Atheists take on Christian ‘Good News Club’ with ‘Better News Club
(RNS) A group of atheists in Rochester, N.Y., has bad news for the Good News Club, a Christian after-school club for children.
The group, consisting of atheists, humanists and skeptics, announced its own after-school program: a Young Skeptics club featuring science, logic and learning activities.
Young Skeptics is being sponsored by a volunteer-led group calling itself “The Better News Club.” Its members come from the Atheist Community of Rochester — the same group whose leader offered the first atheist invocation before a town meeting in Greece, N.Y., after the Supreme Court ruled in May that public meetings could begin with sectarian prayers.
Both clubs are based at Fairbanks Road Elementary School in Churchville, N.Y.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Good News Club v. Milford Central School that when public schools open their facilities to after-school programs, they cannot discriminate against those programs based on the content of their speech.
Contemporary gospel music pioneer Andrae Crouch dead at 72
(RNS) Andrae Crouch, a Grammy-winning gospel composer and singer whose music remains a staple in many church hymnals, died Thursday (Jan. 8). He was 72 and had been sick for many years.
Among his most well-known compositions is “My Tribute,” whose chorus begins “To God be the glory.” Others include “Take Me Back,” “Soon and Very Soon,” “Jesus Is the Answer” and “Through It All.”
Crouch, an African-American artist, was unusual in that his music became popular in white churches first and later among black audiences.
Though best-known for his decades of pioneering work in the contemporary gospel music industry, Crouch also contributed to secular music projects, including recordings by Madonna and Michael Jackson and movie scores such as ”The Lion King” and “Free Willy.” He collaborated with Quincy Jones on the movie soundtrack for “The Color Purple.”
“His crossover appeal — it just took him worldwide,” said David Gough, president and founder of the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Detroit, which honored him in 2004.
Crouch died after suffering a heart attack.
Belgian bishop says Catholic Church should bless gay couples
(RNS) A Belgian bishop who has been touted as a future leader of that country’s Catholic hierarchy is urging the church to find ways to recognize gay relationships in which “exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other.”
“There should be recognition of a diversity of forms,” Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said in an interview in late December with a Flemish-language newspaper.
“We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church.”
Bonny did not spell out exactly what sort of rite he had in mind for sanctifying same-sex relationships, but he made it clear he thought the church needed to explore the issue as part of a shift to a much more welcoming approach to gays and lesbians.
Gay and lesbian Catholic activists responded enthusiastically to Bonny’s statements.
“Excellency, what you propose is not Catholic,” the Flemish Catholic Student Association wrote in an open letter quoted by The Tablet of London. “The rules of morality apply universally to every Catholic, everywhere and always.”
How the church responds to LGBT Catholics is taking on importance in places such as Belgium, which allows civil marriage for same-sex couples, and in Florida, which became the 36th state in the U.S. to allow it. While Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski warned employees not to signal any support for gay marriage either on or off the clock, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg took a different tone.
“I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society,” he wrote in a column for the Tampa Bay Times.
Oscar Romero declared martyr as Vatican inches him toward sainthood
VATICAN CITY (RNS) Archbishop Oscar Romero, the hero of the Catholic left who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, is inching one step closer to sainthood after his case languished in bureaucratic limbo for decades.
According to the Italian Catholic bishops daily, Avvenire, a panel of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has ruled unanimously that Romero should be considered a martyr, or murdered “in odium fidei” (Latin for “hatred of faith”).
The paper reported the ruling was made on Wednesday (Jan. 7). The move is considered a decisive step on Romero’s path to sainthood.
Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was shot dead by right-wing death squads while celebrating Mass in March 1980. His murder came a day after he delivered a homily calling for soldiers to lay down their guns and end government repression in the country’s bloody civil war.
African church leaders fear ‘medicalization’ of female genital mutilation
(RNS) International rights groups, churches and activists are escalating campaigns against female genital mutilation now that a new practice has emerged in which girls are checking into hospitals to have the procedure.
In what being referred to as the medicalization of FGM, doctors, nurses and other health practitioners are secretly performing the procedures at the request of families.
Health care providers now perform up to 18 percent of FGM cases and the trend is growing, according to the World Health Organization.
Traditional circumcisers have often been accused of using unsterilized tools. Immediate consequences include severe pain and bleeding, shock, difficulty passing urine, infection and African governments have unveiled new laws that ban FGM, alongside strategies that protect girls against the harmful practice. More than 20 African countries have such laws in their constitutions.
Over 125 million girls and women in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East have undergone some form of FGM.
9 of 10 Worst Countries for Persecution of Christians Have Muslim Majority
(CNSNews.com) – Nine of the 10 countries with the worst records for persecution of Christians have populations that are at least 50 percent Muslim, according to the assessment of persecution in the Open Doors USA's World Watch List (WWL) 2015 and population information published by the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Communist North Korea topped the list for the 13th consecutive year for the regime’s extreme persecution of Christians.
But the other nine countries among the 10 worst had Muslim populations of 50 percent or greater and were cited for “Islamic extremism” as a main cause for the persecution of Christians.
“Approximately 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world,” said an Open Doors statement announcing the report. “Islamic extremism is the main source of persecution in 40 of the 50 countries on the 2015 World Watch List.”
Somalia, which ranks second on the list, has a “large majority” of Sunni Muslims, according to the State Department. The CIA World Factbook list Sunni Islam as the "official" religion of the country, and the Pew Research Center estimates a 99.8 percent Muslim population.
Iraq and Syria are third and fourth on the list with Muslim populations of 99 percent and 87 percent respectively, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
Afghanistan, which is fifth on the persecution list, has an 80 percent Muslim majority, according to the CIA. Sudan, according to the CIA is Sunni Muslim with a "small Christian minority. The United Nations Development Programme estimates the Muslim population at 97 percent. Iran (which is 99.4 percent, according to the CIA) and Pakistan (which is 96.4 percent, according to the CIA) are seventh and eighth on the list.
The final two countries among the 10 worst for persecuting Christians each have Muslim populations of 50 percent. In Eritrea 50 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, 30 percent is Orthodox Christian, and 13 percent is Roman Catholic, according to the State Department. Nigeria is 50 percent Muslim, 40 percent Christian, and 10 percent “indigenous beliefs,” according to the CIA.
Open Doors USA is a Christian human rights organization which has monitored Christian persecution worldwide since the 1970s.
"Christian persecution," says Open Doors, "is any hostility experienced from the world as a result of one's identification as a Christian. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis."