Today's Top Five

1. The New York Times Magazine looks at the contraception wars
First the good news: The cover story of this weekend's The New York Times Magazine picks up on the growing Protestant discomfort with artificial contraception. It's an important developing story that few major mainstream media sources have picked up on.

The bad news is that Russell Shorto's 8,000-word article is horribly underreported, contains glaring errors, and essentially paints critics of artificial contraception as anti-sex.

Shorto is right that religious conservative Protestants have been increasingly critical about the 1965 contraception case Griswold v. Connecticut, and that recent technologies (especially the emergency contraceptive pill) have forced them to reconsider facile support of earlier technologies (like the non-emergency pill). And he's right in his implication that Catholic-Protestant alliances in the abortion wars (and the reasoning in Pope John Paul II's writings) have also had a dramatic effect.

But for those who have actually been watching this happen, it's like reading a U.S. history text that talks about the American Revolution without also talking about colonialism, Reconstruction without the Civil War, and World War II without World War I. Or like trying to read a subway map that only names four stops. His connect-the-dots puzzle only has the numbers 3, 8, 24, and 31, and the only crayon in his box is labeled "anti-sex."

"The issue is partly — but only partly — one of definition," Shorto says. Well, perhaps partly, but if the thesis of your story is that those who only opposed abortion now oppose contraception, it's an important part of your story to define which is which. Pro-lifers who have said "protect life at the point of conception" have always meant fertilization. That's because pretty much everyone equated fertilization and conception. It has only been very recently—and largely due to groups supporting emergency contraception, in vitro fertilization, and embryonic research—that some have wanted to redefine conception to mean uterine implantation.

Indeed, this article could have as easily been written as "How the Left Has Divorced Sex and Pregnancy." At the least, it should have been "How the Right Is Reuniting Sex and Pregnancy" instead of "The Latest Salvo in the Right's War on Sex."

In Shorto's view of "The War on Conception," there's only one side (an "outer fringe" that's "moving in the opposite direction from much of the rest of the world") at war. He sees a liberated, science-minded, politically innocent mainstream under attack, shocked, as his closing quote says, that "here in the U.S., people are still arguing about whether it's okay to have sex."

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You can color the story with that crayon, but it's both acrimonious and wrong. The debate over contraception isn't about "whether it's okay to have sex" but rather about what sex is. That Shorto dismisses natural family planning in one phrase and says it is "otherwise known as the rhythm method" (the rhythm method is to NFP what a bubble mower is to landscaping) demonstrates that he was less interested in reporting or in understanding an actual newsworthy development than he was in scaring his readers with another malicious article to support the theocracy thesis.

2. Sudan government, Darfur rebels sign peace plan
It's "major progress in an internationally backed effort to end the death and destruction in western Sudan," says the Associated Press, adding, "Optimism over the deal was muted by their absence and a history of failure to live up to agreements struck over two years of negotiations in the Nigerian capital." One must always balance hope and realism when talking about such a resolution to genocide. Only one rebel group signed the accord: two other groups refused. But even peace comes soon to Darfur (miracles happen), The New Republic's Eric Reeves reminds us that the tragedy of Darfur is far from over:

It is in the long term … that the genocide's perpetrators will have their true victory: They have not only killed individuals, but also destroyed an entire way of life. Attackers have targeted men and boys; this will make it particularly difficult for traditionally male-led farming communities to reconstitute themselves. Moreover, children who come of age during the genocide will not have learned the agricultural skills necessary for survival in this unforgiving land. As a result, agricultural life in Darfur will be seriously compromised for the foreseeable future.
And, if those communities cannot reconstitute themselves, even after the killing has ended—then what? Boys, seething with anger at what they have suffered, are ripe for recruitment into Darfur's insurgency movements. … A decade from now, the larger [refugee] camps will almost certainly still exist in some form. They will likely become ghastly suburbs; this, at any rate, is what happened to the camps around Khartoum, where hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese—displaced by decades of civil war—have more or less given up on the chance of returning to their homes. It will be a long time before life in Darfur returns to normal—if it ever does.
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3. Judge throws out Christian frat's UNC suit
What's unclear from news reports is why the case was still going forward. Alpha Iota Omega members sued the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004 after they were required to sign the school's nondiscrimination policy. In March 2005, UNC changed its policy, granting recognition to "student organizations that select their members on the basis of commitment to a set of beliefs." The Alliance Defense Fund told The News & Observer that it was disappointed that the case had been dismissed, but didn't say why. Is it not enough for the school to change its policy? Must we also have a judge saying that it had to, even though the point is moot?

4. Blast those foreigners!
Doug Mendenhall has an interesting take on the immigration debate in his Huntsville Times column:

The great melting pot is lumpy. It threatens to boil over. America has a problem. Millions upon millions of people in this country do not really belong here.
They are not true citizens in the sense that their primary allegiance is not to the red, white and blue.
They act as if this country's laws are not the final authority in their lives.
They have their own culture, and if America tries to get them to give it up and embrace something more palatable to the rest of its people, they buck and resist as if they are the injured party.
They act as if they share more camaraderie with people in far-off lands than with other Americans. They're always leaving on jaunts to those other countries. Or sending off every U.S. dollar they can squeeze out of their wallets to make life better for those foreigners they love so much.
Many in these United States believe it won't be long until the nation rises up and tosses out these irritating millions, or at least tells them collectively to shut up and keep their weird ways to themselves.
I am speaking, of course, about Christians.

Heh heh. Nice work, Doug.

5. New jerseys
So the Birmingham Steeldogs are having a "faith night," and players were going to wear jerseys with Bible names on them. But the Arena Football League officials said they can only wear them during warm-ups and post-game festivities, not during the game itself. More evidence of the war on Christians! Soon Alabama football "faith night" will be replaced by public exhibitions of the faithful being torn apart by lions and such. You mark my words. The Christian band Audio Adrenaline, which is playing before the game, and the Christian school program that will get the money from the jerseys being auctioned should boycott at such a blatant display of anti-Christian bigotry. As someone once said, "They came for the gimmicky minor league arena football jerseys, but I did not say anything because I was not a gimmicky minor league arena football jersey." The world is watching. Which side are you on?

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Quote of the day
"Islamic terrorists are not a figment of anyone's imagination."

—Cardinal George Pell, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Australia, defending his comments the Qur'an contains "invocations to violence."

More articles

Sexual ethics and life ethics | Homosexuality | Education | Church and state | Politics | Immigration | Sudan | China-Vatican relations | Catholicism | Abuse | Crime | Christianity and Islam | Books | Entertainment | Birmingham Arena Football Faith Night | Other stories of interest

Sexual ethics and life ethics:

  1. Contra-contraception | A growing number of conservatives see birth control as part of an ailing culture that overemphasizes sex and devalues human life. Is this the beginning of the next culture war? (Russell Shorto, The New York Times Magazine)

  2. Unwanted pregnancies rise for poor women | Rate drops for those well above poverty level, report indicates (The Washington Post)

  3. Use of contraception drops, slowing decline of abortion rate | Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally (The New York Times)

  4. Nun puts the 'red card' on forced prostitution at World Cup | activists prepare for increased sex trade and forced prostitution as World Cup approaches (ABC News/ESPN)

  5. Driving force | A Wakefield woman gathers support for a state license plate urging adoption over abortion, but critics decry the effort as politically charged (The Boston Globe)

  6. 'Designer baby' bid gets go-ahead | A couple from Leicester have been given permission by the fertility watchdog to have a "saviour sibling" in a bid to help their sick 20-month-old daughter (BBC)

  7. Also: Q&A: Helping a sick sibling | The process, the legality, the history, and other issues (BBC)

  8. Barren considerations | "Every Child a Wanted Child" is the long-time slogan from the Planned Parenthood/National Organization for Women crowd. It's also the rationale behind a top bioethicist's belief that the government should pressure people with low IQs to get sterilized (Mark Stricherz, National Review Online)

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  1. Ohio's gay-rights policy victorious | Prison chaplain's suspension upheld (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)

  2. Also: 6th Circuit OK with Ohio prison's discipline of chaplain (Associated Press)

  3. Episcopalians divide again over electing gay bishop | If the diocese of California elects any of the three candidates who are openly gay, experts said the denomination could edge closer to the point of fracture (The New York Times)

  4. Ballot to ban gay marriage debated | In a spirited debate that touched on topics ranging from slavery to the Progressive Era in American politics, supporters of same-sex marriage yesterday urged the state's highest court to disqualify a controversial ballot question to ban gay matrimony starting in 2008 (The Boston Globe)

  5. Bus stop | Protesters cry discrimination at Christian colleges (David M. Howard Jr, The Wall Street Journal)

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  1. Federal judge tosses suit by religious frat vs. UNC | Ruling: Claim is moot (The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.)

  2. Also: Judge tosses out religious group's suit of UNC-CH | Basis for grievance had been removed (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)

  3. Civil rights group sues school over religious expression | The group said student Benjamin Arthurs was refused permission to wear a Day of Truth shirt on the following day and distribute cards presenting a Christian viewpoint on homosexual behavior during non-instructional time. He was suspended Monday for ignoring the warning (Associated Press)

  4. Board okays praying at school | Students in a Knox County public school can pray, distribute religious literature and discuss religion during recess, lunch and other times, as long as it isn't disruptive (Knoxville News Sentinel, Tenn.)

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Church and state:

  1. Commandments display fought | ACLU says state ignoring court (The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)

  2. Republicans pass chaplain prayer vote | Republicans approved an amendment to a military bill that would allow chaplains to pray "according to their own conscience," but rejected a change calling for "sensitivity" to other faiths (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

  3. Romania priests in funding rally | Orthodox priests in north-eastern Romania have taken to the streets in protest at what they say is the lack of funding from the government (BBC)

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  1. Bush reminds Americans of roots in faith | More on the National Day of Prayer (The Washington Times)

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  1. Blackwell speech links God, politics | He speaks in Westlake church (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)

  2. Red states, blue states: New labels for long-running differences | Political attitudes across states are nothing new. The most remarkable phenomenon is the rise of religion in politics (The New York Times)

  3. Religious climate change? | The Religious Left thinks that global warming is about to break-up the Religious Right (Mark D. Tooley, The Weekly Standard)

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  1. Defining immigration | Evangelical leaders want to come to terms with differences over guest workers and amnesty (World)

  2. It's true: Millions of people just don't belong here | The great melting pot is lumpy. It threatens to boil over. America has a problem. Millions upon millions of people in this country do not really belong here (Doug Mendenhall, The Huntsville Times, Ala.)

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  1. Sudan, rebel group to sign peace plan | Sudan's government and the largest Darfur rebel group agreed Friday to sign a peace plan, a top U.S. envoy said, marking major progress in an internationally backed effort to end the death and destruction in western Sudan (Associated Press)

  2. Why it takes a television series to draw attention to a real-life human drama | After 180,000 deaths, American news media leave the story of Sudan to celebrities and ER (The Guardian, London)

  3. Never again? What nonsense | There is no point in caring about a problem unless you care about its solution. The only way to stop genocide in Darfur is for the United States and its Western allies to use force (Editorial, The New Republic)

  4. The trial | Inside a Sudanese prison (Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, The New Republic)

  5. Genocide deniers: Words fail | The U.N.'s curious refusal to call genocide genocide (Andrew B. Loewenstein, The New Republic)

  6. Next casualty : The future of Darfur | Why Darfur's misery has just begun (Eric Reeves, The New Republic)

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China-Vatican relations:

  1. Chinese bishops may escape censure | Vatican officials cited church law that called for automatic excommunication in condemning China for appointing bishops without papal consent, but legal experts said Friday that the appointees may be spared formal censure because they may have been pressured (Associated Press)

  2. China's naming of bishops angers pope | The Vatican repudiates the unauthorized appointments made by the state-sanctioned church in an escalation of tensions with Beijing (Los Angeles Times)

  3. New Chinese bishops face Vatican censure | Improved relations imperiled, Rome says (The Washington Post)

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  1. Beijing to Vatican: We can't be trusted | Is anyone really surprised? (Doug Bandow, The American Spectator)

  2. Also: China's lack of freedoms slammed | The great issue of the 21st century will be whether China becomes a free country, said participants in a conference Tuesday at the Hudson Institute on the lack of Chinese religious, legal and press freedoms (The Washington Times)

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  1. Pa. youth choir director fired | She married a priest who left the Roman Catholic Church without telling the Vatican (Associated Press)

  2. Swiss Guards retrace march to Vatican 500 years on | About 70 former Swiss Guards, the oldest a 76-year-old, ended an almost month-long trek to the Vatican from Switzerland on Thursday that retraced the steps of the first papal protectors 500 years ago (Reuters)

  3. In praise of the Pope | Cardinal Ratzinger used to be called "God's Rottweiler," but bark and bite have been replaced by something more friendly and gentle. Pope Benedict is more of a dachshund these days (Editorial, The Guardian, London)

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  1. Church wants judge off priest abuse cases | The statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington wants Judge Ben Joseph removed as the presiding judge in an upcoming priest sex-abuse case, saying his rulings in a case just settled have jeopardized the church's chances of getting a fair trial (Burlington Free Press, Vt.)

  2. 'Everywhere I turned, I ran into sexual abuse' | The real conspiracy in the Catholic church has nothing to do with the Da Vinci Code, says Patrick Wall - it's the cover-up of paedophile priests. Meet the former monk who is leading a crusade to hunt down the perpetrators and bring them to justice (The Guardian, London)

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  1. Priest admits using funds from church for luxuries | Will repay over $2M to Holy Cross parish (Asbury Park Press, N.J.)

  2. Also: Residents: Priest should be held to higher standard | Some Shore area residents said the court should treat the Rev. Joseph W. Hughes with a heavier hand than a lay person (Asbury Park Press, N.J.)

  3. Also: N.J. priest admits stealing $2 million | A priest who enjoyed exotic vacations and drove fancy cars has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $2 million from his parish, a judge said Thursday (Associated Press)

  4. Scam bilks $12M from B.C. church's members | Group of Kelowna men investigated in alleged pyramid scheme (Vancouver Sun)

  5. Statement admits to adult store arson | Student says he thought act was God's will, but car crash changed his mind (Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.)

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  1. Police charge Rev Ndhlovu | Police in Lusaka yesterday formerly charged Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) general secretary, Japhet Ndhlovu, who is alleged to have assaulted a Somalian national recently (The Times of Zambia)

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Christianity and Islam:

  1. Pastors square off against imams—in a friendly way | It's hardly a "Clash of Civilizations" but much will be at stake when the Christians take on the Muslims on Saturday (Deutsche Welle, Germany)

  2. Pell denies ignorance about Islam | "Islamic terrorists are not a figment of anyone's imagination" says Catholic Archbishop of Sydney (Australian Broadcasting Corp)

  3. Also: PM stands by Pell after Islam comments | Prime Minister John Howard is standing by Australia's top Catholic, as Islamic and other groups question Cardinal George Pell's remarks about the intolerance of the Muslim faith and the Koran's "invocations to violence" (AAP, Australia)

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  1. Keeping the faith at arm's length | A weighing of the evidence suggests that the Christianity practiced by most of the founders was lukewarm at best. Alan Wolfe reviews The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes, Realistic Visionary by Peter R. Henriques, and American Gospel by Jon Meacham (The New York Times Book Review, preview, sub. req'd.)

  2. Minister's message of faith | Walnut Hill pastor Clive Calver's 19th book 'Alive in the Spirit' (The News-Times, Danbury, Ct.)

  3. CS Lewis myths debunked | An interview with Doug Gresham (The World Today, Australian Broadcasting Corp)

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  1. Hollywood wonders "What would Jesus direct?" | Long criticized by conservative Christians for profiting from violent or sexually graphic films that corrupt the young, Hollywood is starting to see there is money to be made catering to those critics (Reuters)

  2. Catholic scholars brace for 'Da Vinci' | Roman Catholic scholars gathered Thursday to explore whether the soon-to-be-released film version of "The Da Vinci Code" will spread hostile sentiment against the church or provide an opportunity to draw people closer to religion (Associated Press)

  3. Backstreet Boy comes 'Home' in Christian album | Brian Littrell's former band has sold more than the combine sales of Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, Switchfoot, Avalon, and Jars of Clay - and you're not even halfway there! (The Huntsville Times, Ala.)

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Birmingham Arena Football Faith Night:

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  1. Bible-bashing American football team must keep God off the pitch | An American football team from the Bible Belt has been prevented from spreading the word of God during a game this week (The Guardian, London)

  2. Earlier: Faith Night set, but with a twist | The Steeldogs will only wear the jerseys during pregame warmups and postgame festivities because of af2 regulations (The Birmingham News, Ala.)

  3. Focus on game, not jerseys | Steeldogs managing partner Scott Myers, who attempted to put his team in Bible-theme jerseys said the controversial promotion takes a back seat once the ball is kicked off (The Birmingham News, Ala.)

  4. Steeldogs' Myers not afraid to take leap of faith | They say football is a religion in this state. Thank heaven we have locals like Scott Myers who know the difference (Kevin Scarbinsky, The Birmingham News, Ala.)

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Other stories of interest:

  1. Congo's tragedy: the war the world forgot | In a country the size of Western Europe, a war rages that has lasted eight years and cost four million lives. Rival militias inflict appalling suffering on the civilian population, and what passes for political leadership is powerless to stop it. This is Congo, and the reason for the conflict—control of minerals essential to the electronic gadgetry on which the developed world depends—is what makes our blindness to the horror doubly shaming (The Independent, London)

  2. Benny Hinn's second coming | As revealed this week through press advertising, Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) General Secretary, Sat Maharaj and I have at least one thing in common - sneering incredulity at claims by Pastor Benny Hinn that he is a medium for dispensing miracles scheduled by God (Terry Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago Express)

  3. Moved by the Spirit: Fast-growing Pentecostal church takes root in 'the last frontier' | Speaking in tongues only one striking aspect of Christian denomination (The Salt Lake Tribune)

  4. Family of electrocuted Waco pastor sues contractor | Jennifer Lake, widow of the Rev. Kyle Lake, pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, is seeking unspecified damages on behalf of herself and their three children against MP Electric Inc. of Waco in what their attorney calls a "very, very, very significant case with huge damages" (Waco Tribune-Herald, Tex.)

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