Faith Leaders Campaign For Health Care Reform
BY NICOLE NEROULIAS ©2009 Religion News Service
coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders has launched a national campaign for health care reform, calling it a "fundamental religious issue," in hopes of countering the vocal opposition exhibited at recent town hall meetings.
The "40 Days for Health Reform" effort includes a television commercial, an August 19 conference call with President Obama, and a request that clergy preach on this topic during the last weekend of August. The coalition, organized by Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, PICO National Network, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, also plans to hold dozens of prayer vigils, rallies and meetings with politicians between Aug. 11 and Sept. 18.
The members, including evangelical leaders with predominantly Republican congregations, say they see too many people in their pews struggling with being uninsured or underinsured due to job losses, preexisting conditions and other factors beyond their control. "We've come together across the spectrum, across party and political lines, to say that coverage with inclusive, acceptable, affordable health care for all of God's children is for us a moral imperative and a religious issue," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners president. "All of God's children need to be covered."
Wallis and other participants have further agreed not to allow heated differences over abortion to "sabotage" a reform bill, so long as the proposal prohibits public funding for the procedures and allows conscience protections for anti-abortion health care workers.
For participating clergy like the Rev. John Hay, an Indianapolis pastor featured in the new commercial, the effort addresses the suffering parishioners they see each week who can't afford treatments until their ailments reach emergency room levels. "This is as much a crisis of faith as it is a crisis of health care," Hay said.
BY FRANCIS X. ROCCA ©2009 Religion News Service
On August 4, the U.S. Senate confirmed a Cuban-born theologian as the ninth U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Miguel H. Diaz, 45, will be the first theologian and the first Hispanic to serve as American envoy since Washington established formal diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1984.
A relative unknown before President Obama tapped him in May, Diaz has taught theology at the College of Saint Benedict and St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., since 2004. He is a board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and a past president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States.
A first-generation college graduate who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, Diaz speaks English, Spanish and Italian fluently.
At confirmation hearings last month, Diaz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that his socially conscious scholarship gives him common ground with fellow theologian Pope Benedict XVI, which could enable him to further U.S. policies and interests in areas that include the Middle East peace process, dialogue with the Muslim world, bioethics and abortion.
Diaz was mum about his own views on abortion during those proceedings, but anti-abortion Catholics have criticized his support for Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who supports abortion rights. Diaz also campaigned for Obama last year as a member of the then-candidate's Catholic advisory board.
BY ADELLE M. BANKS ©2009 Religion News Service
The Assemblies of God reaffirmed its doctrine of speaking in tongues during its biennial General Council meeting and declared that showing God's compassion for the world is their "fourth reason for being."
Speaking in tongues is the sole doctrine that separates members of the Pentecostal denomination from other evangelicals, said Juleen Turnage, spokeswoman for the denomination whose meeting in Orlando, Florida, concluded August 7.
The resolution notes that the validity of speaking in tongues has "come under certain scrutiny" and asks that members continue to require credentialed ministers to experience and "actively preach and teach this doctrine as well."
The resolution on the "fourth reason for being"--which was rejected and then brought back for a second vote--places inistering with compassion as a key purpose of the denomination, after evangelizing the world, worshipping God and enhancing the spiritual growth of believers.
Turnage said thousands of Assemblies of God churches are involved in compassion ministries, such as providing food and clothing to the needy. But some members had been concerned that adding a fourth principle might prompt a de-emphasis on evangelism and cause a drift into "social do-goodism."
After General Superintendent George O. Wood spoke from the floor of the convention and urged its passage, the resolution was adopted.
Delegates also re-elected Wood as their top leader and expanded the leadership of the denomination's Executive Presbytery, which functions as a board of directors, by electing a woman minister, a minister under age 40 and a second representative of Hispanic churches.
Hispanic congregations have contributed significantly to the denomination's growth in the last two decades. The denomination reports a net growth of congregations since 1991 of 12,775, of which 691 were Hispanic.
BY S. J. VELASQUEZ ©2009 Religion News Service
A small Catholic college in California has the "most religious students," according to recently released rankings from Princeton Review.
Thomas Aquinas College, a quaint Santa Paula, California, campus with just 350 students, knocked Brigham Young University from the top spot and edged out other mega-religious campuses such as evangelical Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Michigan, which was founded by Baptists.
Rankings for the "most religious students" category were determined by a Princeton Review survey that asked college students to score the religiosity of their classmates on a five-point scale. Thomas Aquinas College scored highest out of the 371 North American schools that participated in the survey.
Anne Forsyth, Thomas Aquinas College's director of public relations and 1981 alumna, agreed the survey results accurately illustrate the campus's devout atmosphere.
About 90 percent of students who enter Thomas Aquinas College are Catholic, Forsyth said, and the percentage grows throughout the academic year as non-Catholics convert to Catholicism.
Forsyth also said the college, which is not a seminary and is co-ed, has an impressive history of producing Catholic leaders: In the last 40 years, 46 Thomas Aquinas graduates have entered the priesthood and, on average, 10 percent of students pursue a vocation in religious life.
It's mandatory for all students to live in campus housing unless they're married or have received special permission from the dean to reside off campus. Dorms are gender specific, and opposite-sex visits are prohibited.
While Thomas Aquinas College students are the most religious, they are also among the least gay friendly. The school ranked third in the "alternative lifestyles not an alternative" category.
Leading the ranks of colleges with "least religious students" are Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, Eugene Lang College in Manhattan, and Reed College in Portland, Oregon.