Today's Top Five

1. A soldier gets his star
A year after his death in Afghanistan, Sgt. Patrick Stewart's memorial plaque will be inscribed with a Wiccan pentacle (a five-point star inside a circle). His widow had lobbied for the emblem, but was turned down by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA allows for more than 30 symbols for other religions and denominations, but has no approved Wiccan symbol. The VA has not backed down, but Nevada officials say they'll grant the symbol in a state veteran's cemetery.

"The VA still has not determined yet if a Wiccan symbol can go on the headstone," Tim Tetz, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, told the Associated Press. "But we have determined we control the state cemetery and that we therefore have the ability to recognize him for his service to his country."

In a June op-ed for Christianity Today Online, John Whitehead had argued that "by refusing to place the Wiccan symbol on Sgt. Stewart's memorial plaque, while permitting symbols of other religions and non-religions, the government is clearly engaging in viewpoint discrimination."

2. Did repealing blue laws encourage sinfulness?
The Washington Post's Richard Morin today highlights a National Bureau of Economic Research study that suggests that the people who argued against Sunday shopping may have been right. MIT's Jonathan Gruber and Notre Dame's Daniel M. Hungerman looked at states that repealed its blue laws and found that it really did seem to lead to less church attendance and greater wickedness. Morin writes:

Before the shopping ban was lifted, about 37 percent of people in a state on average attended religious services at least weekly, Hungerman said. "After the laws are repealed it falls to 32 percent"—a drop "not driven by declines in religiosity prior to the law change."
Instead of going to church, many of the faithful apparently were going astray. Marijuana use increased by 11 percentage points among church attendees, compared with those who never went to services, after the shopping ban was lifted. Cocaine use increased by nearly 4 percentage points, and heavy drinking increased by about 5 1/2 percentage points among churchgoers compared with those who never went to services, with frequent attendees even more likely to go on benders.

The abstract itself notes, that the increase in drinking and drug use "is found only among the initially religious individuals who were affected by the blue laws. The effect is economically significant; for example, the gap in heavy drinking between religious and non religious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed."

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"Why would the elimination of blue laws suddenly provoke such an outburst of sinning among the religious?" Morin asks. "After all, there are six other days of the week to shop (or drink) until you drop. And it's not legal to buy cocaine or marijuana on any day of the week." Hungerman replies, "That's the million-dollar question," and offers some guesses. But we're guessing that he won't be the only one seeking to explain this somewhat surprising data.

3. PCUSA, ECUSA "gay fights" continue
Okay, okay, so conservatives in churches hate it when we call them fights over homosexuality, and they're always telling us how homosexuality is just the "presenting issue," and that the fights are really more over the authority of Scripture, the nature of the church, and much more important issues. Yes, they are. And yet homosexuality is still the presenting issue..

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), Janet Edwards is the latest pastor to face a church trial for conducting a same-sex wedding. But Presbyterian News Service notes that while homosexuality is the presenting issue in the case, it's not the only issue. Yes, it was a lesbian wedding. But it was also a syncretistic Christian-Buddhist ceremony. Evan Silverstein writes: "Edwards was also cited for omitting references to the Trinity, Bible readings and intention to enter into a Christian marriage, and misstating the authority by which the ceremony was performed. … She said the rite was called a 'wedding' and integrated the couple's Buddhist and Christian traditions." (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also notes the Buddhist angle.) We noted the Edwards case in March, and yes, she's a descendant of Jonathan Edwards.

Over in the Episcopal Church, it's stalemate time. "We had honest and frank conversations that confronted the depth of the conflicts that we face," said a statement released by the 11 participating bishops. "We recognized the need to provide sufficient space, but were unable to come to common agreement on the way forward." That's the bottom line, but you can of course parse things out a million different ways over at Anglican blogs like titusonenine..

4. Klingenschmitt guilty after court martial
It took a jury only 20 minutes to find the Navy chaplain guilty of disobeying an order not to wear his uniform at news conferences. At a press conference last night, he wore a clerical collar but not his uniform. "I will not be broken," he said, as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore stood by in support. "I have not yet begun to fight." He also explained that he didn't call any witnesses in his defense because "In the trial of Jesus Christ, he never opened his mouth in his own defense." Huh. Interesting biblical allusion, considering that right before the trial of Jesus Christ, he promised that he would be broken.

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5. Get ready for loads of Pope vs. Islam analysis
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." That's the juicy outtake of Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg address that's likely to be widely discussed over the next few days.

Benedict was quoting the 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos, but Muslim leaders are already accusing him of "attacking" Islam. Actually, in a speech that had little to do with Islam, Benedict's aside wasn't really about Islam either but about the history of violent conversion in Islam contrary to the Qur'an's statement, "There is no compulsion in religion." Immediately after quoting the emperor, Benedict continued:

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. … The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? … In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

Reading the speech, it's clear Benedict was talking about a clash of civilizations. But which civilizations? And is there more than one clash?

Quote of the day
"Christians should be having great sex lives! We should be having better sex than anybody else!"

Family Dynamics president Joe Beam, who lectures Christians on how to have better sex and is reportedly pursuing a Ph.D. in sexology from the University of Sydney. Beam apparently rejects natural law arguments on human sexuality in favor of a more literal, if-the-Bible-doesn't-explicitly-ban-it-it's-okay approach. He was profiled this week by MSNBC.

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More articles

Wiccan soldier gets his pentagram | Naval chaplain guilty | Politics | Politics and religion books | Life ethics | Education | Money and business | Media | Music | Church life | The latest Presbyterian church trial over homosexuality | Episcopal stalemate | Catholicism | Pope | Pope's anti-jihad speech | Islam | 9/11 | Crime | India | Other stories of interest

Wiccan soldier gets his pentagram:

  1. Wiccan sign allowed on soldier's plaque | The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan won state approval Wednesday to place a Wiccan religious symbol on his memorial plaque, something the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had refused (Associated Press)

  2. Plaque honoring Wiccan soldier approved | A plaque honoring a deceased Fernley soldier bearing a Wiccan symbol for placement at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery has been approved, according to a press release from the Nevada Office of Veterans Services (Lahontan Valley News, Nev.)

  3. Soldier will get Wiccan symbol on memorial plaque (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

  4. Widow wins state approval for Wiccan symbol (Reno Gazette-Journal)

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Naval chaplain guilty:

  1. Navy chaplain found guilty of disobeying order | Klingenschmitt was convicted Wednesday, the second day of a Navy special court-martial, for disobeying an order not to wear his uniform for media appearances (The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, Va.)

  2. Chaplain convicted of disobeying order | A military jury found a Navy chaplain guilty Wednesday of disobeying an order by appearing in uniform at a White House protest (Associated Press)

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  1. Casey speech raises questions | Some Catholic organizations are upset with Catholic University for inviting 1988 law school graduate Bob Casey to speak but not his rival, Republican Sen. Rick Santorum (Associated Press)

  2. Kline's memo blurs lines | Private note implies church sermons used for campaign (Lawrence Journal-World, Kan.)

  3. Also: Kline's staff puzzled as to how memo was leaked | Amid the controversy over an aggressive campaign to exploit his support from conservative Christians, Attorney General Phill Kline's staff is wondering how a private memo he wrote became public (Associated Press)

  4. Wooing 'values voters' | They're real, but they're not all religious (Gary Bauer, The Washington Times)

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  1. Institute on Religion and Democracy opposes all torture of prisoners | A response to Randall Balmer (Alan Wisdom, Albany Times-Union, N.Y.)

  2. Our ultimate common bond | No issue better epitomizes the historical war between science and faith than the centuries-old debate over how the Earth was created. Today, however, these two traditional adversaries have the potential of joining in an untraditional alliance to tackle the most significant technological and moral challenge of the modern era: to ensure that the creation itself is preserved from the threat posed by global climate change (Jonathan Miller, San Francisco Chronicle)

  3. The old, old story of private faith versus public religion | The modish zeitgeist seems to be that religion should become privatized (Harry Reid, The Herald, Glasgow)

  4. Three Awakenings and you're out | What does the president have against America's religious revivals? (Bruce Reed, Slate)

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Politics and religion books:

  1. Be not afraid | Five books on the religious right raise necessary alarms about the movement's ever-increasing power. But goodness, is the situation really quite this grave? (Peter Steinfels, The American Prospect)

  2. Rewriting our religious history | Why are many religious conservatives obsessed with invoking the Founding Fathers? (B.J. Paschal, The News-Sentinel, Ft. Wayne, Ind.)

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Life ethics:

  1. Democrats to roll out plan to curtail abortions | It promotes such preventive measures as funding for contraceptives and expanded sex education geared toward avoiding pregnancy as well as support for adoption and services to new mothers (Chicago Tribune)

  2. Plan B is a bad plan | With bad news to come (Jennifer Roback Morse, National Review Online)

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  1. Is he a bridge or a barrier? | Patrick Henry College hires new president after a faculty revolt (The Washington Post)

  2. Christian-themed cartoons draw ire | Angry e-mails and calls flood student newspaper, University of Virginia (The Washington Post)

  3. Also: U.Va. getting inundated by similar e-mails | Criticism continues over college paper's comics on religion (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.)

  4. Rossford school board seeks to settle suit by rock band | Most members of the Rossford Board of Education want to settle the controversy over a lawsuit filed by a Christian rock band (The Toledo Blade, Oh.)

  5. Scientists question deletions | They say minutes altered to sidestep controversy (Akron Beacon Journal, Oh.)

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  1. Mumps outbreak at suburban college | Seven Wheaton College students have contracted mumps, and DuPage County health officials are investigating three other cases (Chicago Tribune)

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Money and business:

  1. When malls stay open on Sundays, the pious party | While bars, cheap hotels and similar places of questionable repute may remain America's favorite spots to sin, two economists say that giving people an extra day to shop at the mall also contributes significantly to wicked behavior—particularly among people who are the most religious (Richard Morin, The Washington Post)

  2. Condos cater to Christians | Jim Bakker will be among development's residents (Springfield News-Leader, Mo.)

  3. Porn drove me out of Navy, says chaplain | A Royal Navy chaplain quit the service after being told to turn a blind eye to pornography on board two warships, an employment tribunal was told yesterday (The Telegraph, London)

  4. Also: Chaplain told 'porn part of life' (BBC)

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  1. Movie viral marketing on a biblical scale | You probably haven't heard a peep about it. But One Night With the King is being marketed, alright (Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel)

  2. Slave drama "Amazing Grace" honorable, but dull | This is about as safe a historical/political topic as a filmmaker can tackle, where right and wrong are as clear as day. The only cause for wonder for a modern-day viewer is the speciousness and cynicism of the arguments made in favor of the institution in those days (Reuters)

  3. Sherman tries for radio job | Robert I. "Rob" Sherman, the civil rights and atheist activist from Buffalo Grove who caused an uproar in the 1990s because of his battle against governments' use of Christian symbols, might be returning this month as a radio talk show host (Buffalo Grove Countryside, Ill.)

  4. "Hell House" to see the stages of sin | Pastor's controversial depiction of consequences will be off-Broadway play (The Denver Post)

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  1. Warped Tour dropouts defend their faith | The official reason was that Underoath band members needed time out to "focus on their friendship", but according to Aaron Gillespie, it goes much deeper than that (, Vancouver)

  2. A stardom just out of reach | Long-running Christian band Starflyer 59 still aims for success (Los Angeles Times)

  3. Old school rappers try holy rhymes | Gangsta tales dumped for stories of Christ (The Charlotte Observer, N.C.)

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Church life:

  1. Prayer and parties | Strip District building morphs from nightclub to church each weekend (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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  1. Worshippers discover faith in different places | Storefront churches are flourishing (Spartanburg Herald-Journal, S.C.)

  2. Raleigh landmark to be church again | Unity Church will hold services in downtown's Long View Center, the facility's owner says (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)

  3. Beer glass Jesus to lead Christmas campaign | An image of Jesus is to appear in pint glasses in commercials this Christmas as part of a campaign to encourage young people back to the Church (The Telegraph, London)

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The latest Presbyterian church trial over homosexuality:

  1. Minister accused of violating church law | Presbyterian pastor conducted marriage ceremony for lesbians in 2005 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  2. Minister charged in same-sex marriage | The Presbyterian Church has charged a Squirrel Hill minister with breaking church law by performing a marriage ceremony for two women last year (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

  3. Church trial in Presbyterian gay case | A Presbyterian minister has been charged with breaking church law for performing a marriage between two women (Associated Press)

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Episcopal stalemate:

  1. No deal at Episcopal meeting | Inching toward a break with the church over homosexuality, conservative Episcopal bishops failed to win approval Wednesday for their request to stay in the denomination without answering to its national leader, who supports gay relationships (Associated Press)

  2. Gay issues again stump Episcopal church leaders | "We were unable to come to common agreement on the way forward," 11 bishops representing differing views on the volatile issues said after a two-day meeting in New York (Reuters)

  3. Episcopalians fear split over gays | They express their concerns as 11 bishops declare a stalemate on the issue (Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Ca.)

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  1. Find fulfillment in service, O'Malley says | In an appeal that was alternately passionate and humorous, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley yesterday called on Catholics to turn to religious vocations in their search for self-fulfillment (The Boston Globe)

  2. In hot pursuit of a saint's shoulder blade | I'm on the trail of the shoulder blade of St. Valentine, a religious relic believed to have been brought to Prague in the 14th century by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (Carol Perehudoff, Toronto Star)

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  1. Pope wraps up 6-day Bavarian homecoming | Pope Benedict XVI set aside his sermon and gave an encouraging talk to priests Thursday in the cathedral where he was ordained — a spontaneous gesture ending a nostalgic, six-day homecoming to Bavaria (Associated Press)

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  1. Pope tells overworked priests even he can't do all | Pope Benedict said on Thursday even he could not do everything that was expected of him and advised German priests not to burn themselves out trying to make up for the growing shortage of Roman Catholic clerics (Reuters)

  2. "He must finally take some action" | Hans Küng, a respected scholar of theology and philosophy, likens Pope Benedict XVI in some ways to US President George Bush. He says both need to come down from the sky and take a look at the reality on the ground (Deutsche Welle, Germany)

  3. Benedict sheds image of dour theologian | He is not only growing into his job after 17 months in the papacy, but appears to enjoy it. (Associated Press)

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Pope's anti-jihad speech:

  1. The pope tackles faith and terrorism | In a provocative speech citing the concept of jihad and referencing the Muslim prophet by name, Benedict sends the world a signal that it's time for hard questions—not hugs and handshakes (Time)

  2. Pope's speech stirs Muslim anger | Muslim religious leaders have accused Pope Benedict XVI of quoting anti-Islamic remarks during a speech at a German university this week (BBC)

  3. Also: Muslim leaders assail Pope's tough speech on Islam | Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly putting in jeopardy Pope Benedict XVI's scheduled visit there in November (The New York Times)

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  1. No such thing as a moderate Muslim - ex-Malaysian PM | "There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim," said Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years. "We are fundamentalists in Malaysia. We follow the true teachings of the religion and the true teachings do not teach us to bomb and kill people without reason." (Reuters)

  2. Muslims and Christians 'allies' | The Archbishop of York has said British Christians should see Muslims as allies in the struggle against secularism (BBC)

  3. Also: Sentamu warning over terror 'scapegoats' | Religion should not be made the scapegoat for terrorism and efforts to reduce its influence in a bid to ease tensions between faiths would be mistaken, the Archbishop of York said last night (Yorkshire Post, England)

  4. Religion today: Executions loom in Indonesia  | Thousands of Indonesian Muslims have taken to the streets to demand three Christians be killed, with some of the protesters threatening holy war if the slayings in the coastal town of Poso are not avenged (Associated Press)

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  1. The fascist disease | "Islamic fascism" is an accurate--and important—term (Joseph Loconte, The Weekly Standard)

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  1. 9/11's effects persist in the pews | There is no single view, but in several dozen interviews over the past month, clergy at many of the major houses of worship in Greater Boston say they sense numerous subtler, sustained changes in their remaining congregations: a persistent sadness, a greater interest in poorly understood faiths, an uneasiness with war, and a yearning for security (The Boston Globe)

  2. A prayer for after 9/11 | In this time of bitter partisanship, America would do well to remember who its real enemies are (Marc Gellman, Newsweek)

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  1. Police investigate shooting at West County school | A confrontation at Westminster Christian Academy between police and a 17-year-old student with a rifle ended about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday when an officer shot the student in the leg (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

  2. More racist graffiti found | Incident at church in welcome is tied to at least 7 others (The Washington Post)

  3. In sex abuse case, priest's old letter could be pivotal | A letter that a priest wrote to the parents of a teenager, who later accused the priest of touching him in a sexual manner, appears to attempt to explain a physical relationship the pair had (The New York Times)

  4. Abuse victims to address priests | Cardinal Justin Rigali is calling together hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese to hear from two people who were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clerics (Associated Press)

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  1. Anti-conversion law Modi-fied | Shackled for nearly three years on a subject close to the heart of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the state government on Wednesday moved a step ahead in its quest to check religious conversions by attempting to clear some of the legal hurdles coming in the way of the controversial law (The Times of India)

  2. Government order on student intake in Christian institutions to be withdrawn | It said 50 p.c. of seats in schools had to be reserved for members of the community (The Hindu, India)

  3. Christian missionaries attacked near Patiala | Certain unidentified miscreatns attacked  the Christian missionaries in Sanaur town near here on Wednesday while they were distributing literature of Christianity in some schools there. (Punjab Newsline)

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Other stories of interest:

  1. One preacher's message: Have hotter sex | Minister Joe Beam says good Christian marriages walk on the wild side (MSNBC)

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  1. Britain withholds World Bank donation | Protesting conditions placed on poor countries (Associated Press)

  2. Religion news in brief | Greek priests barred from hearing students' confessions, Slovak Catholic bishops lobby against Mormon church, Thousands gather for extended revival near Asheville, Religion Newswriters Association issues awards (Associated Press)

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
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Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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