January 2012

U.S. jumps to top of charity index

January 13 2012 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – Americans: the most generous people in the world. In this season of giving, that’s no idle gloat.
According to a new study, the United States tops a massive global charity survey, rising from fifth place in 2010.
The “World Giving Index,” based on 150,000 interviews with citizens of 153 nations, ranks the U.S. highest on a scale that weighed monetary donations, volunteer work, and willingness to help out a stranger.
“In spite of economic hardships and uncertainty in the future, the American spirit is caring and strong, as these survey findings clearly show,” said David Venne, interim CEO of CAFAmerica, the Virginia-based charities consultant that released the results of the index.
Ireland placed second, followed by Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos.
At the bottom of the list: China, Russia and India.
The survey relied on data from the Gallup polling organization, and asked whether people had donated money (two-thirds of Americans), volunteered their time (43 percent) or helped a stranger in the preceding month (73 percent).
The survey’s authors noted that charitable behavior is not correlated with wealth. Of the 20 countries that the World Bank ranks richest by gross domestic product, only five made it into the top 20 of the index.
This is the second year the index has been published by British-based Charities Aid Foundation. Compared to 2010, monetary donations fell, but more people reported volunteering and helping strangers.
1/13/2012 2:43:00 PM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

How much ‘Tebowing’ is too much?

January 13 2012 by Reid Cherner, USA Today

Along with politics, it is one of two things we don’t talk about at parties: sports and religion.
Football has always been a religion to some. But now, thanks to Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, sports and religion have become the topic du jour.
Arguments over Tebow’s path to the Hall of Fame can be waged, but he is surely the only proper noun (Tebow) that can become a verb (Tebowing) by dropping to one knee.
“Tim is who he is,” said Brent High, the associate director of athletics for spiritual formation at Lipscomb University, who saw an event sell out when Tebow was a guest speaker there. “If you are a Christian, he is your absolute flag-bearer in the sports world. You cheer for him and you hurt for him when he takes the beating that he takes.”
But ...

“If I am putting myself in the shoes of someone who is offended ... and Tebow is getting down on one knee with all cameras trained on him, that’s in my face. ... So I can see why it’s like the fingernails on the chalkboard to those people.”

RNS file photo by Chip English/The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.

Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow has been one of the most outspoken Christian athletes to take the field, and will appear in an anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl.

Tebow’s actions aren’t new; athletes have been thanking God longer than they have been thanking mom, and fans have pledged loyalty to a higher being in exchange for a touchdown, a first down or a fumble.
“We’ve had athletes being very vocal about their faith and using their status as athletes to promote their faith for a long time now,” said Tom Krattenmaker, author of “Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers.”
“But Tebow seems to have taken it to an extra level of intensity.”
So why is a quarterback who has started barely a dozen games in his professional career the dividing line in how we like our religion and sports?
“People have a sense that he is shoving religion down our throats,” said Patton Dodd, managing editor at Patheos, a website that is dedicated to religion and spirituality, and author of “The Tebow Mystique.”
Dodd, who believes “it is a little bit unfair” to criticize Tebow says “there developed a piety about his piety.”
Not all religion and sports connections are controversial.
High used to work for the Nashville Sounds, a minor league baseball team, and was a co-creator of “Faith Nights” at minor league baseball parks where he said, for those not interested, the only thing “you might have seen was a memo on the video board in the fourth inning.”
High added an important note: God sells. A Faith Day event, which often features a post-game Christian concert, could mean between $250,000 to $500,000 to the bottom line, he said.
“Christians are a huge demographic,” High said. “Eighty-eight percent of people in America will identify themselves as some type of Christian. If you are sitting in an executive seat for the Colorado Rockies or St. Louis Rams or a hockey team, you would be foolish not to pay attention to that demographic the same way you pay attention to real estate agents, schools and scouts.”
But it is not 88 percent of the Christians that former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was referring to when he said of Tebow that “when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I’ll like him a little bit better.”
Tebow, of course, had an answer for Plummer: “Is it good enough to only say to your wife I love her the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity?”
Steven Waite, a football fan from Brandon, Miss., and Stuart James, an Alabama fan from Virginia, aren’t bothered by Tebow’s open professions of faith.
“We are a nation founded upon religious freedom and expression,” Waite said. “We’re a melting pot. But instead of respecting and embracing our differences we’re becoming more and more intolerant. To me, that’s more egregious than anything Tim Tebow has done or will do. It’s sad, really.”
Added James: “If him taking a knee and thanking God after a win offends your sensibilities or upsets you, you don’t have to watch.”
There is no debate that Tebow, the son of evangelical missionaries, is passionate and true about his beliefs. Krattenmaker and Dodd point to the “John 3:16” eye black Tebow wore as the star quarterback at the University of Florida as the tipping point.
“Athletes had been wearing their faith on their sleeve, quote, unquote,” Krattenmaker said, “but he’s a guy who had it right on his face.”
In the end perhaps it comes down less to whether Tebow is “the guy” and more to the fact that Tebow is “their guy.”
“At times, if you are an evangelical Christian, it feels like the faith is being beat up on and marginalized,” said Krattenmaker. “To see someone like Tebow to come along, that boosts them all and makes them feel kind of proud. He is a real champion for the faith and makes them want to defend him.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reid Cherner writes for USA Today.)

Related story
Tebow is top religion author of 2011

1/13/2012 2:35:09 PM by Reid Cherner, USA Today | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptist Men respond to tornado damage

January 12 2012 by

Volunteers with North Carolina Baptist Men’s disaster relief ministry are responding to damage from a tornado that struck areas of Burke and Rutherford counties Jan. 11.
Volunteers arrived Wednesday evening and are working out of First Baptist Church Icard in Connelly Springs. Teams are removing debris and placing tarps on damaged roofs. According to reports from the area, 15 people were injured.
Recovery teams plan to work through Saturday and will decide if they need to extend efforts into next week.
To follow relief efforts go to NC Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Ministry on Facebook.
1/12/2012 3:14:40 PM by | with 0 comments

Supreme Court sides with churches in ‘ministerial exception’ case

January 12 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – In a landmark decision for churches, the U.S. Supreme Court has for the first time ruled that a “ministerial exception” allows congregations and religious groups to hire and fire ministers free of federal employment discrimination laws.
The unanimous ruling Wednesday (Jan. 11) in a case closely watched by religious liberty organizations involved a teacher who had been fired from an Evangelical Lutheran Church school in Michigan. The teacher, the equivalent of a minister in the school’s employee classification, sued the school after she was fired, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor.
Although the case only involved one employee at a Christian school, the constitutional principle in the case could have impacted churches. Observers considered it one of the most significant religious freedom cases to reach the high court in decades.
The Sixth Circuit’s decision worried religious groups who feared that a ruling against them would strike a blow to their hiring freedoms. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and International Mission Board signed a brief urging the high court to side with the Lutheran school.
The Supreme Court, with no dissenters, said that the First Amendment is clear in preventing government interference.
“The Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.
The two clauses are found in the section of the First Amendment pertaining to religious liberty: “The Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Although lower courts had sided with the ministerial exception, the Supreme Court had never ruled on the matter.
“We agree that there is such a ministerial exception,” Roberts wrote. “ ... Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.
Roberts added: “According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.”
In his 22-page decision, Roberts set forth historical background, noting that the Puritans fled to New England in order to “escape the control of the national church.” After the First Amendment was adopted in the late 1700s, Roberts said, the federal government made clear its understanding of the amendment’s meaning. For example, when the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. asked President Jefferson in 1806 who should be appointed to direct the affairs of the Catholic Church in the Louisiana Territory, Secretary of State James Madison responded that it was an “entirely ecclesiastical matter” for the church to decide. Roberts also quoted an 1872 Supreme Court opinion in which the justices refused to decide whether slavery or anti-slavery factions controlled Walnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represented the Lutheran school.
“The message of today’s opinion is clear: The government can’t tell a church who should be teaching its religious message,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy national litigation director at the Becket Fund. “This is a huge victory for religious freedom and a rebuke to the government, which was trying to regulate how churches select their ministers.”
The Department of Justice had urged the high court to reject totally the “ministerial exception.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, which also has been involved in the case, also applauded the ruling.
“The Supreme Court was right to conclude that the government cannot contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers,” ADF attorney Kevin Theriot said. “This clearly goes to the heart of the original intent of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.”
The Lutheran school in question divides teachers into two categories: “called” and “lay.” Called teachers have to satisfy several requirements in order to fit into that category, including taking theological study courses and obtaining the endorsement of the local synod. Lay teachers work on one-year contracts and don’t have to meet those requirements, and are hired only when there aren’t enough “called” teachers. The teacher in question, Cheryl Perich, was a “called” teacher.
Perich began the 2004-05 school year on disability leave with a sleep disorder, narcolepsy. In January 2005, she notified the school she would be returning to work in February but was told that the school had hired a lay teacher to fill her role. The school, Hosanna-Tabor, believed that she was physically unable to return to work that year or the next, and they offered to pay a portion of her insurance premium in exchange for her resignation. She refused to resign and showed up for work on Feb. 22, refusing to leave until she had received a document stating that she had showed up for work. That same day, she told the school that she had spoken with an attorney and intended to file suit. The school fired her on April 10, 2005, due to her “insubordination” and the damage she had done to the “working relationship” by “threatening to take legal action.”
The case was Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/12/2012 2:32:56 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Israel inaugurates ‘Gospel Trail’ to follow Jesus’ steps

January 12 2012 by Michelle Chabin, Religion News Service

GALILEE, Israel – Perched on Tel Kinrot, a hill above the Sea of Galilee, Winston Mah turned his face toward the warm sun and took in the tranquil view before him.
To his right, the Christian pilgrim from San Diego saw banana groves at the edge of the calm fresh-water lake; to his left, on the opposite hill, rose the majestic Mount of Beatitudes at Tabga, where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.
“This is a unique experience,” Mah said, gazing at a lone fisherman on the water’s edge. “This is the view Jesus must have seen, the path he might have walked, the water he walked on. It’s a privilege to walk in his footsteps.”
It’s one thing to read about biblical sites while seated in a church pew back home, Mah said. But “it’s another thing entirely to be in the actual place, just as it’s described in the Bible,” he said, his voice full of wonder.

RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Pilgrims hike along the Gospel Trail in Israel, a 39-mile network of trails and paths that trace Jesus’ steps.

Mah and his church group were among the first hikers on the newly inaugurated Gospel Trail, 39 miles of integrated paths leading from Mount Precipice on the southern outskirts of Nazareth to the site of ancient Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Developed by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund, the project has the enthusiastic support of local Christian leaders, whose flocks depend on the tourist trade.
“It is our hope that this trail will bring many more Christian pilgrims to the Galilee, where Jesus lived and had his ministry,” said Bishop Boutros Muallem, the Melkite archbishop emeritus of Galilee, who attended the trail’s festive opening aboard a boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Roughly 150,000 Christian Arabs live in Israel, the vast majority of them in the Galilee region, in the north of the country. As elsewhere in the Middle East, many Holy Land Christians have emigrated in search of economic stability and peace.
Now that the political situation is relatively quiet, and a record number of tourists are flooding into Israel and the Palestinian-ruled territories, local Christians are benefiting and emigration is slowing, according to government statistics.
Two out of three tourists who visit Israel are Christian, according to the tourism ministry. Leading a group of journalists down a section of the trail on horseback, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said the Gospel Trail “represents a major means for maximizing the tourist potential” of the Sea of Galilee region.
“It will encourage economic growth in the north through the creation of new jobs,” he said, “and an increase in income from the visitors.”
The Gospel Trail isn’t the first Christian-oriented hiking/cycling trail in the region. The 40-mile Jesus Trail begins in the city of Nazareth, the home of Mary and Joseph, and ends at the Sea of Galilee. Though the trails overlap in many areas, the Jesus Trail winds its way through more Christian, Muslim and Jewish population centers and already has an infrastructure.
In the coming months, the government hopes tour operators will provide itineraries and transportation to and from various sites along the Gospel Trail, and that local business owners will provide everything from accommodations to bathrooms.
In the meantime, visitors need to make their own arrangements or request special arrangements from a tour operator.
Both trails capitalize on the beauty of the Galilee region. One of the only truly green places in Israel, the hills are dotted with towns and villages, cows, sheep and olive trees.
Proficient hikers can make the entire journey in about four days.
The Gospel Trail includes the Arbel Cliffs, which served as the backdrop of many ancient battles; the ancient ruins of Beit Saida (Bethsaida), a biblical-era fishing village and the birthplace of the disciples Peter, Andrew and Philip; Capernaum, the starting point of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee; and Kfar Kana (Cana), where Jesus healed the nobleman’s son.
Also along the route: Migdal/Magdala, identified in the Gospels as the home of Mary Magdalene; and the Mount of Beatitudes, where a picturesque church, surrounded by greenery and special areas for prayer, overlooks the sites related to Jesus’ ministry. The late Pope John Paul II held a large Mass on a nearby knoll in 2000.
Whenever possible, the trail leads through unspoiled vistas full of indigenous plants and small wildlife. Israel, and especially the Galilee region, is a top bird-watching destination.
At Tel Kinrot, which was part of the major trade route between ancient Egypt and Syria on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, an Italian pilgrim named Stefano gazed at the archaeological ruins.
“I’m very happy to be on this trail, to see the sites where Jesus lived and the archaeological sites,” the 26-year-old said. “It helps me to thank God for what he does in my life.”

1/12/2012 2:17:58 PM by Michelle Chabin, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Tebow is top religion author of 2011

January 12 2012 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

Critics have hammered Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow for everything from his throwing style to his trademark professions of evangelical faith. But this much is now beyond dispute: the guy has a gift for selling books.
Tebow’s Christian life story, “Through My Eyes,” has become the top-selling new release of 2011 from HarperOne, a leading religion book publisher. With 220,000 copies sold since its June launch, “Through My Eyes” has even outsold Rob Bell’s best-seller “Love Wins,” which sparked intense debate with its unorthodox views about hell.
As soon as “Through My Eyes” hit bookstores, it was a hit with Christian football fans, especially in the Southeast where Tebow won the Heisman Trophy for the University of Florida. But an uncanny series of late-in-the-game Broncos wins fed a blitz of national attention and fueled curiosity about one of the most outspoken Christian athletes.

RNS photo courtesy Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, an outspoken evangelical, led the religion best-seller lists in 2011 with his memoir, “Through My Eyes.”

Readership “is beyond the evangelical world and NFL fans now,” said Mark Tauber, senior vice president and publisher at HarperOne. “There’s just sort of a general intrigue about what drives this guy.”
With scriptural quotes introducing each chapter, “Through My Eyes” tells the back story of an unlikely athlete whose coaches said he’d never make it as a quarterback.
Home-schooled as a child, Tebow wasn’t allowed to watch TV until he’d memorized a set of verses from Psalms and Proverbs. And because humility was a virtue, boasting was forbidden. The Tebow kids could discuss their playing field feats only if someone asked about them.
Such wholesome tidbits seem to be striking a chord with readers. Despite publishing such big names as Brian McLaren and John Dominic Crossan, HarperOne hasn’t had a book do this well since Sidney Poitier’s “The Measure of a Man” was anointed by the Oprah Book Club in 2007.
NFL wins, however, can do wonders for religion book sales. When Tebow became the Broncos’ starter in October, weekly sales picked up to about 2,000. With win after win, weekly numbers surged to 6,000, then 11,000. For the week ending Dec. 18, sales topped 25,000.
Though the Broncos’ winning streak ended Sunday (Dec. 18), HarperOne is betting sales will stay brisk into the offseason, when Tebow will be available for media interviews and speaking events. The publisher now has 475,000 copies in print.
“We’ve had a number of accounts say, ‘We’re betting on this guy into January, February and beyond’ and their orders are evidence of that,” Tauber said. “So I don’t think 475,000 is at all where we’re going to stop. I know it’s not.”

Related story
How much 'Tebowing' is too much
1/12/2012 2:09:21 PM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Ethnic church plants arise in Philadelphia

January 11 2012 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia, the nation’s temporary capital in the 1790s while Washington, D.C., was being built, drips with American history.

Tree-lined streets downtown lead tourists past Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Museum, Betsy Ross’ home and the grave of one of Philadelphia’s most famous sons, Benjamin Franklin.

Even the roots of Southern Baptists can be traced to the City of Brotherly Love. History buff David Waltz, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, noted that Philadelphia not only was the birthplace of America but also the cradle of the Baptist denomination.

“Philadelphia was the home of the first Baptist association, founded back in 1707 and was home to the first national body of Baptists – the forerunner of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Waltz told a busload of North American Mission Board trustees and visitors during a Vision Tour of the metro area in October. “Back then, a Triennial Convention of Baptists met in Philadelphia every three years. So welcome back to your roots.”

But 304 years later, Philadelphia is far from a stronghold for Baptists – or evangelicals in general who account for an estimated 4 percent of the city’s 5 million people. There’s one Anglo-American congregation among the metro area’s 160 Southern Baptist churches. The rest are ethnic congregations.

“While 40 percent of Philly is African American, another 35 percent is [Hispanic],” said Stan Smith, state director of missions for the Penn/Jersey convention. “There’s a great transition underway between African American and Hispanic. Twenty percent of our Baptist churches speak a language other than English, and there are some 20 languages spoken in Philadelphia.”

With all its American history and folklore, Philadelphia is a city plagued by drugs and crime. Known as a city of strong ethnic communities – north and south Philly, for instance – Waltz said the metro area is dominated by street after street of row homes in neighborhoods beset by crack houses and gangs. A curfew was imposed on the city this year because of a rash of flash mobs by local youth.

“Like other major urban cities across North America, Philadelphia has a great deal of poverty,” Waltz said. “One challenge our churches face in the city is trying to help neighborhoods by buying rundown houses from the city for a dollar and fixing them up. Our goal is to clean up the neighborhoods.”

Among the SBC churches making a difference is Philadelphia: Bible Mission International, a 10-year-old Filipino congregation pastored by Roger Manao in the community of Olney, about 30 minutes north of downtown. The church is seeking to reach some 36,000 Filipinos who live and work in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Bible Mission International averages 80-100 people in worship each week and meets in the chapel of 100-year-old gray-stone First Presbyterian Church, which does not charge them rent.

“Community is strong in Philly,” said Manao, who also is a church planter and pastor of Pottstown Church, a church plant in the borough west of Philadelphia. “Church planters must understand that and plant in that context. Here, people won’t leave their neighborhoods to go to church. They identify with their neighborhoods too strongly to do that, and some of that is ethnic-related.

Photo by John Swain.

North American Mission Board trustee Bud Parrish (right), director of missions for the Robeson Baptist Association in Lumberton, N.C., chats with Roger Manao, a church planter and pastor of Philadelphia Bible Mission International, a 10-year-old Filipino church in north Philadelphia.

In addition to the Pottstown Church, Manao’s north Philly church is working with another Filipino church plant in south Philly. In all, Manao has planted four Filipino churches in the Philadelphia area.

“Thank you for investing in and encouraging ethnic pastors,” Manao told NAMB trustees and leaders. “The only reason we have Filipino and other ethnic churches here is because of Cooperative Program giving,” he said, referring to Southern Baptists’ year-round channel for missions support.

Enoch Nyakoon Sr., a native of Liberia, pastors another ethnic SBC church in Philadelphia, Second Chance Community Church, which meets each Sunday in J. Hampton Moore Public School’s auditorium.

“We have seven to 10 people groups or tribes in our church, most from West African countries like Liberia and Nigeria,” Nyakoon said. “In Philadelphia, we have tens of thousands of people from West Africa – 40,000 from Liberia.” His church averages 75-100 people each week.

“Africa is the second-largest continent in the world. Our goal and vision is to have a multiplying church center here in Philadelphia for the people of Africa,” said Nyakoon, who moved to Philadelphia to plant churches among African people.

Noting that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,” Nyakoon is nurturing outreach to African immigrants in Philadelphia, including African Muslims and those representing the Mandinka, Ashanti and Bassa tribes, among others, of West Africa.

Referring to the fact that Philadelphia will be launched as a Send North America city next year as part of NAMB’s evangelistic church planting initiative, Waltz said, “I can’t help but believe that Southern Baptists want to have a major impact on Philadelphia, and that’s why we’re one of the 29 Send cities in 2012.

“Send North America: Philadelphia gives us an opportunity to re-establish a strong beachhead in Philadelphia, where Southern Baptists’ roots are,” Waltz added.

Waltz said he and his team must think like missionaries while emphasizing the need to plant more churches.

“In Alabama, two out of nine people or 22 percent are Southern Baptist. To have the same ratio here in Philly as in Alabama, we would need 10,000 more churches.

“Thanks for caring about Philly and about those of us who serve here,” Waltz told NAMB trustees and officers. “Thank you for your vision for planting churches and reaching our people. We know we cannot reach the Northeast without planting many more reproducing churches. We are so outnumbered and the lostness is so great, but we have a passion to see that change. Thanks for linking arms with us.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)
1/11/2012 3:36:33 PM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Supreme Court case: more TV nudity, profanity?

January 11 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Jan. 10 in its most significant broadcast indecency case since 1978, and conservative groups are warning the justices that if the television networks win, profanity and nudity will flood TV broadcasts.

At issue is whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the constitutional authority to set rules governing what is permissible on the airwaves and to fine stations that cross the line. One example is the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident in 2004 and the FCC’s ensuing fine of CBS and CBS stations. Lower courts overruled the fine, and CBS has yet to pay.

Among other examples of TV indecency that led to FCC fines yet to be paid because of lower court rulings, ABC’s “NYPD Blue” showed a nude female character in 2003 and Fox’s Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003 failed to bleep profane words by Cher and Nicole Richie.

The Supreme Court case is an appeal from the U.S. Second Court of Appeals, which in 2010 struck down the FCC’s entire broadcast indecency policy. Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC want the Second Circuit’s decision upheld.

Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council co-sponsored a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the FCC.

“If the court opens the floodgates to so-called ‘adult material’ at all hours on broadcast TV and radio in the name of the First Amendment, then TV and radio will be open only to adults, not children, and, at that, adults who desire only more indecent material,” the brief stated. “Television viewers will be forced to listen to indecent material. Profanity and sex will dominate daytime radio. Nothing in the First Amendment requires this result.”

Conservative groups are concerned about the case because the high court’s four-member conservative bloc – often reliable in taking the conservative stance on such social issue cases – might not hold together. Specifically, Justice Clarence Thomas in 2009 questioned the “viability” of two Supreme Court cases cited by the FCC as constitutionally supporting the current indecency policy: a 1969 case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, and a 1978 case, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.

“Red Lion and Pacifica were unconvincing when they were issued, and the passage of time has only increased doubt regarding their continued validity,” Thomas wrote in a 2009 concurring opinion.

In Red Lion, the Supreme Court upheld the so-called Fairness Doctrine; in FCC v. Pacifica, the high court ruled that the FCC had the authority to regulate indecent language on the airwaves. The latter case involved comedian George Carlin’s “seven dirty words” routine.

Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council argued that the Supreme Court was right in its 1978 ruling to note that “since broadcasting was uniquely available to children merely by turning on the television or radio, it could be regulated to a greater extent than other forms of media.” The two pro-family groups also cited studies showing that media has a negative impact on children and can lead to risky sexual behaviors, poor body image, violence and smoking.

The networks already are allowed to broadcast patently offensive material, as long as it is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the groups say. But it is wrong to broadcast such material during the daytime and early evening when “children are likely to be in the audience,” the groups say.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed a brief arguing that regulations on broadcast indecency are similar to regulations on public indecency. An indecent television broadcast, the legal organization said, “is essentially an indecent public display.”

“Just as a state could prohibit someone from strutting around naked in public, the state could forbid someone from strutting around carrying a display – still or video – of someone naked,” the ACLJ brief, which supported neither party, said. “Likewise, a state may forbid companies from broadcasting into people’s homes programs depicting someone strutting around naked. Thus, an indecent broadcast is properly subject to government prohibition.”

Broadcasters are different from other types of media – such as print media, which has more freedom – because of their ability to “intrude on the privacy of the home without prior warning,” especially for the viewer who is “just tuning in or switching channels,” the ACLJ brief said. Further, broadcast media is “uniquely accessible to children.”

The Parents Television Council (PTC) filed a brief supporting the FCC policy and quoted its own research showing a 69 percent increase in profanity in prime-time programming from 2005 to 2010. If the FCC’s policy falls, the Parents Television Council said, television will only become more coarse.

“The public airwaves will afford no shelter for parents who want to shield their children for as long as they can from the corrosive effects of what broadcasters think is appropriate,” the PTC brief said.

Despite the popularity of cable television, over-the-air broadcasting remains uniquely popular and has 90 of the top 100 primetime shows on TV, the PTC said in citing data from BusinessWire.com. The percentage of Americans who rely solely on broadcast television – and who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite – actually has tripled since 2003 to 15 percent of the public, the PTC said.

“Simply put, broadcast programming saturates the nation’s airwaves and dominates what is seen and heard in the nation’s homes, particularly by children,” the PTC brief said. “That is why, despite their claims that they are besieged on all sides by viewing and listening alternatives on cable, the internet and elsewhere, none of the broadcasters has chosen to abandon the free public airwaves.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)

Related story
Study links TV profanity, teen aggression
1/11/2012 3:21:55 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Study links TV profanity, teen aggression

January 11 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Teens exposed to profanity in television and video games are more likely to use profanity and also to exhibit physically aggressive behavior, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study of 223 middle school students found that exposure to profanity in the media was “significantly related to beliefs about profanity.” In turn, teens who cursed more tended to be more aggressive, if not physically then relationally.

The authors called it the first study of its kind, and they said the results underscore the need for better ratings and content warnings on television and video games.

“[T]here are many times when programs contain profanity but do not receive the appropriate rating,” the authors wrote. “As a whole, the television industry should aspire to be more accurate with ratings concerning profanity. In addition, profanity in television is becoming more frequent, even in ‘family-friendly’ programs. Such a trend is troubling, especially when taken in the context of our results.”

Warnings on video games, the study added, often do not include a warning that a game has a “live” component whereby gamers can chat with each other. In that mode, teens “might be exposed to vast amounts of profanity” from other participants.

“Game descriptions should include warnings to parents regarding exposure to profanity or other questionable conversation through this route,” the authors, who are from the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, wrote.

The middle school students named their three favorite television programs and video games and listed the number of hours they spent watching TV or playing games. They also were asked about their usage of profanity. The study included a control to account for the violence the teens experienced in the programs and games.

“Parents and policy-makers should consider the appropriateness and implications of adolescents’ exposure to profanity in media,” the authors wrote.

The authors said there had been hundreds of studies examining the impact from exposure to sexuality, violence and substance abuse but no study examining the impact of exposure to profanity. The study was titled “Profanity in Media Associated with Attitudes and Behavior Regarding Profanity Use and Aggression” and was published in the November edition of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)

Related story
Supreme Court case: more TV nudity, profanity?
1/11/2012 3:07:10 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Report shows Christianity shifting to Africa

January 11 2012 by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service

With 2.18 billion adherents, Christianity has become a truly global religion over the past century as rapid growth in developing nations offset declines in Christianity’s traditional strongholds, according to a report released Monday (Dec. 19).
Billed as the most comprehensive and reliable study to date, the Pew Research Center’s “Global Christianity” reports on self-identified Christian populations based on more than 2,400 sources of information, especially census and survey data.
Findings illustrate major shifts since 1910, when two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Now only one in four Christians live in Europe. Most of the rest are distributed across the Americas (37 percent), sub-Saharan Africa (24 percent) and the Asia-Pacific region (13 percent).
“In two out of three countries in the world, the majority of the population identifies as Christian,” said Conrad Hackett, lead researcher on the “Global Christianity” report. “I had no idea about that. ... I was surprised.”
The report confirms Christianity’s standing as the world’s largest religion, with 32 percent of the global population. Islam is second with about 23 percent, according to a 2009 Pew report.
A close look at the details reveals a few ironies:
Although Christianity traces its beginnings to the Middle East and North Africa, only 4 percent of residents in these regions claim the Christian faith today.
Meanwhile, the faith has grown exponentially in sub-Saharan Africa, from just 9 percent of the population in 1910 to 63 percent today. Nigeria, home to more than 80 million Christians, has more Protestants than Germany, where the Protestant Reformation began.
“As a result of historic missionary activity and indigenous Christian movements by Africans, there has been this change from about one in 10 (sub-Saharan Africans) identifying with Christianity in 1910 to about six in 10 doing so today,” Hackett said.
For its part, Europe is more religiously diverse than it was in 1910, when 94 percent was Christian. Still, Europe hasn’t abandoned its Christian heritage, according to the report. Today, 76 percent of Europeans self-identify as Christian.
“Many people may have the impression that a smaller percentage of Europe claims to be Christian” than is actually the case, Hackett said.
The report also sheds light on the difficult question of how many Chinese are Christians. Researchers have struggled to get reliable numbers since China’s policies on religion are thought to discourage Christians from self-identifying as such in official surveys.
Adjusting for such variables, Pew researchers believe Christianity has flourished despite a policy forbidding Christianity among Communist Party members. Researchers estimate the Christian community in China includes 5 percent of the population, or 67 million.

1/11/2012 2:59:32 PM by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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