Methodist court won’t revisit case

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The highest court in the United Methodist Church has refused to reconsider its earlier decision allowing a minister to deny a gay man church membership.

In a 5-4 ruling released Tuesday, the Judicial Council said there was no basis to revisit the case. “We believe that reopening this matter, especially where no grounds have been demonstrated to do so, will further polarize the various parts of the church,” the majority wrote.

Last October, the council – the denomination’s top court – reinstated the Rev. Ed Johnson after Virginia church leaders put him on involuntary leave as senior pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church. The Virginia leaders had said Johnson’s actions violated the denomination’s pledge of openness to anyone seeking Christ. But the church court said that pastors have the right to decide who joins their congregations.

Several church groups appealed the decision, prompting Tuesday’s ruling.

Dissenting council members called the majority opinion “legally flawed” and “imprudent.” They said there was no basis in Christian theology or in the church’s disciplinary rules allowing a pastor to deny membership to anyone.

“Determining who is eligible for life in the church is not the vocation of the pastor,” they wrote. “It is the Holy Spirit who makes us members of the church.”

Report: More young American Jews say they’re Orthodox

NEW YORK (AP) – The percentage of young American Jews who consider themselves Orthodox is growing, a trend that will likely reshape the U.S. Jewish community, according to a report.

The study released last week by the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group based in New York, found that 16 percent of Jewish adults ages 18-29 are Orthodox. That’s nearly double the percentage of Orthodox among Jews ages 35-39.

Orthodox Jews are also more likely to be married by age 30, while more than half of all American Jews under the age of 40 are not married, according to the report.

The trend means a higher percentage of future Jewish leaders will probably be Orthodox, shifting the entire community in a more conservative direction, the American Jewish Committee said.

“Younger Orthodox adults are likely to play increasingly important roles in organized Jewish life given their commitments, numbers and fertility patterns,” said Steven Bayme, the group’s director of contemporary Jewish life.

The American Jewish population is estimated to be between 5.5 million and 6 million people.

The report was compiled by Ukeles Associates Inc., drawing on a series of studies of the U.S. Jewish population over the last six years.

Sweden sharply rejects call for special laws for Muslims

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – The Swedish government and moderate Muslims rejected demands by an Islamic leader that the country enact special laws for Muslims.

Mahmoud Aldebe, head of Sweden’s largest Islamic organization, SMF, said Muslims should be given time off work for Friday prayers and Islamic holidays – and that imams should approve all divorces between Muslim couples.

His proposals, presented in an April 27 letter to Sweden’s parliamentary parties, were turned down as “completely unacceptable” by Sweden’s Integration Minister Jens Orback.

They also elicited a flood of criticism from moderate Muslims who said they were content living under Swedish laws.

“If we are going to live here, we should adapt to the laws that exist – we should not have a separate law just because we have a different faith,” said Mariam Osman Sherifay, a Muslim lawmaker with the governing Social Democratic Party.

Aldebe backtracked on his proposal following the backlash, telling Swedish Radio he only meant Swedish laws should be adjusted to make Muslims feel safe as religious minorities. About 400,000 Muslims live in Sweden, and the SMF has about 70,000 members.

Bishop faults Notre Dame president for allowing ‘Vagina Monologues’

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Roman Catholic Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has rebuked the new president of the University of Notre Dame for allowing campus performances of “The Vagina Monologues.”

In a nine-page “pastoral letter” last week, D’Arcy said that Rev. John I. Jenkins’ explanation for the decision lacked “any sense that critical decisions for a Catholic university must be based on truth as revealed by Christ and held by the church” and or “any mention of the essential link between freedom and truth.”

“The Vagina Monologues,” based on discussions with women, includes graphic descriptions of women’s anatomy, homosexuality and orgasms.

Jenkins announced April 5 that the school will allow the play and other events that may go against Catholic teachings because universities should promote debate. Previously Jenkins, who became president last July 1, had urged campuswide discussion on allowing the play, an annual gay film festival and other events some find objectionable.

D’Arcy said church teaching on academic freedom was ignored in the discussion. “Notre Dame, with its vast resources, can do better than this,” he said, arguing that the university must make its “great decisions in light of the truths of faith” for its Catholic identity to grow.

A university spokesman said Jenkins met D’Arcy over the letter and would reflect on it but has “no interest in discussing their differences in the media.”

United Methodist membership again declines, Southern Baptists post tiny increase

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant body, says its membership dropped in 2004 as it has in each of the 36 years since the denomination was formed through a merger.

The latest total was 8.07 million, a loss of less than 1 percent from 2003 and a decrease of about 5.5 percent for the past decade.

Despite the nationwide decline, membership increases were posted by 13 regional units located in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

The denomination is America’s most widespread, with at least one congregation in 2,997 of the nation’s 3,142 counties.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest U.S. Protestant group, reported a membership of 16.27 million in 2005, a tiny increase over 2004, while baptisms and Sunday School enrollment showed declines for the year.

Southern Baptists listed 43,699 congregations, cumulative annual receipts of $10.7 billion and property worth $42.8 billion.

New York couple in Hindu sect loses appeal over keeping cows at home

ANGELICA, N.Y. (AP) – A western New York couple who said their religious beliefs supported keeping cows at their home lost their appeal to continue the practice.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said last week that Stephen and Linda Voith, members of a Hindu sect that considers cows sacred, could no longer keep the animals at that property. The cows sometimes grazed on their Main Street front lawn.

The couple will have to move the animals, which they called “more family members than anything,” to land outside the village.

The court upheld the village’s right to ban cattle on plots of land smaller than 10 acres and said the couple’s claims that religious freedom exempted them were not valid. The couple’s home is on a 2-acre plot.

The Hindu American Foundation and World Hindu Council supported the couple in their case.

Angelica is about 60 miles southeast of Buffalo.

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