For the week of June 10, 2004
Gifts through the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program totaled almost $16.7
million last month, a decrease of $124,570 (0.7 percent) from the previous May.
For the year, gifts total almost $129.7 million, an increase of $5.7 million
(4.6 percent) from the same time last year. With four months remaining in the
Southern Baptist Convention fiscal year, gifts also stand $8.1 million (6.7
percent) ahead of budget. Meanwhile, designated gifts totaled almost $21 million
last month, an increase of $3.2 million (18.6 percent) from the previous May.
For the year, designated gifts total $152.5 million. An increase of $23 million
(17.8 percent) from the same time last year.
Trouble in Sudan
Sudans government and a major rebel group have signed a peace agreement
that could lead to the end of that countrys 21 years of civil war. However,
a region of the country facing alleged ethnic cleansing has been left out of
the accord. The agreement between the Arab-dominated Muslim government and the
Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army in southern Sudan does not encompass
rebels in the countrys western region of Darfur. And Darfur could become
“the biggest humanitarian drama of our time,” one observer said recently.
The threat of genocide against black tribes in Darfur could rival or surpass
the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that claimed 500,000 lives, reports indicate. The
number of people needing immediate humanitarian aid as a result of warfare in
Darfur has risen from 1.2 million to 2 million in recent weeks, and the issue
is compounded by the arrival of the rainy season, which makes getting relief
to those who need it even more difficult. A civil war of mostly religious nature
has plagued the largest country in Africa for two decades and claimed more than
2 million lives. The Arab-dominated government has waged what has been seen
as a genocidal campaign against the mostly black Christian and animist south.
Observers hailed the recently-announced agreement as a positive step to ending
No vote on the matter
New Mexicos attorney general has declared that the states “gay-rights
law” cannot be challenged by voters during this years general election.
A petition drive has been underway to place the issue on the November ballot.
However, Attorney General Patricia Madrid has disallowed the challenge, citing
language in the state constitution that, “The people reserve the power
to disapprove, suspend and annul any law enacted by the Legislature” except
“laws providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
The law was signed in 2003 and extends the states Human Rights Act to
cover “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” New Mexico
Baptists had been involved in the recent effort to put the law to a statewide
vote. Despite the recent ruling on that effort, some still are urging the collection
of signatures in hopes the matter can be brought to the courts.
Continuing a familiar pattern, President George Bush recently used his administrative
powers to make it easier for churches and other religious organizations to receive
federal money for social services. Bush announced an executive order –
his third since 2002 – creating new “faith-based and community initiatives”
offices in three federal agencies. The creation of such offices in the Department
of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Commerce and the Small Business
Administration brings to 10 the number of federal departments with liaison offices
for religious charities. Bush also ordered those agencies to remove administrative
and procedural barriers to churches and other thoroughly religious groups applying
for – and receiving – funding for social-services programs they administer.
Bushs plan for faith-based initiatives has been a centerpiece of his domestic
policy since he took office in 2001. But the plan largely has been thwarted
in Congress, where legislators concerns over church-state separation and
religious discrimination in hiring have stymied bills to accomplish it. To circumvent
that, Bush has turned to using executive orders to implement much of the plan.
In signing the recent order, Bush noted that federal agencies gave $1.1 billion
in grants to faith-based organizations in 2003, a 15 percent jump from the previous
A federal appeals court has stopped Attorney General John Ashcrofts attempt
to override an Oregon law allowing physician-assisted suicides. A divided three-judge
panel ruled recently that Ashcroft overstepped his authority when he declared
doctors who prescribe lethal drug doses – which are legal in Oregon –
to be in violation of a 1970 federal drug law. Ashcrofts rule had instructed
the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to prosecute violating doctors. Oregon is
the only state allowing physician-assisted suicide. The states voters
have twice approved the law allowing it – in 1994 and 1997. In 2003, a
reported 42 people used the law, committing suicide by using drugs prescribed
by doctors. It is expected the recent ruling will be appealed, which means the
issue yet could turn. Until then, an injunction remains in effect against implementation
of Ashcrofts directive. Pro-life advocates decried the recent ruling.
Texas Baptist action
All five Baptist General Convention of Texas employees with Southern Baptist
North American Mission Board appointments will end those relationships with
the convention agency and become fully supported by the Texas convention by
the end of the year. The change allows those staff members to focus on their
Texas Baptist assignments without having to deal with mission board requirements,
a Baptist General Convention of Texas spokesperson said. Many of the employees
counted as missionaries by the North American Mission Board are in jointly-funded
positions on state convention staffs nationwide. The Texas convention and Southern
Baptist mission board have been at odds about requirement for workers for some
time. The board requires workers to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,
while Texas Baptist leaders object to that condition. In recent years, the two
entities have worked out agreements on that issue.
Same-sex marriage case
Arizonas Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal on the issue
of same-sex “marriage,” leaving intact the states ban on homosexual
marriage. The justices refused without comment to hear an appeal from two homosexual
men who had sued the state in an effort to acquire a marriage license and overturn
the state ban. However, the men lost on both the trial court level and the state
appeals court level before appealing to the state supreme court. Pro-family
advocates cheered the decision. In arguing the case, the state asserted it had
an interest in banning same-sex marriages because of the link between traditional
marriage and procreation.
Did you know?
Statistics indicate the average American watches about 1,669 hours of television
a year. That translates to about 70 24-hour days every 12 months.
Religion on the Internet
Nearly two-thirds of American adults with Internet access have used it for
spiritual or faith-related reasons, a recent study indicates. The 82 million
Americans who use the Internet for religious activities represent 64 percent
of all wired adults in the United States, the Pew Internet and American Life
report said. The study found that one-third of U.S. Internet users have sent
or received e-mail with religious content or spiritual greeting cards or go
online to read current religion news. Others look for information about religious
services and holidays. The trend is about the same across different denominations.
Half of the online faithful said they attend church at least once a week, and
33 percent describe themselves as evangelicals. Most (69 percent) said they
use the Internet for personal spiritual growth, not for work related to their
places of worship. “The online faithful seem more interested in augmenting
their traditional faith practices and experiences by personally expressing their
own faith and spirituality, as opposed to seeking something new or different
in the online environment,” the report said. “This is interesting,
because many analysts have assumed that the Internet would make it more likely
for people to leave churches in favor of more flexible options.” The study
surveyed 1,358 U.S. Internet users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus
3 percentage points.
Say no to prostitution
The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and more than
110 allies have called on the Czech Republic to reject reported plans to legalize
prostitution. In a letter to President Vaclav Klaus and other Czech leaders,
commission President Richard Land and the co-signers said such an act “would
be a terrible mistake for the country as a whole and, in particular, for the
women and children of the Eastern Europe region who will be victims of the Czech
sex trade.” It also would “irreparably harm” the Czech Republics
relations with the United States and other countries, the letter warned. Legalizing
prostitution would make the Czech Republic “the gateway for the flow of
women and children from poorer Eastern and Central European countries to sex
industries throughout Western Europe and the world,” the letter added.
The international coalition that endorsed the letter included signers from Russia,
India, Israel, Ireland,
England and France. In April, the Czech government revealed plans to propose
legislation that would permit cities to license prostitutes in certain areas.
Prepared for disaster
Whether a fire, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, a disaster recovery
plan is in place at the Annuity Board to allow the board to recover quickly
and operate effectively through a disruption. “Its important to make
sure that we can effectively run our business during and after a disaster,”
a board spokesperson said. “The plan allows us to re-start our processes
and service our customers as quickly as possible.” Since the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks in 2001, national attention has been given to recovery after a catastrophic
event to ensure financial services firms can get back up and running quickly
and minimize risks. The goal of the Annuity Board is to remain operating during
a disaster and to be prepared for substantial volumes of calls, the spokesperson
said. The Annuity Boards disaster recovery plan is reviewed and updated
each quarter. Three times a year, a systems recovery is performed as a test.
Every other year, a full disaster recovery exercise is conducted.