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Religion Today Summaries, March 24, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, March 24, 2003

Religion Today Summaries: Daily summaries of the top national and international religious news stories impacting Christians
In Today's Edition:

  • Churches Pray, Continue to Debate Over War With Iraq
  • House Votes to Support `Under God' in Pledge
  • Europeans Debate God's Place in Future Constitution
  • Episcopal Bishops Advise Against Blessing Gay Unions

Churches Pray, Continue to Debate Over War With Iraq
David E. Anderson

(RNS) Among the president's strongest supporters are leaders from the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Calling the war "a moment of last resort," Richard Land, president of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, lauded the nations in the U.S.-led coalition for "the courage of their convictions to act on them and disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people." Kenneth Hemphill, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, lambasted other religious leaders who have criticized the administration's Iraq policy. "For a group of interfaith leaders to criticize Bush is remarkable considering the overwhelming oppression of the Iraqi people," Hemphill said in a statement. "I thank God that we have a president who has the courage to do what is right in spite of the political cost." Supporters of the war were virtually unanimous in seeing the military action as a last resort. "The White House pursued and fully exhausted every diplomatic avenue to force Iraqi compliance to the terms imposed after the first Gulf War – and then gave Saddam Hussein one last chance," said D. James Kennedy, president of Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "War is a horrible business, but this, I believe, is a just cause," he said.

House Votes to Support `Under God' in Pledge
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) The House of Representatives voted 400 to 7 on Thursday (March 20) to condemn a federal court ruling that found the words "under God" unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance. The non-binding House resolution said, "The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, including the phrase `one nation, under God,' is a patriotic act, not an act or endorsement of religious faith or belief." The resolution came three weeks after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its controversial decision that found the pledge violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Atheist Michael A. Newdow sued the Elk Grove, Calif., Unified School District last year, claiming that being forced to recite or listen to the pledge violated his daughter’s religious freedoms. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., said the court's ruling could lead to the prohibition of other "voluntary speech containing religious references" in classrooms. Both houses of Congress approved similar resolutions last summer. All seven members voting against the resolution were Democrats; 15 other Democrats voted present.

Europeans Debate God's Place in Future Constitution
Elizabeth Bryant

(RNS) After sparring over Iraq, European countries have stumbled on another roadblock toward forging a larger, more integrated union: God. Or, more precisely, God, religion and spirituality -- three words that may, or may not, be included in the continent's future constitution. The matter has cobbled strange alliances among European Union members and candidate countries. Delegates from Poland and Germany -- at odds over military action against Baghdad -- are united in pushing for a religious reference in the text, which Islamic Turkey and Roman Catholic France oppose. On one end of the spiritual debate sits a coalition comprising the Vatican, an assortment of center-right political parties, and faith-based organizations. Members are lobbying for various references to God and religion, including one mirroring the constitution of Poland, which joins the EU next year. "We cannot flee from the question of Europe's Christian roots, values, the importance of faith and religious motivations," former Polish Prime Minister Ajozef Olesky. On the other end of the debate, a mix of leftist parties, gay rights groups and other associations want clear language separating church and state. "There's no need for the future constitution to mention our religious heritage," a French diplomat said.

Episcopal Bishops Advise Against Blessing Gay Unions
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) A panel of Episcopal bishops advised the church against blessing same-sex unions because members are so badly divided on the issue of homosexuality. In a report received last week by the church's House of Bishops after 18 months of study, a panel of six bishops and seven theologians urged "the greatest caution" as the church considers whether to sanction gay unions and gay ordination. "Because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the church regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings," the report said. The report will likely color the debate on gay unions as the church prepares for its triennial General Convention meeting this summer in Minneapolis. When the church last met in 2000, delegates voted to "support" lifelong, non-married relationships, but stopped short of formally blessing them. However, the report reflected the divisions of the church between those who view homosexual activity as sinful and those who say that homosexuals deserve support and respect. The committee said the divisions should not be "church-dividing issues" and urged the church to "refrain from any attempt to `settle' the matter legislatively."