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
Proposed Postal Cutbacks Have
Church Newspapers Worried
either snow nor rain nor gloom of night is supposed to keep the postman from his appointed rounds, but Bob Terry still doesn't understand why it takes four days for his copy of The Alabama Baptist newspaper to travel the 10 miles between the post office and his mailbox.
So when the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) recently floated the idea of cutting back service to five days a week, Terry, the newspaper's publisher, got even more nervous. "It could have dire consequences for print communication in churches," said Terry, who sits on the Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee for the loose-knit Coalition of Religious Press Associations.
Terry said his newspaper contains timely announcements of various church events, and copies that already arrive late have cost him subscribers. Cutting Tuesday or Saturday mail delivery would only make the problem worse, he said.
Gerald McKiernan, manager of media relations for the U.S. Postal Service, said the proposal to cut service was just that--a proposal. No decisions have been made about whether--or how--to reduce service in an effort to cut costs.
The USPS is facing a $2.8 billion deficit, and reducing six-day delivery to five days would save at least $3.5 billion, McKiernan said. Along with paring back delivery, the USPS also requested changes in paying health benefits to employees--a change that McKiernan said could keep six-day delivery intact.
Still, some involved in small, faith-based publications have expressed concern that reduced service will only exacerbate current problems, especially on the heels of a postal rate increase in 2007 that was as much as 20 percent for some publications. "Cutting back delivery days would only increase problems we already have," said Debbie Campbell, director of circulation and public relations for the weekly Birmingham-based Alabama Baptist.
Terry, who has sparred with the USPS before, said small church publications don't carry the same clout as larger publications. Debbie Christian, director of customer care for the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter, said her newspaper sends out between 180,000 and 200,000 local church editions each week, and losing a day of delivery could result in big problems for her small staff. "If they take a day of delivery out, that's probably going to affect our business," Christian said.
The Alabama Baptist has a statewide circulation of about 100,000 and prints weekly local church editions. Timeliness is imperative for churches because the material is about upcoming events and ministries that involve the participation of the congregation, Terry said.
Last fall, the newspaper was reaching members of Eastside Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., two to three weeks late, said Pastor Mark Smith. Parishioners even approached him about removing their names from the newsletter mailing list to avoid further waste of the church's resources.
Scott Bush, the pastor of Southcrest Baptist Church in Bessemer, Alabama, had some delivery issues with his church's edition of the newspaper, but said the issue may have been related to confusion over zip codes. Still, he said "any curve that gets thrown could sure slow us down."
McKiernan, from the USPS, said communication with local post offices is key, and recommended publications work with their local USPS branches to resolve current or future problems.
Man Pleads Guilty to Unitarian Church Shooting
A man who was angry over a Unitarian church's liberal stances on women's issues and gay marriage pleaded guilty February 9 to a church shooting that killed two people and wounded six others last July.
Jim D. Adkisson, who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder, now faces life in prison without parole for the shooting deaths at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
As part of the plea agreement, Adkisson was spared the death penalty. The shooter acknowledged his actions constituted a "hate crime," according to the Associated Press.
His broader mission was to kill high-ranking government officials opposed to his political beliefs. Among those he blacklisted as his targets were "every Democrat in the House and Senate ... (and) everyone in the mainstream media," he said, according to the AP.
When he realized these officials were "inaccessible," he narrowed his focus on "the foot soldiers, the chicken (expletive) liberals that vote in these traitorous people." He called the church "a den of un-American vipers," the AP reported.
Bill Dockery, who serves as public relations director at the Knoxville church, said the congregation has emerged as a stronger community from the tragedy. He expressed gratitude for members of other faiths who offered their support to the church. "We feel Mr. Adkisson basically has anger and hatred beyond the scope of our understanding," Dockery said.
Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said it was a "blessing" that the Tennessee church was spared a lengthy trial in the case.
"The court system has done its job of defining what justice will be in this case," Sinkford said in a statement. "Now it is the task of our congregations and of religious people in general, to work toward healing, and to find a religious voice that can help bring such violence to an end."
Senate Rejects Stimulus Aid For Religious Buildings
The U.S. Senate defeated an amendment to the economic stimulus bill February 5 that would have allowed federal funding for renovations at college buildings that are used for religious activity.
Senator Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, proposed the amendment after voicing criticism of a stimulus provision that says funds for colleges and universities could not be used for modernization or renovation of buildings where "sectarian instruction" or "religious worship" occur.
"This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I'm outraged Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote discrimination," DeMint said after the 54-43 vote defeating the amendment. Church-state groups, however, welcomed the vote.
"The Senate has voted to reaffirm an important American principle-- that religious groups should pay their own way and not expect funding from the taxpayer," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Conservative Christian groups, meanwhile, agreed with DeMint. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said the provision "has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination."
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, called the vote "a significant defeat to our First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom and free speech."
Anglican Bishops Call on Mugabe to Step Down
Leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion called on Zimbabwe's embattled president, Robert Mugabe, to step down and bring an end to "the apparent breakdown of the rule of law in the country."
Top Anglican archbishops, or primates, said Mugabe "illegitimately holds on to power" after losing an election to rival Morgan Tsvangirai last year and then rejecting a power-sharing agreement brokered by African leaders. There appears to be a total disregard for life, consistently demonstrated by Mr. Mugabe through systematic kidnap, torture and the killing of the Zimbabwean people," the primates said February 3 during their meeting in Alexandria, Egypt.
The statement praised "the faithful witness of the Christians of Zimbabwe during this time of pain and suffering" and asked the world's 77 million Anglicans to set aside Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25) as a day of solidarity and prayer for the people of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has struggled with a cholera epidemic that has infected more than 60,000 people and has claimed the lives of more than 3,100, according to recent figures from the World Health Organization. Mugabe has largely denied the scope of the cholera epidemic.
The Anglican Communion, made up of 38 national churches with ties to the Church of England, has seen rapid growth across Africa in recent decades. The primates, however, say two Zimbabwe bishops are puppets for Mugabe's regime, and accuse them of seizing control of church property.
Because the Anglicans do not currently have a primate in Zimbabwe, the primates asked their spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to work with African church leaders to help deliver relief supplies to the region.