More Church Fires Hit Alabama

© 2006 Religion News Service


ires erupted at three more rural Alabama churches Tuesday (Feb. 7), less than a week after five Baptist churches burned in the state.

State and federal investigators were dispatched to the sites, said Ragan Ingram, assistant commissioner of the Alabama Department of Insurance, the state agency that oversees fire investigations.

"We're investigating as suspected arson, but we'll see what happens," Ingram said. Damage was still being assessed, authorities said February 7.     Federal investigators said they are using two profilers to try to establish what type of person they are hunting in last week's five church fires. The profilers are Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents based at the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia.

One is a geographic profiler who looks where the crimes occurred and past similar incidents or patterns to try to pinpoint where the arsonist might live. The other, a criminal profiler, studies the total criminal behavior, what kind of person would commit the crime, why and with whom they may be associated.

"This is not a psychic wonderland," said Jim Cavanaugh, ATF's regional director. "This is the study of past behavior."

Arsonists attacked five Bibb County churches early Friday, burning three of them to the ground and damaging the other two. Officials on Friday ruled three of the fires arson -- Old Union Baptist Church, Antioch Baptist Church and Ashby Baptist. On Monday, Ingram said the fires at the other two churches--Rehobeth Baptist Church and Pleasant Sabine Baptist--also were confirmed arson.

A sixth fire that broke out a day earlier at a church in neighboring Chilton County was deemed accidental and unrelated, Ingram said. "We've got teams out everywhere," said Cavanaugh. "I think it's solvable. And the only way to solve it is to keep pressing on it."

Global Islamic Anger Swells Over Caricatures of Prophet

© 2006 Religion News Service


Islamic anger over published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continued to erupt on February 6, leading to deaths in Afghanistan and a Muslim-American defense of economic boycotts, while Danish cartoonists hid in fear.

Religious and political leaders called for calm, with some Muslims alleging Islamic extremist groups were fomenting outrage and protests to advance their own purposes. Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said police should "consider all the evidence they have gathered from the protests to see if they can prosecute the extremists." He said, "It seems to us that some of their slogans were designed to incite violence and even to incite murder."

"Muslims are fed up with them," Bunglawala told newspaper and television journalists. "It's time the police acted."

In a statement, the Muslim Council, which describes itself as the representative umbrella body for more than 400 affiliated organizations, mosques, schools and charities across Britain, cautioned British Muslims "to not allow themselves to be provoked" over the cartoons issue.

Outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, north of Kabul, about 5,000 protested Monday (Feb. 6), with two demonstrators killed and 13 wounded, according to Agence France Presse.

A boycott of Danish goods continued in various countries. Leaders of several Muslim-American groups defended the economic action as an appropriate response to the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and since repeated in European publications. One of the cartoons depicts the Prophet Muhammad, whose image is forbidden in Islam, as a terrorist.     U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday appealed to Muslims "to act with calm and dignity, to forgive the wrong they have suffered and to seek peace rather than conflict."

In a statement issued Saturday, the Vatican rejected the cartoons as a valid exercise of free speech, condemning their publication as an "unacceptable provocation."

"The right to freedom of thought and expression," the statement said, "cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiments of believers. That principle obviously applies to any religion."

But the Vatican called violent reactions against Danish institutions "deplorable," noting that Western democracies were not to blame for the actions of their media. Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, a Vatican official who monitors Christian churches concentrated in the Middle East, called the cartoons an "abuse of power" and urged European media to practice "self-censorship" when depicting religious symbols.

"Satirizing habits and attitudes is understandable, but not the Quran, Allah or the Prophet (Muhammad)," he said in an interview with Milan's Corriere della Sera.

                                                                                                     -- Stacy Meichtry contributed to this story from Rome.

Survey: Churchgoers Have Fewer Divorces

© 2006 Religion News Service


Husbands and wives who attend religious services together are less likely to divorce, whether they are black or white, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

The study, conducted by researchers connected to the Institute for Social Research, examined how religion affected the risk of divorce for both black and white couples in the first seven years of marriage. Data came from 373 couples initially interviewed in 1986, their first year of marriage, as part of the Early Years of Marriage project at the university.    "The findings suggest that the most effective intervention strategies for dealing with marital instability and divorce are those that consider gender and race," said Edna Brown, the paper's lead author, in a press release.

Black couples are at higher risk of divorce than whites, the study found. But it also found education a protective factor against divorce for wives, and income a protective factor for husbands. Regardless of race, however, couples who attended religious services together were less likely to divorce.

Other aspects of faith, such as frequency of attendance or importance of faith, didn't influence the risk of divorce. "Faithfulness and integrity have been on the agenda of many faith communities, and that's value added to marriage," said the Rev. George Lambrides, an American Baptist chaplain at the University of Michigan Hospitals. Exposure to faith communities is a form of continuing education, Lambrides added.

Hispanic Evangelicals Break Rank
and Lobby for Immigration Reform

© 2006 Religion News Service


Breaking rank with leading evangelical groups that have chosen to stay out of current immigration debates, a new coalition has formed to represent more than 20 million Hispanic evangelicals and to denounce Congress' handling of immigration issues.

At an inaugural press conference on February 3 in Carrollton, Texas, the Hispanic Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform called on Congress to create avenues for undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status en route to seeking full citizenship. "We are deeply concerned with many of the anti-immigrant provisions that have been introduced and some of which were passed by the House of Representatives," said the Rev. Lynn Godsey, founder and president of Alianza Hispana Evangelica del Metroplex, a Dallas-area Hispanic alliance.

Speakers criticized a House-passed bill that would make it a crime to provide for the needs of an undocumented immigrant. The bill would also open the door for the federal government to build a fence along 700 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. By getting involved in immigration reform, these Hispanic evangelicals are parting company with such high-profile evangelical advocates as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, who have said immigration reform is not a priority item for them.

Hispanic evangelicals, however, are now emphasizing the need for public policies that show compassion to undocumented immigrants. They urged legislation to allow "hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows" and seek legal status. They also called for "border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect."

"We need to find a way to stop the flow of illegal immigration, but find a way to deal humanely and compassionately with the undocumented workers currently in the country," said the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

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