Tuesday, August 31, 2010

State Dept., ADL Blast Rabbi Yosef's Remarks; "God Should Strike Palestinians with a Plague"

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today that the U.S. State Department and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have condemned inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

On the eve of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Yosef -- a former chief Sepharic rabbi and the spiritual leader of the Shas Party -- wished for the demise of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world," Yosef said during his weekly Saturday night sermon at a Jerusalem synagogue, using Abbas' byname. "God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

The ADL yesterday (August 30, 2010) condemned Yosef's statements as "offensive and incendiary," cautioning that his words "contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred."

Three American Christians Murdered in Pakistan; Were Providing Relief to People in Flooded Area

The Catholic Culture website reports today (August 31, 2010) that three American Christians, who were providing humanitarian relief in flood-ravaged Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan, were murdered on August 24 or 25.

The militant organization "Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law" -- which the Pakistani government banned in 2002 -- is suspected in the attacks.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the U.S. State Department place Pakistan on its list of "countries of particular concern" because of Pakistan's plethora of violations of religious freedom.

The State Department has refused to place Pakistan on that list.

Mass. Seminary Suspends Male Theology Student; Broke into Female's Room, Secretly Filmed Her

A 24-year-old seminary student has been suspended indefinitely from the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts, after he allegedly broke into a female student's dorm room and secretly videotaped her.

School officials on August 29, 2010 ordered Daniel Richards out of his dorm and off the campus of the seminary, according to the Boston Herald website.

Richards pleaded not guilty on August 30 in Ipswich District Court to breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit a felony and unlawful wiretap, said Steve O'Connell, a spokesman for Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

Richards was entering his second year of seminary studies.

Monday, August 30, 2010

France's First Lady Tries to Save Adulteress; Iranian Daily Calls France's Bruni a Prostitute

The Radio Free Europe website reports today (August 30, 2010) that France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozi, has come under attack by Iran's state-controlled media over her support of an Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

In a letter released last week, Bruni wrote that her husband, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was trying to secure her release.

"I just can't see what good could come out of this macabre ceremony, whatever the judicial reasons put forward to justify it," Bruni wrote.

In a report titled "French Prostitutes Also Entered the Human Rights Cry," the Iranian daily, "Kayhan," condemned the letter and accused the French first lady of "immorality," and breaking up Sarkozy's previous marriage.

This situation reminds me of an adulteress being stoned some 2,000 years ago when Jesus appeared and said, "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." The stoning ceased and the woman was saved from being stoned to death. Unfortunately, Jesus' words have had no impact on the Iranians, since they continue to practice this barbaric form of punishment.

Italian Protestants Approve Same-Sex Marriage; Synod Says Gospel Welcomes Each New Choice

The joint synod of Italy's Waldensian and Methodist Protestant churches has -- as the denominations' highest governing body -- agreed to authorize the blessing of same-sex couples in church, the Ecumenical News International website reports today (August 30, 2010).

Synod president Marco Bouchard described the August 26 decision as "a clear and firm step forward that needs to be placed into a context that will be better defined, especially the relationship between churches and homosexual couples."

The synod statement said, "The words and practice of Jesus, as seen in the Gospel, call us to welcome each experience and each choice marked by God's love, freely and consciously chosen."

Patriarch Kirill: Moscow Needs 591New Churches; Moscow Has One Church for Every 40,000 People

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia believes 200 Orthodox churches that are to be built by Moscow city authorities in frames of a special program are not enough, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

"If we take a relative figure that corresponds to the statistics of Baptism (about 80 percent of ethnically Orthodox population) then take Moscow figure on the average Russian rate of 11,200 people per parish, we need 591 churches more," the Patriarch said today (August 30, 2010).

According to a research study on churches and people correlation conducted by the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow has one church for every 40.000 people.

Patriarch Kirill also said 90 percent of ethnically Orthodox people live in Moscow.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

COMMENTARY: France Needs to Abide by Christian Values in Treating Foreigners

France this month closed down a multitude of gypsy camps, and deported hundreds of Roma to Romania, in an effort to decrease the number of illegal immigrants and reduce the crime rate in that country.

The United Nations has criticized France's deportation of Roma migrants, and has urged the French government to integrate them into French society, instead of expelling them. In fact, the UN emphasized that France was undergoing a resurgence in racism and xenophobia -- the fear of foreigners.

Pope Benedict XVI also criticized France's expulsion of Roma this month, and reminded France -- a predominantly Roman Catholic nation -- that it has a Christian duty to welcome people of all origins in its nation. The pope went so far as to remind France that Jesus accepted differences of all human beings and "pulled together men from every nation and speaking every language."

France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who ordered the deportation of Roma in France to Romania, needs to abide by the Christian values conveyed by Pope Benedict and Jesus; otherwise, the president of France has no right to consider himself a Roman Catholic Christian.

Florida Megachurch Axes Traditional Service; Ends Separation Based on Age, Likes, Comfort

The Christian Post website reports today (August 29, 2010) that a Florida megachurch has axed its traditional and contemporary Sunday worship services, refusing to continue down the wide path of segregated worship.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale now offers only one service at 10:15 a.m. with essentially blended worship -- meaning no more separation based on age, likes, and comfort.

The aim of the church leaders -- including Senior Pastor Tullian Tchividjian -- is to unite the congregation and demonstrate the power of the Gospel.

"The best way a church can demonstrate unifying power of the Gospel before our very segregated world is to maintain a community that transcends cultural barriers," Tchividjian said in a sermon earlier this month.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pope: Mother Teresa a Model of Christian Virtue; She Showed the World Authentic Love for Others

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is "an exemplary model of Christian virtue" who showed the world that an authentic love for others opens the door to knowing and being with God, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday (August 26, 2010).

Marking the 100th anniversary of her birth, the pope sent a message to Sister Mary Prema, the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity -- the congregation Mother Teresa founded in 1950 -- according to the Catholic News website.

The Vatican released the message August 26, after it was read in Calcutta, India, at the end of a special Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa's birth.

UN Rips France for Its Plans to Expel Roma; Urges France to Integrate Roma in Its Society

The France 24 website reports today (August 27, 2010) that the United Nations racism and discrimination watchdog has criticized France's deportation of Roma migrants, and has urged the French government to integrate members of ethnic minorities rather than expel them.

In a report published today, the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged France to "avoid in particular the collective repatriation" and instead to "strive for lasting solutions."

Preliminary conclusions were made public August 12, when CERD highlighted a "resurgence" in racism and xenophobia -- that is, fear of foreigners -- in France.

Earlier this month, France closed illegal gypsy camps and deported hundreds of Roma to Romania in a crackdown against illegal immigration and crime.

Christian Teacher Jailed in N. Korea Released; Jimmy Carter's N. Korean Mission Frees Gomes

The Asia News website reports today that Aijalon Mahle Gomes -- a 30-year-old American Christian arrested last January and sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegally entering North Korea -- has been freed, as a result of a diplomatic mission to that country by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Carter and Gomes left North Korea today (August 27, 2010).

The news of the release of Gomes was greeted with satisfaction by the U.S. government, which emphasized that Carter's visit to North Korea was of a private nature and that "his mission was not organized or suggested by Washington."

Gomes is a former English teacher in South Korea with deep religious convictions. On January 25, 2010, he entered North Korea -- in protest against the oppressive situation of human rights and religious freedom -- and was arrested in the communist country.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Young Jews in Russia Now Learning about Roots; Synagogues Have Clubs, Gyms, Libraries, etc.

Russia has a Jewish population of about one million people, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

The organization's president, Alexander Boroda, said young Jews living in Russia know very little about Jewish traditions and culture, and they are just beginning to learn about their roots.

To bring Jews closer to their traditions, the Federation of Jewish Communities is building cultural and community centers instead of synagogues, with entertainment, educational, and sports centers -- in addition to the prayer room -- where young people may come in search of an interesting pastime and "move nearer to their roots," he said.

The first such center appeared in Maryina Roscha, which has -- besides a synagogue -- a gym, a restaurant, classes, internet rooms, and a library, Boroda said. He added, "It is a cross between a synagogue and a club, which is a very successful idea."

First Muslim College in U.S. Opens in Calif.; Zaytuna College Begins Classes with 15 Students

Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California began offering classes on August 24, 2010 -- 15 students began classes there -- thus becoming the first Muslim College in the United States, according to the Huffington Post website.

Zaytuna College grew out of a pilot seminary program at the Zaytuna Institute, which graduated a handful of students in 2008. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf -- an American-born convert from San Francisco who studied Islam abroad -- started the institute in 1996, offering continuing education classes in Arabic and Islamic studies.

Zaytuna is offering two majors to start: Arabic language, and Islamic law and theology.

Zaytuna -- which means "olive tree" in Arabic -- also hopes to be a vehicle for interfaith dialogue. The college was established in progressive Berkeley -- an intellectual hub with a sizable Muslim community. It will be housed at the American Baptist Seminary of the West for five years, when founders will open its own campus.

Greece Pays Millions in Pensions to Deceased; Relatives of Deceased Continue to Draw Money

Greece -- which is in the midst of a debt crisis -- has been spending 100 million euros a year in retirement checks to long-dead pensioners, the Earth Times website reports today (August 26, 2010).

Officials from the labor ministry said Greece is currently paying pensions to 500 individuals who are over 110 years old, but recently discovered almost all of them had passed away years ago.

Greek Deputy Labor Minister Giorgos Koutroumanis said that in many cases the relatives of the deceased were continuing to draw their pensions.

After years of mismanagement in the pension and health care system, officials said they are finally close to completing a pensioner registry, adding that all defrauders will face prosecution.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trial for Minister Who Performed Gay Weddings; Rev. Jane Spahr Violated Presbyterian Doctrine

The Worldwide Religious News website reports today (August 25, 2010) that a retired Presbyterian minister is facing a church trial for performing weddings of gay couples during the brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

The Rev. Jane Spahr has been accused of publicly, intentionally, and repeatedly violating church doctrine when she presided at the weddings of 16 couples between June and November of 2008.

Eleven of the couples are expected to testify as witnesses at the trial scheduled to start on August 31 at the Presbytery of the Redwoods in Napa, California.

This is the second time the 67-year-old Spahr has faced sanctions from the Presbyterian Church. A regional court convicted her in 2007 for marrying two lesbian couples. But the church's top court later acquitted her, saying the ceremonies were not "real marriages."

Prelate: Catholic-Orthodox Harmony Now Exists; Sees "No Obstacles" to Pope-Patriarch Meeting

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Communion and Liberation Movement in Rimini, Italy, the head of the Belarussian Orthodox Church said yesterday (August 24, 2010) that "the time is ripe for a meeting" between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"It might even be possible in 2011; in principal I see no obstacles," said Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, according to the Catholic Culture website.

He added, "We have been in dialogue with the Catholic Church for some time, at times with moments of exhilaration, at others with a fall in tensions. Now we are in a moment of stability, but between us, we, the parties, are open to dialogue. I hope this atmosphere will continue."

COMMENTARY: NY State, Port Authority Show No Respect for 9/11 Victims, Lost Church

New York state and its Port Authority officials need to hang their heads in shame for the non-sympathetic attitude they have shown with respect to the thousands of innocent victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as to the need to build a new church that was destroyed in these attacks.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center -- attacks by extremist Muslims -- resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans. Nevertheless, New York state and Port Authority officials are seriously considering building a mosque at this very site. To even consider having a mosque at this site shows a heartless and unsympathetic attitude and disrespect by these officials toward the innocent victims who were killed there on 9/11 by Muslim terrorists. Having a mosque at Ground Zero is a very similar situation to having a Nazi Monument next to the Holocaust Museum. Both of these ideas should be put to rest, because they are an insult to their victims.

Meanwhile, New York officials have shown little or no interest in rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church -- a 300-member church that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. The World Trade Center site's owner says a deal to help rebuild St. Nicholas Church was offered and rejected by leaders of the church, over money and other issues.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has denied that any offer had been rejected, and said the Port Authority withdrew its deal, and has since ignored the church's attempts at dialogue.

Consequently, an impartial mediator -- one agreed upon by both the church and the Port Authority -- should be authorized to hear all the facts on this situation, and to make a binding decision on what is a fair amount of money for the Port Authority to give the church. The mediator should also have the authority to decide other issues hampering the construction of the church, such as exactly where it will be built on Ground Zero.

Having an impartial mediator to decide what needs to be done to end the delay of rebuilding St. Nicholas Church is the most expeditious means to resolve the issues that have been lingering on between the church and Port Authority for nearly a decade.

In less than one month, it will be nine years since the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred. The parishioners of St. Nicholas Church have waited long enough -- too long, in fact -- for this church to be rebuilt.

Indeed, it is imperative that the leaders of St. Nicholas Church and the Port Authority, along with a mediator, come to a rapprochement and agree on a harmonious solution to this dilemma, so that -- without any further delay -- the construction of a new church can begin.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Survey: Religion Has Less Impact on Society; Most Americans Say It's Losing Its Influence

The Christian Post website reports today (August 24, 2010) that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) currently say that religion is losing its influence in American life, up from 59 percent who said the same in July 2006, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center.

When it comes to the involvement of churches and other houses of worship in political matters, a narrow majority of Americans (52 percent) say houses of worship should keep out of political matters.

Meanwhile, 43 percent say houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions.

More than half of every major religious group opposes endorsement by houses of worship of specific candidates for public office.

Pew's latest study -- based on a national sample of 3,003 adults living in the United States -- was conducted from July 21 to August 5, 2010.

Church Supporters Blast N.Y. Port Authority; It Snubs Effort to Rebuild Church Wrecked on 9/11

Supporters of a Greek Orthodox Church destroyed on September 11, 2001 say officials willing to speak out about a planned community center and mosque near Ground Zero have been silent on efforts to get the church rebuilt.

But the World Trade Center site's owner says a deal to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was offered and rejected, after years of negotiations, over money and other issues, according to the Newsmax website.

Although the projects are not related, supporters -- including George Pataki, New York's governor at the time of the September 11 attacks -- have questioned why public officials have not addressed St. Nicholas' future while they lead a debate on whether and where the Islamic cultural center should be built.

"What about us? Why have they forgotten or abandoned their commitment to us?" asked Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. "When I see them raising issues about the mosque and not thinking about the church that was destroyed, it does bother us."

"Rather than focus his attention on the mosque, Governor Paterson should step in right away to ensure that the state of New York and the Port Authority uphold the agreement with the Greek Orthodox Church so this project can go forward without further delay," state Sen. Dean Skelos said yesterday (August 23, 2010).

Pataki, who as governor of New York promised that St. Nicholas would be rebuilt after the 2001 attacks, said yesterday that the Port Authority needed to reach out to church officials. "It's just wrong that the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Church, which was there and which was part of the master plan, has basically been ignored," he said.

Army Demands That Hassidic Rabbi Shave Beard; Rabbi Can No Longer Preach Until He Shaves

The Huffington Post website reports today (August 24, 2010) that the U.S. Army is demanding that Hassidic Rabbi Menachem Stern shave his beard if he wants to continue to serve as chaplain; however, the rabbi refuses to shave his beard because of his religious commitments to the commandments of the Torah.

Rabbi Stern, who was a chaplain at Crown Heights, N.Y. and has been in the Army since September 2009, said he was happy in his position -- he called it "a perfect fit" -- but says that the Army is being unreasonable in demanding that he shave his beard.

He showed photos of other rabbis serving in the Army who had beards, but the Army said these rabbis had been "grandfathered in" before a 1986 law.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Stern can no longer preach for the Army unless he shaves his beard. Several politicians -- including U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- have written pleas to the Army to allow Rabbi Stern to retain his beard while he serves as chaplain.

Monday, August 23, 2010

American Lutherans to Form New Church Body; Will Gather in Ohio This Week to Set Up NALC

The Christian Today website reports today (August 23, 2010) that more than 1,000 Lutherans from throughout North America will gather this week in Grove City, Ohio, to form a new church body for confessional Lutherans.

At this week's two-day gathering (on August 26 and 27), members of Lutheran CORE will adopt a constitution that will give birth to the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), which the movement's director says "will embody the center of Lutheranism in America."

"The NALC will uphold confessional principles dear to Lutherans, including a commitment to the authority of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions," said the Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, in an announcement.

At the upcoming Convocation of Lutheran CORE, the proposals to be considered have been designed to provide a way for Lutherans who uphold biblical teaching to move forward together.

YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Program Inspiring; Trains Youth to Love and Serve Needy Neighbors

The YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Program of FOCUS North America provides opportunities for junior high and high school students to participate in formative weekends of service, with the ultimate purpose of raising a generation of Orthodox Christians who lead others in living out the true mission of the church -- to love and serve our most needy neighbors.

The Byztex blog reports today (August 23, 2010) that the students in the program are taken through a four-step service-learning process known as E4: EXPOSE, ENGAGE, EQUIP, and ENTRUST.

The students are first EXPOSED to the reality of the poverty in the world through interactive curriculum.

Secondly, the students are ENGAGED in strategically chosen service projects.

Thirdly, students are invited to a week of leadership training, where they are EQUIPPED with tools to guide others in service.

Lastly, students are ENTRUSTED with various leadership roles on weekend trips with continuing the mission of YES in their communities, to inspire, lead, and educate others.

Giant Tree Anne Frank Wrote About Collapses; Amsterdam Tree Falls Over in Heavy Winds

The giant chestnut tree that Anne Frank wrote about several times in her diary collapsed today (August 23, 2010) in stormy weather, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website.

The tree -- more than 150 years old -- had developed a fungus that had weakened it, and it fell over in heavy wind and rain.

"It broke off like a match," a spokesman for the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam said. Fortunately, no one was injured and the Anne Frank House was not damaged by the tree collapse.

Saplings taken from the tree have been planted around the world. A sapling from the tree is expected to be planted in its place.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pope Opposed to Expulsion of Romas in France; "Jesus Pulled Together Men from Every Nation"

The Earth Times website reports today (August 22, 2010) that Pope Benedict XVI -- in an obvious reference to the ongoing controversy over the expulsion of Roma migrants in France -- reminded Catholics that they have a duty to welcome people of all origins.

Addressing a group of French pilgrims in French today, the pope said the scriptures were "an invitation to know how to accept legitimate differences among humans, just like Jesus came to pull together men from every nation and speaking every language."

His comments were seen as addressing a decision by the French government of President Nicolas Sarkozy to expel hundreds of Roma migrants.

Sarkozy's decision to dismantle illegal Gypsy camps and send Romas back to Romania has been widely criticized by human rights associations, trade unions, and opposition politicians in France.

Crowds Gather in Serbia for Trumpet Festival; Ten-Day Festival Includes 2,000 Brass Musicians

More than a half-million people have gathered in the small Serbian town of Guca to witness its 10-day famous trumpet festival fueled by about 2,000 brass musicians, according to the Daily Rosetta website.

The unique festival -- which has made Serbia the trumpet capital of the world -- was originally started to honor the art of playing the trumpet, and now includes the international competition dubbed the World's First Trumpet in Guca.

A total of 15 orchestras -- from Russia, the U.S., Germany, Macedonia, Poland, Austria, Turkey, France, Romania, Republika Srpska, and Serbia -- joined in the competition.

People in Serbia traditionally have been playing the trumpet on every important happening in one's life, such as a baptism, a wedding, and even a funeral.

World Set for Mother Teresa's 100th Birthday; A U.S. Postage Stamp of Her Comes Out Aug. 26

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India would have turned 100 years old on August 26, 2010, according to the Zenit website. The order she founded -- Missionaries of Charity -- as well as faithful and nonbelievers from around the world are joining in preparation for the anniversary.

A Mother Teresa postage stamp will go on sale in the U.S. on August 26, with similar initiatives in Austria, Kosovo, and Monaco. France has coined four collector-edition coins, one showing Mother Teresa with Pope John Paul II.

The Mother Teresa Express Train will be launched on her birthday in India. Also, on the Niagara River in New York, the Peace Bridge will be lit with blue and white -- the colors of the Missionaries of Charity.

Needless to say, many spiritual activities will mark the day. In Rome, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, will preside over a Mass in the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Damascus.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fla. Church Is Denied Permit to Burn Qurans; Pastor Says Church to Still Have 9/11 Burnings

City officials in Gainesville, Florida have denied a burning permit to a local church that wants to burn copies of the Quran on the 2010 anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the Christian Post website.

Gainesville officials say book burnings -- like the one planned by the Dove World Outreach Center -- are prohibited under the city's burning ordinance.

The Dove World Outreach Center had announced the planned Quran burning last month on Facebook and urged other religious groups to join "in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam."

"We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace," explained Senior Dove World Pastor Terry Jones.

Despite the warning from officials, Jones -- the author of a book called "Islam is of the Devil" -- sent out an e-mail saying the church would still burn Qurans on 9/11/10. Interim Fire Chief Gene Prince warned Jones that the church would face a fine if it went ahead with the burnings.

End of Christendom Is Church's Key Challenge; College Head Says Mission Is Critical Factor

The Christian Today website reports today (August 21, 2010) that the new principal of the International Christian College (ICC) in Britain believes that the end of Christendom is the biggest challenge facing the church in the West.

Richard Tiplady started his new position as principal of ICC this month, after serving as British Director of the European Christian Mission for six years.

He addressed the challenge of re-thinking the church in a post-Christendom and plural context this week. He said, "The biggest challenge we have to face in the West in our mission is to accept that Christendom is over."

Tiplady added, "We are no longer in a privileged position of power in society, and we do ourselves no service -- we do the Gospel no service -- to clamor to bring it back."

He continued, "The heartbeat of my Christian life and of my spirituality is mission...the Gospel is good news and I want to see more lives turned around."

Tiplady emphasized: "We need to be training Christian leaders who are going to be able to navigate that environment, able to lead God's people to be comfortable with it, and faithful to God in a new landscape."

COMMENTARY: Banning Clothes That Cover Face in Schools Enhances Learning Process

The Education Minister of Sweden, Jan Bjoerklund, this week called for the banning of clothes that cover the faces of students at Swedish schools and universities. This ban includes Islamic veils, such as the full-body burqa and the full-face nigab.

The Education Minister emphasized that he made this decision because it is extremely unsuitable to allow clothing that covers the face, in order for effective learning to occur.

In other words, teaching is communication in which a teacher and a student should be able to look at each other in the eyes and converse with each other. The expression on a student's face often indicates whether or not the student understands the subject matter that has just been presented by the teacher.

Indeed, the Education Minister is correct in banning clothes that cover the face in Sweden's schools. The purpose of the ban, then, is not to discriminate against Muslim girls and women who traditionally wear clothes that cover the face, but rather to ensure that the teaching-learning process takes place in the most effective way that is possible.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Iraqi Govt. Admits Minorities Are Vulnerable; Often the Target of Violence by Islamic Groups

The Iraqi government is aware that religious and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable, and extra efforts are required to protect them, the Radio Free Europe website reports today (August 20, 2010).

Ali al-Musawi, a media adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said yesterday that the safety of Iraq's minority communities was a top priority for the government in its national security strategy.

Musawi's comments come after the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution earlier this month that highlighted "the perilous status of religious minorities in Iraq" and called on the Iraqi government to address abuses against these groups.

About a dozen minorities have lived for centuries in the region that is now Iraq. In recent years, they have been the target of bomb attacks and other violence by militant Islamic groups.

Israeli Soldiers Stole Laptops from Flotilla; Sold Laptops to Other Soldiers, All Arrested

An Israeli soldier and an officer are suspected of stealing several laptop computers from an international aid flotilla that was raided by commandos on May 31, 2010 while trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

According to Today's Zaman (Turkish) website, one soldier suspected of selling the computers was arrested on August 18 together with three other soldiers who bought the stolen goods.

Military police also arrested a second lieutenant suspected of stealing the computers from one of the ships. Police say they believe the second lieutenant stole four to six laptops from the ships, after the ships were docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The three soldiers who admitted to buying the laptops said they were told the laptops were stolen from the flotilla, but did not report the theft to their commanders. They are also expected to face trial.

The aid ships were raided by Israeli commandos. Nine activists -- eight Turks and one Turkish-American -- were killed by the commandos. Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel, as a result of the raids, and has threatened to end diplomatic relations with Israel unless Israel apologizes for the raids.

Catholic Church Sees Big Decline in Weddings; "Church Not Relevant" for Many Young People

The Everyday Christian website reports today (August 20, 2010) that the number of church weddings among Boston area Catholics is dropping rapidly. The local diocese reports that less than half as many couples are tying the knot in a traditional fashion as a decade ago.

Catholic priests in Massachusetts said there are a number of reasons for the decline: the growing popularity of "destination weddings," higher numbers of unwed couples living together, and the fact that there are fewer practicing Catholics than in the past.

Exacerbating this matter, is the fact that many longtime Catholics were driven out by the priest abuse scandal, and the younger generation is not producing as many churchgoers.

The Rev. Dennis Nason, pastor of All Saints Parish in Haverhill, Massachusetts, said the church is just not relevant for many young people today. "They don't go to church, so it doesn't have any meaning to them," he said.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Swedish Ed. Minister Plans to Ban the Burqa; Says Schools to Ban Clothes That Cover Face

The Education Minister of Sweden, Jan Bjorklund, said that the leaders of Swedish schools and universities should be allowed to ban students from wearing clothes that cover their faces -- including Islamic veils such as the full-body burqa and the full-face nigab -- according to the Stockholm Today website.

"Education is based on an interaction between teacher and students. You have to be able to see each others' faces." Bjorklund said.

Bjorklund added that the ban would also apply to other clothing that covers the face, such as balaclava masks.

Estimates suggest there are about 100,000 practicing Muslims among Sweden's 9 million inhabitants.

Court Rules Crosses on Highway Must Go; Memorials for Troopers Killed on Duty

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (August 19, 2010) that 14 crosses that stand along a Utah state highway -- a memorial to highway patrol troopers who lost their lives in the line of duty -- have been ruled a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said yesterday that the 12-foot-high white crosses were an endorsement of religion, implying a state preference for Christianity.

The American Atheist Association sued to have the religious symbols removed from public property.

Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., was shocked by the court's decision. "The ruling essentially says religious speech is bad and secular speech is okay," Goodrich said.

Adoption Agency Loses Bid to Limit Services; Court Says No Justification to Bar Gay Parents

The Guardian (British) website reports today (August 19, 2010) that a Catholic adoption agency in England has lost its attempt to restrict its service to heterosexual couples, after the Charity Commission found there was no justification for barring gay and lesbian parents.

Leeds-based Catholic Care sought exclusion from the 2007 sexual orientation regulations and began legal action to change its constitution, so it could continue to help married couples only.

Catholic Care told the high court that it would have to stop finding homes for children, because Catholic donations would cease if it helped gay prospective parents.

But the commission said today it could not accede to the charity's demands.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coptic Pope in Egypt: Police Wiretap Calls; Confessing by Phone May Lead to Prison Time

The head of the Coptic Church in Egypt has warned followers that the police in the country are wiretapping their calls, and said they should not confess sins over the phone, the Earth Times website reports today (August 19, 2010).

Pope Shenouda III has said police listen in on calls and the confessor could end up "seeking absolution in prison."

The Coptic Pope's remark was seen as the latest sign of a deterioration in relations between some state institutions and the the Orthodox Christian Copts -- Egypt's largest religious minority -- who comprise some 10 percent of the nation's predominantly Islamic population.

In one of several recent feuds, the church and the state argued over an Egyptian court ruling that allowed Coptic Christians to remarry after divorce -- something that is strictly forbidden under the Coptic Church's teaching.

COMMENTARY: It Is Time for Pakistan's Government to Punish Muslim Rapists

A serious problem exists in Pakistan, and one that the Pakistani government must resolve quickly. This problem is the new trend of rapes by Pakistani Muslims of Christian young girls.

Sexual assault against Christian girls by Muslim extremists has recently become a common occurrence in Pakistan, and is rarely reported.

Several rapes against Christian girls occurred in Pakistan during the past month -- one occurred against a 12-year-old girl by a gang of Islamic school students, and another against a 16-year-old girl by a Muslim landowner.

Apparently, many Muslims in Pakistan believe that it is "all right" to rape girls if they are Christians, but not if they are Muslims. Therein lies a double standard of Pakistani justice.

In a third incident, eight boys raped a young girl late last month. The girl's parents went to the police station to register a complaint, but the officer in charge refused to register it.

When a Christian organization asked police why they refused to register this complaint, one officer admitted that police are under a great amount of pressure from Muslim leaders and extremists to refrain from filling out a First Information Report (FIR) on the crime.

This "Muslim leaders and extremist pressure" tactic needs to be put to rest -- and fast.

It is time for the Pakistani government to take severe punitive action against these Muslim rapists -- the same action that the Pakistani government takes when the rape victims are Muslim girls.

Russia to Restore Damaged Shrines in Kosovo; Donates $2M for Serbia's Christian Buildings

The Voice of Russia website reports today (August 18, 2010) that the Russian Orthodox Church has hailed the government's decision to donate $2 million for rebuilding damaged Orthodox Christian shrines in Kosovo.

Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department of external church relations, said the money would go to four major Serbian Orthodox centers in Kosovo: the monasteries of Pec, Decani, and Gracanica, and the Church of Our Lady of Ljevis.

Kosovo -- the spiritual core of Serbia -- is a region where key Serbian Orthodox shrines are located.

In February 2008, the province of Kosovo seceded from Serbia and declared itself an independent nation. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo as an independent nation -- and says it never will!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

German Federal Court Rules in Favor of Gays; Gay Partners Given Equal Inheritance Rights

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court announced today (August 17, 2010) a ruling that registered homosexual life partners should receive the same inheritance rights as married spouses.

The court determined that "protection of marriage and family" was not a sufficient argument for discrimination against gays when it came to inheritance law, according to the Deutsche Welle website.

Up until today, registered life partners faced discrimination in matters of tax and inheritance law.

"From now on, registered homosexual couples will have the same rights as married couples where inheritance law is concerned," said Klaus Jetz, director of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany.

Opponents Rip Obama's Support for NYC Mosque; Compare It to Nazi Site Near Holocaust Museum

The Ecumenical News International (ENI) website reports today (August 17, 2010) that U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks that Muslims have the right to build a proposed Islamic mosque near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City have triggered strong condemnation for his political opponents.

For example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- believed by many to be the leading 2012 Republican Party presidential candidate -- said Obama was "pandering to radical Islam."

Gingrich added, "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C."

Obama's comments were made at an August 13 presidential White House dinner to mark the celebration of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. In his address, the President praised the "unshakable" commitment the U.S. has shown to the protection of religious liberty.

Russian Church Collects Aid for Fire Victims; Patriarch Kirill Praises Solidarity Effort

The Russian Orthodox Church has collected 200 tons in humanitarian aid and raised 15 million rubles for the victims of Russia's raging wildfires, the Asia News website reports today (August 17, 2010).

Since the end of July, fires have raged in central Russia. Early estimates put total damages at around $15 billion.

"As regards to the aid organized by the Church, I am very satisfied with its amount," said Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.

He added, "I think that everything that has happened has helped all of us understand how important solidarity is, without which life is impossible in human society. May God grant us all the power to grow in unity and solidarity."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rapes of Christian Girls Now Common in Pakistan; 12-and 16-Year-Old Girls Victims of Trend

The Compass Direct website reports today (August 16, 2010) that the vulnerability of Christian girls to sexual assault in Pakistani society emerged again last month, as a Muslim landowner targeted a 16-year-old girl and a gang of madrassa (Islamic school) students raped a 12-year-old girl in Punjab Province.

In Farooqabad, three Muslim co-workers of a Christian man allegedly raped his 16-year-old daughter at gunpoint the night of July 21; the following evening in Gujar Khan, more than a half-dozen madrassa students decided to "teach these Christians a lesson" by allegedly gang-raping the 12-year-old girl.

Pastor Shakeel Javed of the United Pentecostal Church -- the church to which the 12-year-old girl's family belongs -- said the Muslims "openly announce that 'the Christians are our enemies, we should not talk to them, eat with them, or do business with them.'"

The students often beat Christian children who come to play on the school grounds, telling them to convert or leave, he said, adding that on Sundays they throw stones at the church building.

Zsa Zsa Gabor Very Ill, Requests Last Rites; Hungarian -Born Actress Starred in 30 Films

Legendary Hollywood actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor received her last rites, after having two blood clots removed yesterday (August 15, 2010).

Gabor, 93, had only been released from a hospital on August 11, after undergoing hip replacement surgery, according to the Christian Today website.

Her publicist, John Blanchette, said the health of the nine-times married actress had been "up and down" since breaking her hip, but that her condition was now serious. Gabor asked to see a priest to receive her last rites, Blanchette added.

The Hungarian-born actress has been a symbol of Hollywood glamor for decades. She starred in more than 30 films, including Moulin Rouge in 1952 and Touch of Evil in 1958.

Pope: Entrust Ourselves to Mary in Heaven; Christianity Promises Eternal Life in Heaven

On the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15), Pope Benedict XVI offered a meditation in a papal courtyard full of young people on the presence of Mary in the Church -- from antiquity to the present time.

Earlier yesterday morning, the pope celebrated Mass in the pontifical parish of St. Thomas of Villanova at Castel Gondolfo, according to the Asia News website.

During his homily explaining the mystery of Mary -- whose body and soul were taken into Heaven close to God -- he mentioned the human inheritance that belongs to us, with "suffering, death, sin," but also the gift of "incorporation in Christ who gives life."

"Christianity does not announce a partial salvation of the soul in a vague afterlife, in which everything that was dear and precious to us in this life will be canceled; rather, it promises eternal life -- the life of the world to come," the pope concluded.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Turkey Allows Christians to Hold Rare Service; First-Time Monastery Service Held in Turkey

The Christian Post website reports today (August 15, 2010) that Turkey allowed Christians to hold a rare service at a politically sensitive monastery for the first time since the modern-day country's creation nearly nine decades ago.

Sunday's Mass at the ancient monastery of Sumela -- near the Black Sea -- was led by Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

Over 1,500 pilgrims from Greece, Russia, and other countries traveled to the Byzantine-era monastery for the emotional three-hour service.

Observers believe that the move is part of the Turkish government's effort to improve its public relationship with ethnic and religious minorities amid its bid to be allowed to join the European Union.

COMMENTARY: Being Fired for Suggesting Faith in God Is Beyond Understanding

A London Christian homeless adviser, who worked with Wadsworth Counil for 18 years, has been fired for mentioning God in the workplace.

Duke Amachree appealed his termination, but a London tribunal ruled last week that Wadsworth Council had acted "reasonably" in dismissing him. He was dismissed for "gross misconduct" for suggesting to a client suffering from a terminal illness that she should not give up hope by trying to put her faith in God.

His client -- believed to be an atheist -- reported Amachree's use of the word God in his counseling of her, and this resulted in Amachree's termination two days later.

I ask, what kind of justice is this? For a counselor to be fired for suggesting that a client put her faith in God for her recovery illustrates a lack of compassion, empathy, and Christian love in British society.

The fact that a woman's "atheistic rights" were "violated" by the counselor for suggesting that she put her faith in God is mind-boggling. It just doesn't make any sense -- plain and simple!

Cal. Pastor Happy to Perform Same-Sex Weddings; Says Her Church Is "Overjoyed" at the Prospect

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (August 15, 2010) that a San Francisco pastor says she would be happy to start performing same-sex weddings in her church, beginning this week.

Federal Judge Vaughn Walker -- who recently ruled in favor of having same-sex marriage ceremonies in California -- has given opponents of same-sex weddings until August 18 to get a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent gay marriages.

The pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ, the Rev. Sandy Hulse, says her congregation is "overjoyed" at the prospect of being able to conduct same-sex weddings soon.

California churches that oppose same-sex marriage cite the Bible, but Hulse says her denomination believes that "God is still speaking."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rabbi: Non-Orthodox Jews Taking Over Israel; Have Brought Israel to "Spiritual Low Point"

Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi wrote that he is concerned that non-Orthodox Jews are taking over Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post website.

In a letter sent to Israeli rabbis to mark the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul -- a time of spiritual preparation for the High Holidays -- Rabbi Shlomo Amar said Jews must petition Israel's landmarks to prevent the influence of non-Orthodox movements in state and religious issues.

These "liberals and reformers" have brought us to "our spiritual low point," the rabbi wrote.

"They now have their claws in the nation of Zion, and are trying to impose the lifestyle of other nations on us. They established legions of warriors in the Land of Israel, whose purpose is to remove Torah from Israel," Amar wrote.

Priest Fails to Appear at Marriage Ceremony; Church Agrees to Pay All Costs of Wedding

The Austrian Times website reports today (August 14, 2010) that a church in Floridsdorf, Austria is being forced to pay the costs of a couple's wedding, because the priest failed to turn up at their marriage ceremony.

The couple had planned their wedding and -- at the same time -- the baptism of their child last weekend, but were left waiting at the altar, as the priest forgot about his wedding commitment.

The priest admitted he forgot about the wedding following a death in his parish, said Erich Leichtenberger, spokesman for the diocese.

He offered their sincere apologies to the couple and confirmed it was not deliberate. He also confirmed that the church would pay all the costs incurred by the couple.

Christians Around World Celebrate August 15; Commemorates Virgin Mary's Entry Into Heaven

According to the belief of most Christians -- especially Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worshipers -- the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was the bodily taking up of her into Heaven at the end of her life. Christians celebrate this spiritual phenomenon on August 15 each year.

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary -- having completed the course of her earthly life -- was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. In the Orthodox Church, this belief is known as the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

Mary's acceptance into Heaven is seen by Christians as the symbol of the promise made by Jesus to all enduring Christians that they too will be received into Heaven.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Theotokos -- that is, the falling asleep of the Mother of God -- on August 15 each year, preceded by a 15-day fast period.

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon her death, that her body was resurrected on the third day after her death, and that she was taken up into heaven bodily in anticipation of the general resurrection. As was the case with her Son, Jesus, Mary's tomb was found empty on the third day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Christian Homeless Advisor Loses Job Appeal; Was Fired for Mentioning God in the Workplace

A Christian homeless adviser has lost his case against a London Council that dismissed him for mentioning God in the workplace, according to the Christian Today website.

A tribunal ruled that Wadsworth Council had acted reasonably in dismissing Duke Amachree for gross misconduct after he suggested to a client suffering from a terminal illness that she should not give up hope by trying to put her faith in God.

The tribunal also found that the Council had not discriminated against Mr. Amachree on religious grounds.

Mr. Amachree had worked as a homelessness prevention officer with Wadsworth Council for 18 years before his dismissal in January 2009 -- two days after he was reported by his client.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Abp. Tells Poles to Move Cross to Church; Says Cross "Cannot Be Held Hostage" to Dispute

Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw has warned Polish activists not to make a cross a symbol of political conflict, the Catholic Culture website reports today.

At an August 12, 2010 press conference, the archbishop said that a cross that was erected outside the presidential palace -- in tribute to the late President Lech Kaczynski -- should be moved to a nearby Catholic church.

The archbishop's statement put him in alliance with incoming President Bronislaw Komorowski, who incurred the wrath of conservative activists by making the same proposal last week.

"The cross cannot be held hostage to a political dispute," said Archbishop Nycz.

Yale Divinity Journal Researches Church in U.S.; Says Protestant Churches Developed Pluralism

What does the future hold for the institutional Church in the United States?

There is no simple answer to this question posed in "Reflections," a magazine published by the Yale University Divinity School, which offers a variety of perspectives from scholars, clergy, and laity.

John Lindner, director of external relations for Yale Divinity School, argues that it was "the success of mainline Protestant churches in promoting a message of ecumenical unity that helped to bring about a new era of pluralism and inclusion, even to the extent of triggering declines in denominational loyalties."

Moscow Concerned about Serb Shrines in Kosovo; Rips NATO for Not Informing Serbia

The Interfax-Religion website reports today (August 12, 2010) that the handover of Kosovo's Serbian shrines by NATO to the Kosovo police may fuel tensions in the region, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko.

"We share the fears of the Serbian government and Orthodox Church that such plans could incite additional security concerns and tensions, and provoke misgivings among Serbs about the international peace-keeping force's readiness to perform its duties," Nesterenko said.

The NATO decision -- made without the consent of the Serbian Church -- is a menace to the Serb monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija, many of which are on UNESCO's World Heritage List," he added.

"Hopefully, the situation surrounding the Serb shrines in Kosovo will be tackled in dialogue with Belgrade and the Serbian Church," he concluded.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Atheist Group Launches Fla. Billboard Blitz; Ads: "Sleep on Sundays," "In Reason We Trust"

The Christian Post website reports today (August 11, 2010) that a humanist group has launched a billboard blitz telling the public that it's OK to sleep on Sundays, among other things.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) will have 20 billboards placed throughout the Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida area this month.

Four different ads are being featured: "Sleep on Sundays," "Imagine No Religion," "God and Government: A Dangerous Mix," and "In Reason We Trust."

Incorporated in 1978, FFRF is an association of free thinkers -- including atheists, agnostics, and skeptics. The Madison, Wisconsin-based group claims more than 15,500 members nationwide.

COMMENTARY: American Public Schools Must Be Open on Non-Christian Holy Days

The Providence, Rhode Island School District recently deleted Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the public school calendar, which means that these Jewish High Holidays will no longer be vacation days in the Providence public schools.

Marty Cooper, community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, made it very clear that this action is not to be considered as prejudice against Jews, when he said, "This is not an act of anti-Semitism."

The fact is that the Jewish population in Providence has been declining in recent years, while the population of other religious groups -- including Muslims -- has been growing.

At the same time, Islamic and other religious groups have lobbied to have their holidays included as vacation days on school calendars in several U.S. communities in recent years.

Since the United States is a predominantly Christian country, it is correct for its local communities to close their schools on Christian holidays -- such as Christmas and Good Friday -- but to keep schools open, regardless of other (minority) religious holidays. This includes the Eastern Orthodox Good Friday -- which is usually celebrated a week or two after the Catholic and Protestant Good Friday -- despite the fact that Eastern Orthodoxy is the second largest branch of Christianity (after Roman Catholicism).

To allow minority religions in the United States -- Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, among others -- to close the public schools during each one's holy days, would indeed have a significant negative impact on the learning process of public school students.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Germans Close Hamburg Mosque Linked to Jihad; Used to Train Islamic Radicals, 9/11 Attackers

German authorities have closed down a mosque used by the 9/11 attackers, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (August 10, 2010).

Authorities said the Taiba mosque in Hamburg was a "recruiting and meeting point for Islamic radicals who wanted to participate in so-called jihad or holy war."

The mosque was used by several 9/11 hijackers before coming to the U.S., and has been under close watch since the attack.

The Hamburg interior minister said about 45 supporters of jihad live in the Hamburg area, and about 200 people regularly attended Friday prayers at the Taiba mosque.

WCC to Host Muslim-Christian Conference; Will Discuss Inter-Religious Disputes, Solutions

The World Council of Churches (WCC) will host an inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and Christians in November, 2010, in an effort to address conflict fueled by religion in predominantly Muslim countries, according to the Christian Today website.

The head of WCC's International Affairs and Public Witness, Mathews George Chunakara, said Muslim leaders will gather in Geneva, Switzerland to address the key issues in the present context of Muslim-Christian relations.

"About 70 top leaders from both of these communities will discuss issues of common concern -- mainly the inter-religious disputes and their possible solutions," said Chunakara.

Jordan Resumes Export of Consecrated Water; Water Is from Site Where Jesus Was Baptized

Jordan is resuming the export of consecrated water from the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been baptized for the first time in 100 years, the Earth Times website reports today (August 10, 2010).

The export of sacred water from the Jordan River came to a halt with the defeat of the Ottoman Turks, who controlled Jordan and other Middle East countries before the outbreak of World War I.

For much of the past century, the area on the eastern side of the Jordan River has been a declared military zone.

The bottles of consecrated water receive the consent of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches before their export is permitted. The Baptism site -- about 50 kilometers west of Amman -- is the place where Jesus came to meet John the Baptist and was baptized by him.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Calendar Deletes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur; Providence, RI Schools Now to Hold Classes

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website reports today (August 9, 2010) that the largest school system in Rhode Island is removing the Jewish High Holidays as vacation days after more than 30 years.

The Providence School District deleted Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the public school calendar. Absence from school on those days will be excused. The system has more than 23,000 students.

Marty Cooper, community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, said, "This is not an act of anti-Semitism. They thought long and hard about this."

The Jewish population of Providence has been declining, while other religious groups -- including Mulsims -- have been growing. Muslims have lobbied to have their holidays included on school calendars in several U.S. communities in recent years.

Orthodox, Catholic Bishops Unite in Ukraine; Agree to Joint Plan to Build Unique Church

Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox bishops in Kolomyia, Ukraine have joined in a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a new church, which they are building as a joint project to celebrate the 1022nd anniversary of the "Baptism of the Rus," the establishment of Christianity in Ukraine.

The joint project is a remarkable breakthrough in a country that has seen persistent tensions between the Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, according to the True Orthodox and Ecumenical News website.

Catholic Bishop Mykola Simkaylo and his Orthodox counterpart, Ivan Boychuk, said that the new church reflects their "joint purpose: to build a unique church in Ukraine. By holding joint events, we unite our faithful in one Christian family."

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church -- by far the largest of the Eastern-rite churches faithful to the Holy See -- has long sought to establish a Catholic patriarchate in Ukraine.

A Greek Catholic patriarchate in Ukraine is opposed by the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, who claim Ukraine as "canonical territory." The Ukrainian Orthodox Church became divided into two patriarchates -- the new independent Kiev Patriarchate and the traditional Moscow Patriarchate -- after the collapse of Soviet Russia in 1991.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

COMMENTARY: Shame on Judge Walker for Sabotaging Mandate of Cal. Citizens

On Augst 4, 2010, Vaughn Walker -- a federal judge -- struck down California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in that state.

Walker ruled against the ban because there was "no rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license."

Excuse me, Judge Walker, but isn't the Bible a rational basis in defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, in America's predominantly Christian society? Moreover, doesn't the Bible say that a union, for the purpose of marriage, between two men or between two women is a sin?

And wasn't marriage -- between one man and one woman -- a sacred institution in society long before statutory laws came into being? You see, Judge Walker, the institution of marriage goes back to the time when natural law -- or right reason -- preceded and later transcended statutory law. In fact, it still transcends statutory law today in many instances, including the definition of marriage.

Marriage is the foundation for a harmonious civilized society. More than any other institution in society, marriage -- between one man and one woman -- is the capstone for the propagation of human beings, from generation to generation, ad infinitum.

Additionally, the fact that the citizens of California voted to ban same-sex marriage in that state, and Judge Walker had the audacity to rule that the citizens' mandate was unconstitutional, clearly illustrates a decline -- perhaps even the downfall -- of the American democratic process.

Like it or not, America is pursuing a path that will inevitably lead to its downfall in the near future -- just as ancient Rome witnessed -- and the primary culprit of this downfall is the American judicial system, and more specifically its arrogant, liberal-minded, and incompetent judges who enjoy making decisions that favor the minority over the majority. Indeed, these kinds of judicial decisions are rapidly eroding America's democratic form of government.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pastors, Executives Hold Leadership Summit; Will Help Leaders to Be Better at What They Do

The Christian Post website reports today (August 7, 2010) that tens of thousands of pastors, ministry leaders, and corporate leaders gathered at over 100 sites across North America for Willow Creek's 15th annual Leadership Summit.

The summit is for leaders who are serious about being better at what they do -- whether it is shepherding a flock, growing a business, or becoming a more passionate follower of Christ.

Peter Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois said, "We are realistic leaders who are trying to lead better in the world."

After beginning with 245 leaders at the South Barrington campus in 1995, the summit has grown to involve some 100,000 leaders from all spheres of society in 76 countries. The two-day event is beamed live from Willow Creek to sites in the U.S. and Canada, and later broadcast at sites throughout the world.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jews, Arabs Protest Palestinian Evictions; March in E. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Other Cities

Jews and Arabs marched shoulder-to-shoulder in occupied East Jerusalem and in towns across Israel today (August 6, 2010), in a joint protest against the eviction of Palestinians to make way for Jewish settlers, according to the Daily Star website.

In the Sheikh Jarrah residential neighborhood -- close to the line between mainly Arab East Jerusalem and the Jewish west side -- Israeli, Palestinian, and foreign protesters rallied to mark the one-year anniversary since the clearances began there.

About 1,000 people took part in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and about the same number marched in Tel Aviv -- Israel's largest city.

There were smaller gatherings in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa, in Israeli-Arab towns in central Israel, and in the middle-class Jewish town of Raanana. About 100 demonstrators took part in the march in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

Julia Roberts Says She Is a "Practising Hindu;" Regularly Worships with Family at Hindu Temple

Popular Hollywood actress Julia Roberts says she is a "practising Hindu," the Christian Today website reports today (August 6, 2010).

The 42-year-old actress -- born to Catholic and Baptist parents -- disclosed to U.S. fashion magazine "Elle" that she and her family regularly worship at a Hindu temple with their children.

"The entire Roberts-Moder family goes to the temple together to 'chant and pray and celebrate,'" she said.

Roberts is believed to have converted to Hinduism while shooting her new film, "Eat, Pray, Love." In the film -- to be released next month -- Roberts plays a woman who goes on a year-long cultural and spiritual trip to India, Italy, and Bali.

NATO Transfers Protection of Serbian Shrines; Serbs Don't Trust Protection by Kosovo Police

The NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo -- Kfor -- yesterday (August 5, 2010) began transferring the protection of Serbian shrines to police in the mostly Albanian former Serbian province.

The monastery Gracanica -- on the outskirts of Pristina -- was the first of the "properties with designated special status" handed over to Kosovo police for protection, according to the Earth Times website.

The move drew protests from Serbia, where Goran Bogdanovic -- the Kosovo minister -- said it was "unacceptable" and a "provocation." He said, "It is unacceptable that Serbian shrines and priests are guarded by Kosovo police. Our people do not trust them."

Kosovo -- a former Serbian province with a 90-percent ethnic Albanian population -- declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008.

Belgrade officials have vowed never to recognize the break-away province, and have encouraged Kosovo's Serbian minority not to acknowledge central authorities in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Judge Strikes Down Cal. Same-Sex Marriage Ban; Says "No Rational Basis" for Marriage Denial

The Ethics Daily website reports today (August 5, 2010) that a federal judge -- in a decision with enormous legal, political, and religious consequences -- yesterday struck down California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision marks the first time a federal judge has declared a state gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," Walker said.

Walker's ruling is expected to be appealed, and the lawsuit -- brought by two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco -- may eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawsuit Filed to Defeat Plan for NYC Mosque; Former Mayor Giuliani Calls Plan "Desecration"

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed a lawsuit with New York state Supreme Court to overturn a decision to build a mosque near Ground Zero, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (August 5, 2010).

"It has been clear from the beginning that the city has engaged in a rush to push this project through -- ignoring proper procedure and ignoring a growing number of New Yorkers and Americans who don't believe this site is the place to build a mosque," said ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow.

Former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani called the proposed mosque a "desecration." He added that "decent Muslims" would take no offense at opposition to the Islamic center, since they also desired peace.

The Anti-Defamation League -- a prominent Jewish organization -- said that having a mosque at Ground Zero would be disrespectful to the victims and families of September 11 and that the location was "counterproductive to the healing process."

Group Seeks to Stop Baptisms in Jordan River; Area Where Jesus Was Baptized Now Polluted

The Ecumenical News International (ENI) website reports today (August 5, 2010) that health concerns relating to water quality have triggered an environmental advocacy group to call for the banning of baptisms in the lower Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

"For reasons of public health as well as religious integrity, baptism should be banned from taking place in the river," said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Eco Peace/ Friends of the Earth Middle East.

The environmental group called for an urgent meeting of government representatives from Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, to discuss the rehabilitation of the river.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Police Arrest Several Protesters in Warsaw; Poles Prevent Moving Cross from Govt. Bldg.

Angry protests erupted in Warsaw, Poland yesterday (August 3, 2010) when government officials -- acting on orders from President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski -- moved to dismantle a cross that had been erected outside the presidential palace in memory of the late President Lech Kaczynski.

Police held back hundreds of protesters and made several arrests, but decided to postpone the removal of the cross. The government had planned to move the cross to a nearby Catholic Church, according to the Catholic Culture website.

The cross -- which was erected in memory of President Kaczynski after the Polish leader died in a plane crash last April -- has become the focus of a dispute over Church influence in Poland.

Conservative Catholics -- including Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of of the deceased leader and head of the opposition party -- had urged leaving the cross in place. On the other hand, President-elect Komorowski -- who favors a more secular approach to political leadership -- said that it was inappropriate to have the religious symbol outside a government building.

Remains of St. John the Baptist Are Located; Found in Sozopol, Bulgaria Near the Black Sea

The Greek Reporter website reports today (August 4, 2010) that Bulgarian archeologists have found the remains of Saint John the Baptist in the island of Saint John, near the south coast of the Black Sea.

The box that archeologists found was buried in the base of the ancient church of the island protected by Saint John. This church was destroyed many years ago.

The box with the holy remains is made of stone, and was opened in the Archeological Museum in Sozopol, Bulgaria. There are two inscriptions in ancient Greek in the box. One says, "My Lord, mercy for your slave Thomas," and the other says "Saint John."

The remains were donated to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and will be hosted in the local church in Sozopol -- a decision made by the Holy Synod.

COMMENTARY: Patriarch Kirill Must Be Commended for Reaching Out to Russian Youth

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All of Russia must be commended for launching an "army" of missionary specialists, as a means of reconnecting young people in Russia to religion.

The primary goal of this "army" -- which began last May and includes 100 young members -- is to distance young people from drugs, alcoholism, and sexual promiscuity. At the same time, it will organize events to communicate to society the Russian Orthodox Church's position on contemporary issues.

Patriarch Kirill's initiative will provide training for young adults, who will then create youth groups throughout Russia. The "army" will instill Christian values and moral character in Russian youth, while discouraging Western philosophy, which tends to focus on secularism, egotism, materialism, and wealth.

Although it may not be realistic to expect to have a youth leader in all of Russia's churches -- there are more than 14,000 Orthodox churches in Russia -- Patriarch Kirill's youth initiative deserves much praise, as it will certainly have a positive impact in instilling Christian values on Russia's young people.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

ADL Revamps Its Guidelines on Anti-Semitism; Says Swastikas No Longer Seen as Anti-Semitic

The Jewish Week website reports today (August 3, 2010) that the painting of a swastika is no longer considered an act of anti-Semitism under new guidelines for recording attacks against Jews -- a decision that was made by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last week.

The most prominent Jewish defense agency in the United States -- and perhaps in the world -- announced on July 27, 2010 that it has revamped its guidelines for recording anti-Semitic incidents in its annual survey for the first time in 30 years, taking a more conservative approach.

"We know that the swastika has, for some, lost its meaning as the primary symbol of Nazism and instead become a more generalized symbol of hate," said Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, who was a hidden child during the Holocaust in a statement.

There were 1,211 anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S. in 2009, including 209 in New York State, according to the latest ADL audit. California saw the most incidents, 275, while New Jersey had 132, followed by Florida with 90.

WCC: "Explosive Growth" of Church in China; About 130 Million Christians Now in China

The Christian Church in China is experiencing tremendous growth like never before, the World Council of Churches (WCC) said today (August 3, 2010).

Matthews George Chunakara, Director of WCC's International Affairs and Public Witness, said there has been a "unique and explosive growth" of Christianity among the Chinese people.

In the early 1970s, there were an estimated three million Christians in China. Today, the number may be as high as 130 million.

Chunakara said, "Now being the fastest growing economy, the Chinese know the importance of a harmonious society. They are giving religion a special role."

Serious Shortage of German Catholic Priests; Sex Abuse Scandals Discourage Young Prospects

A string of sex abuse scandals in the German Catholic Church has led to a dramatic fall in the number of young men wanting to become priests, according to Germany's top Catholic bishop.

Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch, who is the Chairman of the German Episcopal Conference, said that the church is now suffering from a serious lack of manpower, the Worldwide Religion News website reports today (August 3, 2010).

"We are living through a great trauma -- indeed the greatest crisis of the Catholic Church in Germany since 1945," Zollitsch said.

He added that new applications to join the priesthood across Germany had fallen to 150 this year -- a record low.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Russian Orthodox Church Forms "Army" of Youth; Designed to Reconnect Young People to Religion

The Asia News website reports today (August 2, 2010) that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All of Russia has launched an "army" of missionary specialists, in an effort to reconnect young people to religion.

The aim is to "distance young people from drugs, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity" and organize events to communicate to society the Church's position on contemporary issues, explains Vladimir Batrakov, a former soldier now "enrolled" in the Patriarchate course, which involves 100 young members.

The campaign -- promoted by Patriarch Kirill -- provides training for young adults who will then create youth groups throughout Russia.

The new youth group is intended to promote -- together with religious values -- an "anti-Western philosophy," politics, and patriotism.

LWF Leader Supports Palestinian Christians; Urges Them Not to Emigrate from Holy Land

At a time when many Christians worry about the future of fellow believers in the Holy Land, the first Arab elected as president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has highlighted their situation, and urged them not to emigrate.

Preaching the day after his election of LWF president, Jerusalem Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan called on those present to, "pray that Palestinian Christians may not lose faith and leave the country," the Ekklesia website reports today (August 2, 2010).

The LWF's highest governing board -- its assembly -- elected Younan at its July 20-27 meeting in Stuttgart, Germany. He took office at the end of the assembly.

Younan said, "I sometimes ponder the fact that there have been Christians in Palestine since the first Pentecost when Jesus had walked in the Holy Land. Now, we Palestinians are less than 1.5 percent of the population."

Church Leader: Heat Reminds Us of Our Sins; Is No Excuse for Casual Clothes in Church

The Russian Orthodox Church does not recommend to see God's punishment in abnormal Russian heat, but believes it positive that environmental conditions make people think about their sins and eternal life.

"People start thinking if they live right, if they help each other," head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said on July 30, 2010 at an Interfax-Religion press conference.

At the same time, he does not think that hot weather is a reasonable excuse for going to church with open shoulders, in shorts, and other casual clothes.

"If a person comes to communicate with God and affords a slipshod way of dressing, it means that something is wrong with his soul," Fr. Vsevolod said.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Peres: Britain Deeply Pro-Arab, Anti-Israeli; His Remarks Cause Anger of Jews, Non-Jews

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) website reports today (August 1, 2010) that Israeli President Shimon Peres has caused a storm in England, after accusing the British establishment of being "deeply pro-Arab and anti-Israeli."

In a recent interview with the Jewish news website, Tablet, Peres also said that there is anti-Semitism among the British.

Peres, 86, said the British "abstained in the 1947 partition resolution...They maintained an arms embargo against us in the 1950s...They had a defense treaty with Jordan...They also worked against us."

Peres' comments generated angry reactions from Jewish and non-Jewish members of Parliament.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain of the Maidenhead Synagogue told the Telegraph of London newspaper, "Peres has provided a sweeping statement that is far too one-sided."

COMMENTARY: It Is Not Appropriate for Gays to Serve in the U.S. Armed Forces

The Pentagon is currently reviewing its "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the armed forces.

It would behoove the Pentagon to rule that it will not accept gays to serve in the military.

In addition to making it uncomfortable for fellow members in the military, accepting gays would place military chaplains in an awkward situation.

Would military chaplains be allowed to tell gays that gay sex is a sin, according to the Bible? Would they be required to say that having gay sex is all right? Would they be allowed to try to convert gay personnel into becoming straight personnel?

The fact is that there is no need for the Pentagon to accept gays in the military. Since there is no longer a draft -- and joining the armed forces is voluntary -- the Pentagon has a duty to set high standards for prospective military personnel.

Refusing to accept gays in the military must be one of these Pentagon standards.