June 8, 2006

World News

Membership Drops 2 Percent
in Presbyterian Church (


BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                     c. 2006 Religion News Service

capMembership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) decreased by more than 2 percent in 2005, the largest decline since 1975, according to the denomination's research office.

Membership in the largest Presbyterian body in the country fell by 48,474 to 2,313,662 in 2005, according to the research office. The numbers only include Presbyterians who have been baptized in the church and retain active membership.
The church has been losing members since 1966, and the membership has declined by at least 1 percent per year since 1969, Jack Marcum, the church's associate for survey research, told the Presbyterian News Service.  Between 1970 and 1975, there was an "acceleration" in the loss of members, but since 1975, the decline has "been somewhere between 1 (percent) and 2 percent," Marcum said.
The decline in membership occurred in virtually every statistical category, according to the Presbyterian News Service.
Though almost 125,000 people joined the denomination last year, 28,680 transferred to other churches, 36,191 members died and more than 108,000 dropped out or moved to churches "not in correspondence" with the PC(USA).
Despite the drop in membership, total giving at the church increased by more than 5 percent, to $3.07 billion. The denomination is holding its 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala. June 15-22.

Religious Leaders Urge Attention on U.S. Hunger

BY PIET LEVY                                                                                 
c. 2006 Religion News Service

Rev. Lennox Yearwood of Washington's youth-oriented Hip Hop Caucus joined six representatives of religious organizations in making impassioned pleas for an end to hunger on June. The panel discussion was sponsored by the national food bank network, America's Second Harvest, on the eve of the fifth annual National Hunger Awareness Day (June 6).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said 38.2 million Americans lived in households unable to purchase enough food in 2004, an increase of 2 million from the previous year. America's Second Harvest claims that one out of every four people in a soup kitchen line is a child.
"This is embarrassing ...," Yearwood said. "In the richest country in the world, in the most powerful, beautiful nation in the world ... how do we bring hunger into the 21st century?"
The panelists called for the strengthening of anti-hunger programs, such as emergency food assistance and food stamps in the Farm Bill, expected to be debated and rewritten by Congress next year. "This kind of farm bill is good for U.S. farmers, it is good for hungry people, and it is also a piece that we need to move to the Shalom of God," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of the Christian anti-hunger lobbying group, Bread for the World.
Other panelists included Judith Podja, of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference; the Rev. Rudy Rasmus, co-founder of Houston's Bread for Life food drive; and Sister Christine Vladimiroff, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of Catholic nuns.
Imam Misbahudeen Rufai, member of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, criticized the country for wasting so much food, saying that the Quran teaches that "God does not love those who waste."
And Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit, director of outreach and external affairs for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, expressed his outcry, in English and Hebrew, through song. “And you shall eat and be satisfied and then you'll have the right to give thanks," Zevit sang. "We share in a vision of wholeness and realize where every child is nourished we all live in peace."

Rift Opens Among Evangelicals on AIDS Funding

                                                                                c. 2006 Religion News Service

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson may concur on many things, but one thing they do not agree on is how the U.S. government spends money to fight AIDS.
As the world marks 25 years since HIV and AIDS first appeared, a clash among high-profile evangelical leaders over an international relief foundation threatens to take center stage.
The dispute also lays bare a faultline among American evangelicals, who have been divided over the treatment and prevention of AIDS because of the disease's perceived connections to homosexuality and sexual promiscuity. The clash, which centers on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, may have long-term ramifications, both for those suffering with diseases and for the reputation of American evangelicals, activists said.
If the U.S. fails to extend help because of objections from conservative Christians, "we will look on this as a very mistaken time," said Tony Campolo, a prominent sociologist and Christian activist.
Since its founding in 2001, the Swiss-based Global Fund has spent $2 billion on programs that offer medical treatment and education in 130 countries, according to a spokesperson. The U.S. government has provided 30 percent of the public-private foundation's finances through 2005, and appropriated $445 million for 2006.
Some of the programs bankrolled through the Global Fund--such as those that distribute condoms to prostitutes or provide clean needles to drug addicts -- have drawn fire from conservative evangelicals. Some conservatives favor President Bush's policy of abstinence and emphasis on fidelity in marriage. Others take a more pragmatic approach, and say that exporting Western morality to foreign countries is ineffective at best and calamitous at worst.
After the Senate passed a non-binding budget amendment last March to increase the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to $866 million in 2007, Dobson lambasted the international foundation, saying it promotes "legalized prostitution and all kinds of wickedness around the world."
As the House debates a foreign spending bill that would maintain the current $445 million to the Global Fund next year, Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry has turned up the heat.
A five-page letter addressed to lawmakers criticizes the Global Fund's board of directors, its spending habits and its "social marketing" of condoms "to the near exclusion of abstinence and faithfulness." The letter is signed by Dobson and representatives from 29 other conservative organizations, such as Shepherd Smith of the Institute for Youth Development and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer of American Values.
Not all evangelicals, however, are siding with Dobson.  The Global Fund released its own letter on May 24 that quoted Scripture, detailing the foundation's accomplishments and listing supportive signatures of prominent Christian leaders like Call to Renewal founder Jim Wallis, Campolo and, yes, Pat Robertson.

Survey Finds Interfaith Cooperation Up Since 9/11

                                                                                                                       c. 2006 Religion News Service

Differing faith communities are coming together with more frequency to pray together and serve together than before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a new survey reports.
The survey, sponsored by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, shows that approximately 22 percent of polled congregations reported participating in an interfaith religious service within the last year. About 37 percent of congregations polled said they had conducted community service with congregations of different faiths.
This is a sharp rise from the organization’s last survey, conducted in 2000, when 7 percent of congregations reported interfaith worship and 8 percent reported interfaith community service.
“The increased attention being given by communities of faith to interfaith engagements continues to be dramatic,” said David A. Roozen, director of the 20-plus member coalition for interfaith cooperation. “The Sept. 11 upturn in interfaith awareness has been accompanied by a fundamental change in the United States’ perception of the American religious mosaic.”