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
Methodists, Presbyterians, Brethren
Report Lower Numbers
hree mainline Protestant denominations--the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of the Brethren-- have experienced steady decreases in U.S. membership rolls, continuing long-term trends, according to separate June reports.
A "state of the church" report issued by the UMC said its U.S.membership fell to 7.9 million -- a loss of nearly 6 percent--from1995 to 2005. In Africa and Asia, however, Methodist numbers aregrowing, with 200 percent increases on each continent during that decade. UMC membership dropped about 1.4 percent in 2006, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
Active membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) fell by more than 46,000, to 2.27 million in 2006, according to the church's Office of the General Assembly. Almost 1,000 fewer adults, and 230 fewer children, were baptized by the church last year, the church said.
Several large congregations have left the PC(USA) this year, choosing to affiliate with the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church instead.
The Church of the Brethren reported a 1.4 percent decrease in membership last year, to about 128,000. Membership fell by a similar percentage in 2005, the church said.
Baptist Group Says Number of Women Clergy Up
The number of ordained women in prominent leadership roles in "moderate to progressive" Baptist groups has grown to more than 600, according to a report released June 28 from Baptist Women in Ministry.
In its second "State of Women in Baptist Life," the group found that 117 women serve as pastors, co-pastors, or church planters (starters of new churches) in the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and moderate conventions in Virginia and Texas in 2006. In addition, the American Baptist Churches USA reported 490 women serving as pastors, co-pastors, and interim pastors.
The total of 607 women is an increase from 2005. The first Baptist Women in Ministry report had found 102 women serving in top pastoral roles and the American Baptists reported 403 women pastors in prominent roles, for a total of 505.
"Although the novelty of women entering professions of law, medicine, and teaching has long since waned, ministry remains one of the last professions to be entered in any significant numbers by women," states "The State of Women in Baptist Life -- 2006," which was released during the group's annual meeting in Washington.
Pamela Durso, a leader of Baptist Women in Ministry and co-author of the report, said her group was elated at the recent decision of First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia, to name the Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell as its senior minister on June 17. The historic church is affiliated with both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention, whose members have generally opposed women clergy.
"This is Julie's third church so she's kind of broken through," said Durso. "We see a slow but steady increase of the number of women who are pastoring."
Alabama Governor Urges Prayer for Rain
With the state's weather forecasters not delivering much-needed rain, Governor Bob Riley has turned to a higher power, issuing a proclamation calling for a week of prayer for rain. Riley encouraged Alabamians to pray, starting June 30, "individually and in their houses of worship."
"Throughout our history, Alabamians have turned in prayer to God to humbly ask for his blessings and to hold us steady during times of difficulty," Riley said. "This drought is without question a time of great difficulty."
On June 30, a series of strong thunderstorms brought torrential rain, flash floods and lightning to the area, but apparently not enough to bring much relief to the drought-stricken area.
"I don't think it made a big dent," said Patrick Gatlin with the National Weather Service's Huntsville office. "... This is the most rain we've seen in quite some time but it definitely won't get us back to normal."
State proclamations for the national day of prayer and other broad, nondenominational religious observances are fairly common, said the Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. But government calls for intercessory-type prayer are rare, he said.
"He shouldn't do these things that raise the specter of government promoting a particular religion," Lynn said. "It's just a bad idea."
Update: Judge Says Portrait of Jesus Will Stay in Courthouse
Flanked by Slidell's mayor and local clergy, City ourt Judge Jim Lamz said Saturday (June 30) he will not remove a ortrait of Jesus from the courthouse lobby, potentially setting the tage for a legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union.
With the portrait hanging above him, Lamz told a news conference he disagrees with the ACLU's assertion that displaying the portrait violates the separation of church and state.
The portrait has been identified by local clergy as "Christ the Savior," a sixteenth century Russian Orthodox icon. It depicts Jesus holding a book open to biblical passages, written in Russian, that deal with judgment. The only portrait in the courthouse's main foyer besides one of founding judge Gus Fritchie, for whom the courthouse is named, the image of Jesus hangs above the court's billing window. Below the portrait are gold letters reading, "To know peace, obey these laws."
The judge said he is resigned to a lawsuit over the portrait.
"Due to the display's historical place in the courthouse, I explored options to obtain a definitive ruling on the constitutionality of the display without an adversarial court battle," he said. "I could find none."
Lamz said he consulted with a constitutional scholar at the University of Michigan, who he said has argued similar cases, before concluding that the portrait's constitutionality remains an open legal question. But the acting director of the ACLU's Louisiana chapter said the question was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.
"Our decision to take the case is based on an established Supreme Court precedent," Vincent Booth said. "I expect that we will go forward with our suit to let a court decide."
In the 2005 case, he said, the Supreme Court held that a government violates the First Amendment when it acts with the "ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion," bearing in mind the nature, effect, and legal history of such advocacy.