Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
- UMC Next in Line to Address Homosexual Clergy Issue?
- LifeWay Adds ‘Passion’ to Online Resources
- International Outreach to Children Marks a Decade of Delivering Hope.
- Study Links a Country’s Religious and Economic Health
UMC Next in Line to Address Homosexual Clergy Issue?
Fred Jackson and Jim Brown, Agape Press
It appears the stage is set for the next denominational showdown over homosexual clergy. The Episcopal Church USA is still dealing with the decision by its leaders last year to consecrate that denomination's first openly homosexual bishop. Now comes word that officials in the United Methodist Church have set March 17 as the date for a church trial involving a female pastor in Washington state. Karen Dammann openly admits she is living in what she calls a "partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship." A trial of 13 clergy peers will hear the case; a vote of nine would convict her. Dammann told United Methodist News Service last month that she is prepared for the trial. "The case has become much bigger than me now, and I hope it will give the church an opportunity to grow," she said. "The ultimate act of trying someone for being gay is bound to shake the tree -- I hope in the direction of inclusiveness." In recommending the trial, the United Methodist Judicial Council noted the church's Book of Discipline prohibits "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from being ordained or serving as pastors. Some United Methodists have been frustrated over the fact it has taken so long to bring this matter to a head in light of the fact that Dammann declared herself a lesbian in a letter to her bishop nearly three years ago.
LifeWay Adds 'Passion' to Online Resources
Sara Horn, Baptist Press
"The Passion of The Christ," is receiving high praise weeks before its release Feb. 25. Christian leaders who have previewed the film call it "one of the greatest evangelistic tools of the century" as local churches look for ways to use the film for outreach. LifeWay Christian Resources has launched a new website at lifeway.com to help people and churches communicate the salvation message of the movie. Free content from LifeWay resources emphasize the power of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, and the offer of everlasting life through a personal relationship with Christ. Visitors to lifeway.com also can order movie ticket vouchers, as well as free fan kits that include posters and other promotional materials churches may distribute in their communities. Sound clips and other music resources that coordinate with sermon outlines will be available in coming weeks. The LifeWay website's "Behind the Scenes" section is specifically designed for non-Christians who seek more information about Christ. It provides answers to questions about the movie, as well as articles and devotionals that explain the crucifixion and resurrection. A link titled "Know Him" walks readers through the steps to becoming a Christian. LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. said the film is a must-see for anyone seeking to understand how an event 2,000 years ago continues to impact lives today.
International Outreach to Children Marks a Decade of Delivering Hope
Allie Martin, Agape Press
Millions of children in some of the poorest countries worldwide started the new year with hope thanks to the efforts of the Operation Christmas Child program and caring volunteers of all ages. This past December marked the 10th anniversary of the Samaritan's Purse project that collects gifts to be packaged and distributed to hurting children in 95 countries. Each needy child in the Operation Christmas Child program receives a shoebox filled with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. In this most recent gift drive, millions of children, families, schools, churches, scout troops, and civic organizations worked tirelessly to fill the record 6.5 million shoeboxes. Randy Riddle, assistant director for Operation Christmas Child, says the shoeboxes can change children's lives. "These are small, insignificant items that we ask to go inside every shoebox gift," he says, "but what is meaningful is that every gift goes along with the Christmas story as it is told in the Bible, in the child's language -- and sometimes even down to the dialect." Riddle says the annual outreach is an enormous undertaking that works primarily through churches, Christian schools, and other organizations across the U.S. and ten other collecting countries to prepare the gifts for international distribution. More than 30 million shoebox gifts have been collected for Operation Christmas Child since it began in 1993.
Study Links a Country’s Religious and Economic Health
A study from Harvard University has found a direct link between a country's religious and economic health. The study looked at 59 countries and found that where religions flourished, values such as honesty, work ethic, and thrift worked their way into the fabric of society and helped the economy. Study author Dr. Rachel McCleary of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs says it only works where there is a freedom of religion. "You tend to find that in countries where there's a state religion through regulation, religious attendance is really low," she says. "Whereas in countries where you have subsidies of religion, then you tend to find that there's a higher level of religious participation." McCleary says belief in hell tends to motivate virtuous values more than a belief in heaven.