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
National Day of Prayer Gets a Political Makeover
vangelical leaders gathered for the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer on May 7 prayed for President Obama but criticized his decisions to not mark the day with a White House event or send a representative to their annual gathering on Capitol Hill.
Observers say the change of plans from previous years demonstrates that conservative Christians have less influence in the halls of Washington with a new Democratic administration. The Obama administration issued a proclamation instead of holding a public event.
"I am sad to say this morning that this is the first time since the year 2000 that there has not been a prayer service in the White House," said Shirley Dobson, leader of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, at the Cannon House Office Building. "I feel a void that the executive branch is not represented here."
In his (prayer-day) proclamation, Obama said that American leaders like President Lincoln have long called the country to prayer. "Throughout our nation's history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer," he said. "Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and good will."
At a news conference on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that while the president has chosen to publicly observe the day solely with the proclamation, "privately he'll pray as he does every day."
For the last eight years, President Bush had welcomed the Dobsons and other supporters to the East Room for a ceremony marking the day. When the task force didn't hear from the White House this year, they moved their Capitol Hill event, traditionally held in the afternoon, to a morning time slot.
"In many ways, it validates an assumption that a lot of evangelicals have felt over the last few months, which is they are not going to have as easy an entre to the halls of power in Washington as they have over the last eight years," said Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology of Rice University.
While the change in prayer plans may reflect the ebb and flow that occurs when the White House changes political parties, it also may show that "culture warrior" evangelicals may be losing prominence while other religious groups may be gaining it.
"It might have been the most politically smart move for him not to
... host the event," said Lindsay of Obama. "Because this is not the constituency that voted for him in November and there are other religious groups who have some strong opposition to the way that the National Day of Prayer Task Force has tended to focus on the Christian-Jewish community."
Michael Cromartie, director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Evangelicals in Civic Life program, said he thinks evangelicals still have significant influence outside the Washington buildings equated with power. "It's not declining influence as much as it is lack of access to the halls of power," he said. "Their numbers haven't gone down. It's just their access has gone down."
Far from leaving the scene, he predicted that evangelicals will regroup and continue to speak out on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to the next Supreme Court justice nominee.
As the three-hour prayer event concluded on the Hill, conservative Christian leaders--including the Dobsons--joined about a dozen members of Congress at a news conference to affirm a House resolution on "America's religious heritage."
James Dobson said there that he disagrees with Obama's decision not to hold a White House prayer event. "We will not be disrespectful of him because of the office and we do pray for him, but I do regret his lack of emphasis on the foundation of prayer on which this country was based," he said.
President Obama's proposed budget for 2010 would eliminate federal funding for abstinence education programs in public schools, replacing them with so-called comprehensive sex education programs that promote the use of condoms and other contraceptives among the nation's teenagers. Under the plan, released May 7, Obama would cut more than $100 million in spending on abstinence-only education and create a new $110 million "teen pregnancy prevention initiative." Another $50 million would be directed to states for pregnancy prevention programs that rely on condoms. Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, told Baptist Press the new proposal does not make sense. "As you know, teen births are starting to inch up again and STD rates are continuing to be at an epidemic level for teens, with at least one in four teen girls having at least one STD," Huber said. "Why would we at this time in particular take away anything that would provide teens with the skills to avoid that risk? It just doesn't make sense at all." A report from the Department of Health and Human Services in December said that for every dollar being spent on abstinence education, $4 was being spent on comprehensive sex education in the nation's public schools. "What the president is suggesting is that we completely zero out the primary prevention approach and just add even more dollars for risk reduction or what whatever you want to call it that has a pretty poor record for effectiveness," Huber said. Some states have made clear they want to teach abstinence as a primary approach. "He is completely eliminating a choice for those states and those communities," Huber said of the president. "It doesn't make sense unless this is purely a discussion of politics versus what's best for youth." Huber said local support for abstinence education will enable it to continue. "The question is at what level. It will be very difficult for local and federal funding for such education, but they hoped it wouldn't actually happen. State governments that are already financially strapped to replace the funding that is currently being provided with these federal funds," she said. Huber and other abstinence supporters had some notion that Obama would push to eliminate federal funding for such education, but they hoped it wouldn’t actually happen.
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Methodist Bishops Agree to Pay Cut
Bishops in the United Methodist Church have voted themselves a pay cut after "recognizing the financial challenges facing the church."
The UMC's 50 active U.S. bishops voted to give up their planned pay raises for next year and instead reduce their salaries to the 2008 level, dropping their annual pay from $125,650 to $121,000 according to United Methodist News Service.
"The current global crisis has uncovered our hesitancy to act, but it has also gifted us with a sense of urgency and an opportunity to lead courageously," the bishops said in a May 8 statement at the conclusion of their annual spring meeting. The bishops also said they will cut their semiannual council meetings from five days to four to save money.
The UMC, which has about 8 million U.S. members, is suffering through the same budget pressures besetting most U.S. churches as the spiraling stock market cuts into endowment funds and donations decline.
The Methodist bishops said their church faces "an unprecedented moment in our history," with church membership, worship attendance, baptisms, and funding for certain ministries all declining.
Meanwhile, the bishops said, the church suffers from "institutional inertia" and "the structure we live with is not sufficient, nimble, or responsive to the fast-changing 21st century world we inhabit."
The church is studying ways to "radically refashion and reorder the life of the United Methodist Church," the bishops said.
Recession Prompts Jewish Schools to Cut Costs
Orthodox Jewish officials have come up with a plan to rescue struggling religious day schools through shared cost-cutting strategies, while devising plans for a cheaper yeshiva model.
While the economic downturn has caused headaches for all private schools, given their dependence on tuition, donations, and investment income, the 800 Jewish day schools in the U.S. have been especially hard hit, said Saul Zucker, director of the Department of Day School and Educational Services of the Orthodox Union.
Orthodox Jewish families typically have two or more children at a yeshiva at a time, he explained, and these schools often have to pay high salaries because of the long hours required for both secular and religious instruction. Also, in contrast to secular private schools, Jewish day schools are considered a mandatory expense for traditional families, he added.
"It's the transmission of the heritage, of the law, of religious ideals--it's not a luxury," he said. "The idea of sending a child to public school and then supplementing it with a watered-down version of religious education is not really an option for 90 percent of the community."
More than 100 school administrators from across the country have participated in the Orthodox Union's meetings and conference calls to brainstorm strategies in recent months. The group's new plan to help them cut costs involves combining health insurance coverage, switching to solar energy, and sharing a new grant writing firm to find new sources of income.
The proposal for a lower-cost school model, starting with an elementary school planned in Englewood, New Jersy for the 2010-11 year, will aim for a $6,500 tuition fee, lower than the $15,000 average annual cost for a yeshiva education. The savings will come through having larger class sizes, limited extracurricular offerings, and mandatory volunteer roles for parents, Zucker said.
"We're living in very, very stressful times, and it's gratifying to see the Jewish community coming together to do whatever we can do ensure the continuity of our sacred heritage," Zucker said.