Salvation Army's First Black National Commander Takes Office May 1
BY ANNE PESSALA © 2006 Religion News Service
he first black man to serve as the Salvation Army's national commander for the United States will take office May 1. Commissioner Israel L. Gaither was appointed Feb. 1 by his predecessor, W. Todd Bassett.
Gaither "not only has a reputation of excellence in his leadership role ... he also has a great reputation for being very compassionate and being very in tune with the Salvation Army's ultimate motivation and mission, which is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and serve the suffering of humanity without discrimination," said Melissa Temme, public relations director for the Salvation Army National Headquarters.
The appointment is a landmark but does not represent a dramatic change in leadership for the Britain-based denomination, one expert said.
"Given its history of seeking inclusion, it's not surprising that they would promote an African-American to the national commander position," said Diane Winston, a professor of media and religion at the University of Southern California and the author of a book on the Salvation Army titled "Red-Hot and Righteous." "The only question is why it took so long."
In his new role, Gaither will operate out of the national headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Gaither's wife, Eva, will serve as national president of women's ministries, in accordance with Salvation Army practice. Her husband previously served as the chief of the staff of the Salvation Army, the second-highest position in the organization after the general. He was appointed in 2002.
Also taking office in May will be the Salvation Army's new international leader, General-Elect Clifton Shaw.
It is unusual for a general and national commander to take office at the same time. Bassett was scheduled to retire last summer. Just weeks before Hurricane Katrina, he was asked to extend his term by several months. Temme said the request, in light of the flurry of activity that followed the hurricane, was "divine providence."
Another first for the worldwide Salvation Army leadership is Robin Dunster, who will be the first woman to serve as chief of the staff.
Ga. Governor Authorizes Funding
for Bible Classes in Public High Schools
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation April 20 authorizing public high schools in the state to offer courses in the history and literature of the Bible, provided the courses are taught “in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students.”
Georgia becomes the first state to offer elective Bible classes on a statewide basis, education experts believe, though numerous school districts throughout the country have chosen independently to teach such courses.
Perdue, a Republican who attends First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., also signed a measure permitting the display of the Ten Commandments at courthouses in the state.
“Gov. Perdue signed these bills into law today because the Bible is one of the original textbooks in the history of human existence,” Heather Hedrick, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “It’s an acknowledgment of the importance of these two documents as historical documents.”
Local school systems will determine whether to teach the Bible classes, and the state’s department of education has until February to write the curriculum, according to the Associated Press.
The Bible itself will be the primary textbook, according to the legislation.
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Evangelical Coalition Says Global Warming Worries Overblown
BY PIET LEVY © 2006 Religion News Service
A coalition of evangelical religious leaders has launched an education campaign that will try to persuade pastors and churchgoers that dire predictions about global warming are overblown.
The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, supported by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and others, announced on April 19 that its Cornwall Network of Churches campaign will provide information that can be distributed to parishioners or used to influence sermons.
It's the latest salvo in an escalating political battle among evangelicals over the environment and global warming.
In February, a more moderate evangelical group, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, was launched. It advocates personal, religious and commercial action to combat global warming, which it says could result in the deaths of millions of people. That group has the backing of, among others, Rick Warren, megachurch pastor and author of the best-selling "The Purpose-Driven Life."
The Dobson-backed Interfaith Stewardship Alliance bases its beliefs on the 2000 Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship. The document, signed by more than 1,500 people -- including clergy, theologians, scientists and economists -- states that concerns about global warming, overpopulation and rampant species loss are unfounded.
It further argues that efforts to solve global warming will hurt economic development and reduce attention to other issues such as disease, hazardous wastes and resource consumption.
Group founder E. Calvin Beisner said that while his group shares an evangelical Christian faith with the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the Warren-backed group "ignores biblical teaching about prudence."
Beisner argues that if efforts to slow global warming succeed, energy prices will go up and residents of Third World countries facing environmental problems will suffer more.
Evangelical Climate Initiative spokesman Jim Ball dismissed that argument as a red herring.
"We've taken this very seriously, and prudence does require us to act now," Ball said. "The science is telling us that there is going to be serious consequences, and those consequences will especially fall on the poor."
European Union to Discourage
Verbal Linking of Islam With Terrorism
BY AL WEBB © 2006 Religion News Service
The European Union, worried about offending Muslim sensibilities, is compiling a new lexicon to avoid such words as "Islamic terrorism," "Islamist," "fundamentalist" and "jihad" in describing acts of terrorism and murder.
Reuters news agency reports that diplomats in Brussels hope to have down on paper by June a set of guidelines for its officials and politicians aimed at making it clear that nowhere in the Islamic religion is there justification for outrages such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or the more recent terrorist bombings in Madrid and London.
That being the case, certain terms should be avoided, the guidelines will say.
Reuters quoted an anonymous EU official as saying, `Certainly `Islamic terrorism' is something we will not use." The official said the preferred reference will be to "terrorists who abusively invoke religion."
Omar Faruk, a Muslim lawyer who advises the British government on EU issues, told journalists the phrase "Islamic terrorism" is a contradiction in itself: "Those words cannot sit side by side. Islam is actually very much against any form of terrorism ... Islam in itself means peace."
"Jihad," in the sense used by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups to mean warfare against infidels, will also be discouraged. "Jihad means something for you and me, it means something else for a Muslim" the EU official in Berlin told Reuters.
"Jihad is a perfectly positive concept of trying to fight evil within yourself," he insisted.
The new lexicon, which EU headquarters in Brussels hopes to have ready by early summer, will not be legally binding -- a loophole that could weaken its impact across the 25-nation organization.