Daily RNS News

Southern Baptists support legalization but not 'amnesty'

By Adelle M. Banks
© 2011 Religion News Service

Southern Baptists adopted a resolution June 15 that supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but clearly states they reject "amnesty."

After heated debate at their annual meeting in Phoenix, the Southern Baptist messengers approved a statement that called for secure borders and "a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures" for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

Some messengers said the language on "legal status" was tantamount to amnesty, prompting an almost equally divided vote over whether to remove it. In response, officials added language that said: "This resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant."

After the election that put an African-American pastor in the denomination's No. 2 leadership position, and plans to increase ethnic diversity, the resolution emphasized the church should minister regardless of a person's immigration status or country of origin.

"The intention ... is to point us all toward thinking about those who have come into the United States from other nations," said Paul Jimenez, a South Carolina pastor and chair of the resolutions committee. "To ask the question first, not ‘What is your legal status?’, but ‘What is your gospel status?’”

In a separate and unexpected vote, delegates expressed "profound disappointment" with the 2011 translation of the popular New International Version of the Bible, saying its use of gender-neutral language has made it an "inaccurate translation of God's inspired Scripture."

The meeting was attended by 4,814 registrants, the lowest number since 1944.


Daily RNS News

Evangelicals wade into circumcision debate

© 2011 Religion News Service

The National Association of Evangelicals is siding with Jews and Muslims in opposition of a proposed ban on infant male circumcision in San Francisco.

"Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham," NAE President Leith Anderson said in a statement. "No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake."

The proposed ban, which does not include a religious exemption, would prevent circumcision of male children in San Francisco. If passed, circumcisions would be considered a misdemeanor that could carry a fine of up to $1,000 or a year in jail.

The NAE said the proposal violates the First Amendment's clause protecting the free exercise of religion.

"While evangelical denominations traditionally neither require nor forbid circumcision, we join Jews and Muslims in opposing this ban and standing together for religious freedom," said Anderson.

The Anti-Defamation League has also condemned the proposed ban, calling it an "assault on parental choice, legitimate medical practice, and religious freedom." ADL leaders also expressed outrage when supporters of the ban promoted it with a cartoon character named "Foreskin Man."

Matthew Hess, president of an anti-circumcision organization that supports the ban, has written on Twitter that the "Foreskin Man" series is not anti-Semitic.

"People who forcefully cut the genitals of children are not reasonable," he wrote. "If they were reasonable, they would have stopped doing it by now."


Daily RNS News

Americans see room to disagree but remain faithful to religion

© 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Significant majorities of Americans say it is possible to disagree with their religion's teachings on abortion and homosexuality and still remain in good standing with their faith.

The findings, released Thursday (June 9) in a detailed survey by Public Religion Research Institute, held true for major religious groups, including Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

The findings reflect the complicated tasks faced by Catholic bishops to discipline politicians who stray from church teaching, or evangelical groups that try to toe a traditional line as cultural values shift around them.

In fact, the survey found that six in 10 Americans chafe at the idea of religious leaders publicly pressuring politicians on the issue of abortion, as has happened to several high-profile Catholic Democrats in recent years.

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Miss. woman named world's longest-serving church organist

© 2011 Religion News Service

MOSS POINT, Miss. — For the past 69 years, Ida Mae Cumbest has been the pianist and organist at Caswell Springs United Methodist Church -- a tenure that qualifies her as the world's longest-serving church organist.

Cumbest has played at Caswell since 1942, which prompted her son,

Mark, to contact the London-based Guinness World Records in hopes of honoring his mother for her 90th birthday.

After reviewing the collected documentation, Guinness on May 11 issued a certificate that states: "The longest tenure as a church pianist and organist is 69 years, achieved by Ida Mae Cumbest (U.S.), at the Caswell Springs United Methodist Church... ."

"It is kind of unbelievable," Ida Mae Cumbest said. "It is such an honor to be able to experience that. It is wonderful and worth what little effort I feel like I put forth to get that recognition."

Mark Cumbest, who calculates that his mother has played in excess of 10,000 services, said the idea about the world record started as his mother's 90th birthday approached.

"I got to thinking -- 69 years -- I don't know anybody that has any kind of vocation for as long, that has been doing anything for 69 years on a regular basis," he said.

Ida Mae Cumbest has some advice on being good at what she does: "I think to enjoy it," she said, "and not get sold on yourself, and then do it for the Lord."

(Harlan Kirgan writes for The Mississippi Press.)


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Judge hears monks' suit over right to build caskets

© 2011 Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) — Wearing a monk's robe, Abbot Justin Brown climbed into the witness box on Monday (June 6) and said the only people whoever opposed his abbey's bid to sell handmade caskets were funeral insiders who stood to lose their statewide monopoly.

"To my knowledge, no one objected besides (them)," he told U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval.

Brown and the monks at St. Joseph's Abbey near Covington, La., have tried and failed to convince Louisiana legislators to amend a state statute that prohibits casket sales by non-licensed funeral directors.

Monday's federal trial served as a challenge to that law, which imposes thousands of dollars in fines, and up to 180 days in prison, for anyone who sells coffins without first paying fees and obtaining a license from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

The proceedings concluded after about three hours of arguments. The Benedictine monks' legal team, from the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, argued that the statute amounted to unconstitutional economic protectionism.

Duval has asked both sides to file briefs by June 24, with a response from both sides by July 1. Some time after that, the judge will either strike down or uphold the law, according to Jeff Rowes, the justice institute's senior attorney.

St. Joseph Abbey opened a woodshop in 2007 to sell handcrafted cypress caskets for $1,500 to $2,000, which is cheaper than some caskets from a typical funeral home. They hoped the sales would finance medical and educational needs for more than 30 monks.

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