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
Presbyterians Defeat Move to Allow Gay Clergy
he Presbyterian Church (USA) has defeated a move-–for the third time in 12 years--that would have allowed partnered gay and lesbian clergy, but gay rights groups cheered what they called a "historic shift" in the number of Presbyterians who supported the measure.
Sixty-nine of the Presbyterians' 173 presbyteries, or local governing bodies, voted to rescind a church rule that requires clergy to abide by "fidelity in marriage ... or chastity in singleness," according to the denomination's news service.
A simple majority of at least 87 votes was needed for passage, but as of April 27, 88 presbyteries had rejected the measure. The final tally may not be known until June 28, the deadline for presbyteries to turn in their votes.
Delegates to the denomination's General Assembly--the church's highest lawmaking body--voted to rescind the ban last summer. But the measure, like all constitutional changes, needed to be ratified by a majority of local presbyteries.
The latest round of voting saw more support for the pro-gay measure than similar battles in the late 1990s and early 2000s; 28 presbyteries changed their votes from 2001 in this latest round, signaling a shift in attitude in favor of gay clergy, according to gay rights groups.
Unexpectedly, some of the presbyteries that changed their votes to support the amendment are in conservative states such as Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Montana. Two presbyteries that had earlier supported the measure, including San Francisco, reversed their support and this time voted to reject the measure.
"The big story here is that many traditionally conservative areas of the country voted to accept gay clergy and lay officers in the church," said Tricia Dykers Koenig of the pro-gay Covenant Network of Presbyterians. "Our understanding of what it means to be created in the image of God is broadening."
Terry Schlossberg, of the conservative Presbyterian Coalition, said "those who wish to change the biblically rooted standard have continually pressed the matter and required repeated votes that have had the same impact each time."
"It is well past time to acknowledge that the church today, as through its history, knows her mind on this matter, and that it is the mind of Christ," Schlossberg said.
Like most mainline Protestant churches, the 2.3-million-member PCUSA has struggled for decades to balance biblical injunctions against homosexuality and society's evolving standards of gay rights. The "fidelity and chastity" measure has been in place since 1996, when it made explicit the church's long-held policy barring gay clergy from the pulpit.
US Supreme Court Sides With FCC on Indecency Case
In what conservatives called a victory for parents, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to prohibit certain indecent language on broadcast television, even if it is a one-time instance.
The 5-4 majority opinion by the court's most conservative members reversed a lower court ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that had gone against the FCC. The Supreme Court, though, based its ruling solely on federal statutes and did not tackle the constitutionality of the FCC's policy, and the celebration by conservatives was somewhat tempered because Clarence Thomas -- one of the court's more conservative justices -- indicated in a concurring opinion that he might rule against the FCC in a future case that involved First Amendment issues. The Second Court now will consider those questions.
But it was still a big victory for social conservatives. The lawsuit involved two instances of indecent language on Fox Television. After receiving complaints, the FCC found Fox in violation of indecency, although it imposed no fines because the policy prohibiting "fleeting" words was a new one. Previously, an indecent word had to be used repeatedly for a broadcaster to be found in violation. The FCC, in announcing its new policy, said that if it allowed the use of "fleeting" expletives, widespread usage of those words on TV would follow.
Fox sued, arguing that the FCC had acted outside its authority and had violated what is known as the Administrative Procedure Act. The Second Circuit agreed, ruling that the FCC policy was "arbitrary and capricious." But the Supreme Court came to a very different conclusion, saying the FCC had acted properly. The high court pointed out that children were watching the programs, a point which the FCC had cited in its initial finding. An estimated 2.5 million minors watched each show.
"Here it suffices to know that children mimic the behavior they observe--or at least the behavior that is presented to them as normal and appropriate," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. "Programming replete with one-word indecent expletives will tend to produce children who use one-word indecent expletives. Congress has made the determination that indecent material is harmful to children, and has left enforcement of the ban to the Commission."
Scalia said technological advances--presumably so-called seven-second delays--give broadcasters the ability to bleep out language on live TV. Scalia also criticized the Second Circuit for doubting that an FCC policy allowing fleeting expletives would lead to a growth in their usage.
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Southern Baptists' Baptisms Dip to Lowest in Two Decades
The number of baptisms by Southern Baptists -- who consider the rite a gauge of their evangelism success and a key element of their faith--has dropped to the lowest rate in two decades.
The denomination, which also saw a slight decrease in membership numbers, recorded 342,198 baptisms in 2008, a decrease of 1.1 percent from the previous year, according to LifeWay Christian Resources, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention that compiles annual statistics.
The baptism rate is the lowest for Southern Baptists since 1987 and represents the fourth consecutive annual decline, demonstrating a continuing challenge for the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
"The numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did," said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, in an April 23 announcement of the new statistics.
"I pray that all of our churches and our entities will become totally focused on obeying Christ's commission so that our convention will truly experience a Great Commission resurgence."
Total membership in the denomination fell to 16,228,438, a drop of 38,482 members, or 0.2 percent. Despite the economic downturn, Southern Baptists increased their support of missions by 2.3 percent last year.
LifeWay produces the Annual Church Profile by compiling information from state conventions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Obama Team Seeks Progressives' Support on Poverty
Members of President Obama's domestic team addressed more than 1,000 Christian progressives at an anti-poverty meeting on April 27, asking for their help to accomplish the president's agenda.
"It is shameful that we live in a country where hundreds of thousands of kids experience hunger over the course of the year and there's no reason why we can't address that," said Martha Coven, a White House poverty expert, who drew applause during a panel discussion at the Mobilization to End Poverty hosted by the social justice organization Sojourners.
Coven, who directs the White House Office of Mobility and Opportunity, thanked the crowd for its support of Obama's proposed budget that includes programs to help first-time mothers and combat child abuse and neglect.
Van Jones, a White House special adviser on "green jobs," said the president's plan for increased employment in jobs such as solar panel installment will help employ those adversely affected by the current economy and address global warming. But he said calls to Congress are needed for such plans to take hold.
"We've got to be able to go back to our colleagues at the White House and tell them that help is on the way, that poverty is not a second-tier or third-tier issue ... for people of faith," he said.
Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the president views religious and other community organizations as co-laborers in efforts to increase affordable health care and give more children access to quality education.
"He knows ... we can't solve these problems in Washington alone," he said, citing Obama's past role as a community organizer.