Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
World Council of Churches Begin Meeting
Leaders and envoys from across Christianity opened their most ambitious gathering in nearly a decade Tuesday, the AP reports. The World Council of Churches meeting - its biggest since 1998 – contains a full agenda: from the faith's many internal rifts to easing discord with Islam. Attendees will seek to clarify new priorities for a membership that covers more than 500 million followers: mainline Protestant denominations, Anglicans and Orthodox churches. The Roman Catholic Church is not a full WCC member, although it cooperates closely in many areas. The Christian congregations fully outside the WCC fold are likely to be a recurring theme during the 10-day assembly of more than 4,000 clerics, scholars and religious activists. The stunning growth of Pentecostal and other evangelical-style churches has left many WCC members struggling with shrinking congregations and declining influence in some regions - particularly in Africa, Latin America and increasingly China. At the same time, the mainstream denominations are watching church attendance fall steadily in Europe and elsewhere. "Christianity is undergoing radical changes," said one of the policy documents for the conference. "While Christianity appears to be on the decline in some parts of the world, it has become a dynamic force to others."
Christian Leaders Debate Government's Responsibility for the Poor
Christian leaders split sharply over the 2006 federal budget and deficit-reduction bill, according to an article in Christianity Today. They differed not just on how Washington can help the poor, vulnerable, and aged, but also the extent that government should. The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 on February 1. The spending measure trims $39.5 billion from the federal budget over five years. The largest cuts target Medicare and Medicaid. The act also reduced $343 million for foster-care programs and $5 billion over 10 years to states for enforcing child support. Many Christian leaders condemned the spending reductions as immoral. "Today's vote was a callous vote," the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said in a statement on February 1. But many Republicans in Congress with ties to religious conservatives voted for the spending cuts and disagreed that the government should prioritize aiding the poor and marginalized. "I believe the 'least of these' is my daughter, who's 4 years old, and my son, who's 2 years old, and all of those not born," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said. "I believe it's unfair to saddle them with debt way into the future." Of those who protested the budget, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said, "They don't know what they're talking about. There's $1.7 billion fraud in the food-stamp program. If the churches had done their job and followed Jesus' teachings, the government wouldn't have started all these programs and created all these problems."
Presbyterians Take Closer Look at Trinity
Presbyterian churches across the nation may soon receive new guidelines to help them understand the doctrine of the Trinity, the Christian Post reports. On Saturday, the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing” to be forwarded to the denomination’s next General Assembly, slated to be held in Birmingham, Ala., in June. “I have a deep hope that this will be helpful to the church,” said the Rev. Rebecca Button Prichard, moderator of the working group that developed the report, according to the Presbyterian News Service (PNS). The comprehensive report, which took more than five years of study and revision to complete, affirms the importance of the three-fold nature of God and reviews the doctrine of the Trinity in Presbyterian theology, worship and life. “What the paper tries to do … is articulate how glorious this notion is that God is Trinity,” said the Rev. Charles Wiley, associate for theology in the Office of Theology and Worship, part of the Congregational Ministries Division (CMD). The General Assembly will be asked to publish the study and have the materials ready to be distributed throughout the denomination.
Two Suspects Believed Responsible for Church Fire Spree
Since Feb. 2, ten Baptist churches in rural Alabama have fallen victim to fires, with the latest having been struck Saturday night near the Mississippi line. Two men in their 20s or 30s are believed to be responsible, investigators said Sunday as authorities confirmed the latest blaze at Beaverton Freewill Baptist Church was the result of arson. "They're not youths or teens. It's probably someone in their 20s or 30s,” said Eric Kehn, a spokesman for the ATF. “They're pretty much inseparable. They're something like bosom buddies." In the first series of fires, three churches were burned to the ground, while two churches were damaged by fire. The second set of fires, which hit early last week, damaged Dancy First Baptist Church near Aliceville and Spring Valley Baptist Church near Emelle and destroyed Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church near Boligee and Gallilee Baptist in Panola. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said the first nine church fires appeared linked. Fire marshals are currently investigating whether the Saturday blaze was linked to the other nine. Kehn, meanwhile, said witness reports and behavioral profilers led authorities to believe that two white men were responsible for the fires. Witnesses said they saw two men in a sport utility vehicle near a number of the fires. There is no racial pattern in the attacks, however, as five of the churches had white congregations, and five, black. Investigators have said they don't know a motive.