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Methodist Membership Drops Below
8 Million For First Time in 80 Years

BY J. EDWARD MENDEZ                                                                                          ©
2006 Religion News Service   
 
United Methodist Church report says church membership dipped to a new low last year, dropping to under 8 million in the United States for the first time in nearly 80 years.
 
The church's General Council on Finance and Administration estimated U.S. membership at 7.98 million members in 2005. The church's global membership is estimated at about 9.86 million.
 
Membership among the Methodists--like most mainline Protestant churches--has been dropping slowly but steadily since the formation of the denomination in 1968. In addition to fewer members, church attendance dropped 1.63 percent from 2004 to 2005, to about 3.34 million each week, according to United Methodist News Service.
 
The trend of declining membership, however, is exclusive to the United States; regions of the church in Africa, Asia and Europe have increased membership more than 68 percent between 1995 and 2004.
 
At a convocation next year, bishops and other ministers plan "to focus on how we can make disciples of Jesus Christ and improve our efforts at strengthening local congregations," said Bishop Scott Jones of Wichita, Kan.
 
That plan includes new congregations in the United States and outreach to Hispanics and immigrant groups.
 
 
Episcopalians Reject Ban on Gay Bishops

By DANIEL BURKE
                                                                                                       ©2006 Religion News Service
 
In a move that threatens to throw the Episcopal Church into further discord with fellow Anglicans, Episcopalians on June 20 refused to accept a proposed ban on the ordination of openly gay bishops.
 
Both liberals and conservatives united to defeat the ban in a deeply divided House of Deputies, which is comprised of lay people and ordained clergy from the church's 111 dioceses.
 
The rejected resolution urged "very considerable caution" before any diocese elected a bishop "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains" in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
 
The resolution did not directly mention gay or lesbian bishops, but nearly everyone across the church viewed it as an attempt to contain the controversy that erupted three years ago when an openly gay bishop was elected in New Hampshire.
 
The Rev. Johnnie Ross, a delegate from the Diocese of Kentucky, suggested that conservatives joined together to reject the resolution as part of a plot to make it appear that the U.S. church is indifferent to concerns in the rest of the Anglican Communion. "The conservatives conspired to kill this," Ross said after the vote. Delegates later tried to resurrect the measure for reconsideration but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds support.
 
Episcopal bishops may yet approve a ban before the denomination's triennial General Convention ends Wednesday, but the House of Deputies must concur with their action, and time is running out.
 
Under church rules, an all-out ban on gay bishops would require an amendment to the church's constitution, which could not be approved until the next General Convention in 2009.
 
Liberals voted against the resolution as a matter of inclusion and justice, while conservatives rejected it because they believe it does not go far enough, said Nancy Davidge, who is in Columbus monitoring the convention for the Episcopal Divinity School, a church seminary. "In this case the left wing and right wing both came together to further their own agendas," Davidge said.
 
Kendall Harmon, an influential conservative theologian from South Carolina, said the resolution lacked sufficient clarity. "There is a huge chasm under the surface of the church and the bureaucratic word-smithing process was unable to bridge it," Harmon said.
 
Earlier, conservatives put forth their own resolution that would have banned any candidate for bishop "who is living in a same-gender union" until "some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."
 
That measure was defeated.


Debate on Alcohol Use Dominates Resolutions Report Time

BY TOM STRODE
                                                                                                       ©2006 Baptist Press
 
Messengers to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention adopted resolutions on such currently controversial topics as immigration and the environment June 14, but the debate time was dominated by an issue addressed repeatedly in the convention’s 161-year history -- alcohol.
 
A lengthy debate on a recommendation concerning the use of alcoholic beverages consumed the Resolution Committee’s report in the morning session. In a departure from recent years, the committee needed the evening session to complete its report.
 
When the back-and-forth on alcohol finally ended, the messengers passed with more than a four-fifths majority a resolution not only opposing the manufacture and consumption of alcohol but urging the exclusion of Southern Baptists who drink from election to the convention’s boards, committees and entities. Like other resolutions, it is not binding on SBC churches and entities.
 
The resolution’s supporters contended the action was needed because some Christians believe they may drink based on a wrong interpretation of the believer’s “freedom in Christ.” They said abstaining from alcohol preserves a Christian’s purity and testimony, while drinking can be a “stumbling block” for others and has destructive results.
 
Opponents argued that the resolution promoted a position based on Southern Baptist tradition instead of Scripture, which describes the use of wine in the Old and New Testaments.
 
The passage of the resolution marked the first time the SBC had approved an alcohol-related recommendation since 1991, according to the records of the convention’s Executive Committee. The 15-year gap is the longest between approved resolutions on alcohol since the convention adopted its first such recorded measure on the topic in 1886. In all, the SBC has approved 57 resolutions related to alcohol since that year.
 
To read the complete story, click here
 
 
Fewer Americans Think Government
Should Promote `Moral Values'

BY DANIEL BURKE
                                                                                                  ©2006 Religion News Service  
 
The number of Americans who believe the federal government should promote "moral values" has dropped significantly in the last 10 years, according to a recent Gallup poll.
 
In 1996, 60 percent of Americans thought the government should promote moral values, but that number fell to 48 percent in 2006.
 
"Moral values" are not defined in the poll. So-called "values voters" emerged after the 2004 elections when exit polls found that "moral values" ranked highest among voters' concerns.
 
The change appears to be a "fairly recent phenomenon," according the Gallup News Service. In September 2005, half of Americans said the government should promote "traditional values" and 47 percent said it should not favor any values. Prior to that, there had been roughly a 10-point margin in favor of promoting "traditional values," according to Gallup.
 
More than 60 percent of conservatives and people who attend church weekly believe politicians should legislate morality or promote ideology. Sixty-six percent of liberals disagreed.
 
A separate Gallup poll found that almost three-quarters of Americans say they've maintained the same religious preference during their entire lifetime. Of those that did change preferences, 40 percent said they did so because they disagreed with the teachings on their original religion.
 
Each of the three polls was conducted by telephone interviews of a national sample of 1,002 adults. The maximum sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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