Daily Archives: June 16, 2010

RNS: Southern Baptists Meet, Trying to Combat Stagnation

Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt urged members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to move beyond their comfort zones as they seek new ways to evangelize and combat declining baptism rates.

“I’m tired of having my membership in a convention that’s declining,” he said in a presidential address on the opening day of the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday (June 15).

“I’m tired of not putting the priority in reaching teenagers for Jesus Christ. I’m tired of being hammered over and over again about money instead of the mission in Jesus’ name. Let’s get a compelling vision that people would want to give more money to.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Baptists, Other Churches

BP Agrees to Set Aside About $20 Billion for Spill Claims

The White House and BP tentatively agreed on Wednesday that the oil giant would create a $20 billion fund to pay claims for the worst oil spill in American history. The fund will be independently run by Kenneth Feinberg, the mediator who oversaw the 9/11 victims compensation fund, according to two people familiar with the deliberations.

The agreement was not final and was still being negotiated when President Obama and his top advisers met Wednesday morning with BP’s top executives and lawyers. The preliminary terms would give BP several years to deposit the full amount into the fund so it could better manage cash flow, maintain its financial viability and not scare off investors.

The talks have been complicated by the fact that BP’s ultimate liabilities for the cleanup and lost business are unknowable since the two-month-old leak of its well in the Gulf of Mexico could be spewing oil for months more. To date, BP has spent more than $1 billion on containment, cleanup and claims from the Coast Guard, fishermen, oil workers and other businesses from Louisiana to Florida.

Since late last week, the negotiations have been closely held given the market sensitivity for BP, which has seen its stock lose about half its value since the spill. BP’s next dividend for shareholders is another issue on the table. Some members of Congress have called for blocking any dividend payments, though the legality of such action is in dispute, or for putting the dividend in another escrow account pending payment of claims to victims. Either option would be problematic for many institutional investors and pension funds with stock in BP.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, --The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Barack Obama

David Malpass: Why such a Shakedown for Small Businesses?

As cash runs low in government coffers around the country, politicians are ratcheting up the intensity of their search for revenue and new areas to regulate. Small businesses are in their cross-hairs in a mammoth, nationwide shakedown. They are the nation’s critical engine for growth, innovation and job creation, yet they are being starved for credit and slammed with more taxes, government directives and litigation exposure. This spells weaker profits and fewer jobs, risking a fundamental deterioration in America’s private sector.

The federal government’s response to the crisis is to build up Washington’s small-business dependency apparatus. Of the $3.6 trillion in federal spending planned in 2010 (overruns likely), many crumbs will find their way to small businesses through government loan programs and complicated tax credits. Politicians are addicted to spending and can trumpet their ability to bring home the pork while ignoring the devastating net outflow from small businesses to Washington.

Washington’s expansion does nothing to create a robust small-business environment. Businesses with fewer than 250 employees provided most of the net job growth in the 2002–07 expansion yet are still in the starting blocks in the current recovery. The 2,300-page health care bill will take months and years to decode and will weigh heavily on small-business decisions. New regulations are mushrooming from the constant string of thick “stimulus” bills, the coming law on new financial regulations and the sure-to-be-bad tax bill toward year’s end.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, --The 2009 American Health Care Reform Debate, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, The U.S. Government

Communique from the Anglican Jewish Commission

(ACNS) The theme of the Commission’s meeting was ‘Creation’ and papers were presented by Venerable Dr Michael Ipgrave on behalf of the Anglican delegation and by Rabbi David Rosen on behalf of the Jewish delegation. Vibrant discussions took place in a warm, frank and constructive atmosphere on the many issues raised by the papers. These discussions enriched and consolidated the deepening friendships between members of the Commission.

Archdeacon Michael Ipgrave in his paper described the way in which Anglican views of nature developed out of the interaction of theology and natural science in the early seventeenth century. From then onwards, Anglicans have sought to relate the insights of science to the teaching of the scriptures, through motifs such as the liber mundi (‘book of the world’), the idea that the cosmos is a series of signs which can be interpreted and read like a book. Creation as a gift of God is entrusted into the care of human beings; Anglicans have variously described this as a language spoken by God, a sacrament conveying his presence, and a responsibility laid on each in their particular context or ‘station’. In the current ecological crisis, the faithful exercise of our stewardship of creation raises sharp challenges to all our communities – water politics and animal welfare were two particularly pressing examples. Anglicans could have confidence that their continuing theological tradition, rooted in scripture, had resources to help address these challenges.

Rabbi David Rosen explored Biblical and Talmudic insights into the moral dimensions of creation, based on the dual aspects of God, who is the one both of justice and of mercy. Drawing particularly on the account of creation in Genesis he noted the importance of affirming firstly the divine ownership of creation, and then the nature of humanity as the summit of creation. This leads in turn to human responsibility to care for and preserve creation. Rabbi Rosen emphasised the concept of Bal Tashchit, the prohibition against wanton destruction (based on Deuteronomy 20.19-20) which was expanded by the sages to include waste and over indulgence. He concluded by drawing attention to the key role of the Sabbath in ensuring the valuing and sustaining of creation.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, - Anglican: Primary Source, -- Reports & Communiques, Inter-Faith Relations, Judaism, Other Faiths, Theology

A USA Today Editorial: States come to grips with pricey pension promises

According to the Pew Center on the States, state pensions and other retiree benefit programs are underfunded by $1 trillion. And that estimate was made before the stock market swoon of 2008.

That number is an aggregate of all states, some of which are in relatively decent shape, and some of which are courting disaster. Too many states and localities created pension plans that are way too generous, allowing some workers, particularly those in law enforcement and other emergency response areas, to retire as early as their 40s, to “double dip” by collecting a salary and pension at the same time, or to manipulate pay in a way that inflates their pensions. In New Jersey, for example, a local lawyer and Democratic Party official cobbled together some part-time work for local government to claim a pension of more than $100,000.

The shortfall is made worse when cash-strapped governments make unrealistic projections about investment returns or underfund their plans by failing to make adequate annual contributions.

Read the whole thing.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Pensions, Personal Finance, Politics in General, State Government

One year later, China's crackdown after Uighur riots haunts a homeland

A hulking shell of a department store towers over this city’s Uighur quarter, a reminder of what can be lost here by speaking up.

For years, it was the flagship of the business empire of Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled leader and matriarch of the Uighur people. If Chinese government accounts are accurate, she helped instigate fierce ethnic riots that killed hundreds and injured thousands here last July — an accusation she vehemently denies.

Still a prominent landmark even in its ruin, the Rebiya Kadeer Trade Center was partially confiscated by the government in 2006 when Kadeer’s son was charged with tax evasion, although tenants were allowed to stay. After the riots, it was shuttered and slated for destruction. The government said the building had failed fire inspections, but it seems in no hurry to set a demolition date.

The forsaken structure makes for an effective deterrent. Last summer’s chaos has been replaced with a level of fear that is striking even for one of China’s most repressed regions. Residents are afraid of attracting any attention, afraid of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they seem most terrified of talking.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Asia, China, Europe, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Turkey

David Brooks–The Larger Struggle of Democratic versus State Capitalism

…this [B.P. and U.S. Government] conflict is really a family squabble. It takes place amid a much larger conflict, and in this larger conflict both BP and the U.S. government are on the same team.

The larger conflict began with the end of the cold war. That ideological dispute settled the argument over whether capitalism was the best economic system. But it did not settle the argument over whether democratic capitalism was the best political-social-economic system. Instead, it left the world divided into two general camps.

On the one side are those who believe in democratic capitalism ”” ranging from the United States to Denmark to Japan. People in this camp generally believe that businesses are there to create wealth and raise living standards while governments are there to regulate when necessary and enforce a level playing field. Both government officials like President Obama and the private sector workers like the BP executives fall neatly into this camp.

On the other side are those that reject democratic capitalism, believing it leads to chaos, bubbles, exploitations and crashes. Instead, they embrace state capitalism. People in this camp run Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and many other countries.

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Posted in Uncategorized

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney: Girls and Violence

We used to talk about children learning from their elders and betters.

How do we explain it when the situation is getting worse? Whose fault is it?

Recently statistics in N.S.W. emerged to show that physical attacks between girls have risen by 15 per cent each year since 2005. Most of this violence takes place outside schools, but the Bureau of Crime Statistics demonstrate the increase of 70 per cent over this period.

By and large young people go where they are led by the society that surrounds them. It is too easy to blame the young and absolve ourselves, but more difficult to identify causes accurately and more difficult again to put strategies into place that will help.

Read the whole article.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Australia / NZ, Children, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Teens / Youth, Violence, Women

Pope hopes to bridge image 'gap' when in the UK

Pope Benedict hopes to address a “gap” in public perception of the Catholic Church after recent child sex scandals when he visits the country this year, aides said in plans for the trip unveiled Tuesday.

Archbishop Vincent added that the pope’s September 16-19 visit could give a crucial spiritual boost to Britain as it struggles to recover from the global financial downturn.

“Catholicism can easily become defined in the public mind in the light of one or two recent controversies,” said a pamphlet setting out the purpose of the three-day papal visit, the first to Britain in nearly 30 years.

“This is the gap in public knowledge that this pamphlet aims to address,” it added, without referring specifically to the sex abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church, notably in Britain’s neighbour Ireland.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Report: Religious Groups See Slight Decrease in Giving

Religious organizations reported a 0.7 percent decrease in donations last year, according to a study by Giving USA Foundation, a marked contrast from the 5.5 percent increase in giving reported in 2008.

Religious congregations accounted for 33 percent of the total $303 billion in contributions in 2009. This is the third year in a row that religious donations have exceeded $100 billion.

Total donations for all charitable groups in 2009 were down by 3.6 percent.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

Southwark Cathedral Dean Colin Slee's Sermon this past Sunday

It seems to me that love must, by its essential nature, be always unconditional. We welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori to this pulpit because we love our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church of the United States; not because she is female, or a woman bishop ahead of us, or has permitted a practising lesbian to become a bishop (As it happens she couldn’t have stopped it after all the legal and proper canonical electoral processes resulted in the election and nomination), we welcome her because she is our sister in Christ.

The lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures is enormously topical. Disaffected Anglicans have been threatening to ”˜walk separate ways’ for many months. Abram and Lot travel together and their herdsmen bicker and fight, in modern translation there is ‘strife’ between them. They reach agreement to take separate paths and settle down and so their mutual belonging as members of one family is secured. The lesson is even more pertinent because it describes how Lot ended up near Sodom, which was a very wicked city, and of course it is sodomy that so curiously and constantly preoccupies so many disaffected Anglicans. The story of Sodom is often misrepresented from scriptures, the abuse which leads to its reputation and much social mythology, current even today, in Chapter 19, is a more sophisticated story of torture and coercion than misrepresented as a matter of sex.

It may be that some Anglicans will decide to walk a separate path. I believe the Chapter and congregation of this church will walk the same path as the Episcopal Church of America, the links are deep in our history, especially here. Their actions in recent months have been entirely in accord with the Anglican ways of generosity and breadth. They have tried to ensure everyone is recognised as a child of God. They have behaved entirely in accord with their canon laws and their freedom as an independent Province of the Church, not imposing or interfering with others with whom they disagree but proceeding steadily and openly themselves.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Identity, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Ecclesiology, Episcopal Church (TEC), Instruments of Unity, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Presiding Bishop, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology, Windsor Report / Process

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba on Addressing Anglican Differences

It is as if the breath of the Spirit has the capacity to translate the gospel of the Word made flesh, not only into the different languages of the first day of Pentecost, and all the languages of our twenty-first century world; the Spirit can also translate into every culture of our world ”“ and between the inculturation of the gospel in different cultures. So, when we cannot understand each other, we must be sure that we have listened carefully to the still small voice of the Spirit. Is the Spirit speaking to each of us? Can we recognise the presence of Christ, which is the touchstone, the standard, of the true Spirit of God?

I am convinced that in our current situation within the Communion neither have we done, nor are we continuing to do, enough of this sort of listening to one another. We do not understand one another and one another’s contexts well enough, and we are not sufficiently sensitive to one another in the way we act. Autonomy has gone too far. I do not mean that we should seek a greater uniformity ”“ I hope it is clear I am saying nothing of the sort. But we risk acting in ways that are so independent of one another that it becomes hard for us, and for outsiders, to recognise either a committed interdependent mutuality or a common Christian, Anglican, DNA running through our appropriately contextualised and differentiated ways of being.

Bishop Katharine, what I am going to say next is painful to me, and I fear it may also be to you ”“ but I would rather say it to your face, than behind your back. And I shall be ready to hear from you also, for I cannot preach listening without doing listening. It sometimes seems to me that, though many have failed to listen adequately to the Spirit at work within The Episcopal Church, at the same time within your Province there has not been enough listening to the rest of the Anglican Communion. I had hoped that those of your Bishops who were at the Lambeth Conference would have grasped how sore and tender our common life is. I had hoped that even those who, after long reflection, are convinced that there is a case for the consecration of individuals in same sex partnerships, might nonetheless have seen how unhelpful it would be to the rest of us, for you to proceed as you have done.

There are times when it seems that your Province, or some within it, despite voicing concern for the rest of us, can nonetheless act in ways that communicate a measure of uncaring at the consequent difficulties for us. And such apparent lack of care for us increases the distress we feel. Much as we understand that you are in all sincerity attempting to discern the best way forward within your own mission context, the plea is: be sensitive to the rest of who are still drinking spiritual milk and are not yet eating solids.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Anglican Identity, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Episcopal Church (TEC), Global South Churches & Primates, Instruments of Unity, Presiding Bishop, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Windsor Report / Process

Once Just a Site With Funny Cat Pictures, and Now a Web Empire

Three years ago Ben Huh visited a blog devoted to silly cat pictures ”” and saw vast potential.

Mr. Huh, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, first became aware of I Can Has Cheezburger, which pairs photos of cats with quirky captions, after it linked to his own pet blog. His site immediately crumbled under the resulting wave of visitors.

Sensing an Internet phenomenon, Mr. Huh solicited financing from investors and forked over $10,000 of his own savings to buy the Web site from the two Hawaiian bloggers who started it.

“It was a white-knuckle decision,” he said. “I knew that the first site was funny, but could we duplicate that success?”

Mr. Huh has since found that the appetite for oddball Internet humor is insatiable.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * General Interest, Animals, Blogging & the Internet, Economy

From the Morning Scripture Readings

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

–Matthew 18: 1-4

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

Another Prayer Before Bible Study

O God, eternal light, in whom is no darkness at all: Illuminate our hearts and minds, we pray thee, in this time of corporate Bible study; and grant that thy Holy Spirit, who is the inspirer of all holy Scripture, may be to us its interpreter, and may lead us through the written word to him who is the living Word and the Truth incarnate, even thy Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Spirituality/Prayer, Theology, Theology: Scripture