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
4 Southern Baptist North American
Mission Board Leaders Resign
he president of the Southern Baptist Convention's domestic missions agency and three of his associates resigned August 11 after questions were raised about his management of the agency.
Geoff Hammond had led the North American Mission Board for two years. His resignation takes effect immediately, Tim Patterson, chairman of the agency's trustee board, said in a statement after a daylong meeting. "(T)his is a personnel matter and we will keep the details of today's discussion confidential," he said.
Patterson said three of Hammond's "closest associates" on the agency's staff also resigned. They are Steve Reid and Dennis Culbreth, members of the senior leadership team, and Brandon Pickett, a communications team leader.
Two Baptist newspapers reported that an e-mail circulated among trustees prior to the meeting stated that Hammond had hired a chief operating officer without board approval, failed to meet with an executive coach to address his management skills, and was leading a staff whose morale was at an "all-time low."
Hammond, 52, was unanimously elected to lead the agency in 2007, succeeding Bob Reccord who resigned the previous year after a state Baptist newspaper raised questions about his management practices. The son of missionaries, Hammond previously was an executive of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia before leading the missions agency, which has about 275 employees and a $130 million budget.
Louisiana Couples Say `I Don't' to Covenant Marriages
Only about 1 percent of Louisiana couples married between 1997-2007 chose covenant marriages that require premarital counseling and make divorces harder to obtain, according to state data.
The Department of Health and Hospitals, the state agency that keeps track of marriage licenses, said that in the 11-year period 390,893 marriage licenses were issued but only 4,112--1.05 percent--were for covenant marriages.
Louisiana was the first state to enact a covenant marriage law in 1997 and was followed by Arizona and Arkansas. Several states considered similar laws but have not passed them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a clearinghouse for legislative information.
Katherine Spaht, a professor emerita at the Louisiana State University Law Center who helped draft the law 12 years ago, said "The numbers are not at all where they should be. . . . There has been a failure of the clergy to embrace it and promote it."
Spaht and Gene Mills, director of the Family Forum of Louisiana, said the number may be higher because the state does not track the "converted licenses," those issued to couples who had a traditional license but then got a covenant marriage license and had a second ceremony performed.
Mills said he may use his seat on Gov. Bobby Jindal's Commission on Marriage and Family to promote covenant marriages and get clergy to refocus on it.
Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who chairs the commission, said the law "should not be abandoned or scrapped."
"If we have more of a unified effort from the ministers and the people who administer the license, we may have higher numbers," she said.
When the bill was going through the Legislature 12 years ago, the Catholic bishops of the state did not endorse or oppose the bill, contending all marriages should be covenant marriages for life. They also reiterated the church's opposition to divorce, which is still possible under a covenant marriage in some circumstances.
The state's covenant marriage law requires couples to receive premarital instructions and undergo counseling before they can seek a divorce. A couple in most cases have to wait two years for the divorce to be final after they have been living apart, longer than the six months required for a traditional divorce.
A covenant marriage can be dissolved when one of the partners has committed adultery, there is a question of physical or sexual abuse of a child or spouse, one spouse has committed a felony or has been sentenced to death, or one of the spouses has abandoned the marriage for at least a year and refuses to return or seek counseling.
Nuns Question Vatican Probe
An umbrella group of Catholic nuns has asked the Vatican to disclose why it is being investigated and who is funding the probe, and questioned why the sisters will not be allowed to see the final investigative report submitted to church leaders.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which met August 11-14 in New Orleans, pledged to cooperate with a Vatican investigation of the sisters' fidelity to Catholic doctrine on female ordination, homosexuality, and the role of the church in salvation.
A separate Vatican investigation, announced last January, aims to take a broader look at nearly 350 communities of women religious in the U.S., examining everything from finances to how leaders deal with sisters who dissent from Catholic dogma.
In a statement released August 17, the LCWR requested that "those conducting the inquiries alter some methods being employed."
"Among the expressed concerns are a lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources for the studies," the LCWR statement said. "The leaders also object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them that are being submitted directly to the Vatican."
With about 1,500 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, the LCWR represents about 95 percent of the estimated 59,000 Catholic sisters in the U.S. "We are used to evaluations. We have no problems with evaluations," Sister Helen Garvey told National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper, in New Orleans. "But we need a sense of fair play. There needs to be transparency."
In the statement, the sisters said they are committed to "serving at and speaking from the margins of the Catholic Church."
American nuns are widely credited with building and for many years maintaining the Catholic school system and hospital network, both of which are among the largest private institutions in the world. But their numbers have dropped drastically over several decades as the vast majority of communities struggle to find new members, according to a study released last week.
In addition, some conservative Catholics complain that a number of sisters have publicly avowed progressive views that contradict church teachings.
Religious Freedom Experts Put India on `Watch List'
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has put India on its `watch list,' citing the country's "inadequate" response to recent waves of violence toward religious minorities.
While there has been a "disturbing increase in communal violence" in India, "the government's response ... has been found to be largely inadequate and the national government has failed to take effective measures to ensure the rights of religious minorities in several states, the commission said.
USCIRF has been particularly concerned about India's religious tolerance since 2002, when organizations related to the Hindu Nationalist party Bharatiya Janata were on the rise. At that time, India was designated as a "country of particular concern,"--the commission's most condemning category--but has since been removed from that list.
With attacks against Christians in December of 2007 and into 2008, USCIRF's attention has been called back to India. They reported inadequate police and judiciary response to the violence and the subsequent displacement of 60,000 or more Christians in August and September of 2008.
Although USCIRF's annual report is generally released in May, the chapter on India was postponed. The release announcing the country's placement on USCIRF's watch list was published August 13. "This year's India chapter was delayed because USCIRF had requested to visit India this summer," the release stated. "The Indian government, however, declined to issue USCIRF visas for the trip."
What sets India apart from most of the countries on the watch list, which includes such places as Somalia, Cuba, and Afghanistan, is their democratically elected government. "In practice, however, India's democratic institutions charged with upholding the rule of law ... lack capacity and have emerged as unwilling or unable to consistently seek redress for victims of religiously-motivated violence," said the USCIRF.