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
Baptist Budget Problems
Put 600 Missionaries at Risk
n a day of unprecedented global missions opportunity and great harvest, Southern Baptists will be forced to draw down their overseas missions force in 2010 by as many as 600 missionaries, International Mission Board trustees were told November 10.
The trustees, meeting in Shreveport, Louisiana, adopted a $317.6 million budget for 2010 and learned that $7.5 million will be needed from contingency reserves to balance the budget. That unprecedented step leaves the organization with only six weeks of available reserves in case of major unexpected expenses. The funds will be needed in 2010 because projected revenue for the year is lower than projected expenses. The 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering came in $9 million short of the previous year's receipts and $29 million short of its goal of $170 million.
Because of that shortfall, IMB was forced to suspend two short-term missionary programs, send fewer long-term workers and significantly reduce all aspects of its operating expenses. One of those short-term programs, the Masters Program, is being reinstated in a format that asks new personnel to provide part of their own support package. IMB will provide support in areas such as transportation, training and housing. The Masters Program offers those age 50 and older the opportunity to serve two to three years overseas.
The drawdown in the missionary force during 2010 will be accomplished through natural attrition, completion of service, retirements and limiting appointments, not by recalling any personnel, the trustees were told.
Because economic realities are forcing IMB to retrench its efforts, the organization must deliberately plan to have fewer missionaries -- with implications for a lost world that should distress Southern Baptist church members, said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of global strategy.
"When doors are swinging open all over the world, when our work force is finding great harvest in some of the most difficult places in the world, we are drawing our force down from 5,600 to 5,000. It just shouldn't be," Fort told trustees. When Southern Baptists collected $11.1 billion in offering plates in 2008, according to the denomination's Annual Church Profile, and 2.77 percent "finally arrives to support the vision of reaching a lost world, and when [Southern Baptists] are structuring ourselves in a way that guarantees we will fail in our mission, it just shouldn't be."
The IMB's 2010 budget anticipates $100 million in Cooperative Program funding (a decrease of $7.6 million from 2009) and calls for $175 million in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering receipts, said David Steverson, IMB chief financial officer. The operating portion of the 2010 budget is $23.2 million less than 2009, and the total budget represents a decrease of $2.2 million. The plan includes $29 million for capital needs that will not be spent unless the Lottie Moon offering surpasses its $146 million operating budget goal.
The overseas portion of the new budget accounts for 85.3 percent of the total, while the portion for stateside administration and promotion amounts to 14.7 percent. As part of the belt tightening, benefits have been reduced for both missionaries and staff.
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Faith Leaders Tell Congress to Close Gitmo
More than 40 leaders of major faith groups sent a letter to Congress on November 12 urging the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
"Guantanamo is the symbol of our country's violation of our deepest values," the letter says. "Our government must close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay now to help us heal spiritually and to put an end to this dark and errant chapter in our history."
President Obama signed an executive order last January to close the prison, which houses suspected terrorists and prisoners of war.
His initial campaign promise was to close the facility within a year, but Congress has been raising impediments such as cutting the funds to move prisoners to U.S. soil, and asking Obama for a detailed plan before agreeing to move prisoners.
The religious leaders' letter was drafted by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an interfaith organization that claims the U.S. has tortured prisoners at Guantanamo. "Our concern as a religious organization is with the `symbol' of torture," said the Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of NRCAT. "We're very concerned about America's image."
The letter was signed by religious leaders such as Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Minister and President Sharon Watkins; National Council of Churches General Secretary Michael Kinnamon; United Methodist Church Council of Bishops President Gregory Vaughn Palmer; Mennonite Church USA Executive Director J. Ron Byler; and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association President Yael Ridburg.
14.6 million American Households at Risk of `Food Insecurity'
More than one in seven American households found it hard to put enough food on the table last year, according to figures released November 16 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"The recession has made the problem of hunger worse, and it has also made it more visible," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger group. "Increased public awareness and the administration's commitment gives me hope."
Households experiencing "food insecurity" jumped 3.5 percent in 2008, to 14.6 million, the largest one-year increase since the USDA began publishing data in 1995.
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provided by the USDA for low-income families, distributed benefits to more than 36 million people in August 2009, a 24 percent increase over the previous year.
Half of the people receiving SNAP assistance were children. According to the USDA, 4.3 million more children were food insecure in 2008 than in 2007, bringing the number to 16.7 million. In many cases, children are protected from a change in their eating patterns, but both children and adults across 506,000 households experienced times of very low food security last year.
"Child hunger is not just a casualty of the recession. It was a problem before the recession, and unless we take the necessary steps, kids will continue to suffer after the economy recovers," said Beckmann.
Vatican Searches Google For Internet Lessons
Surprised when an ultra-traditionalist bishop whom he had welcomed back into the Catholic Church turned out to have been a fervent and public Holocaust-denier, Pope Benedict XVI declared in March that he had "learned the lesson" that the Vatican would have to "pay greater attention" to the Internet.
Eight months later, the Vatican has been doing just that, with a four-day conference, November 12-15 on the "Internet culture and church communication" -- or how to evangelize in the information age.
In his message to the gathering, sponsored by an umbrella group of European bishops' conferences, Benedict likened the "new technological culture" to the "pagan milieu of the Greek and Roman world" through which St. Paul spread the Christian message in the first century.
French Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri stressed the need for quicker communication by recalling the controversy over the Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, and another that broke out in March, after the pope told reporters accompanying him to Africa that the distribution of condoms aggravates the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Leandri also made an example of evangelical Web sites, which he said are more popular in the French-speaking world than their Catholic counterparts, despite the Catholic Church's superior numbers.
"How should we explain this?" Leandri asked, according to the Zenit news agency, before explaining that "Evangelicals come out of themselves to put themselves in others' shoes. They respond to needs. ... Catholic sites are centered on themselves."
Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Vatican's communications office, lamented that the vast majority of Catholic sites have not yet embraced the interactive applications collectively known as "Web 2.0."
To help address that and other deficiencies, the bishops have also been hearing from outside experts, including executives from Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube.