Religion Today Summaries, June 15, 2004

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, June 15, 2004

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

  • Bishop Draws Criticism for Presiding Over Same-Sex Union
  • Sri Lankan Parliament to Consider Anti-Conversion Bill
  • Flag Day Ruling Keeps 'God' in the Pledge
  • Penitentiary Becomes First Purpose-Driven Church in Prison

Bishop Draws Criticism for Presiding Over Same-Sex Union
Agape Press

The bishop who offered prayer as President Ronald Reagan's casket arrived at Washington's National Cathedral last Friday has drawn criticism from many of the more conservative members of the church by presiding at a weekend blessing ceremony over two homosexual men. Bishop John Chane, head of the Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, believes that the Holy Spirit guided the election and consecration of the ECUSA's first openly homosexual bishop; and according to Associated Press, Chane is convinced that the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality is outdated. This past weekend Bishop Chane pronounced a "blessing of the covenant" over an Episcopal pastor and his homosexual partner -- who then embraced and kissed amid cheering onlookers. A few demonstrators outside the church protested that the bishop's actions, declaring them to be in defiance of the Bible's clear teaching that homosexual acts are sinful. However, Chane was quoted last month in the Washington Post as saying that same-sex unions are "holy" and deserve to be blessed and held up by the community, and "they deserve to be called what they are: sacred."

Sri Lankan Parliament to Consider Anti-Conversion Bill
Compass Direct

Members of the Buddhist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party will present a "Bill on the Prohibition of Forcible Conversion" to the Sri Lankan Parliament within the next two weeks. The JHU or National Heritage Party, formed to contest snap elections on April 2, published a draft of the bill in the Government Gazette released on May 31. The Minister of Buddhist Sasana has also announced plans to introduce three new bills, with the goal of restricting religious conversions and establishing an independent Buddhist court system controlled by Buddhist monks. The bill proposed by the JHU will impose five- to seven-year prison sentences and fines of up to 500,000 rupees ($5,027) for anyone convicted of "forcible conversion." Meanwhile, attacks on churches have resumed, with at least four incidents reported since the elections.

Flag Day Ruling Keeps 'God' in the Pledge
Fred Jackson and Jody Brown, Agape Press

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a bid by a California atheist to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge. The Michael Newdow case shook the Christian community last year when the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled his objection to the two-word phrase "under God" had merit.  Newdow had argued that his daughter was offended by the religious content of those words, and therefore a public school should not force them upon her in the Pledge. But in yesterday's 8-0 ruling, the Supreme Court said Newdow's case did not have standing because he did not have legal custody of this daughter. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, but still wrote separately to say that the Pledge does not violate the Constitution. Brian Fahling of the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy says the win is not as clean as pro-family groups would have liked, but it is a win nonetheless. While conservatives might be disappointed that the Supreme Court did not uphold the Pledge on the merits, the decision "shows a refreshing degree of restraint that has been sadly missing in recent cases addressing controversial social issues." Fahling does admit that because of the technical nature of today's Supreme Court ruling it does leave open the possibility for further challenges to the Pledge. 

Penitentiary Becomes First Purpose-Driven Church in Prison
Charisma News Service

Inmates in a California medium-security prison are finding their purpose in God, and an early release through a program from pastor Rick Warren's church. About 200 prisoners at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, which has 6,400 inmates, recently completed the "40 Days of Purpose" as outlined by Warren in his 2002 book "The Purpose- Driven Life." The inmates are the first Purpose-Driven church in prison. This year, they added a Christian substance-abuse treatment program based on another curriculum from Warren's Saddleback Community Church called Celebrate Recovery. Warren's programs have acquired a unique status within the California Department of Corrections (CDC). Prisoners who finish the drug program can qualify for an early furlough to a halfway house. CDC spokeswoman Terry Thornton said furloughs have been available through secular programs, but the Saddleback program - which infuses Christian teachings - is the first religious program accredited in this way. Next month, the Celebrate Recovery program will get its own building in the prison. Although the program has elicited no protest, some civil libertarians say it amounts to government sponsorship of a religion. Warren said he had gotten inquiries from wardens around the country, and expected more prisons to adopt 40 Days or Celebrate Recovery programs, for which he would continue to donate materials.