BY JASON KANE © 2005 Religion News Service
he nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers on October 3 to the U.S. Supreme Court sparked applause from Christian conservatives, while a church-state separation group called for Senate scrutiny.
Since 1980, Miers has been an active member and Sunday school teacher at Valley View Christian Church, a non-denominational evangelical congregation in Dallas, according to Ree Bradley, an administrative assistant at the church. Miers also served on the missions committee, responsible for allocating funds to the church's evangelical ministries throughout the world.
Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for the Colorado-based conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, said he hopes Miers will carry her religious convictions into the court if confirmed.
"We hope her faith will have an effect upon her decisions; we hope her Christian worldview gives her a moral framework in which to rule upon the cases before the Supreme Court," Minnery said in an interview.
Minnery said he appreciated that Democrats did not make an issue in Senate hearings out of the personal faith of John Roberts, a Roman Catholic Bush nominee who was confirmed as chief justice. "We hope the Democrats will refrain again during the Miers hearings," Minnery said.
Other conservative Christian groups also had praise.
"She is bright, thoughtful and a consummate professional and I enthusiastically endorse her nomination," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice, in a statement.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, a Virginia-based evangelical Christian ministry, called Miers "a surprising, but inspiring choice" and a "woman of great integrity."
But the Washington-based Concerned Women for America was more cautious.
"We give Harriet Miers the benefit of the doubt because thus far, President Bush has selected nominees to the federal courts who are committed to the written Constitution," Jan LaRue, CWA's chief counsel, said in a statement. "Whether we can support her will depend on what we learn from her record and the hearing process."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said since Miers has never been a judge, Senate questioning will be crucial.
"It is imperative," said Lynn, "that the judiciary committee uncover her judicial philosophy and her views on the relationship between religion and government."
At Vatican Synod, Bishops Raise Issue of Married Priests
BY STACY MEICHTRY © 2005 Religion News Service
As Pope Benedict XVI convened hundreds of bishops for the first synod of his young papacy Monday (Oct. 3), Roman Catholicism's global priest shortage loomed large, prompting renewed calls for the ordination of married men.
Although the proposal is not expected to gain Benedict's support, the fact that the subject resurfaced publicly underlined the desperate straits facing many bishops in some of the world's most priest-poor regions.
In a 52-page report, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice noted a range of issues facing the synod, including the concerns of some bishops who "put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue, the so-called `viri probati,'" he said.
"Viri probati" is Latin for "proven men," a term used by Catholic theologians to describe older, married men who have proven their fidelity to Catholic doctrine through example.
Speaking at a press conference following a morning session of the synod, Scola appeared to reaffirm the Vatican's long-standing opposition to the proposal, calling the priesthood a "gift" to the church. Addressing the shortage, he said, is a "very long journey" for the church.
Scola, designated as the synod's official "relator," will summarize the issues in a report for Benedict.
According to the synod working paper, the ratio of priests worldwide has fallen from one priest for every 1,797 Catholics in 1978 to one priest for every 2,677 Catholics in 2003. The paper notes that the shortage is most acute in Latin America and Africa where Catholicism's growth has far outpaced its growth in priestly vocations.
Scola appeared to play down the extent of the shortage, focusing his comments on the significance of the Eucharist, the official theme of the three-week synod.
"The church is not a business that can determine in rigorous terms how many priests it needs," Scola said. "How can we say in absolute terms if there are enough or not enough priests?"
Sitting one seat away from Scola at the press conference, Bishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle of Imus, Philippines, gave a blunt illustration of the crisis.
"Let me make a confession here. And I know our canon lawyers will get mad," Tagle said. "The first Sunday after my ordination as a priest I said nine Masses, and that is regular in the Philippines."
In an apparent rebuttle of Scola's remarks, Tagle added: "In the absence of the priest there is no Eucharist. We should face squarely the issue of the shortage of priests."
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Reports Membership Decrease
BY ADELLE M. BANKS © 2005 Religion News Service
Membership in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has continued its decades-long decline, with a loss of more than 25,000 people from 2003 to 2004, the denomination announced.
But at the same time, the church group's congregations increased their total contributions by $51 million.
Congregations related to the St. Louis-based denomination reported 2,463,747 baptized members, a figure that is 25,189 fewer than 2003.
"Since 1972, our peak membership year, the Synod has lost some 317,000 baptized members," said John O'Hara, research analyst for the LCMS.
Despite some sporadic increases, the denomination has seen far more annual declines. About 124,000 members left due to a schism within its ranks in the 1970s. O'Hara is hopeful that the declining statistics will encourage more congregations to take part in denominational efforts aimed at increasing their sharing of the gospel.
Despite the membership losses, giving is on the increase. Church members gave a record $1.3 billion to the denomination. Giving also increased by $53 million in 2003 following declines the previous two years. Of the $1.3 billion received in 2004, congregations directed $121.8 million for work outside their local communities. The denomination had 6,151 congregations, which were served by 5,323 pastors, in 2004.
U.S. Envoy Raises Alarm on Inflammatory Literature in Mosques
BY HOLLY LEBOWITZ ROSSI © 2005 Religion News Service
Karen Hughes, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, has raised concern about inflammatory literature reportedly found in American mosques.
According to media reports on Hughes' trip to Saudi Arabia this week, Hughes told a group of Saudi journalists that the administration is concerned about a study that identified anti-Christian and anti-Semitic literature, connected to Saudi religious organizations, in American mosques.
"We are concerned that literature has been found in American mosques that has a message that is not tolerant, and we hope the people of Saudi Arabia will work with us as we try to deal with this issue," she told reporters Tuesday (Sept. 27), according to Reuters.
During the same visit, Hughes critiqued the Saudi government's ban on female drivers. "I believe women should be free and equal participants in society," she said to a group of several hundred women. "I feel that as an American woman that my ability to drive is an important part of my freedom."
Hughes' role as envoy is to improve the United States' image in the Muslim world, and to explain the Bush administration's policies to Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations objected to Hughes' comments about intolerant literature, saying the remarks were based on what it considers to be a faulty study with an "inherent bias."
"We don't agree that there is widespread literature of that kind in mosques in America," said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's spokesman, referring to the January 2005 report by the human rights organization Freedom House that Hughes cited.
Hooper said the study has led to "anti-Muslim prejudice" directed against some mosques that say they never saw or displayed any of the literature in question.
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