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
Family Breakdown Costs $112 Billion
BY ERIN ROACH ©2008 Baptist Press
igh rates of divorce and unmarried childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each year, making marriage enrichment a legitimate policy concern, a first-of-its-kind study sponsored by four public policy and research groups said.
"These costs are due to increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty, criminal justice, and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals whose adult productivity has been negatively affected by increased childhood poverty caused by family fragmentation," Ben Scafidi, the lead researcher and an economics professor at Georgia College & State University, said.
"Prior research shows that marriage lifts single mothers out of poverty and therefore reduces the need for costly social benefits," Scafidi added. "This new report shows that public concern about the decline of marriage need not be based only on 'moral' concerns, but that reducing high taxpayer costs of family fragmentation is a legitimate concern of government, policymakers, and legislators, as well as community reformers and faith communities."
The study, released in mid-April, was sponsored by the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, the Georgia Family Council, and Families Northwest. Waylan Owens, associate professor of pastoral ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press that churches must accept some responsibility for the results revealed in the study.
"Too often, we have chosen not to stand firmly on the full biblical message regarding marriage and our vows to God and to each other even within our own congregations, much less outwardly to society," Owens said. "When we fail in this fundamental task, people in our churches and in our larger society, who depend upon a clear word from the Scriptures, can fall prey to those who would soften the warnings of Jesus, believing in turn that divorce is benign and that unwed childbirth is of little consequence."
Owens said the study confirms that "deviating from God's biblical plan of marriage for life is costly to everyone, not just to the individuals making the choices."
In addition to the estimate that family fragmentation costs taxpayers nationwide more than $1 trillion each decade, the report offered estimates for the costs of marriage breakdowns and single parenting for each state. Of the taxpayer costs, researchers estimated $70.1 billion are at the federal level, $33.3 billion are at the state level, and $8.5 billion are at the local level.
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Several years ago, a woman approached the Rev. Alice Wolfe asking to join her United Methodist congregation in Anna, Ohio.
The 38-year-old pastor suspected the woman wasn't interested in being a Methodist; she just wanted to avoid paying the "wedding fee" at the local Methodist church.
"She has never come back," Wolfe said, "other than the wedding."
On April 30, Wolfe asked Methodist delegates gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, to bolster church law and allow pastors to turn away candidates--or at least delay membership--until they're sure a candidate is serious about Methodism.
Just who can join the United Methodist Church has become a contentious matter in recent years, and the nearly 1,000 delegates here debated their membership standards long into the night. Amid searching talk of following Jesus, who took all comers, and Methodist founder John Wesley, the famous circuit-riding evangelist, there was discussion about the painful segregation of church in the 1930s and a not-so-hidden subtext: the exclusion of gays and lesbians.
"We are having a discussion here on two values: pastoral discernment of membership readiness versus Christian hospitality," said Tara Thronson, a delegate from Austin, Texas.
Current church law states that all people may attend "worship services, participate in the programs, receive the sacraments, and become members in any local church." But in 2005, the church's top court backed a Virginia pastor who denied membership to an openly gay man. The church's Council of Bishops strongly condemned the pastor's decision.
Gay rights activists were hoping to counter the court ruling by passing a law forcing pastors to receive all adults willing to affirm the church's membership vows. That measure failed by just 12 votes-- one of the closest tallies yet at the two-week General Conference.
Wolfe, who sits on the assembly's church membership committee, said the proposal she supported, which failed by a 515 to 384 vote, was not about homosexuality. It was about letting pastors discern a candidate's readiness to join the church.
Bush Marks National Day of Prayer Amid Controversy
BY ADELLE M. BANKS ©2008 Religion News Service
President Bush marked the National Day of Prayer at the White House on May 1, noting Americans' equality across their diverse faiths even as critics charged that the widespread prayer observances have been "hijacked" by evangelicals.
"On this day, we celebrate our freedoms, particularly the freedom to pray in public and the great diversity of faith found in America," Bush said in remarks to about 230 religious, political, and military leaders in the East Room.
DAY OF PRAYER: Dr. John Graz, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, left, speaks with Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, right, and an unidentified White House aide, at the National Day of Prayer breakfast at The White House on May 1. “It’s a blessing to have the highest authorities of the country spending time to recognize the essential role of prayer in the life of the nation, and opening the Bible and praying,” Graz said in reference to President Bush’s remarks, adding, “Adventists were not absent from this very important meeting.” [Photo by James Standish/PARL]
"I love being the president of a country where people feel free to worship as they see fit. And I remind our fellow citizens, if you choose to worship or not worship, and no matter how you worship, we're all equally American."
The National Day of Prayer was signed into law in 1952 by President Harry Truman. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended the law to state that observances would be held the first Thursday in May. Official nationwide observances are coordinated by a task force led by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
But the group's work has been criticized recently by the online community Jews on First, which says events have been "hijacked" by evangelical Christians. Critics say organizers must affirm a statement of faith that declares the Bible is "the inerrant Word of the Living God."
Some groups planned "alternate inclusive interfaith events," such as prayer gatherings and counter-demonstrations. The Council on
American-Islamic Affairs and Americans United for Separation of Church and State joined in the campaign spearheaded by Jews on First.
A task force spokeswoman has responded by saying its events "reflect its Christian perspective on prayer," but all Americans are free to observe the day in a way that demonstrates their own religious viewpoints.
Shirley Dobson, in remarks at the White House, focused on the range of events organized by her group, including observances at more than 100 prisons; one at a memorial chapel in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed in the 9/11 attacks; and pilots flying and praying over all 50 state capitols.
Watchdog Panel Issues Religious Freedom Recommendations
A federal watchdog panel said on May 2 that 11 countries should be named "countries of particular concern" for their records on religious freedom, including three that are not currently on the U.S. State Department's list.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the inclusion of Vietnam--which was removed from the State Department's list in 2006--and Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
Commissioners who traveled to Vietnam in 2007 found "very uneven" progress on the improvement of conditions for religious freedom, said commission Chair Michael Cromartie in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "Arrests, detentions, discrimination, and other restrictions continue," he said.
Cromartie also cited continuing "religiously motivated violence" in Pakistan and "official harassment of religious adherents" in Turkmenistan.
The other countries recommended for the designation of "countries of particular concern" are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan, which have been on the State Department's list since 2006.
"Developments of the past decade have strengthened the importance of freedom of religion or belief, as the U.S. government navigates a world threatened by religion-based extremism and religion-imbued conflict," Cromartie said in a statement that accompanied the release of the commission's annual recommendations.
The commission also cited countries on its "Watch List" that require monitoring because of religious freedom violations permitted or implemented by the governments: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria.
Commissioners say they continue to be "seriously concerned" about religious freedom in Iraq, which was on their 2007 Watch List, and will be traveling to the region in May. They plan to issue a report on Iraq after the trip.