RNS News Briefs
Evangelical coalition rallies behind family planning
By ADELLE M. BANKS
WASHINGTON (RNS) — A coalition of evangelicals is calling on fellow Christians to support access to family planning across the world, saying it does not conflict with evangelical opposition to abortion.
The centrist New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good released a 15-page document Oct. 16 calling for “common ground” support of family planning and the health of mothers and children.
“We affirm that the use of contraceptives is a responsible and morally acceptable means to greater control over the number and timing of births, and to improve the overall developing and flourishing of women and children,” said Rev. Jennifer Crumpton, one of the advisers to the evangelical group.
The NEP document does not include abortion in its definition of “family planning.” It emphasized that access to contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and reduces abortion, and stressed the need to avoid “confusion of family planning with abortion” that has led some religious groups to oppose both.
“It is urgent, urgent and imperative, that this issue be discussed
and cleared up,” said Crumpton, a Christian Church (Disciples of
Christ) minister who was raised Southern Baptist.
The National Association of Evangelicals, where Cizik worked for years as vice-president, has urged frank talk about the vast majority of young evangelicals engaged in premarital sex and briefly mentions family planning in its online “Theology of Sex” document. Among discussion items for church leaders is a question about whether they should advise their congregants on “informed choices about family planning.”
An NAE representative could not be immediately reached for comment
about the New Evangelical Partnership document.
ADL pulls out of interfaith talks over Israel
By MICHELE CHABIN
JERUSALEM (RNS) — The Anti-Defamation League said Oct. 11 it has withdrawn from an Oct. 22 U.S. Jewish-Christian interfaith meeting to protest a letter from some Protestant participants that urged Congress to rethink U.S. funding to Israel.
Although the letter acknowledged "the pain and suffering" of both "Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions," it called for a U.S. government investigation into whether Israel violates laws governing U.S. foreign aid. It did not request a similar probe of Palestinians.
Since the end of the Second World War, Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, according to the Congressional Research Service. Almost all the aid is in the form of military assistance and contracts.
"As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel," the letter said.
"Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. military assistance to Israel -- offered without conditions or accountability -- will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian territories."
ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the signatories' actions -- without first informing Jewish groups -- have "seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect" necessary for interfaith dialogue.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, called the letter "a thinly veiled attempt to try to harm Israel, and U.S.-Israel relations." The Reform movement's Washington-based Religious Action Center said the letter "mischaracterizes" the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, "wrongly holds only Israel accountable" for regional problems "and does not advance the regional and security interests of the U.S."
"Have these church leaders felt morally impelled to write to the governments of Egypt, Iraq or Sudan about the perilous predicament of their historic Christian communities?" said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
A representative of the National Council of Churches was not immediately available for comment.
Pope marks 50th anniversary of Vatican II with warnings of spiritual 'desert'
By ALESSANDRO SPECIALE
VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 11 urged Catholics to confront the spiritual "desert" of today's secularized world and to rediscover "the truth and beauty of the faith."
The Oct. 11 celebration inaugurated the Year of Faith, a yearlong series of events in dioceses and parishes aimed at reinvigorating Christian belief against a mounting tide of secularism.
"Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual 'desertification,'" Benedict
said. "We see it every day around us. This void has spread."
On Oct. 7, Benedict inaugurated a three-week gathering of bishops to focus on the "new evangelization," aimed at developing a strategy for a church confronted by the rapid decline of faith in regions that until recently were its strongholds, such as Europe and Latin America.
For many, the roots of today's crisis date back to Vatican II (1962-1965) and to the dramatic changes, inside and outside the church, of the following decades.
Benedict, who took part in the council as a young theologian, has often seemed to agree with those critics.
On Thursday, he said the council opened up to "dialogue with the
modern world" only because its faith was rock solid, but that in
the following years, "many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality" and
doubted the "very foundations" of Catholic faith.
He urged Catholics to avoid the "extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead."
Canada cuts all non-Christian prison chaplains
By Ron Csillag
TORONTO (RNS) — The Canadian government is cancelling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons.
By next spring, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other non-Christian inmates will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance.
In an email to reporters on Oct. 4, the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is responsible for Canada’s federal penitentiaries, said the government “strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners.”
“However, (it) is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions
will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister
has concluded . . . that chaplains employed by (the Correctional Service of
Canada) must provide services to inmates of all faiths,” the email
Toews had already shelved a plan to hire a Wiccan priest for federal prisons in British Columbia, saying he wasn’t convinced part-time chaplains from minority faiths were an appropriate use of taxpayer money.
Currently, there about 80 full-time chaplains serving the federal prison
system; all are Christian except for one Muslim. There are about 100
part-time chaplains, 20 of them non-Christian, according to CBC News.
According to corrections data, in the last fiscal year, 36 per cent of Canada’s nearly 15,000 federal prison inmates identified themselves as Catholic; 18 per cent as Protestant; five per cent as Muslim; four per cent as following Aboriginal spirituality; and two per cent as Buddhist. Sikhs and Jews registered less than one per cent each. Twenty per cent said they were non-religious.
Monique Marchand, president of the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy, which advises the correctional service on the spiritual care of inmates, said Ottawa’s announcement has been misunderstood.
“It’s misleading to say a Muslim (inmate) will have to go to a Catholic chaplain for counselling,” she said.
Rather, full-time chaplains will be “co-ordinating” the pastoral care of minority faith inmates, meaning they will request local clergy to volunteer their services.
Canadian rabbis asked Ottawa to reconsider the cuts. The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus said it is “deeply concerned that non-Christian inmates will be deprived of religiously specific spiritual nourishment at a time in their lives when they most clearly need it.”
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