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Max Lucado Stepping Down

Plus: Zimbabwe cracks down on church leaders, Israel considers anti-evangelism bill, and other stories from online sources around the world.

1. "America's pastor" to leave pulpit, citing health concerns
"Your quarterback's tired," San Antonio's Oak Hills Church senior minister Max Lucado told his elder board. After 20 years at the church, and seven months after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, Lucado has announced that he's leaving his position. "My health concerns are not so severe that I feel I'm in any danger, just severe enough that I think a change needs to be made," he told television station WOAI.

He says he'll still regularly preach at the church, which has dropped its affiliation with the Church of Christ, and will continue his prodigious writing (he has two more books out this year). "I compare what is happening to going from being president of a college to joining the faculty," he told the San Antonio Express-News. "It was a painful decision, a hard decision, but I feel very peaceful about it now. I've been thinking about it since September."

In a sheer coincidence, Christianity Today's sister publication Today's Christian offers today an online excerpt from Lucado's Cure for the Common Life. The title? "The Lord's Career Advice: Or, how to take your job and love it."

2. Zimbabwe's protest and crackdown are religious
You may have heard about Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's recent attacks on his opponents. The big news is that police beat Morgan Tsvangirai so severely that they apparently fractured his skull and caused brain damage. What you may not have heard is that the attack came during a prayer meeting. The South Africa Council of Churches reports that in addition to Tsvangirai, "in the last few days, a number of church leaders have also been detained and beaten for participating in public prayer meetings."

3. Knesset considers bill outlawing all evangelism
Israel currently bans evangelism of minors and offering money or goods as incentive for religious conversion. Now the Shas party (the third-largest party in the Knesset, tied with Likud) wants to ban all "proselytism" in the country, YNet News reports. "Whether it's Christians coming from abroad or Jewish converts working in Israel, they all have the same agenda — to destroy every trace and memory of the people of Israel, and they plan to do this by converting Jews," says a proposal by MK Yakov Margi. "There is no choice but to adopt the rules applying to forbidding proselytism among minors, for all matter relating to adults as well. In other words, completely forbidding preaching and proselytism."

In related news, the president of the Islamic Society of North America spoke at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to warn of a great danger against Israel and the Jews: conservative Christians. "Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews, because they [the Christians] are really anti-Semitic," Ingrid Mattson, a Roman Catholic convert to Islam, said at the university-sponsored event. "They do not like Jews." An announcement promoting Mattson's speech quoted Newsweek's description of her as "an ambassador for Islam in the West, preaching tolerance and understanding." Mattson was quoted by The Boston Globe.

4. Compass Direct: Muslims are abducting and forcibly converting Nigerian Christian kids
Religious liberty news service Compass Direct tells the horrifying story about the kidnapping of 13-year-old Victor Udo Usen and the inaction by police in Sokoto, a city in northwestern Nigeria. But "the Usens are not the only Christian family in Sokoto who have had one of their children abducted and forced into Islam," Compass reports. "Christian leaders there say abduction of teenage Christian boys and girls has become a common phenomenon in majority-Muslim Sokoto state." The news service, which is not prone to exaggeration, quotes multiple sources who give multiple examples with specific names. There's a good chance that Western media will be sending reporters to Nigeria next month to cover the country's general election. Seems to me this would be an important story to follow up on.

5. Remember Darfur?
Following a damning United Nations report implicating the Sudanese government's role in having "orchestrated and participated in … large-scale international crimes" in Darfur, the U.S. envoy to Sudan says President Bush is planning to step up economic pressure on the country. "Sudanese companies will be subject to sanctions, and international transactions involving U.S. dollars will be blocked," the Associated Press reports.

Quote of the day
"It's not an ultimatum unless you think it is."

— Jan Nunley, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church, who says the Episcopal House of Bishops is unlikely to respond definitively to a directive from Anglican Communion primates to bar gay bishops and same-sex union blessings. At the House of Bishops meeting that begins Saturday, "no definitive statement is expected, although they may have a business session," Nunley told USA Today. The attitude of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Nunley says, is, "Let's talk, let's wait. We'll see what happens."

If you missed it …
There wasn't much time between us posting this Weblog update and our last post, so you might not have seen it unless you're a very regular visitor to the site. Wednesday's update covered the NAE board's non-response to criticism over its work on global warming, Pope Benedict XVI's Sacramentum Caritatis, a couple of Christian higher education lawsuits, an important religious freedom decision, and many other stories.

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People | Church life | Catholicism | Vatican criticizes liberation theologian | Anglicanism | Homosexuality | HPV vaccine | Politics | Life ethics | Environment | Education | Church and state | Lawsuits | Crime | Pastor accused of insurance fraud | Zimbabwe | Middle East | Missions and ministry | Money and business | Media, art, and entertainment | History | Prothero's Religious Literacy | Templeton Prize | Other stories of interest


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Church life:

  • Who is permitted to worship? | Carlsbad church struggling with child molester's presence (San Diego Union-Tribune)

  • Melded church wants its own home | Protestants plan to leave interfaith center but say ecumenical devotion won't dim (The Washington Post)

  • "Church doesn't suck" | Some people say billboard is too much and they're offended (KBSD, Wichita)

  • Church to remember turkey with silence | Taking time to remember a wild turkey may seem strange, but a church will hold a moment of silence this Sunday for what the pastor called a model member of his congregation (Associated Press)

  • Churches opt for credit cards as IRS demands receipts | A confluence of spiritual and secular interests is driving a change in the way religious communities raise money. On the way out is the traditional practice of church members reaching into their pockets and dropping bills and change in the collection basket on the Sabbath. On the way in are options such as automatic deductions from bank accounts and paying by credit card (Religion News Service)

  • Techno churches | Today's contemporary worship is where spectacle meets spirituality — prayer at 110 decibels and 720 dots per inch (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

  • State lawmaker steps in on behalf of hassled church | Del. Lionell Spruill Sr. has asked the U.S. Justice Department to look into the plight of a church that has been the subject of complaints from nearby residents (The Virginian-Pilot)

  • Heavenly bells leave her feeling all rung out | Divine Saviour's electronic chimes blast through the neighborhood six times daily, beginning at 7:55 a.m. (Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times)

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  • Putin meets with pope at the Vatican | Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Benedict XVI met Tuesday for the highest-level Kremlin-Vatican talks in more than three years, focusing on easing tension between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians and finding common ground in denouncing intolerance and extremism (Associated Press)

  • Rosaries: A spiritual symbol or trendy accessory? | These days the ordered string of beads is as likely to be found in a house of fashion as it is in a house of prayer (Houston Chronicle)

  • Hannity, priest clash on doctrine | Conservative commentator Sean Hannity's support for contraception and a segment on his TV show has led to criticism of him as a dissenting "cultural Catholic," led by a priest who heads a major pro-life group and who said Mr. Hannity should be denied Communion (The Washington Times)

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Vatican criticizes liberation theologian:

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  • Episcopal bishops expected to talk, not act | "It's not an ultimatum unless you think it is," says the Rev. Jan Nunley, a spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church (USA Today)

  • Episcopal bishops to mull Anglican protest on gays | U.S. church leaders to talk over ultimatum in Texas (Commercial Appeal, Memphis)

  • The separation of church and real estate | The Episcopal Church has been divided over issues such as gay rights, with some congregants leaving in protest. In Falls Church, Va., that split has come down to a property fight (Marketplace, American Public Media)

  • Episcopal rumblings spill over into region | The Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas has filed suit against the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo to recover the church assets for the diocese (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Tex.)

  • Make the break | The Anglican communion has become irreconcilably divided over the issue of homosexuality. I would like to see it separate (Stephen Bates, The Guardian, London)

  • Disestablish the church | Anglicans are throttling the hope of Christian renewal - and the consequences will be dramatic (Theo Hobson, The Guardian, London)

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HPV vaccine:

  • House rejects mandate on HPV | Bill challenging Perry's vaccine order wins vote; Senate support strong (The Dallas Morning News)

  • A needed vaccine | Austin, don't let Perry's misstep kill good idea (Editorial, The Dallas Morning News)

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  • No God on Stark's side | Bay Area Rep. Pete Stark has decided to bare his soul. He's the highest level official who has admitted to not believing in God (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

  • Time for Christians to preach peace | The Christian Witness for Peace in Iraq was born out of frustration and anger with a war justified far too often in vaguely Christian terms, a battle of good vs. evil (Marion C. Bascom and Andrew Foster Connors, The Baltimore Sun)

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Life ethics:

  • Mexico City debates abortion measure | Mexico City legislators are debating a bill that would legalize abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, a measure that would be the first of its kind in this heavily Roman Catholic nation (Associated Press)

  • Also: Mexico's capital plans to legalize abortion | "No church, no religion can impose its vision of the world in this city," said assembly leader Victor Hugo Cirigo, whose leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution runs City Hall and holds 34 of 66 city legislative seats (Reuters)

  • Abortion 'right to know' rejected | A bid to force doctors offering abortion or contraception advice to under-16s to inform the child's parents has been rejected by MPs (BBC)

  • Group launches post-abortion e-cards | One card expresses sympathy, offering the gentle reminder that, "As you grieve, remember that you are loved." Another provides encouragement for someone who "did the right thing." Yet another strikes a religious tone with the thought that "God will never leave you or forsake you." (Associated Press)

  • Woman in Spain dies in right to die case | A bedridden Spanish woman with muscular dystrophy died Wednesday after doctors fulfilled her wish and turned off her respirator, bringing an end to a case that had triggered a nationwide debate on euthanasia (Associated Press)

  • Six stem cell facts | For starters, there is no "ban" on federally funded research (Robert P. George and Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C., The Wall Street Journal)

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  • Attorneys want promise SIU won't violate student's religious freedom | A religious freedom advocacy group is seeking a promise from Southern Illinois University Carbondale it won't violate a student's right to use Christian principles in her studies — this coming after the student claimed a professor threatened to penalize her grade for mentioning faith-based initiatives in a final paper (The Southern Illinoisan)

  • Arrests during protest tour | Five people were arrested for trespassing on Wednesday at Oklahoma Baptist University when they walked onto the campus to talk to students about the university's policy against homosexual activity (The Chronicle of Higher Education, sub. req'd.)

  • Church tries its hand at sex education | The federal government has invested millions of dollars in sex-education programs for public schools that emphasize abstinence. But a church in Washington state is among many now offering their own sex-ed programs, which they say offer a fuller picture (Morning Edition, NPR)

  • Christian sex-ed lesson criticized | Comedian spreads misinformation, fear, group says (The Washington Post)

  • Trustee keeps faith on Bible studies | Ravenswood board member already voted down by colleagues (San Mateo County Times, Ca.)

  • Pagan precedent | Meet idolatry's new best friend, the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Falwell's devotion to defending religious expression in public school has helped young pagans spread their spiritual beliefs during the Christmas season (Jeff Taylor, Reason)

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Church and state:

  • A more porous church-state wall | Last week saw two court rulings and one campus dispute focused on church and state. In all three cases — and in several others in the last year — advocates for religion won, and supporters of a strict separation of church and state lost (Inside Higher Ed)

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  • Brentwood church files Web-based libel suit | Gwen Shamblin and 78 church members of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood have filed a $3.3 million defamation suit in Williamson County against Rafael Martinez, who operates the self-described Internet cult-watch organization Spirit Watch (The Tennessean, Nashville)

  • Woman can sue church over burns | Candles ignited skirt as she was praying (Los Angeles Daily News)

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  • Evangelist going on trial for tax evasion charges | The onetime leader of the Inspiration Network, now based in Fort Mill, S.C., is in court next week in San Diego on tax evasion charges. Dr. Morris Cerullo raised the Inspiration Network up from the shambles it was in when owned by Jim Bakker's PTL Ministry (WCNC, Charlotte, N.C.)

  • Canadian wanted in U.S. fraud case targeted Christian congregations, suit claims | A Canadian arrested in Spain and suspected of helping finance Islamic terrorist activities has a history of trouble with Ontario and B.C. securities regulators and faces a lawsuit in Nevada that claims he targeted Christian congregations for his alleged scams (Canadian Press)

  • Preacher's prayers, $120 aid in arrest of robbery suspect | The prayers of a preacher helped persuade a pistol-wielding man who allegedly held up a deacons meeting to leave for $120 and a promise to meet the next day - when the police were on hand to arrest the suspect (Associated Press)

  • Church arsonists seek youthful offender status | If granted, a judge would seal the case record and the maximum state prison time the three would serve is three years (The Birmingham News, Ala.)

  • Church arsonist gets life in prison | Henry Drevermann admitted torching a Port St. Lucie church, burning it to the ground and setting fire to and vandalizing another church all in an attempt to "strike back at God" (Palm Beach Post, Fla.)

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Pastor accused of insurance fraud:

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  • Zim police wrath hits church leaders | Church leaders in Zimbabwe had not escaped the wrath of police harassment, and they were also being targeted, the SA Council of Churches said yesterday (Citizen, South Africa)

  • Zimbabwe leader faces growing condemnation | President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian regime came under growing international condemnation following a violent crackdown on a weekend gathering of opposition activists that has bolstered Zimbabwe's opposition movement (Associated Press)

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Middle East:

  • Shas seeks harsher punishment for missionaries | Led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, party proposes bill to completely forbid proselytism in Israel, sentence violators to one year in prison (YNet News, Israel)

  • Messianic Jew attacked, wrongly arrested | Messianic evangelist Eddie Beckford was arrested outside his business, the Chess and Bible Shop in Arad, after a mob of ultra-Orthodox Haradim Jews surrounded his van in the parking lot and beat him Feb. 25 (Baptist Press)

  • Lebanon links Islamists to bus attacks in Christian district | Officials say four members of Fatah al-Islam, a group allegedly linked to the Iraq insurgency and backed by Syria, have confessed (Los Angeles Times)

  • Islamic leader urges Jews be wary of fundamentalists | "Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews, because they [the Christians] are really anti-Semitic," says the president of the Islamic Society of North America, speaking at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "They do not like Jews." (The Boston Globe)

  • Tourists help excavate ancient caves in the Holy Land | Participants do the dirty work, digging and sifting through the ruins, while their fees underwrite the more difficult parts of archaeological work: washing pottery shards, logging finds, and publishing papers in academic journals (Associated Press)

  • Christians for Israel | Jews and evangelicals will never agree on many issues, but the one on which they do agree is of overwhelming importance. The Jewish people cannot afford, and arguably does not have the right, to simply dismiss a significant potential ally (Editorial, The Jerusalem Post)

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Missions and ministry:

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Money and business:

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Media, art, and entertainment:

  • A signal from above | Christian radio gets closer to the morning-madness crowd (The Washington Post)

  • Vatican plans new network | H2O will broadcast news and original entertainment programming worldwide in seven languages (Hollywood Reporter)

  • Linking ancient and modern, a worldwide web of worship | The Internet has become a hub of religious worship for millions of people around the world. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and people of other faiths turn regularly to Web sites to pray, meditate and gather in "virtual" houses of worship graphically designed to look like the real thing (The Washington Post)

  • Lauren Green is back as FNC's religion correspondent | For the past few weeks, I've been jetting around to some very exciting places with our documentary unit, putting together a special for Easter called, "The Passion: Facts, Fictions and Faith." (Fox News)

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Prothero's Religious Literacy:

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Templeton Prize:

  • Prof's 'spiritual hunger' pays off | Over five decades, philosopher argued the need for a religious dimension in discussions of public policy, history and social sciences (Chicago Tribune)

  • That's the spirit: NU prof awarded $1.5 mil. |Prize honors effort to blend science, religion (Chicago Sun-Times)

  • Canadian is awarded spirituality prize | Charles Taylor, a professor of law and philosophy, has written extensively on the sense of self and how it is defined by morals and what one considers good (The New York Times)

  • Templeton prize to philosopher | Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher who says the world's problems can only be solved by considering both their secular and spiritual roots, was named Wednesday as the recipient of a religion award billed as the world's richest annual prize (Associated Press)

  • Canadian philosopher wins Templeton Prize | Charles Taylor will receive $1.5 million for his work on spiritual awareness (Los Angeles Times)

  • Canadian philosopher wins $1.5-million Templeton Prize| Charles M. Taylor, a Canadian philosopher who teaches at Northwestern University, was named on Wednesday as the winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities (The Chronicle of Higher Education, sub. req'd.)

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Other stories of interest:

  • U.S. prepares to sanction Sudanese firms | President Bush's envoy to Sudan said Wednesday that the administration is preparing to impose new economic sanctions to counter Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's refusal to allow U.N. peacekeepers to deploy in Darfur (Associated Press)

  • Many Alzheimer's caregivers seek help in God | About a third of those who take care of loved ones with the disease feel 'more religious' because of their experiences, a new national study says (Los Angeles Times)

  • Fired official halted work at church | Town Administrator James Lewellen said the firing last week of Building Official Lynn Hicks did not result from the stop-work order Hicks issued, even though Lewellen and two aldermen -- Jimmy Lott and Buddy Rowe -- attend First Baptist (The Commercial Appeal, Memphis)

  • Bible-making goes retro | Scribes with quills, calfskin are copying Good Book by hand (Chicago Sun-Times)

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Related Elsewhere:

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December 29 | 22

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