|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
Hundreds of Christians Killed in Nigeria
BY LEKAN OTUFODUNRIN/Compass Direct News ©2010 Baptist Press
undreds of Christians were murdered in an overnight massacre by ethnic Fulani Muslims March 7 in Nigeria's Plateau state.
Rampaging Fulani herdsmen used machetes to kill the mostly ethnic Berom victims, including many women and children, in three farming villages near the city of Jos. About 75 houses also were burned.
State Information Commissioner Gregory Yenlong confirmed that about 500 persons were killed in the attacks, which took place mainly in Dogo Nahawa, Zot and Rastat villages.
"We were woken up by gunshots in the middle of the night, and before we knew what was happening, our houses were torched and they started hacking down people" survivor Musa Gyang told media.
The assailants apparently came on foot from a neighboring state; security forces reportedly had been alerted of a possible attack on the villages but did not act beforehand.
Some 380 Christians were buried in one mass burial space, a local government official who asked to remain anonymous told International Christian Concern. The official said police have arrested 93 people and recovered guns, knives and other weapons from the suspects.
The attack is the latest in several religious clashes in the state in recent months that have claimed lives and property. Plateau state lies in Nigeria's "middle belt" and has dozens of ethnic groups living in near proximity to each other, the Associated Press reports. Plateau is a predominantly Christian state in a country almost evenly divided between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. The area has been the site of intense clashes over land, and Jos has been under a military curfew since more than 300 people--mostly Muslims--were killed in religious-based violence in January. Officials speculate the March 7 attack was in reprisal for the January violence, the AP reported.
Reform Rabbis Now Approve Mixed Marriages
In a major shift, Reform rabbis have publicly acknowledged intermarriage as a "given" that calls for increased outreach and
understanding, rather than a threat to Jewish identity that must be resisted at all costs.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis from around the world, embraced the change during its annual convention in San Francisco.
Traditionally, the Reform movement--the largest and most liberal slice of mainstream Judaism--has wavered on whether to sanction weddings between Jews and non-Jews; Conservative and Orthodox clergy will not officially perform such ceremonies.
Yet 25 years of demographic studies have documented a growing trend toward intermarriage, with as many as half of American Jews now marrying outside their faith. With Jews making up less than 3 percent of the U.S. population, and less than 1 percent around the world, Jewish leaders have long warned that mixed marriages weaken Jewish identity and threaten long-term survival.
The traditional view of Judaism as an ethnicity, passed down through the mother, also fuels this conflict, including heated debates about whether "half-Jews" meet requirements for enrollment in religious schools, Israeli citizenship, and other faith-based endeavors.
"When a Jew marries a Jew, there is a greater likelihood of Jewish continuity," admitted CCAR President Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, in her group's announcement on March 8. "But in the case of intermarriage, the opportunity for Jewish continuity is significant, especially if there is effective rabbinic leadership."
The Reform rabbis' last statement on this issue, in 1973, had reiterated its 1909 stance that "mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged." Rabbis were encouraged to provide conversion opportunities for non-Jewish spouses and educational opportunities for their children.
After a task force spent three years studying the issue, the CCAR maintained that Reform rabbis may still opt not to officiate at interfaith weddings as "a deeply personal matter of conscience."
But now that the group's attitude about intermarriage has officially changed, Dreyfus expressed hope that clergy will make greater efforts to welcome interfaith families into religious activities and life-cycle events like bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies for their children. "Ignoring intermarriage won't make it go away," she said. "We want to embrace it as an opportunity."
Supreme Court to Weigh Limits of Kansas Church's Hate Speech
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on March 8 to decide whether the father of a fallen soldier can sue religious protesters for picketing at his son's funeral with signs that read "Thank God for dead soldiers."
The case will test the boundaries of the Constitution by weighing whether extreme speech that inflicts emotional pain -- especially at sensitive venues such as memorials -- should be protected by the First Amendment.
Members of Westboro Baptist Church, led by pastor and founder Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kansas, have protested at military funerals to express their belief that America is being punished for tolerance of homosexuality.
Westboro protestors traveled to Westminster, Maryland, to picket at the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in combat in Iraq on March 3, 2006. They marched around the outskirts of St. John's Catholic Church and the cemetery with signs that read "God Hates the USA," "Fag troops" and "Pope in hell." After the funeral, Phelps also posted material on his Web site against the fallen Marine, saying his father had "taught Matthew to defy his creator" and "raised him for the devil."
Snyder's father sued Phelps for invasion of privacy and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress. Snyder received $10.9 million in damages but a judge modified the jury's amount to $5 million.
The decision was reversed last September by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court threw out the verdict on the basis of the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
"Whatever that U.S. Supreme Court does is going to be beautiful because now the whole world is looking at this situation," said Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, a church spokeswoman. "It's given us a huge megaphone and furthermore, we get to talk to the conscience of this nation that's responsible for this horrible mess that this country is in."
Sentencing Sends Strong Warning to Faith-healing Church
An Oregon county judge delivered a clear message to a controversial faith-healing church on March 8 when two parents were sent to prison for criminally negligent homicide: If you fail to properly care for your children, a similar fate may await you.
Judge Steven L. Maurer sentenced Jeffrey and Marci Beagley to 16 months in prison after they were convicted last month in the death of their 16-year-old son, Neil.
Although children in the Followers of Christ Church have died of treatable medical conditions for decades, this is the first time church members have been sent to prison for failing to provide medical care.
In remarks issued from the bench, Maurer said he hoped the sentences would prompt church members to seek treatment for sick children.
"The fact is, too many children have died. Unnecessarily, needlessly, they died," Maurer said, aiming his comments at the Beagleys and church members who attended the sentencing. "It has to stop. This has to stop."
The extended Beagley family, like other church members, does not use doctors for medical care, believing it shows a lack of faith in God. Instead they rely on spiritual treatment: prayer, fasting, anointing with oil and the laying on of hands.
About 80 church members and supporters attended the hearing. They sat silently as the sentence was imposed, many of them in tears. Marci Beagley's mother began sobbing and was comforted by family members.
The Beagleys knew Neil was ill two weeks before he died in June 2008 from complications of a urinary tract blockage, they testified. Despite the boy's failing health, the Beagleys didn't take Neil to a doctor. Instead, they decided to honor the boy's wish to put his fate in God's hands.
Maurer told the Beagleys that they ignored the boundaries and community standards should be followed when a child's safety is at stake. Neil would be alive if you "would have done what this community expects every parent to do" and call a doctor, he said.
Maurer said the boy's death was part of a larger, troubling pattern.
Dozens of the Follower's children have died of treatable conditions since the 1950s, and a few mothers died in childbirth. The deaths led Oregon lawmakers to modify state law in 1999 to eliminate legal immunity in some cases for parents who treat their children solely with faith healing.
Wayne Mackeson, the attorney representing Jeffrey Beagley, said the couple would file an appeal. "To me, it's one battle in a larger war," Mackeson said. The case improperly turned into a referendum on the church, he said.
But prosecutor Greg Horner said "the court has the opportunity to deliver a clear message that this idea that one can let a child die while they're praying, without medical attention, is not supportable. It must be addressed."
Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said once the emotional impact of the Beagley case subsides, he hopes to reach out to church members to make sure children receive appropriate medical care and don't suffer needlessly. "There is simply no excuse for it," Foote said. "We can't seem to get through to the members of the church that they can't refuse to give their kids medical care, particularly when their kids' lives are at risk."