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
Arrests Made in Texas Church Arson Cases
wo Texas men were arraigned February 22 on felony arson charges in connection with at least one in a string of Texas church arsons that began in January.
The day before (February 21), members of the East Texas Church Arson Task Force arrested Jason Robert Bourque, 19, of Lindale, Texas, and Daniel George McAllister, 21, of Ben Wheeler, Texas, in connection with the 10 church fires confirmed as arson. The fires occurred in Henderson, Smith, and Van Zandt counties. Authorities did not hint at a motive, but arrest affidavits show evidence of boot and shoe prints and a confidential informant, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
The arrests were made following a tip to a hotline provided by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
When asked by state district Judge Christi Kennedy if his family could afford to provide him legal representation, McAllister replied, "They all hate me," the Morning Telegraph reported.
"This investigation is not complete. No investigation is finished until guilt is proven in court. But today marks a significant milestone," said Robert Champion, special agent in charge of the ATF in Dallas, following the arrests. "The arsons in these communities have been devastating, but the citizens have been resilient and aided each other and the investigation."
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Dissidents Unveil New Rival North American Lutheran Church
Saying they're done with efforts to reform the nation's largest Lutheran body, dissidents unveiled blueprints February 18 for a rival denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
The new body, which will hew to a more traditional line on issues of human sexuality, is expected to be formally launched in August as a conservative alternative to the 4.6 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
So far, at least seven ELCA congregations have voted to leave after the Chicago-based denomination lifted restrictions last summer on non-celibate gay clergy. An additional 28 congregations appear poised to leave.
The ultimate size of the new denomination remains unclear. Congregations seeking to leave the ELCA must garner a two-thirds majority in back-to-back votes. So far, 64 of the 220 ELCA parishes that moved to secede couldn't muster the necessary votes, both sides said.
The new denomination will be "faithful in its preaching and practice to the Holy Bible and to the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions," organizers said. Still, they said remaining in the ELCA is also a "faithful course" for individuals or congregations that choose to stay.
Organizers are "united in a common confession of the Christian faith and commitment to submit to the authority of God's Word over all matters of faith," said the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pennsylvania, director of the group Lutheran CORE, which is overseeing the breakaway.
For its part, the ELCA issued a statement saying church leaders will go forward on implementing the policy changes while regretting the decision of "a few congregations" to leave the denomination.
"As the ELCA carries out the directives of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, we continue to encourage congregations, synods and the churchwide organization to remain in conversation about these matters," the ELCA statement said.
Study: Sour Economy Pushes Offerings Down
One year after a majority of Americans said they hoped the sour economy wouldn't impact their church giving, three in 10 Americans now say they're putting less in the offering plate, a Barna Group study shows. Compared to a similar study that Barna conducted at the end of 2008, the percentage of Americans who have reduced their donations has increased by a staggering 45 percent.
Many of those who traditionally give to their congregations have been able to maintain their usual level of giving, but those who have not often substantially reduced their giving. Almost one-quarter of church donors cut their contributions by at least 20 percent.
"The implication is that church and nonprofit leaders should prepare for another lean year," said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group.
The Barna study was based on telephone interviews in January and early February with a nationwide sample of 1,008 adults; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
The new findings signal a departure from previous indications about optimism in giving despite the gloomy economy.
A year ago, a separate survey of U.S. donors by Cygnus Applied Research found that more than half of actively religious donors planned to give the same or more to charitable causes in 2009 as the year before.
In addition, that survey also found that 43 percent of actively religious respondents remained "seriously committed" to giving in the face of economic uncertainty, compared to 23 percent of those who were not religious at all.