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
ELCA Reports Membership Drop
For 16th Consecutive Year
embership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the country's largest Lutheran denomination, has fallen for the 16th consecutive year, the ELCA announced August 14.
While the ELCA grows worldwide--particularly in sub-Saharan Africa--baptized membership in U.S. declined by more than 64,000 in 2007, a 1.34 percent drop. The church now counts 4.7 million baptized members in 10,500 congregations.
John Brooks, an ELCA spokesman, said a committee has been formed to identify potential causes of the decline. "We are working on a number of strategies to try to change the trend," he said.
Brooks attributed the pared membership rolls in part to improved bookkeeping. "One of the things that is going on is we've made a much stronger effort to get congregations to make sure that their rolls are accurate," he said.
The church has made a concerted effort in recent years to diversify its members, who are more than 98 percent white. According the report, "multi-ethnic" membership rose by 13.3 percent from 2006 to 2007. "One of our strategic priorities is to become a multi-cultural church," Brooks said.
The church was formed in 1987 when three Lutheran denominations -- the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America--merged.
Pastor Pay Raises Edge Out Inflation
Inflation didn't eat away all of the average Southern Baptist pastor's pay increase over the past two years, but it came close.
That's one finding of the SBC Church Compensation Study, a survey of 12,854 staff positions in Southern Baptist churches. The survey was conducted by LifeWay Research in cooperation with GuideStone Financial Resources and Baptist state conventions through July 1, 2008. The study also found that almost two-thirds of churches are partially or fully paying for their full-time senior pastor to have medical insurance and that compensation can vary significantly depending on geography, worship attendance, and the pastor's experience and education.
All the data acquired by the study has been compiled into a Web-based tool that will help churches as they begin planning staff compensation packages for their 2009 budgets.
Adjusting for church size, the average full-time Southern Baptist senior pastor's compensation (salary and housing) rose 7.26 percent between 2006 and 2008, compared to the compounded 7.01 percent inflation rate for the same period reflected in Consumer Price Index figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.
With no adjustments for church size, compensation for other full-time staff ministers increased 12.24 percent between 2006 and 2008, while compensation for full-time office personnel increased by 9.55 percent and by 9.92 percent for full-time custodians.
Churches partially or fully pay for their full-time senior pastors' medical insurance 65 percent of the time, the study found. That includes 36 percent that at least partially fund family coverage, 19 percent that at least partially fund coverage for pastor and spouse, and 10 percent that provide coverage only for the pastor.
The research also discovered that 38 percent of those pastors have life and or accident insurance paid for partially or fully by their church, 32 percent have a disability benefit, 27 percent have dental insurance and 12 percent have vision insurance.
These statistics were determined after adjusting the data to account for church size, which indicates that even smaller-membership congregations are trying to take care of their pastors' needs, said O. S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources.
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California Court: Doctors Can't Discriminate Based on Sexual Orientation
California's Supreme Court ruled on August 18 that doctors cannot discriminate against gays and lesbians even if they believe their religious freedom will be violated during a course of treatment.
The case involved a San Diego County lesbian, Guadalupe Benitez, who informed doctors that she and her partner wanted to pursue fertility treatments. Two doctors in a Vista, California., practice said that their religious beliefs would prevent them from performing an artificial insemination for Benitez. Benitez sued, citing California's civil rights act.
The Constitution's "right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt defendant physicians here from conforming their conduct to the Act's antidiscrimination requirements even if compliance poses an incidental conflict with defendants' religious beliefs," wrote Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard in a unanimous decision.
The judge said the civil rights act imposes "certain antidiscrimination obligations" on business establishments, including medical groups.
One of the doctors, Christine Brody, said her religious objection was because Benitez was not married. But Benitez argued that Brody objected to performing the procedure because Benitez is a lesbian.
The judge said the doctors could refuse to perform the medical procedure for all patients or refer them to a physician in their practice who did not hold the same religious objections.
Lawyers for the doctors are considering an appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making Christian broadcasters nervous. Pelosi, D-California, recently said she supports resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine, a 1949 Federal Communications Commission policy that required broadcasters who send out specific messages to set aside time for opposing views.
Such a move would "really make it impossible to preach the whole counsel of God," said Rich Bott, the owner of Kansas-based Bott Radio Network, which broadcasts Christian programming across 10 states.
It would also, he said, likely put him out of business.
Put in place nearly 50 years ago, the doctrine was an FCC regulation that policed the airwaves at a time when there were few other sources of information. It never carried the full weight of the law.
By the 1980s, with the advent of cable television and multiple opportunities to air differing opinions, the policy fell out of favor and was finally ditched by the FCC in 1987.
While Pelosi hasn't offered legislation to reinstate the policy, she signaled that she supports its revival, and said a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Spence, R-Indiana, to permanently kill it will not be considered by the Democratic-controlled House.
If the Fairness Doctrine were to be reinstated by Congress, broadcasters would be legally forced to follow the old protocol:
one-third of the airtime given to one opinion must be offered free-of-charge to opponents. "We've been in broadcasting for over 45 years so we remember what it was like under the previous regime of the so-called Fairness Doctrine," Bott said. "What we had to do then would be impossible today."
A half-century ago, Christians were a distinct cultural and political majority and there were fewer dissenting views to accommodate. Numerically, they still hold sway, but compete against large numbers of other faiths and points of view.
"If someone were to assert that God has ordained marriage as only between a man and woman that would be a controversial statement today," he said. "Someone will ask for time."