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
State Department: Iraq Insurgency Harming
he continuing insurgency in Iraq is "significantly" harming the freedom of worship in that country, the State Department said in its 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.
The report, released Friday (Sept. 14), lists Iraq among 22 countries it notes for either particular abuses or positive steps related to religious freedom. "The ongoing insurgency significantly harmed the ability of all religious believers to practice their faith," the report's executive summary reads.
It notes that lawlessness by insurgents, terrorists and criminal gangs affected a range of citizens, but impacted religious groups in particular. "Many individuals from various religious groups were targeted because of their religious identity or their secular leanings, the summary said. "Such individuals were victims of harassment,
intimidation, kidnapping, and killings. In addition, frequent sectarian violence included attacks on places of worship."
The report said the deteriorating conditions were "not due to government abuse."
"For the most part, people are getting caught in the crossfire," John V. Hanford III, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom, told reporters. "In the case of these minorities, though, there have been cases where it's clear that certain groups have been targeted."
Last November, the State Department designated Uzbekistan on its list of "countries of particular concern" regarding religious freedom violations and removed Vietnam from that list.
Asked about the most significant development in the new report, Hanford said the Vietnamese government has made progress by granting more religious freedom and permitting places of worship that had been
forced to closed to reopen.
"They've registered whole new religions that weren't even legal before," he said. "`Nevertheless, there are still groups which are banned or where there are leaders which are under house arrest."
Landmark Study: Change For Homosexuals is Possible
In what some are calling groundbreaking research, a new four-year study concludes it is possible for homosexuals to change their physical attractions and become heterosexual through the help of Christian ministries.
The data was released September 13 at a news conference in Nashville, Tenn., and is published in the new book, Ex-Gays?
(InterVarsity Press) by psychologists Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse. Thirty-eight percent of the subjects followed in the study said they had successfully left homosexuality, while an additional 29 percent said they had had only modest successes but were committed to keep trying. In another significant finding, Jones and Yarhouse said attempts at conversion do not appear to be psychologically harmful.
Experts in the field call it the first scientific study performed on a sample of individuals undergoing Christian counseling, monitoring their successes and failures from the beginning. A follow-up study is being conducted and will be released in the future.
"These findings contradict directly the commonly expressed views of the mental health establishment that change in sexual orientation is impossible, and that if you attempt to change it's highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt," Jones, professor of psychology at Wheaton College in Illinois, said at the news conference.
Although the study simply affirms biblical truth, it nonetheless could have a significant impact in the professional realm, where such research carries much weight. A Q&A portion of the American Psychological Association’s website says homosexuality "does not require treatment and is not changeable."
The research is certain to be criticized, particularly by homosexual activist organizations. Yarhouse, professor of psychology at Regent University in Virginia, said their literary agent tried for 10 months to find a secular publisher but "no one would touch it." IVP is a Christian publisher.
The study followed 98 subjects--72 men and 26 women--over a period of between 30 months and four years. Interviews were conducted three times, although by the third interview several subjects had quit the study, leaving the sample with 73 subjects. Some of them quit because they believed they had successfully changed and didn't want to participate anymore, while others quit because they no longer wanted to change, the study said.
All the subjects were being counseled by various ministries of Exodus International, a Florida-based organization that seeks to help people leave homosexuality through faith in Christ.
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Insurer Rejects UCC Church Because of Gay Stance
A United Church of Christ congregation's pro-gay stance puts it "at a higher risk" of litigation and property damage, a leading U.S. church insurer said in refusing to offer coverage to a Michigan congregation.
Brotherhood Mutual, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based insurance company, turned down the business of the West Adrian United Church of Christ after learning the church "publicly endorses" same-sex marriage and gay
"Based on national media reports, controversial stances such as those ... have resulted in property damage and potential for increased litigation among churches that have chosen publicly to endorse these positions," wrote Marci J. Fretz, a regional underwriter for Brotherhood Mutual, in a July 30 letter to the West Adrian Church.
The letter was made public by the United Church of Christ.
Brotherhood Mutual declined to offer a quote to the church located in Adrian, Mich. The church is covered by another insurer.
The Rev. John Kottke, the church's pastor, said the refusal is "disturbing, though not surprising."
"I think Brotherhood Mutual's action is one worth noting, if only for the sake of forewarning other churches in our conference that such prejudice exists within certain sectors of the business community," Kottke wrote in a letter to the UCC's Michigan Conference Minister, the Rev. Kent Ulery.
Mitzi Daniels, assistant vice president for corporate communications at Mutual Brotherhood, said the insurer underwrites other UCC congregations.
The insurer would not underwrite the West Adrian church, however, because of "answers given on the application" regarding the church's stance on gay rights. "It simply looked like a risk we didn't want to assume," Daniels said. "We turn down churches all the time."
The Indiana company was founded 90 years ago by members of the Defenseless Mennonite Church, which is now the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. It represents more than 30,000 churches and related ministries in 29 states, according to the company's Web site.
Orthodox Jews Ask for Kosher Snacks on Planes
With airlines cutting back on in-flight food options, the Orthodox Union has asked eight major airlines to provide kosher snacks on flights.
In early September, the agency contacted carriers in response to consumer requests, said Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, vice president for communications and marketing of OU Kosher.
Back when a meal was included in the price of a ticket, customers who observed Jewish dietary laws were usually able to order a kosher meal. Now that many airlines only sell meals or offer snacks, there may not be a kosher alternative, he said.
"The kosher consumer only has one option and that option is to eat kosher food," Safran said. "Kosher food means two things primarily -- that all of the ingredients are kosher-approved and that the processing is done according to kosher specs."
Safran said the agency sent a letter to American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Northwest, Southwest, United and US Airways. When contacted about the letter, the airlines had mixed responses.
In an e-mailed statement, JetBlue said all but one of its in-flight snacks are kosher. It's also working with concession companies at New York's JFK airport to provide kosher meals for sale that can be brought on board.
A US Airways spokesperson said she wasn't aware of the letter, but that customers may order kosher meals in advance on transatlantic flights, as well as 14 other special meals including a Hindu meal, and a halal meal, which meets Muslim dietary requirements. The airline doesn't offer meal service in coach on domestic flights.
"We do offer buy-on-board snacks. We do not offer a kosher option at this time and are not planning a kosher option," said Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokesperson. "Certainly there's no problem with our customers bringing on food that meets their religious and dietary needs."
Representatives of Delta and American airlines said they were not aware of the letter, but both said customers may order kosher and other special meals in advance on some flights. American also offers two kosher snacks. Delta did not address the question of kosher snacks.
Continental, Northwest, Southwest and United did not respond to a request for comment by press time.