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
Most Americans Think Churches
Should Avoid Politics
slim majority of Americans, including rising numbers of conservatives, say churches should stay out of politics, according to a survey released August 21 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Fifty-two percent of Americans say they think houses of worship should not express their opinions about political and social matters, while 45 percent say they approve of such expression. The center said this marks the first time since it started asking the question in 1996 that respondents who want churches to stay out of politics outnumber those with the opposite view.
Conservatives, especially, have reconsidered the issue, with 50 percent saying congregations should stay out of politics. Only 30 voiced that opinion in 2004. The survey also showed a slight increase in the percentage of Americans who say they are bothered by politicians' discussing their religion. Forty-six percent now say they are uncomfortable with that kind of religious talk, compared to 40 percent in 2004.
Researchers found a sharper increase in the number of respondents who view the Democratic Party as friendly toward religion, from 26 percent in 2006 to 38 percent two years later. More than half--52 percent--view the Republican Party as religion friendly, compared to 47 percent in 2006. The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was based on telephone interviews from July 31-August 10 with a national sample of 2,905 adults. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Head of White House Faith-based Office Resigns
The director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, Jay Hein, has resigned to care for his ill father. Hein, the White House office's third director, leaves August 29 and returns to Indianapolis to support his father, who is battling cancer, said spokeswoman Rebecca Neale.
Hein alerted his staff and state liaisons to religious and secular nonprofits during the week of August 11, and met with President Bush earlier to tell him of his plans. Asked if Hein would be replaced, Neale said, "I think that that's something the White House senior staff is working through right now."
Hein, 43, had led the office for two years. The office, which Bush began soon after becoming president, was previously led by University of Pennsylvania political science professor John DiIulio and Saint Vincent College president Jim Towey.
"I think Jay was instrumental in expanding the president's vision for the initiative outside of Washington," said Neale. "He helped demonstrate how the initiative is alive in all 50 states."
Hein hosted monthly roundtable discussions that brought together government, religious and business leaders and philanthropists in Washington and led national and international conferences aimed at highlighting partnerships between nonprofits and the government.
Hein was named in the Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation case, which the Supreme Court decided in the White House's favor in June 2007. That ruling, which insulated the faith-based initiative from taxpayer legal challenges, has played a role in a series of subsequent court decisions.
Young Muslims Getting the Word Out About Faith
From their cramped office behind a barber shop, four young men try to get the word out: This is who we are, this is what we believe.
As Muslims in this overwhelmingly Christian community, they feel a responsibility to tell what Islam truly teaches--to non-Muslims and other Muslims. They aim to do so through Sunnah Publishing, an educational nonprofit they formed four years ago. "Living in America, we're the ones who suffer" from misconceptions about Islam, said Maaz Qureshi, 27, a Pakistani and Grand Rapids resident since 1997. "It is our religious obligation to clarify what our religion stands for and what it doesn't."
Hamza Kantarevic, like Qureshi, sometimes wears the flowing robe, long beard and skullcap of traditionalist Islam. He knows he looks exotic, and perhaps threatening, in conservative West Michigan. "They might see us and know we are Muslims and live amongst them," said Kantarevic, 24, a Bosnian who has lived here since 1999. "But do they really know who we are?"
He and his colleagues at Sunnah Publishing hope to answer that and other questions at their first public conference, "Islam in America," beginning August 29, a few days before the start of the month-long holiday of Ramadan. The seminar features Muslim scholars from Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and New Jersey addressing a wide array of topics, from what Islam teaches about violence and women to Muslim positions on intelligent design and the environment.
Sunnah Publishing aims to provide answers by "turning back to Islam in its original form," Qureshi said. Some local Muslim leaders say they know little about Sunnah Publishing and will attend the upcoming seminar to learn more.
Ali Metwalli, a leader at this city's Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute, said the young organizers have a "peaceful mindset" but are more conservative than most local Muslims.
Qureshi accepts the conservative label, but says traditional Islam unequivocally condemns the militant extremism that has "messed up the image of Islam. The idea of committing suicide and (making) a plane crash into a building or strapping a bomb on your chest has nothing to do with Islam," said Qureshi, a data specialist at Pitney Bowes Software Systems.
Though not formally educated in Islam, he and his colleagues say they have studied and consulted with top scholars. Salaahudeen Ali, a lifelong Grand Rapids resident, and Muhammad Muridi also are publishing partners. They formed the publishing firm with their own funds, selling books and CDs and building a Web site including articles and audio recordings. They also teach classes on Arabic.
Though they say top Islamic scholars have consistently condemned terrorism, the publishers believe local Muslims have not been vocal enough about their beliefs. "Nobody else is going to do it," Qureshi said. "You kind of have to put yourself out there."