WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (August 22-28, 2011)

RELIGION

A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship.” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. August 21, 2011. It’s Ramadan, the month-long holiday when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk as a way to cleanse the soul and reflect on their relationship with God. The faithful usually flock to their local mosques for prayer during the holiday, but last year, the Muslims of Cordova, Tenn., just outside Memphis, didn’t have a place to go. That’s when Pastor Steve Stone put an unusual sign outside his church. “It said, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood, Memphis Islamic Center,’” he laughs. “It’s been seen all over the world, now.” Stone invited the Muslim community to celebrate their holiday inside his church while their own cultural center was under construction nearby. It was the beginning of an unusual alliance that’s still strong a year later. Although the Memphis Islamic Center is now complete, the Muslim community keeps a strong relationship with Stone and Heartsong’s members. Once a month, they get together to help the homeless in their neighborhood, and there are also plans to build a new park that would sit on both congregations’ property. “We have different faith traditions,” Siddiqui says. “But at the same time, we know that we can get along, we know that we can work together. And we have respect for one another, because we are people of faith.”

Religion and the Bad News Bearers; The widely reported decline in women’s church attendance is implausible.” By Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson. Wall Street Journal. August 26, 2011. The national news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4% since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high. But when a study by the Barna Research Group claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts across the nation—even though it was a false alarm. Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church, yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people. In similar fashion, major media hailed another Barna report that young evangelicals are increasingly embracing liberal politics. But only religious periodicals carried the news that national surveys offer no support for this claim, and that younger evangelicals actually remain as conservative as their parents. Given this track record, it was no surprise this month to see the prominent headlines announcing another finding from Barna that American women are rapidly falling away from religion. The basis for this was a comparison between a poll they conducted in 1991 and one they conducted in January of this year.

Presbyterians Meet To Consider Leaving Church Over Gay Clergy, Other Issues.” No by-line. Huffington Post. August 25, 2011. Less than four months after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made a historic and controversial move to ordain noncelibate, openly gay and lesbian clergy, a group of more than 2,000 disaffected ministers and lay people kicked off a conference Thursday that they say could lead to a breakaway church. The Fellowship of Presbyterians plans to continue its meeting Friday to discuss how to reform a denomination that the group’s leaders say has become “deathly ill” from declining membership, theological disagreements, increased bureaucracy and, most recently, the contentious debate over gay clergy. “We have come off track, and Presbyterians have become a declining part of American life instead of a vibrant, growing part,” said the Rev. John Crosby, who sits on the steering committee for the conference held near Minneapolis. “We have tried to create such a big tent trying to make everybody happy theologically. I fear the tent has collapsed without a center.” Crosby, who leads the 5,000-member Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minn., is one of about a thousand pastors at the conference. The clergy, the elders and other lay people in attendance together represent about 830 Presbyterian congregations. Leaders of the conference have floated such options as creating an informal network of traditional congregations and pastors, organizing regional groups of congregations — what the church calls presbyteries — that would be based not on geography but on social and theological leanings, or creating a “new reformed body” — that is, a new denomination. Any significant structural change that included staying within the 2.8-million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would require approval from the denomination’s General Assembly, which meets next June in Pittsburgh, and then from a vote by the individual presbyteries.

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