorkers — as well as all Americans faced with anti-dance restrictions — should stand up and take action (Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times)

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