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Religion Today Summaries - April 20, 2006

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - April 20, 2006

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:

  • Growing Evangelical Influence on Peruvian Politics
  • Pope's 1st Year: His Centrist Approach Concerns Conservatives
  • Study Suggests Weekly Worship May Add 2-3 Years to Life
  • Southern Baptists Experience Drop in Baptisms; Giving & Membership Grow

Growing Evangelical Influence on Peruvian Politics

The political participation of Evangelicals in Peru began in the 1950s, but only recently in 1990 did it constitute a visible force, Spero News reports. The number of presidential votes obtained by Evangelical Pastor Humberto Lay, leader of the National Restoration was higher than those garnered by well known politicians, and in many places he obtained more votes than the presidential candidate Martha Chavez, political heir to former president Alberto Fujimori. Lay's proposals include a frontal battle against corruption, recovering Christian values, an economy with a human face and overcoming the meager levels of public education. Writer Jaime Bayly and host of the "Sharpshooters" said that the Evangelical pastor was in realty the "big winner" in the elections, and Lay's party is expected to hold three of 120 congressional seats. "I want to thank God because no matter what the outcome the country won and above all National Restoration, a political party that is now part of the history of the country, thanks to the struggle of many supporters, members, militants, leaders and candidates," said Gino Romero, the legal representative of National Restoration.

Pope's 1st Year: His Centrist Approach Concerns Conservatives

A story in the Washington Post reports that one year into Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, liberal Catholics are still unhappy, but now, so are some conservative activists. "Among those who greatly admired Cardinal Ratzinger and were elated by his election as pope, there is a palpable uneasiness," the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus wrote in the journal First Things. Based on Benedict's record as a defender of orthodoxy, Catholics on both sides expected him to lead a march toward ideological purity. On the whole, however, the first year of his papacy has been surprisingly mild. "He has not turned out to be the pope that many progressives feared and many conservatives cheered," said Christopher M. Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University. Philip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, said, "It's not just a question of what [Benedict] has done. It's a question of expectations, and here we are a year in and what he hasn't done. When he was elected, there was an expectation from Catholics on all sides that he would be more of an activist, and that hasn't happened." The Rev. Joseph Fessio said he understands the impatience among fellow conservatives but is not worried: "On the surface [this first year] was non-controversial -- but underneath he was laying the groundwork, the principles, for conclusions that are controversial; I think this second year is going to be the one to look it."

Study Suggests Weekly Worship May Add 2-3 Years to Life

Could weekly religious attendance extend your life as much as regular exercise? The Washington Post reports that's one way to view new research by University of Pittsburgh physician Daniel Hall, who also happens to be an Episcopal priest. The study compares numbers from life expectancy tables and mortality studies to suggest that weekly worship may add 2-3 years to life, versus 3-5 years for regular exercise and 2.5-3.5 years for cholesterol-lowering drugs. Hall even compares the costs/benefits of tithing, gym membership and cholesterol medications. The study is not without its critics. Tom Denberg of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center said the study does not account for other behaviors - such as religious people being less likely to be smokers - that may explain churchgoers' relative longevity. Denberg went on to label the study "part of a larger, troubling movement in American society to enhance the scientific credibility of [religious] concepts."

Southern Baptists Experience Drop in Baptisms; Giving & Membership Grow

Recently compiled statistics for the Southern Baptist Convention show that baptisms -– which rebounded in 2004 after a four-year decline -– slumped again in 2005, The Baptist Press reports. According to the Annual Church Profile (ACP), baptisms last year dropped 4.15 percent, to the lowest total since 1993. Also on the decline were Sunday School, men and boys mission education, and WMU enrollment. There was growth in some areas, however. The ACP showed a net increase of 234 churches established in 2005; total membership increased slightly to reach 16,270,315; total receipts and missions expenditures were up. Total offering receipts were up $550,347,520 to more than $10.72 billion.