October 15, 2009

1528 RNS News October 9

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

White House Concerned About
Spreading Flu in Churches

BY MICHELLE MINKOFF                                                                             ©2009 Religion News Service

capThe White House and federal health officials have released guidelines recommending that worshippers take precautions against spreading germs to reduce the risk of contracting swine flu.
Marilyn Meyers, a 67-year-old member of Washington National Cathedral, already had thought about the health risks involved in her church's services. On October 4, as she has for the past several months, she rubbed sanitizer on her hands before getting in line for Holy Communion.
"You shake hands, you touch the prayer books we all share, you break off a piece of the same bread--who knows what might be on it?" she said.


[Photo: RNS]

At Sunday's service, parishioners continued to exchange the Sign of Peace, shaking hands with those around them. Most also waited in line to receive Communion, often sipping from a communal chalice.

"I'm not concerned about the wine yet," said Meyers. "But if I were, you're allowed to dunk the wafer in, so you aren't sipping from the same cup. I think I'm OK for now, though."
The guide, which was released Friday by the White House Office for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Department of Health and Human Services, advises religious groups to take precautions to help prevent the spread of swine flu.
The guide suggests that houses of worship encourage congregants to wash their hands often, use hand sanitizer, avoid crowded situations and interact without physical contact when possible. It also urges religious leaders to keep in contact with local health organizations and closely adhere to their recommendations.
Joshua DuBois, the director of the faith-based office, said in a news release that faith leaders have significant power to help spread the word on how to stay healthy.
The National Association of Evangelicals, too, e-mailed its member congregations on Monday to suggest preparations for flu season by following the White House guide, which can be found online at www.flu.gov.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends that clergy remind parishioners not to drink from the Communion cup if they are feeling ill. The conference also said bishops are free to make decisions for their specific dioceses.
The federal guidelines also are relevant to Islam. Some Muslims ritually cleanse themselves using the same bowl of water before they are called to prayer. And in the Jewish tradition, congregants close the service by shaking hands and wishing each other a good Sabbath, or "Shabbat shalom."
The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, said he was in close communication with local health authorities, and would take action as needed. But he thought it wasn't up to the Episcopal Church as a whole to dictate how to practice rituals.
"We are prepared to take action if there is a concern, but in the end, people should make their own decisions," he said.
Meyers agreed that precautions aren't up to the government, or the clergy. "I think it's something that's up to the individual," she said, "No one can make the decision for you or tell you how to practice your faith."

Suit Threatened Over Religious Ornaments
for Capitol Christmas Tree

BY ANGELA ABBAMONTE                                                                                   ©2009 Religion News Service
Arizona schoolchildren are busy making 5,000 ornaments to decorate the 2009 Capitol Christmas Tree, but have been told by federal officials that the ornaments "may not reflect religious or political themes."
That restriction has resulted in the threat of legal action by a conservative Christian law firm if the rules are not relaxed by October 4, the day before the deadline to submit the ornaments.
"Banning Christmas from the Capitol Christmas tree is just absurd," said Jonathan Scruggs, litigation staff counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), in a press release.
ADF attorneys wrote a letter to federal and state officials, defending the First Amendment rights for students to express religious viewpoints.
For 39 years, the U.S. Forest Service has chosen a different state each year to provide a fresh Christmas tree for the U.S. Capitol. This year, Arizona was selected to donate and decorate the tree with the theme "Arizona's Gift from the Grand Canyon State."
ADF is working on behalf of an Arizona mother whose son wants to submit three ornaments--one that says "Merry Christmas," another that says "Happy Birthday, Jesus," and a third showing a manger scene with the baby Jesus. In addition to the religious references, the ornaments would also include references to Arizona's history, geography or motto,
"Ditat Deus" or "God Enriches."
In the letter to the Forest Service and other government officials, ADF said "expression that comes through symbols, such as ornaments, is protected speech under the First Amendment."
The restriction on religious ornaments is not new this year. Previous rules, including the 2007 application, said "ornaments with religious theme are not acceptable."

Evangelicals Skeptical About 'Joseph Coins'

BY STAFF                                                                                                                          ©2009 Baptist Press

Two evangelical archeologists have expressed caution in evaluating reports that ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph have been discovered among unsorted artifacts at the Museum of Egypt.

"The scholarly community will need to see the full report and images of the artifacts to make a judgment in regard to the interpretation of these objects as coins," Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said.

"It is more likely that these are amulets or jewelry. The initial reports are probably based on an initial zeal to support the koranic verses that mention coins associated with Joseph rather than a comprehensive study of the finds," Ortiz told Baptist Press.

Al Ahram newspaper in Cairo first carried a report about the artifacts, and a subsequent report appeared in The Jerusalem Post September 25, based on a translation of the original article completed by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The research has not appeared in a scholarly journal.

The Post said the significance of the find is that archeologists have located "scientific evidence countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead."   

To read the rest of the story, click here.


Israeli Rabbis Rule Against `Shabbat Elevators'

BY MICHELE CHABIN                                                                                    ©2009 Religion News Service  
Four influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have decreed that Jews may not use so-called "Shabbat elevators," which enable observant Jews to use elevators without breaking rules against manual labor on the Sabbath.
This is the first time a group of such eminent rabbis has banned the use of Shabbat elevators, which have been in use for decades.
Generally, Shabbat elevators are set to automatically stop on every floor for 20 to 30 seconds on ascent and descent, precluding the need for people to press a button, which is considered a form of labor.
The ruling, which was signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv--arguably the most influential Torah sage in Israel--and Rabbis Nissim Karelitz, Chaim Kanievsky and Shmuel Halevy Wosner, could have major ramifications for hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world, many of whom rely on Shabbat elevators in hospitals,
hotels and residential buildings.
The Knesset, Israel's parliament, passed a law eight years ago requiring buildings with more than one elevator to designate one for Shabbat use. In their edict, issued the end of September, the rabbis said the way Shabbat elevators operate "is related to a grave prohibition against actual desecration of the Sabbath."
The rabbis said they felt compelled to rule on the elevators after receiving "a written and oral technical opinion" from certified elevator technicians and engineers.
"It was made clear to us that in using these elevators, either in ascent or descent, direct activation is created regarding doing work according to the Torah," the rabbis wrote. They noted that "the function of Shabbat-mode elevators change with technological developments."
Although the decree did not specify exactly what the problem is, prior rabbinical debates have focused on whether the number and weight of passengers influences the elevators' operation.