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
Presbyterians Report Biggest
Drop in Nearly 30 Years
he Presbyterian Church (USA) lost more than 57,000 members last year, the denomination's largest decline since 1981, church leaders announced at a churchwide General Assembly in San Jose, California.
The 2.5 percent drop brings active membership in the PCUSA to 2.2 million, but it remains the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination.
PCUSA delegates are gathered in San Jose through June 28 to debate church policy and elect new leaders at its biennial General Assembly.
Like many mainline Protestant churches, the PCUSA has experienced a decades-long drop in membership, with church rolls declining every year since the denomination was formed in 1983, according to church researchers.
Twelve PCUSA congregations joined other denominations in 2007, and 71 churches were dissolved, according to the PCUSA. About 130 churches in total have threatened to leave or have left the denomination because of disagreements about homosexuality and the Bible.
The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the PCUSA's outgoing stated clerk, said the membership plunge exceeded expectations "While it is deeply painful to lose this many members for any reason, it is obvious that the vast majority of Presbyterians are committed to staying in the PC(USA) and doing Christ's mission together."
Another Faith-healing Death Brings More Scrutiny on Church
The painful and apparently preventable faith-healing death of a 16-year-old boy on June 17 brings the secretive Followers of Christ church back under legal scrutiny, just four months after the boy's infant niece died in similar circumstances.
But unlike the girl's death, which resulted in criminal mistreatment and manslaughter charges against her parents, state law may protect the boy's parents since under state statute he was old enough to make his own medical decisions.
Neil Jeffrey Beagley died at his grandmother's home, a week after first complaining of stomach pain and shortness of breath. As Beagley's family and several dozen church members prayed for what church members call spiritual healing, the teenager deteriorated and died, according to police and medical investigators.
Dr. Cliff Nelson, Oregon deputy state medical examiner, said Wednesday that an autopsy determined Beagley died of complications from a constriction where his bladder empties into his urethra. Beagley became unable to urinate, an intensely painful condition that caused his kidneys to stop extracting urea from his bloodstream and triggered heart failure.
Nelson said the blockage, which may have been congenital, easily could have been treated. "Basically, he couldn't void," Nelson said. "But it definitely was treatable. Something as simple as catheterization could have saved his life."
Nelson also said the autopsy indicated that Beagley had suffered repeated episodes of blockage and pain, probably throughout his life, with no apparent medical intervention. "His kidneys were shot," Nelson said. "Even if his life had been saved by catheterization, he would have been a candidate for dialysis or a kidney transplant."
When his condition worsened Sunday, the boy was taken to the home of his grandmother, Norma Beagley, in Gladstone, Ore. Neighbors and police said more than 60 members of the Followers of Christ Church gathered there to attempt faith-healing, which includes anointing the body in oil, "laying on hands" and praying for a cure.
Sgt. Lynne Benton, Gladstone police spokeswoman, said a church leader called the Clackamas County medical examiner's office about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and reported that the teen had died about an hour before. Benton said investigators then detained church and family members for hours of interviews.
"We processed the scene for evidence, but there was little for us to do," Benton said. "There were no signs of trauma or suicide."
Benton said all the interviews indicated Beagley refused medical treatment. "Unless we can disprove that," Benton said, "charges probably won't be filed in this case."
Church members have declined to comment or answer any questions. In March, the church made national headlines when Beagley's 15-month-old niece, Ava Worthington, died at home from bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Medical experts deemed both conditions treatable with antibiotics.
The infant's parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, have since pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. Their attorneys have indicated they will rely on a religious freedom defense and have launched a Web site, to rally nationwide support.
It's not clear whether authorities will bring charges against Neil Beagley's parents, Jeffrey Dean Beagley and Marci Rae Beagley of Oregon City, his grandmother or other church members.
"The district attorney's office is waiting for the investigation to be complete," said Gregory D. Horner, the chief deputy district attorney for Clackamas County. "We are researching applicable laws to make a determination."
Report Says Judaism Faces Gender Imbalance `Crisis'
Non-Orthodox Jewish men are becoming alienated from their faith, a "crisis" that foreshadows a rise in interfaith marriages and secular generations, according to a new study from Brandeis University.
The findings, based on 300 interviews, report the rise of female leadership and participation in Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism has prompted men to opt out of religious activities, in contrast to Orthodox Judaism, which still requires men for traditional worship and family life.
"The past four decades have contradicted thousands of years where men were the primary [leaders] in terms of religious roles," said Lindsey Fieldman, spokeswoman for the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, which released the study.
With women currently outnumbering men in weekly non-Orthodox worship services, adult education classes, volunteer leadership positions and cultural events, the study concludes that non-Orthodox groups should create programs aimed specifically at engaging boys. The earlier the better, the study reports, because alienated Jewish men are more likely to marry non-Jewish women, taking them and their children farther away from the synagogue.
"The Jewish community must intervene well before the marriage years if it hopes to have an impact," the study reports. "Not only does the presence of a Jewish mother in the home dramatically increases the likelihood that the children will be raised as Jews, her absence increases the likelihood that they will not."
The Reform movement has struggled with its growing gender gap for years, stunned by a two-to-one ratio of women to men entering the rabbinical class in its Hebrew Union College in 2005. Last year, the movement launched a three-year campaign to address the problem, called "Where Have all the Young Men Gone?"
Some of the imbalance can be blamed on American culture, which places higher values on women's participation in religious and educational activities, and has caused similar struggles in churches across the country, said Jonathan Sarna, American Jewish history professor at Brandeis University. "I don't think we need a fancy Jewish explanation for what's going on," he said. "Non-Orthodox Judaism is becoming more like American religion as a whole, which has been largely female."
Woman Elected to No. 2 Spot in Christian Reformed Church
The Christian Reformed Church made history on June 14 by electing a woman as vice president of its annual Synod--the first time meeting in which women were allowed to serve as delegates.
The Rev. Thea Leunk, pastor of Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was elected after finishing second in the vote for president on opening day of the CRC Synod meeting at Calvin College. The Rev. Joel Boot, of Georgetown Township, Michigan, was chosen president.
Applause greeted Leunk's election, and some saw the vote as the church's way of celebrating the breakthrough after a nearly 40-year battle for women's full clergy rights.
Leunk pointed the spotlight away from herself, emphasizing her role as one of four officers heading up the weeklong meeting. The three other elected officers are all men. "It's an honor and it's a trust more than anything else," Leunk said following the vote at Calvin College. "All of us as officers are hoping we can live up to that trust that's been placed in us to lead the Synod well."