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
Religious Leaders Divided Over Hate Crimes Bill
rogressive religious leaders hailed the passage, on October 22, of a hate crimes bill they say will better protect gay victims from violent acts.
By a vote of 68-29, the Senate passed the provision, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as part of a larger 2010 defense authorization bill.
"In an America increasingly rife with uncivil and narrow-minded bickering, this new law can serve as a ringing pronouncement of our democracy's common values," said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. "Namely, that we utterly reject hate violence and embrace an America in which diverse people are safe as well as free."
The provision was named for Shepard, a gay Wyoming man slain in 1998 and Byrd, an African-American Texas man who was dragged to his death the same year. It adds sexual orientation to a list of federally protected classes. The passage of the bill was hailed by Integrity, a pro-gay ministry within the Episcopal Church, Shepard's denomination, as "groundbreaking."
Conservative Christian leaders criticized the bill, saying that it might limit the rights of clergy to speak against homosexuality. "This hate crimes provision is part of a radical social agenda that could ultimately silence Christians and use the force of government to marginalize anyone whose faith is at odds with homosexuality," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the law will hold people accountable for their actions, not their thoughts. "This carefully crafted law will not infringe on any individual's First Amendment rights," he said. "It addresses violent acts and no person, whether a faith leader or otherwise, will be prosecuted for their thoughts, words, or beliefs."
Pastor’s Accused Killer Found Unfit for Trial
The man accused of the March 8 murder of Illinois pastor Fred Winters has been ruled unfit to stand trial.
Madison County Judge Richard Tognarelli, in an October 20 ruling, cited a psychologist's report, which stated that Terry Joe Sedlacek, 27, is schizophrenic and unlikely to be able to participate in his own defense at trial.
Sedlacek is accused of entering First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., during the 8:15 a.m. service and shooting Winters in the chest as he delivered his sermon. Sedlacek also is accused of stabbing two church members who tried to stop the attack. He had no known connection to Winters or the church.
Tognarelli remanded Sedlacek to the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services for treatment and evaluation in a secure mental health facility.
The Department of Human Services must report back to the court in 30 days whether Sedlacek would be fit to stand trial within one year.
Delaware Catholic Diocese Files for Bankruptcy
The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, has become the seventh U.S. diocese since the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in 2002 to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, its bishop announced October 18.
The action, taken just before a trial was to begin involving eight cases against the diocese, was for the benefit of victims of sexual abuse, Bishop W. Francis Malooly said in a statement. "...filing for Chapter 11 offers the best opportunity, given finite resources, to provide the fairest possible treatment of all victims of sexual abuse by priests of our diocese."
Malooly said he had hoped the diocese could reach a settlement with more than 140 claimants. "Our concern throughout the negotiations was that too large a settlement with these eight victims would leave us with inadequate resources to fairly compensate the other 133 claimants, and continue our ministry," the bishop said.
Thomas Neuberger, a lawyer representing dozens of people with claims against the diocese, called the bankruptcy filing a "desperate effort" to conceal information about abuse. "This filing is the latest, sad chapter in the diocese's decades-long `cover-up' of these despicable crimes, to maintain the secrecy surrounding its responsibility and complicity in the sexual abuse of hundreds of Catholic children," Neuberger said in a statement.
In his announcement, Malooly denied that was the intent of the bankruptcy filing. "The Chapter 11 filing is in no way intended to dodge responsibility for past criminal misconduct by clergy--or for mistakes made by diocesan authorities," he said.
Congregations Keep on Giving, Despite the Recession
Despite the economic recession, a plurality of congregations reported an increase in donations in the first half of 2009, according to a new study.
More than two-thirds of 1,500 congregations surveyed said fundraising has increased (37 percent) or held steady (34 percent), according to the study.
Nearly 30 percent said giving had decreased in 2009, a significant increase since 2008, when only 22 percent said giving had declined.
"While many congregations have been hit hard by the recession, this study underscores the remarkable resilience of congregations, as evidenced in the extraordinary and imaginative ways they are reaching out to meet the needs of their parishioners and people in their community," said William Enright, director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, a program of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
The study was part of a joint project between the Lake Institute and the Alban Institute on congregations and the economy.
Certain types of congregations have survived the recession better than others, according to the report. Congregations where attendance and finances have been growing over the past five years are more likely to have a growth in fundraising than "survival congregations," congregations in which attendance and finances have dropped by more than 10 percent over the past five years.
While many congregations are growing, there are indicators that the recession has taken a toll. One third of responding congregations reported making budget cuts in 2009 and another 25 percent kept their budget the same, without allowing for any increases in the cost of living.