Date published: November 15, 2011
LIBERAL DOCUMENT: It's often assumed that Bible reading is linked to conservative political and moral attitudes. But a Baylor Religion Survey indicates that frequent Bible reading, especially when people do it on their own, leads to a Uberai attitude on some issues. While reading the Bible increases opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage, frequent Bible readers are more likely to agree that it is important "to actively seek social and economic justice in order to be a good person" and are more inclined to agree that we should consume or use fewer goods. Frequent Bible reading, according to this research, also erodes support for the death penalty and the Patriot Act and leads readers to believe that science and religion are compatible (Christianity Today, October).
VISION NEEDED: Americans continue to give the majority of their donations to the church and other religious organizations, according to a study by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. In 2009, the most recent year studied, Americans gave 74 percent of their donations to religious institutions. Charities and other organizations received 21 percent and educational institutions received 3 percent. Per member giving, however, declined from 2008 to 2009 in constant dollars. The Ronsvalles believe that church members are not likely to increase giving toward institutional maintenance. To stimulate increased giving, church leaders need to convey a vision that engages people both inside and outside the congregation (The State of Church Giving through 2009, empty tomb, inc.).
NEW WORLD ORDER: A major document released last month by the Vatican calls for a major overhaul of the world's financial system. The current financial system promotes national self-interest, rewards rich countries over the poor and is anachronistic in a globalized world, the document claims. A universal public authority that transcends national interest is needed, such as the creation of a central world bank that would regulate the flow of monetary exchanges. Taxes should be imposed on financial transactions in order to build a reserve that could support countries hit by crisis (America magazine blog, October 24).
CHURCH TOO BIG TO FAIL? Megachurches in South Korea have become big business. The Yoido Full Gospel Church is the largest congregation in the world with over a million members. Cho Yong-gi, its founder and leader since 1958, has family enterprises that include newspapers and private universities. In late September an investigation was launched into Cho's finances on the basis of allegations from 29 church elders that he embezzled $20 million of church funds. A TV documentary claims that the money was used to buy real estate in the U.S. Cho also made a controversial statement following the recent Japan earthquake and tsunami, saying it was God's warning to a country known for "idol worship, atheism and materialism" (Economist, October 15).
BACK OF THE BUS: When Melissa Franchy sat at the front of bus B110 in Brooklyn, she was told by a Hasidic Jewish man that she needed to move to the back. When she asked why, he said that this was a private Jewish bus and that it was decreed by God that men and women should be separate. The bus, which runs between Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, is operated for the city by a private company. The city has said that the practice of gender segregation is against New York civil rights laws and has asked the private bus company for an explanation (NPR.org).
DE FACTO ABOLITION: Approval of the death penalty in the U.S. has dropped from 80 percent in 1994 to 61 percent. A year ago, when a Gallup poll asked people's preference between sentencing a murderer to death or to life without parole, only 49 percent chose the death penalty. Another revealing fact: only oneseventh of the 3,147 counties in the U.S. have had an execution since 1976; counties that comprise one-eighth of the population have produced two-thirds of the sentences. Texas has executed five times as many as Virginia, which ranks second in executions. In Texas the death penalty is used heavily in only four of its 254 counties (New York Times, October 14).
THE WOUNDED RIGHT: Jon Meacham says the religious right has attacked Mitt Romney's Mormonism because it has already lost some culture war arguments, such as prayer in school and abortion, and is likely to lose the battle over gay marriage. "A wounded foe is always more dangerous than a healthy one," he says. Meacham believes that "American believers may have to step up" to oppose religious tests for office in order "to save religion from the religious." The separation of church and state protects the church from the corruption of the state as much or more than it protects the state from the church's influence (Time, October 24).
BEYOND THE THREE Rs: in his composition class for college freshmen, teacher-writer Erik Reece asks students to evaluate their high school education. Students report that their high school teachers lacked passion and didn't know their subject matter very well. Teachers seemed to have low expectations of students, the students say, and were afraid to engage students in critical thinking. What was taught seemed irrelevant to the lives of the students, and the teachers mostly taught to the tests. School reform, Reece concludes, will have to address three major areas: quality of teaching, what is expected of students and the relevance of subject matter to "real life" (Orion, September-October).
SEX AND FAITH: in her justpublished book See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity (Beacon), Century correspondent Amy Frykholm recounts the stories of nine individuals who have struggled to make sense of the relationship between their sexuality and religious faith. The stories involve anorexia, sex addiction and prostitution, and they explore the theological framework for a conversation about sex and faith that isn't about who is "doing it right."
TRIM BEARDS: Five Amish men from a renegade group in eastern Ohio have been charged with burglary and the kidnapping of Raymond Hershberger, a 74year-old Amish bishop. The group entered Hershberger's house by saying they wanted to discuss religious matters. They held the bishop down in a chair and used scissors and battery-operated clippers to shear off his beard. The men were accused of another beard cutting the same night. In an Associated Press interview, Sam Mullet, bishop of the breakaway group to which these men belong, said the beard cuttings were to send a message to Amish people that they should be ashamed of themselves for calling the community he leads a cult (RNS).