September 28, 2006

World News

NBC Airs VeggieTales Minus Most
Religious Content


BY CHANSIN BIRD                                                                             ©2006 Religion News Service
capNBC has given the religious "VeggieTales" cartoon the 10 a.m. slot in its Saturday morning lineup, but it is editing many references to God out of the show.
The Parents Television Council and longtime fans of the popular children's home videos are not pleased.
"NBC is trying to take God and the Bible out of one of the most popular and successful children's animated series ever," said Brent Bozell, president of Parents Television Council, in a statement.
The 30-minute episodes that encourage moral behavior based on Christian principles began airing on Sept. 9. Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and their pals got a Nielsen rating of .95 in their first week, which means about a million homes were tuned in.
Despite some viewers' discontent, VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer takes a more positive outlook on his blog,
"Let's focus on one thing ... kids are meeting Bob and Larry on network television. And that's really cool," he wrote.
Vischer said he was not upset NBC wants their kids programming to be free from religious statements. However, he wishes he would have known the extent of the required cuts before agreeing to reformat the shows. He didn't find out about the need for the cuts until two weeks prior to the first episode.
"I probably would have declined to participate simply because there aren't enough veggie shows that could be made acceptable to NBC without significantly compromising their message," he wrote.

Catholics  Fast in Solidarity With Muslims During Ramadan


BY CHANSIN BIRD                                                                             ©2006 Religion News Service


In response to the pope's controversial remarks about Islam and as a gesture of solidarity with the Muslim population, a national Catholic peace movement has proposed fasting alongside Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset as part of self-purification, worship and contemplation. This year, Ramadan began on Saturday (Sept. 23) or Sunday (Sept. 24), depending on the sighting of the moon.
David Robinson, executive director of Pax Christi USA, made the announcement during a press conference with the Muslim American Society, which claims to be America's largest Muslim grassroots organization.
"We in Pax Christi will enter into the discipline of the Ramadan fast as an effort to better and more deeply prepare a space in our own spirits to dialogue with our Muslim neighbors," Robinson said.
Christian-Muslim relations have been strained since Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 12 speech in which he quoted a 14th-century emperor who described the teachings of Islam's Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman."
"The (pope's) apology is sufficient," said Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of MAS Freedom Foundation, "but we need to move beyond the apology and look at how we can continue to be on the road his predecessor set in terms of an increased dialogue of civilizations rather than a clash of civilizations."

Speaking in Tongues Resurfaces as Southern Baptist Controversy


BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                  ©2006 Religion News Service 
The practice of speaking in tongues is again brewing controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Last year, the denomination's International Mission Board adopted a policy that forbids considering missionary candidates who use a "private prayer language."
Now, an Arlington, Texas, pastor and trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has written to Southern Baptist President Frank Page to request that the issues of "spiritual gifts, private prayer language and speaking in tongues" be addressed in the denomination's statement of faith.
The Rev. Dwight McKissic previously discussed the issue in a chapel sermon at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and criticized the mission board policy.
"I pray in tongues in my private prayer life and I'm not ashamed of that," he said on Aug. 29. "I'm thankful for that." Traditionally, Southern Baptists have opposed Pentecostal practices, including speaking in tongues, but some pastors and churches have embraced a more charismatic worship style.
Seminary officials opted not to post the sermon on the seminary’s Web site.
"While Southwestern does not instruct its chapel speakers about what they can or cannot say, neither do we feel that there is wisdom in posting materials online which could place us in a position of appearing to be critical of actions of the Board of Trustees of a sister agency," they wrote.
McKissic, the co-founder of "Not on My Watch," a group of African-American clergy who oppose same-sex marriage, said in his Sept. 15 letter to Page and the Southern Baptist Executive Committee that he thinks there's a "lack of consensus and clarity" in the denomination about speaking in tongues.

California Episcopal Church Defies the IRS


BY CHANSIN BIRD                                                                             ©2006 Religion News Service


A California Episcopal Church voted to defy the Internal Revenue Service's demands for documents concerning an anti-war sermon given shortly before the 2004 presidential election.
All Saints Church's lay leader, Bob Long, said they have nothing to hide from the IRS.
"We came to this decision because we believe that these summonses intolerably infringe upon our Constitutional rights," he said in a statement Thursday.
The governing board of the Pasadena, Calif., church voted 26-0 to deny the IRS request, firmly placing the ball back in the IRS's court.
IRS regulations prohibit nonprofits, including churches, from participating in any political campaign on behalf of one candidate. Possible penalties if found guilty are numerous, the most drastic being the loss of tax exemptions.
The church came under IRS scrutiny after the Rev. George Regas, the church's former rector, delivered a guest sermon in October 2004, called "If Jesus Debated Sen. Kerry and President Bush." Regas depicted Jesus addressing Bush, calling the president's doctrine of pre-emptive war a "failed doctrine."
The sermon did not endorse a particular candidate but has been under investigation by the IRS since June 2005.
The Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints, and supportive religious leaders around the country say the investigation is an attack on the church's freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
"We are also here not for ourselves alone but to defend the freedom of pulpits in faith communities throughout our land," he said.