New Policy: Southern Baptist Missionary
Candidates Can't Speak in Tongues

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                              © 2005 Religion News Service   

he Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board has adopted a new policy that forbids missionary candidates from speaking in tongues.

The policy, adopted Nov. 15 during the board's trustee meeting in Huntsville, Ala., reflects ongoing Southern Baptist opposition to charismatic or Pentecostal practices.

"In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as `private prayer language,'" states the policy, according to a denomination announcement. "Therefore, if `private prayer language' is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB (International Mission Board) of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention)."

The policy took effect on the day it was adopted and is not retroactive. It is designed to guide staff in the Office of Mission Personnel as they consider new candidates.

The denomination's North American Mission Board has a policy that prevents the endorsement of chaplains who participate in speaking in tongues or "any other charismatic manifestations."

The International Mission Board trustees voted that any exception to the policies must be reviewed by the board's Process Review Committee and staff of the mission board.

Concerned Evangelicals Warn Bush, Congress on Budget Cuts

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                      © 2005 Religion News Service   

Citing an "obscene" 2006 federal budget that hurts the poor, progressive church leaders warned Monday (Nov. 21) that President Bush and Republicans will pay a price at the polls next November.

A bill that includes $50 billion in spending cuts barely passed the House on Friday in a 217-215 vote. GOP leaders say the cuts are needed to rein in federal spending, but critics -- including many church leaders -- say the cuts only hurt the poor while extending tax breaks to the rich.

"This isn't a partisan issue, it's a stark moral choice," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical who heads the Call to Renewal anti-poverty campaign. "The House bill is obscene." Lawmakers will spend the next month trying to negotiate differences between the House bill and the Senate's $35 billion version. Church leaders successfully lobbied to protect food stamps from proposed cuts in the Senate bill.

During a "Faith Summit on Poverty" convened by Wallis, the church leaders said they would press to have the Senate funding of food stamps retained in the final bill. They also oppose cuts in funding for low-income health care through Medicaid, child care and student loans.

"A Christian president better pay attention to what Christians think about this budget bill," Wallis said, warning that lawmakers will "pay a political price for not protecting low-income people." Wallis and others, including Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and the Rev. Glenn Palmberg of the Evangelical Covenant Church, said conservatives are slowly discovering that "God cares about the poor" in addition to hot-button social issues.

Some social conservatives, however, have not followed Wallis' focus on the budget. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, for example, urged his members to support the House bill to help restore "the fiscal discipline that families take for granted."

But Palmberg said "compassionate conservatives" will not accept the budget cuts, and the Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson, head of the Reformed Church in America, cautioned Republicans against relying on so-called "values voters" for support. "It is a profound political misreading that somehow this is a political approach that the church will be content with, and that the church will buy," he said.

Congregations Worried About Spiking Energy Costs

BY MARY WARNER                                                                                               © 2005 Religion News Service   

The soaring cost of keeping the sanctuary warm this winter has congregations fretting.

"People are very worried," said consultant Andrew Rudin, who's been advising houses of worship on energy conservation for 30 years. "We've never had so much business."

Rudin, of Philadelphia's Interfaith Coalition on Energy, consults congregations in Philadelphia and beyond on energy costs. "Budgets are always a sensitive matter" for congregations, Dernbach said. "Every dollar you don't spend on energy is a dollar you can spend on doing good for someone."

The Energy Department predicts higher natural gas and oil prices will make winter heating bills 30 percent to 50 percent higher than last year for most households.

The problem is complicated for churches, mosques and synagogues -- often in old buildings, largely empty much of the week, with high ceilings, broad expanses of stained glass, little or no insulation and aged boilers in the basement.

Rudin, who once wrote an article titled "Blessed Are They Who Turn Things Off," said those buildings can do surprisingly well on energy use -- if people are smart about using them.

"It's not the organ; it's the organist," he said. "It's the switch and the thermostat."

N.J. Sports Complex to Add Space for Prayers

BY JEFF DIAMANT AND RUSSELL BEN-ALI                                                               © 2005 Religion News Service   

In what may be the first such designation in the nation, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority will set aside areas at Giants Stadium and Continental Airlines Arena for fans who want to pray, officials said.

The decision, which follows the detention of five Muslim men who were seen kneeling in prayer at a Sept. 19 Giants game, was hailed by stadium officials and Islamic leaders.

"I think that we handled this situation with sensitivity, and it's the right thing," said George Zoffinger, the sports authority's president and chief executive. "We reached out to the people in the community who felt offended and we put in an expert on both Muslim culture and religion to address all our staff in terms of the sensitivities involved."

Zoffinger said stadium and arena staff are still trying to determine which areas would be set aside and when they would open. Once the areas are designated, fans of any faith who want to pray would be directed by stadium staff to the appropriate areas.

Sami Shaban, one of the Muslims who had been questioned and detained, called the decision an "amazing step."

"I think it's a very good start. I really appreciate it," he said. "I love the fact that we have a place to pray. ... It was not our main aim, though. Our main aim was to bring to light and educate people about what it is we're supposed to do, that (our praying) is not suspicious behavior and we shouldn't have been treated like this."

Shaban and four other men were questioned by the FBI and stadium security after they were observed praying as a group during the Giants-New Orleans Saints game. Former President George H.W. Bush was attending the football game as part of a fundraising campaign for Hurricane Katrina victims.

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