November 16, 2006

World News

Massachusetts Lawmakers
Punt on Gay Marriage Ban


BY DAN RING                                                                                        ©2006 Religion News Service 
capA split Massachusetts Legislature on November 9 postponed a vote on a citizens proposal to ban gay marriage, a move that could end the issue's chances of being decided by voters.
The House and the Senate, meeting in a joint constitutional convention, voted 109-87 to recess before dealing with a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman and ban future gay marriages.
Legislators voted to recess until January 2, the last day of the legislative session. Lawmakers said they must vote on the issue by midnight on January 2 in order to keep it alive; without a vote, the proposed amendment dies.
Gay rights activists cheered from the House gallery when legislators voted to recess. The move could nix the proposed amendment and block it from going to voters in 2008.
"We believe it's over," said Arline Isaacson, co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus. "We're thrilled. We're ecstatic."
The vote to recess drew strong criticism from outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney and other opponents of gay marriage. They had hoped legislators would vote on the proposal to move it toward the 2008 ballot.
"Today, by effectively avoiding the constitutionally required vote on same sex marriage, 109 legislators disgraced their oath of office," Romney said after the vote. "The constitution plainly states that when a qualified petition is placed before them, they shall vote. By not voting, we have witnessed the triumph of arrogance over democracy."
Kristian M. Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said he expects the Legislature will again recess on Jan. 2, effectively killing the chances for the amendment to go on the 2008 ballot.
Mineau said the state Legislature thumbed its nose at about 170,000 registered voters who signed a petition to put the proposed ban before voters. Mineau said he might start a new petition to place an amendment on the 2010 ballot.
If approved by voters, the amendment would not affect gay marriages that occurred before the vote. More than 8,100 same-sex couples have taken vows since gay marriages began in May 2004 in Massachusetts.

Young Adults Disengaging From Church


BY AFA JOURNAL                                                                            ©2006 Agape Press
Findings from a new study by The Barna Group reveal a frightening disengagement from Christianity during young adulthood. The study, based on data collected from 2,124 teenagers and 22,103 adults, including 3,583 twentysomethings, "shows that despite strong levels of spiritual activity during the teen years, most twentysomethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years -- and often beyond that," a Barna report said.
Specifically, 61 percent of today's young adults, who, as teenagers, were churched at one point, are now spiritually disengaged. Spiritual disengagement is identified as being inactive when it comes to church attendance, Bible reading, or prayer. Only 20 percent of twentysomethings have maintained spiritual activity consistent with that of their high school experiences, the study revealed.
"In total, 6 out of 10 twentysomethings were involved in a church during their teen years, but have failed to translate that into active spirituality during their early adulthood," Barna said.
And for most adults, this disengagement seems to extend further into the stages of adulthood, specifically parenthood. Despite parental desires to give children spiritual guidance, the new study noted "that just one-third of twentysomethings who are parents regularly take their children to church, compared with two-fifths of parents in their thirties and half of parents who are 40 years old or more."
David Kinnaman, director of research for the study, believes these findings lend significant insight into the current state of youth ministry and young adult ministry. "There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country, but the levels of disengagement among twentysomethings suggest that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation," Kinnaman explained.
To read more on this story, click here.
BGCT Leaders Pledge to ‘Rebuild Trust’ After Alleged Funds Theft
BY GREAGORY TOMLIN                                                                    ©2006 Baptist Press
The staff and executive board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas will work toward “righting the wrongs” in the Rio Grande Valley where three church-starting pastors allegedly embezzled $1.3 million from the convention over six years, Charles Wade, the convention’s executive director, said at the BGCT annual meeting in Dallas Nov. 13.
Wade told 1,900 messengers from some 600 churches that the “failures” identified in a report from the convention’s executive board were “those of a very few” and should not reflect on the work of numerous pastors, church planters and churches in the region. He said he will soon be traveling to the Rio Grande Valley to communicate the BGCT’s love and appreciation for the work being done there. “They face incredible challenges,” Wade said of the Baptist workers there.
The suspect pastors-–Otto Arango of McAllen, Aaron de la Torre of Hidalgo and Armando Vera of Pharr-–claimed to have planted 258 of the BGCT’s 357 church starts in the region from 1999-2005, according to the BGCT. Only five of those “churches,” which in actuality were home Bible studies, small groups and children’s groups, are still in existence today. Arango recently founded the Piper Institute of Church Planting, a group that claims to be planting churches on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The FBI looked into allegations of fraud surrounding the pastors in 2000 but did not proceed with the investigation because the BGCT’s leadership declined further investigation of the matter. In October, however, a special internal BGCT investigative panel submitted a report to the convention’s leadership stating that the funds likely were misappropriated for phantom churches, or churches that existed only on paper.
The submission of the report prompted the resignation of two members of the BGCT’s church-starting staff. David Gael and Abe Zabaneh both stepped down Oct. 25, the day after the report was handed to the BGCT leadership. Another staffer, E.B. Brooks, resigned last year and currently is executive director of Arango’s Piper Institute.
When the report was presented to the executive board Oct. 31, Wade said the BGCT would implement the panel’s suggestions for tighter accounting and increased accountability, including the employment of an internal auditor. Wade also said the BGCT would study the church-starting process and work to foster a culture of trust in the Rio Grande Valley.
Wade has received criticism for the relaxing of guidelines in the church starting division by Gael and Zabenah, actions which resulted in the loss of the funds. But Wade said he was committed to leading the BGCT through its current crisis.     

Click here for the complete story.


NCC Calls for `Immediate' U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq


BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                        ©2006 Religion News Service  
National Council of Churches called for an "immediate phased withdrawal" of U.S. forces from Iraq and condemned human reproductive cloning at its annual meeting in Florida that ended November 9.
The NCC comprises 35 Orthodox, mainline Protestant and historically black denominations, representing about 45 million U.S. Christians. The Orlando assembly included 248 voting delegates.
The Iraq war resolution, overwhelmingly approved by delegates, says "our view of this war in Iraq is informed by our belief that war is contrary to the will of God," according to the NCC.
"We call upon the U.S. government to recognize that the continued presence of occupying forces has not provided meaningful security for Iraqi citizens and only exacerbates escalating violence," the NCC resolution said.
The NCC also unanimously passed two resolutions on biotechnology. The first calls for a global ban on human reproductive cloning. The second calls for more oversight of governments and private laboratories developing biological weapons, and the creation of an advisory board for bio-defense in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.