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
Homosexuality `Inconsistent' With God's Plan,
New Mormon Booklet Says
ormon officials have issued a new booklet on homosexuality that states that same-sex relationships are "inconsistent" with God's plan, but some people may not be able to "overcome" such attractions.
The document, "God Loveth His Children," was posted on the Web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in late July with little fanfare.
"While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life," the new church document reads.
Faith in the Atonement, Jesus' sacrifice for human sins, can empower those with "same-gender inclinations" to resist improper conduct, it states.
The document says if God's plan is followed, "our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God's children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children."
It differentiates between those who have same-gender attractions and those who act on them. "Attractions alone do not make you unworthy," the document states, adding that God has declared any sexual relations outside marriage unacceptable.
In a similar move earlier this year, Brigham Young University, the nation's largest Mormon university, changed its honor code so it no longer listed homosexual "feelings" as a violation. Acting on such feelings remains grounds for expulsion.
The immediate former co-chair of Family Fellowship, a Provo, Utah-based support group for Mormon families with gay children, said the new church document was an improvement over three previous pamphlets on homosexuality but "still woefully inadequate."
Dr. Gary Watts said the first pamphlet, which called homosexuality "evil," was published in 1994.
"Until the church can figure out a way to place some value on committed same-sex relationships, the problem will never go away and the church will continue to lose a very high percentage of their gay and lesbian members," he said.
Watts said the latest document is an improvement because it does not imply that homosexuality is chosen and it says that same-sex feelings exist and are not sinful unless acted upon.
The document encourages those with same-sex attractions to fill their lives with spiritual activities, such as public and private worship, church and temple attendance, "association with good friends" and prayer.
"Notwithstanding your present same-gender attractions, you can be happy during this life, lead a morally clean life, perform meaningful service in the church, enjoy full fellowship with your fellow saints and ultimately receive all the blessings of eternal life," it states.
Religion Still Marginalized in Foreign Policy
U.S. foreign policy officials have shown an increased understanding of religion's importance to American diplomacy, but the government's activities in that area display a "lack of strategic thinking" that hampers efforts abroad, according to a new report.
U.S. officials do not have "a clear set of policy objectives or tactical guidelines for dealing with emerging religious realities," said the 92-page report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a non-partisan think tank in Washington.
"Offices, programs and initiatives are more often happen-stance than coherent," the report says.
The report's lead author was Liora Danan, a research assistant at the center. Titled "Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings," the report said the government still needs a policy that can encourage broad public discussion and programs that are sensitive to religious realities.
"To consider all of the roles religion can play in conflict-prone settings, the government must expand beyond a threat-based, Islam-focused analysis of religion and embrace a broader understanding of world religions," the report said.
"The perception that America is a Christian nation that favors and discriminates on that basis must also be addressed," it added. "At the same time, the State Department should broaden its approach to international religious freedom, prioritizing religious tolerance and conflict prevention."
While noting that the government's approach to religion in conflict-prone settings has improved in recent years, the report argues that international religious freedom -- the most visible religious issue in American foreign policy -- "remains marginalized."
"Government efforts have also belatedly and not entirely successfully considered religion's role in promoting terrorism, while a public diplomacy campaign has scrambled to assure Muslim communities abroad of shared values, without always listening to the different priorities of various communities."
Among the failures, the report cited "the U.S. government's underestimation of the potential for sectarian violence in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraqi invasion."
And, it added, while policymakers "are now aware of the pervasive sectarian divisions in the area, they remain at a loss about how to respond. ... The United States continues to try to contain violence without addressing the differences that lead to bloodshed."
The report argued that countering the appeal of religiously motivated violence requires a deep understanding of the motivation behind the aggression. "It is equally important," it said, "to recognize when religion is not a driver of conflict."
In addition to urging greater government sensitivity, awareness and knowledge of the role religion plays in conflict situations, the report said the U.S. government should recognize that "religious groups and leaders can often be particularly effective track-two diplomats," operating outside of formal diplomatic initiatives. It cited "high-level Vatican diplomacy" and "unassuming Mennonite peacemaking" as examples of efforts that have achieved long-term reconciliation among groups in conflict.
The study examined U.S. policy in Nigeria, the site of conflicts between Christians and Muslims in recent years, as a case study in the interaction between religion and policy making. With a population of some 138 million people, evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, the country is in a key transition phase.
But, the report said, the U.S. government approach to understanding religious violence in Nigeria, especially since Sept. 11, "has focused on radical Islamic groups ... and their potential to threatened American national security. Analysts have viewed Nigerian religious dynamics through the lens of the Global War on Terror and are concerned with transnational terrorist groups wielding influence in Nigeria."
It said American preoccupation with Islamic extremism "has the potential to skew U.S. policy and compromise other goals in the country" and that Nigerian politicians have been able to manipulate the U.S. fears by exaggerating the extremist threat.
It noted that a recent study by the Department of Defense and the Agency for International Development found little evidence that there is currently a growing terrorist threat in northern Nigeria.
In urging the U.S. government to better inform the public and policymakers about the role of religion in international conflicts, the report listed a host of recommendations, including clearer definitions of the legal parameters for engaging with religious issues, expansion of foreign exchange programs and increased government partnerships with faith-based groups abroad.
Suicide Bombings Never Justified,
Majority of Muslims Worldwide Say
George Bush and Osama bin Laden are both losing the battle for Muslim hearts and minds, according to a new report.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project, a 47-nation survey, found that rising prosperity in the Islamic world has helped slash support for terrorism and bin Laden, but has not changed minds about the U.S., which most Muslims still view as a military threat.
Majorities in 15 of 16 Muslim countries surveyed said suicide bombings can be rarely or never justified, the report said. The Palestinian territories were the exception, where 70 percent of respondents said suicide bombing is sometimes or often justified.
The percentage of Muslims saying that suicide bombing is justified fell sharply since 2002 in five of eight countries where the trend could be measured. In Pakistan, for example, 9 percent of Muslims said suicide bombings to defend Islam are often or sometimes justified, compared with 33 percent in 2002.
Bin Laden's popularity also fell. Between 2003 and 2007 in Jordan, support for the al-Qaida leader declined from 56 percent to 20 percent. In Lebanon, it decreased from 20 percent to 1 percent.
But America's image remained "abysmal" in the Muslim world, the report said, with solid majorities in every country saying they worried that the U.S. is a military threat.
The report also found mixed support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and growing worries about the spread of violence between Shiites and Sunnis.
Ukrainian Catholics Protest Plans
by U.S. Firm to Make Church a Casino
Ukrainian Catholics are fighting to stop a U.S.-owned company from turning a 19th-century church into a casino, according to international reports.
Protesters inside St. Joseph's church in Dnipropetrovsk were forcefully evicted before the roof and ceiling were removed July 20, according to Ecumenical News International.
"The authorities are laughing at us, thinking we can do nothing as they take the church to pieces under our eyes," said the Rev. Jan Sobilo, vicar-general of the Roman Catholic Kharkiv-Zaporizhia diocese.
Sobilo said Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko, has requested an explanation from local government officials, who have defended the firm's right to use the building as private property.
But Sobilo believes that the U.S. firm working on the renovation, which ENI named as California Dagsbury Inc., was not properly informed that the structure is a church.
"The only other places of worship we have here are a house belonging to the Capuchin order, and a small chapel with room for just 60," Sobilo said. "This explains why we're so desperate to keep the church."
Catholics have long struggled to reclaim church property that was confiscated during Soviet rule. Though ENI says there are 870 Catholic parishes in Ukraine, St. Joseph's was the only church in Dnipropetrovsk, a city of over a million.
The Catholic News Agency estimates that there are 4 million Catholics in the country of over 46 million.