Kidnapped Christian Aid Workers Released in Iraq

BY RON CSILLAG                                                                                                            © 2005 Religion News Service

wo Canadian Christian aid workers and a British colleague held hostage in Iraq for nearly four months were freed on March 23 in a daring morning raid by coalition forces.

Jim Loney, 41, of Toronto, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, formerly of Montreal, were released along with Norm Kember, 74, of London. All three were members of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an international peace and aid group.

They were abducted at gunpoint Nov. 26 in Baghdad with American Tom Fox, whose body was found March 10 with gunshot wounds to his head and chest. Their captors, a group known as the Swords of the Righteous Brigade, threatened to kill the men by December 10 unless the United States freed all Iraqi detainees.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that the raid was carried out at 8 a.m. local time by American, British, Canadian and Iraqi forces who broke into a house in a rural area about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad. They reportedly acted on a tip received just three hours earlier from a man who was captured by U.S. forces the night before. CTV News reported that the operation took place in a house in western Baghdad. CTV quoted U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch as saying the hostages were freed without a shot being fired. Lynch added that they were found bound and held together in one room. Their captors were not present.

The three men were taken to a hospital and released. The two Canadians were then taken to the British embassy in Baghdad. It was not known when they will return to Canada.

"Our hearts are filled with joy today as we heard that Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember have been safely released in Baghdad," Christian Peacemaker Teams spokesman Doug Pritchard told a news conference in Toronto on Thursday. "Christian Peacemaker Teams rejoices with their families and friends at the expectation of their return to their loved ones and community."

He called the rescue "bittersweet" in light of Fox's death.

News of the rescue was met first with disbelief by the men's loved ones, followed by deep elation that they would soon be reunited.  "I thought it was a big dream and then I quickly snapped out of it," Jim Loney's brother, Ed, told CBC Newsworld.  "I immediately started to imagine all of the good things that were going to happen."

Mississippi Abortion Ban Dies in House-Senate Conference

BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                                                    © 2006 Baptist Press

A bill that would have banned most abortions in Mississippi died March 27 when members of the state House and Senate failed to reach a compromise.

The bill, passed March 2 by the House, would have banned all abortions in the state except in the cases of rape, incest and to save the mother's life. The two chambers entered into a conference upon the Senate's request.

Some legislators, including some pro-lifers, opposed the House bill because it jeopardized Mississippi's informed consent law, which is already on the books and being enforced. That law requires, among other things, a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion and a face-to-face meeting between a woman and a doctor. In essence, the House bill repealed the informed consent law in favor of an abortion ban.

Terri Herring, president of Pro-Life Mississippi, opposed the House bill in its current form. "We would not accept a conference report that strips us of current law for a law that we can't enforce, because we know that any kind of ban that goes into effect goes to the courts," Herring told Baptist Press. "… If we had accepted the House provisions, we would have lost everything we had worked for in the last several years in regards to what women are told and what women are offered."

South Dakota's governor signed a bill into law in early March that bans all abortions except to save the mother's life. Supporters of such proposals acknowledge the bills will be overturned in federal court, but they hope to see the Supreme Court eventually take the case and overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

To read the rest of this story, click here.

Archbishop of Canterbury to Meet Pope;
Homosexuality Issue on Agenda

BY AL WEB                                                                                                                        © 2005 Religion News Service

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will fly to Rome in the fall for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI that is expected to deal, at least in part, with the issue of homosexuality that has exacerbated the centuries-old rift between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

The meeting, announced Thursday (March 23), will mark the 40th anniversary of then-archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey's historic talks with Pope Paul VI, in 1966.

But what will face the archbishop and the pope is an issue that they cannot avoid -- the crisis between the churches that was triggered by the election by the Episcopal Church of the United States of an openly gay cleric, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.

This has sparked what another former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has described to the Times of London newspaper as an "ecumenical winter" that has "got even icier" between Anglicans and Catholics as a result of the Robinson ordination.

That, said Carey, "goes completely against the Catholic position and the historic position of the Anglican Communion as well." The Times said Carey "hoped the personal chemistry between Williams and Pope Benedict would help to mend bridges."

"Rowan's personal contact and commitment is going to be the key thing" at their autumn meeting, Carey added. "All we can hope for is that he keeps the fire burning."

Williams and Benedict have met once, the day after the latter was inaugurated as pope following the death of Pope John Paul II in April 2005. His forthcoming trip "is an opportunity to continue that rich tradition of visits between Canterbury and Rome," said the archbishop, who is fighting his own battle to keep the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion from schism over the issue of homosexuality.

Applications Spike at Evangelical Colleges

BY G. JEFFREY MACDONALD                                                                                          
© 2005 Religion News Service

Evangelical Christian colleges are attracting record numbers of applications this year in a trend that bodes well for an educational niche that was struggling to survive just a generation ago.

Applications have jumped between 8 percent and 10 percent at the 238 colleges that belong to the North American Association of Christian Admissions Professionals, according to Executive Director Chant Thompson. More applications mean more students on campuses next fall, he says, and that's good news since 25 percent of those schools are barely breaking even financially.

Excitement is running high among administrators at Christian campuses that have long strived to grow their enrollments and fill classrooms with high-achieving students. On the other hand, keener competition means disappointment for some anxious seniors in high school who thought their credentials were good enough to get in.

"On Jan. 15, we had thousands and thousands of applications from students who in prior years would have been admissible, but we had to wait-list them," says James Steen, assistant vice president of admission and enrollment services at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

At Baylor, a spike in applications from 11,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 this year is enabling the school to be choosier. In 2006, just 41 percent of Baylor applicants are getting accepted, a sharp dip from 65 percent last year and 72 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, standards seem to be rising as the average Scholastic Aptitude Test score is now 1225, up from 1198 at this point last year.

Growing enrollment "is part of the strategy," Fedje says. "We're trying to increase it significantly, but strategically" by remaining what he terms a "moderately selective" school.

Higher application rates have helped even the largest and best-known evangelical colleges meet enrollment goals. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., for instance, needs to enroll about 1,000 new students per year in order to make its annual budget work. In 2004, the school missed its target by 85 students, but a 24 percent spike in applications last year closed the gap. This year, applications have increased 2 percent over the same period from 2005.

Enrollment has increased 70 percent since 1990, from 135,000 to 230,000, at the 102 evangelical schools belonging to the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Over the same period, enrollments at all public and private colleges increased by 13 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

This growth marks a turnaround from the 1960s and 1970s, when religious colleges struggled to attract enough students, according to Alexander Astin, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. About 120 Christian colleges closed between 1960 and 1979, according to data collected by historian Ray Brown at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.

Observers of the trend cite multiple reasons, including relative value in an era in which tuitions have outpaced inflation. Religious denominations help contain tuition increases through subsidies often ranging from $1 million to $3 million a year, CCCU President Bob Andringa says.

But money isn't the only factor. Students who practice a faith often want to study where their beliefs are respected, and that can be hard to find on secular campuses, says Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America.

"There is a sense that the people who dominate the faculties at secular universities do have an antipathy toward traditional religion," says Riley, deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal. "It's nice for (students) to go to a place where they don't have to always be defending their beliefs."

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