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
National Cathedral Slashes Staff, Budget
BY DANIEL BURKE ©2008 Religion News Service
ashington National Cathedral announced dramatic cuts to its budget, programs and staff on November 19 as the faltering economy continues to hit religious institutions nationwide.
The landmark cathedral, which welcomes nearly 700,000 visitors a year and has hosted the state funerals of three presidents, will slash its budget by 40 percent next year, from $24 million to $14.4 million. More than 40 staffers will be laid off, retail operations at the cathedral's gift shop will be outsourced and the Cathedral College's residential course offerings will cease as of March 31, 2009, according to the cathedral.
"Like many other institutions around the world," said the Very Rev. Samuel Lloyd III, the cathedral's dean, "Washington National Cathedral has been affected by the serious downturn in the financial market."
Last spring, the cathedral's endowment was valued at $66 million, but has since declined by about 25 percent, according to Michael Hill, the cathedral's executive director for external relations. In May, the cathedral cut $3.5 million from its budget by firing 33 employees and closing its greenhouse.
The cathedral, which celebrated its centenary this year, regularly hosts high-profile guests, concerts and events -- such as the memorial service after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the 2006 installation of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
However, the huge Gothic cathedral is not supported financially by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the national Episcopal Church or the federal government. The endowment, private donations and revenue from events fund its budget, Hill said.
"Serving as the nation's church and as a place of prayer and spiritual renewal is a significant responsibility," Lloyd said. "And we are committed to being conscientious stewards of this revered cathedral building."
Study Suggests Worship Services Reduce Risk of Death
Regularly attending religious services may significantly reduce the risk of death, according to a comprehensive study by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Findings of the study were published in Psychology and Health, the official journal of the European Health Psychology Society. In the study, researchers evaluated the religious practices of 92,395 post-menopausal women from a wide variety of faiths participating in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a national long-term study on women's health issues.
The study subjects who said they attend religious services at least once a week showed a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of mortality compared with those not attending services at all. The participants, aged 50 to 79, were asked how often they attend services, about their religious affiliation and whether they derive comfort from religious practices.
The YU/Einstein study adjusted for the social support many derive from participation in communal organizations and group activities linkedto a church, a synagogue, temple or mosque. "What was fascinating was that even after controlling for those sorts of factors that lead to well-being, there was a significant reduction in mortality," said co-lead researcher Dr. Eliezer Schnall, clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva University. It would be "worthwhile," Schnall said, to study men and younger people to determine their risk of mortality.
Schnall's partner in the study, Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein, said the natural next step "is to figure out how the effect of religiosity is translated into biological mechanisms that affect rates of survival. However, we do not infer causation even from a prospective study, as that can only be done through a clinical trial," she said.
Bob Jones University Apologizes for Racist Policies
Bob Jones University, the conservative Christian school in Greenville, South Carolina, that did not admit African-American students until 1971 and banned interracial dating until 2000, has apologized for its past racial policies.
The school posted a "Statement about Race at Bob Jones University" on its Web site on November 20, saying the school's past policies were shaped "for far too long" by "the segregationist ethos of American culture" rather than by biblical principles.
"In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves," the statement reads. "For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional
policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful."
Five university alumni launched a Web site, Please-Reconcile.org, to collect signatures for an open letter to Bob Jones leaders saying they were "troubled" by the school's racist reputation. They collected more than 500 signatures seeking a university statement that past positions on racial discrimination were "mistaken, and God has granted a better perspective."
The leaders of the effort said 92 percent of the signatories identified themselves as alumni or former students.
The statement by the university, the first of its kind to be posted online, was released before the group sent its letter and signatures to the administration.
"We believe that in undertaking this project, we did what we were trained to do at BJU: to lovingly confront wrong doctrine or practice wherever it exists, and to remove every impediment to our gospel witness in the world," the alumni group said in thanking Bob Jones leaders. "We are thankful that Bob Jones University has responded to the concerns of its alumni."
Archaeologists Sketch out Herod's Desert Palace
BY MICHELE CHABIN ©2008 Religion News Service
Archaeologists who have analyzed artifacts discovered at Herodium, an ancient Judean palace built by King Herod, are more convinced than ever that the famed monarch was buried high atop the complex outside Jerusalem.
Herod, who served as the king of Judea from 37 to 4 BC, built such monumental structures as the Second Jewish Temple, the mountaintop palace at Masada and the palatial Herodium complex.
The vast desert palace, which included a grand residence, a mausoleum, a theater and large pools, baths and gardens, was the largest of its kind in the Roman world of that time, Hebrew University archaeologists said.
At a November 18 press conference at the university, researchers said they have been able to determine that the mausoleum where the fragments of Herod's sarcophagus were discovered was "a lavish two-story structure with a concave-conical roof, about 25 meters high," a structure consistent with Herod's tastes and stature.
Professor Ehud Netzer, director of the excavations, said his team also recently discovered the remains of two other sarcophagi, a 650-seat theater below the mausoleum and a loggia -- "a VIP viewing and hospitality room" -- located at the top of the theater seats and decorated with Italian-style wall paintings and plaster moldings never before seen in Israel.