Originally created 12/17/05

Religion News in Brief

Pastor defends decision to close church on Christmas

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Amid mounting criticism, the Rev. Jon Weese of central Kentucky's largest church said that, in canceling worship on Christmas Sunday, its elders "chose to value families; people over policy."

Officials at Southland Christian Church said they received protests from hundreds of Christians across the nation when word of the closed-on-Christmas decision was reported in the media.

In a sermon interrupted by applause and one standing ovation, Weese said: "I was deeply saddened by the knee-jerk response of the Christian community as a whole to give the benefit of the doubt to the media and not a church or a Christian brother."

"I'm still troubled that more Christians did not stand up for us," he said, and "illogical, ill-informed and even hypocritical arguments" had been aimed at him.

Weese said that in Jewish and biblical tradition, Sunday begins at sundown Saturday and his church is holding Christmas Eve services. He said Jesus, too, was criticized for breaking tradition and faced critics who "emphasized religion over relationship."

Weese said "Christmas began as a pagan holiday to the Roman gods" and anyway, Jesus was most likely born in January or April.

Protestant megachurches in other states are also canceling Sunday worship because it falls on Christmas. Traditionally, even those Protestant churches that do not schedule Christmas Day services will do so when it falls on a Sunday.

Reporters rate papal transition as 2005's top religious event

WESTERVILLE, Ohio - The death of Pope John Paul II, followed by the election of Pope Benedict XVI, were rated the top two stories in religion for 2005 in a survey of specialized reporters belonging to the Religion Newswriters Association.

Participants also overwhelmingly picked John Paul as the year's top "religion newsmaker."

The other top 10 events, in order:

-Controversy over removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.

-Faith-based agencies' response to Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami and Pakistan earthquake.

-Mainline Protestant denominations' ongoing discord over homosexuality.

-Evolution and "intelligent design" debates, especially in Kansas schools and a Pennsylvania federal case.

-The U.S. Supreme Court's split decisions on Ten Commandments displays.

-Religious involvement in Supreme Court nomination politicking.

-A Vatican policy statement bars most gays from seminaries and ordination.

-Billy Graham's farewell revival meeting in New York City.

The annual survey, conducted online, drew responses from 100 religion reporters in general media, a third of the association's membership.

Wisconsin university temporarily allows resident assistants to lead Bible studies

MADISON, Wis. - The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has suspended its ban against dormitory resident assistants leading Bible studies in their rooms, following protests from politicians and conservative groups who said the policy violated religious freedom.

Interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson said the unwritten policy, which also banned political activities and sales events in assistants' dorm rooms, was poorly communicated and inconsistently enforced.

Larson announced the suspension, pending recommendations on resident assistant policies by a committee from the full University of Wisconsin system. The assistants receive stipends and free room and board, so are considered state employees.

Resident assistant Lance Steiger sued the university with support from the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund. Steiger said he was warned he could face discipline if he continued Bible studies in his room and had to meet in the basement instead.

Five top mainline Protestants denounce federal budget

WASHINGTON - Five leaders of U.S. "mainline" Protestant denominations are urging Congress to defeat the proposed federal budget "once and for all."

Joining the appeal were the chief executives of the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and United Church of Christ, along with the social-issues executive of President Bush's own United Methodist Church.

Noting that their churches represent nearly 20 million followers, the five said the Republican Congress "continues to make decisions which benefit the rich but are paid for by the poor and most vulnerable." They specified such matters as funding of food stamps, heating subsidies, Medicaid rules and child support enforcement.


New York City developers set new air rights record in church deal

NEW YORK - Two New York City developers have agreed to pay $430 per square foot for air rights to construct a 35-story Manhattan apartment building atop Christ Church with views of Central Park from the top floors.

The United Methodist congregation will get around $30 million while the adjacent Grolier Club earns $7 million. The price paid by brothers William and Arthur Zeckendorf is more than twice the going rate.

The Rev. Stephen Bauman has received calls from developers since he became pastor in 1987, according to United Methodist News Service. The deal, a decade in the making, was approved by the congregation in a Dec. 4 vote.

Air rights allow developers to buy unused air space over low-lying buildings or build towers taller than zoning regulations normally allow.

Judge throws out Quran courtroom oath lawsuit

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A judge threw out a lawsuit aimed at allowing texts other than the Bible for courtroom oaths, saying the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union lacked legal standing to file.

Superior Court Judge Donald Smith of Raleigh revealed his decision to lawyers, with a written ruling to follow.

In its suit, the ACLU chapter said it acted on behalf of members statewide who prefer to swear courtroom oaths on other religious texts. No plaintiff was specified but the ACLU later named Greensboro Muslim Syidah Mateen, saying she was blocked from swearing on the Quran during a 2003 court hearing.

Smith ruled there was no pending instance of someone prohibited from using a text other than a Bible, an ACLU lawyer said, but an appeal or a future lawsuit was likely.

North Carolina law allows witnesses to take their oath either by laying a hand over a "Holy Scripture," by saying "so help me God" without a religious book or by using no religious references. However, two Guilford County judges said only the Bible could be used.


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