April 8, 2009

1510 RNS News

The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors

Presbyterians, Lutherans Slash Budgets

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                                  ©2009 Religion News Service
capThe Presbyterian Church (USA) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America both have slashed their 2009 budgets, cutting programs and laying off scores of personnel as denominations continue to suffer from the recession.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA), the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, announced a $5.6-million reduction in its 2009 budget on March 31. The cut was necessary in part because regional synods plan to decrease their contributions to the denomination by $2.4 million this year, church leaders said.
Since last November, the ELCA has eliminated more than 23 jobs and cut 12 additional vacant positions. All churchwide units reduced their budgets for 2009, staff salaries were cut by 3 percent, and grants to churches, colleges, universities, seminaries and social services were slashed, according to an ELCA statement.
The ELCA also decided to cut its radio ministry, Grace Matters, which has aired weekly since 1947. Easter Sunday, April 12, will be the final broadcast for the program, which aired on nearly 180 radio stations in the U.S. and overseas, the church said.
On March 27, the Presbyterians announced a $4 million reduction in their 2009 budget because of a projected $10-million shortfall. Contributions to church headquarters, which come primarily from congregations and regional presbyteries, was almost $4 million less than expected.
The denomination has eliminated 56 jobs since September of last year. Twelve new positions have been added. The PC(USA) closed its National Health Ministries Office and consolidated its Collegiate and Youth Ministries. Remaining staff will have to take a furlough, and planned salary increases in 2010 have been eliminated, according to the church.
"The decision to eliminate positions was difficult," said Linda Valentine, executive director of the denomination's General Assembly Council. "We know it will have a real-life impact on people for whom we care and with whom we have worked side-by-side."
Valentine said the church will face a similar projected shortfall in 2010, "so we will be looking closely at program areas."

Vermont is 4th State to Approve Gay Marriage

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                                          ©2009 Religion News Service

Nine years after becoming the first state to allow same-sex
civil unions, Vermont on April 7 became the first state to approve same-sex marriage without a court order.
At the same time, the District of Columbia took the first step toward recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, a move that some predict may ultimately lead to legalized gay marriages in the nation's capital.
The Vermont House overrode an earlier veto by Gov. Jim Douglas in a 100-49 vote, following a lopsided veto override by the state Senate. Vermont becomes the fourth state -- and the second in a week--to allow gay marriage, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa. Gay rights groups said the Vermont decision--particularly its lack of a court mandate--will no doubt have ramifications in other states. California lawmakers, for example, have twice passed gay marriage bills that were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"The Vermont Legislature, just as the Iowa Supreme Court last week, understands the tremendous significance of marriage, and that domestic partnerships and civil unions simply do not provide the same dignity and protections that come with marriage," said Marc Solomon, whose group, Equality California, is challenging a voter-approved constitutional amendment that ended gay marriage last year.
Conservatives, meanwhile, criticized the Vermont vote. "While government officials may change definitions, they cannot change nature," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. "The first human relationship was between one man and one woman, and it became the foundation of all society."
In Washington, the D.C. City Council unanimously approved a bill that would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. The bill still needs a second approval vote from the 13-member council, approval by Mayor Adrian Fenty and congressional review before it can become law. The District already has a domestic partner registry.
"It's high time we send a clear, unequivocal message to those persons of the same sex and married in another jurisdiction that their marriage is valid in D.C.," said Councilman Jim Graham, an openly gay Democrat, according to The Washington Post.

White House Rolls Out Revamped Faith-based Office

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                        ©2009 Religion News Service
The White House rolled out its revamped office for faith-based and local charities for 60 leaders in the field on April 6, stressing that the office will offer a conduit to the administration--but not federal funding.
"This office does not control any grant money, thankfully so," said Joshua DuBois, executive director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Instead, staffers from several White House offices—including urban affairs, education, and budget -- offered overviews of President Obama's priorities, particularly his recently released 2009 budget. "Maybe I've just drunk the Kool-Aid, but I think my boss has taken the ethics of the budget very seriously," said Robert Gordon, a staffer in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Gathered around a large table in the Old Executive Office Building were liberal stalwarts, civil rights pioneers, noted lawyers, interfaith experts, and charity executives. Most members of Obama's newly completed, 25-member Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships attended.
Many said they appreciated the information and access. "I think it's safe to say there has not been a close relationship between the faith community and the OMB," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, who heads Sojourners, a progressive anti-poverty group here.
Several leaders said the White House should take advantage of their experience at the local level. "All of us are in the trenches and have been for years," said Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. "We can tell you what's going to work and what isn't."
But some gathered here for the two-day conference that ends Tuesday expressed concern that federal dollars allocated for worthy causes often don't reach local charities.
"They get bogged down," by state and local elected officials, said the Rev. William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, and a member of Obama's advisory council. "They get tied up and don't reach us because of ideological litmus tests."
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, agreed, saying, "I'm afraid local politicians are going to scuttle a really great effort."
DuBois expressed sympathy but said there may be little the White House can do. "I wish there were a silver bullet to work this out," he said. Under former President George W. Bush, the faith-based office was primarily concerned with "leveling the playing field," DuBois said, by ensuring that religious charities have the same access to federal grants as secular groups. He said the office now has different priorities.
"When I sat down with the president," DuBois said, "we agreed that truly, at the end of the day, that doesn't answer the question of who this office is here to serve." They determined the office will concentrate on four issues: reducing domestic poverty, reducing abortion, promoting fatherhood, and fostering interfaith dialogue abroad.
"We will measure this office not by the number of groups that had access or the amount of money given out but how we have done on those four goals," DuBois said.
DuBois also said the Obama administration will work to "strengthen the constitutional and legal footing of this office," but offered no details. The issue is tricky for the White House, which must decide whether to allow charities that receive federal money to consider religion in their hiring decisions, as many already do. Several religious charities say the practice is essential to maintaining their character and mission. Church-state watchdogs, however, are wary of government dollars going to promote sectarianism.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he is cautiously optimistic about what he heard at the meeting. "They have both their feet in the right direction," he said.

Survey: Personal Invites Are Most Effective For Churches

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                       ©2009 Religion News Service

RNS) An invitation from a family member or friend is the most
effective way to get people to attend church, a new survey shows, casting doubt on several time-tested methods used by churches to attract new members.
The other approaches--from broadcast commercials to information packets left on doorknobs--are far less effective, LifeWay Research reports.
A majority of respondents--67 percent--said an invitation from a family member was either somewhat or very effective. Likewise, 63 percent said an invitation from a friend or neighbor was effective.
In contrast, just 33 percent said an invitation left on a door hanger would be effective, while 31 percent said door-to-door visits from a church or faith community member would be effective.
Ed Stetzer, director of the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated LifeWay Research, said the research shows people are open to invitations to church--but they need to be personal. "Unbelievers next door still need a simple, personal invitation to talk, to be in community and to church," said Stetzer, whose researchers were commissioned to do the survey by the denomination's North American Mission Board. "Clearly, relationships are important and work together with marketing."
The survey, conducted in December using an online panel, included a sample of more than 150,000 respondents and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.