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Religion Today Summaries - May 16, 2006

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - May 16, 2006

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

  • American Baptists Split Over Homosexuality
  • Public Schools add Religion Course to Curriculum Requirements
  • 1 Dead in Kenya Religious Station Attack
  • Some Christians Shun, others Co-opt 'Da Vinci'

American Baptists Split Over Homosexuality

The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest severed ties with the national denomination on Thursday, concluding a yearlong battle over the theological interpretation of homosexuality. A Christian Post story reports the Board of Directors of the Pacific Southwest's 300 churches voted unanimously to withdraw from the American Baptists Church, USA. "The overwhelming response of delegates from the churches was a mandate in the minds of the members of the Board of Directors,” said Dr. Dale V. Salico, executive minister of the ABCPSW. Divisions over homosexuality have threatened the unity of 1.4 million-member American Baptists for years. The denomination’s self-definition says American Baptists are believers "who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching." However, the church failed to discipline congregations that violated denominational law by blessing homosexual unions and ordaining openly homosexual ministers, sparking the current split.

Public Schools add Religion Course to Curriculum Requirements

One California school district has found that requiring students to study world religions has been surprisingly uncontroversial and has helped smooth hostilities. Catholic News Service reports that for the last six years, Modesto public schools have required ninth graders to take a nine-week course on world religions, beginning with two weeks of study of First Amendment rights and U.S. history of religious liberty. When the requirement began, researchers from Stanford and The College of William and Mary started tracking students' attitudes, understanding of different religions, and of constitutional rights governing the free exercise of religion. They found that students grew to understand and respect others' religious views, and their scores on tests of basic knowledge of religion nearly doubled. Tolerance also increased for the rights of people to express religious views and to display faith symbols. That said, students who entered the course thinking that one religion was "definitely right and others wrong" weren't swayed from those beliefs. While the course allowed for only core information about a handful of major religions, even the basics helped clear up misconceptions, such as that of many Protestant students who did not understand that Catholicism was a form of Christianity.

1 Dead in Kenya Religious Station Attack

The Associated Press reports that eight masked gunmen in Kenya attacked a Pentecostal church radio station, killing one person and setting the building on fire. The attack occurred during a program that compared teachings of the Bible and the Quran. Church leaders and government officials condemned the attack and warned Christians and Muslims to avoid religious conflict in the East African nation. "The government condemns this attack. It is a criminal act," government spokesman Alfred Mutua said after visiting the burned offices. "We are asking religious leaders not to say words or preach words that would breed intolerance." One security guard was stabbed and later shot dead, and another was wounded. "[This] station is for spreading the good news, and faith comes by hearing the word of God," Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi said. "It is not right to go at the source of the news and commit violent acts."

Some Christians Shun, others Co-opt 'Da Vinci'

A story in the San Francisco Chronicle outlines how The Da Vinci Code has spurred some Christian leaders - including the Vatican - to call for a boycott, while other Christian leaders say the book's popularity presents an opportunity that simply can't be ignored. Mark Mitchell not only preached to his evangelical congregation about the novel's flaws on Easter Sunday, he's urging his most devout to read the thriller or see the forthcoming movie. Many more evangelical Christian leaders are embracing the discourse as they question and refashion how they react to pop culture. Others ask whether it's appropriate to profit off of what they see as heresy. "There's a whole viewpoint about Christians that we should escape from the world," said Mitchell. "I just don't buy that. We should be engaged with the world." After his sermon on Easter, Mitchell gave out hundreds of copies of a "Code" reading guide written by Josh McDowell, an evangelical Christian and staff member of the Campus Crusade for Christ. "For Christians that are equipped... to deal with the issues, I think it's a good thing for them to see the movie so they can be engaged in a respectful conversation about the issues with nonbelievers," Mitchell said. The reaction of Mitchell and others like him contrasts the 1988 reaction of many Christian conservatives over the film The Last Temptation of Christ.