Daily RNS News

Navy suspends policy to allow gay weddings

© 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON —The U.S. Navy reversed course Tuesday (May 10) on plans to allow chaplains to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies once the military's ban on openly gay members is repealed.

Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, the Navy chief of chaplains, said in a brief announcement to chaplains his previous memo about the repeal of the Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy was “suspended until further notice.”

The reversal follows opposition from Republican leaders and some chaplains who argued that permitting gay weddings on bases in states where same-sex marriage is legal violated the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

“It was suspended in order for us to thoroughly review the associated legal and policy matters,” said Cmdr. Danny Hernandez, a Navy spokesman.

Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, recently told the Navy Times that “DOMA does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation.”

On Wednesday, Lainez also said the policy is under review.

In his April 13 memo, Tidd said a chaplain “may officiate” at a same-sex wedding if participation is “consistent with the tenets of his or her religious organization.”

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who opposes gays serving openly in the military, said the Navy's action could be temporary and urged Congress to review Pentagon plans before a full repeal.

“This weather-vane policy is likely to change back as soon as all the branches of service get on board and Congress looks the other way,” she said.


Daily RNS News

Scholars chase Bible's changes, one verse at a time

© 2011 Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS — Working in a cluster of offices above a LifeWay Christian Bookstore, Bible scholars are buried in a 20-year project to codify the thousands of changes, verse by verse, word by word -- even letter by letter -- that crept into the early New Testament during hundreds of years of laborious hand-copying.  

Their goal: to log them into the world's first searchable online database for serious Bible students and professional scholars who want to see how the document changed over time.

Their research is of particular interest to evangelical Christians who, because they regard the Bible as the sole authority on matters of faith, want to distinguish the earliest possible texts and carefully evaluate subsequent changes.

The first phase of the researchers' work is done. They have documented thousands of creeping changes, down to an extraneous Greek letter, across hundreds of early manuscripts from the second through 15th centuries, said Bill Warren, the New Testament scholar who leads the project at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

After 10 years of work and the interruption of Hurricane Katrina, the seminary's Center for New Testament Textual Studies has logged those changes, amounting to 17,000 pages of highly technical notes, all in Greek, into a searchable database.

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Daily RNS News

NEWS ANALYSIS: Is it OK to cheer Osama bin Laden's death?

© 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Jesus said “love your enemies.” If only he had said how we should react when they die at our own hands.

After President Obama announced that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had been shot dead in Pakistan, ebullient crowds gathered outside the White House and at Ground Zero to cheer the demise of the world's most wanted terrorist, smoking cigars and breaking into chest-thumping chants of “USA! USA!”

Watching from her home in suburban Virginia, Christian ethicist Diana Butler Bass felt a growing sense of unease.

“What if we responded in reverent prayer and quiet introspection instead of patriotic frenzy?” she posted on Facebook. “That would be truly American exceptionalism.”

At the Vatican, too, where church leaders had just wrapped up joyous celebrations elevating the late Pope John Paul II to one step below sainthood, officials urged caution.

“A Christian never rejoices” in the death of any man, no matter how evil, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, but instead “reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us has before God and before man.”

For many Americans, bin Laden's death was quite literally an answer to prayer. Muslims who saw bin Laden as an apostate breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Ethicists and pastors searched for the appropriate space between vindication and vengeance.

U.S. special forces did what they had to do. How everyone else is supposed to feel about it is a little less clear.

“As Christians, we believe that there can be no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden,” Christian ethicist David Gushee said. “In obedience to Scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.”

Indeed, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel warned that our enemies are not necessarily God's, who takes “no pleasure in the death of wicked people,” preferring only that they “turn from their wicked ways so they can live.”

The questions around bin Laden's demise tended to break into two different camps: Were we right to kill him? And is his death something to cheer?  

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Daily RNS News

Panel Cites Egypt for Religious Freedom Violations

© 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — A religious freedom watchdog panel has added Egypt to its list of the worst violators of religious liberty, citing attacks on Coptic Christians that occurred surrounding the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.

“The Egyptian government engaged in and tolerated religious freedom violations both before and after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which released its report April 28.

“In his waning months, religious freedom conditions were rapidly deteriorating and since his departure, we've seen nothing to indicate that these conditions have improved.”

Members of the independent commission also continued their criticism of the Obama administration for not making religious freedom a higher priority.

“President Obama's administration has yet to break from the practice of previous administrations of keeping the issue of religious freedom on the margins of U.S. foreign policy,” the report states.

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Daily RNS News

Church-State Ties on Full Display at Royal Wedding


CANTERBURY, England — When Prince William and Kate Middleton walk down the aisle at Westminster Abbey on Friday (April 29), Britain's unique and historic ties between church and state will be on full display.

Some here think -- even hope -- it could also be the last powerful stroll for church and state in this increasingly secular country.

As the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. John Hall, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams prepare to conduct and solemnize the wedding of the century, both Christians and prominent and powerful nonbelievers are raising their voices and demanding the disestablishment the Church of England that has dominated religious life here for 400 years.

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