Stunning Development: Adult Cells Turned into Embryonic-Like Cells

Baptist Press reports that skin cells have been converted into embryonic-like stem cells in human beings, scientists in Wisconsin and Japan revealed Nov. 20, producing a dramatic shift in favor of opponents of research that destroys embryos. The news elicited excited responses from both supporters and foes of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) because of its potential for providing therapies for debilitating diseases. It proved especially rewarding, however, for President Bush and others who have worked to hold back the persistent campaign for the government to fund experiments that destroy human embryos.

The reports showed stem cells that have, in essence, the same properties as embryonic cells can be produced without destroying tiny human beings. A human embryo is killed when stem cells are extracted from it. "We don't want to jump the gun scientifically, but this may well be the end of the debate over embryonic stem cells," Bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell told Baptist Press. "This is exactly why many of us were saying, Take the moral high ground and work for ethical alternatives to embryo-destructive research.'"

Religion Today Summaries

North Carolina Baptists Expel Church for Welcoming Gays

FOX News reports that delegates to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina have voted overwhelmingly to expel Charlotte's Myers Park Baptist Church for welcoming gays and lesbians without trying to change them. MPBC becomes the first congregation to be kicked out under the year-old rules which state that any Baptist church that affirmed or endorsed homosexual behavior would be considered not to be cooperating with the convention. The Convention cites MPBC's decision "to open their hearts to homosexuals who want to worship with them and to respect local autonomy in interpreting the Bible," while also suggesting the church is doing so for publicity.

Religion Today Summaries

Bishops Banned from Western Wall

ASSIST News Service reports that the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, has denied a group of Austrian Catholic bishops access to the Western Wall. The Wall, or Kotel, dates from the time of the Jewish Second Temple (516 BCE-70 CE)., which is the Jewish people's holiest site. The Rabbi's ban was due to the bishops' wearing crosses after he sent a "message" to the group requesting the crosses be hidden. According to a story released by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), Rabinovitch barred the group of 20 bishops and its leader, Cardinal Christoph Schnborn, the archbishop of Vienna. "Crosses are a symbol that hurts Jewish feelings. I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church. I would be the first to rebuke such a Jew for not behaving like a mensch," said Rabinovitch. "They did not have to take them off, just hide them. I've never encountered a Christian who has refused, including the pope."

Religion Today Summaries

Swedish Prostitution Ban an Apparent Enormous Success

Sweden appears to have nearly wiped out prostitution. How? In 1999 Sweden passed legislation that criminalized the buying of sex, and decriminalized the selling of sex. In a report in Spiegel, Jonas Trolle, an inspector with the Stockholm police unit dedicated to combating prostitution said, "The goal is to criminalize the demand side of the equation, the johns, rather than putting emotionally and physically imperiled women behind bars." The results of this strategy are impressive. "We have significantly less prostitution than our neighboring countries, even if we take into account the fact that some of it happens underground," says Trolle. "We only have between 105 and 130 women-both on the Internet and on the street-active (in prostitution) in Stockholm today. In Oslo, it's 5,000." The law provides for up to six years in prison for pimps, up to 10 years for traffickers of prostitutes. The john could face up to six months in prison if caught in the act.

Lutherans Organize Blitz for Ongoing Katrina Clean-Up

More than two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the Gulf Coast, the area shows a few signs of healing, with cleanup and rebuilding expected to take years to complete. Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod extending from Port Arthur, Texas, to Ocean Springs, Miss., organized a "blitz" to attract volunteers in November and December. "Things are still pretty desperate on the coast," said Suzie Harvey, manager of Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, Miss. "We have 700 people on a waiting list to get their houses rebuilt, and that's just for our camp." This year Camp Victor has restored 100 homes, Harvey said, pointing out that her waiting list has about seven years' worth of projects. "This blitzis the signal to say there is work to be done for years," said a spokesman. "Our greatest fear right now is that we will be forgotten, and there is still a lot of work yet to be done."

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America via MissionNet

Palestinian Pastor Flees to U.S.

A West Bank pastor who fled to the United States in late November, following threats of violence from a Palestinian security official, said he feels he is in as much danger stateside as he was in Ramallah. "We know they do have contacts here in the States, so I'm taking it as serious as I would if I were still in Ramallah," U.S.-born Isa Bajalia, who had ministered in Ramallah since 1991, told Compass Direct News. Bajalia, 47, said that a Fatah security official from the Tanzim militia, Nader Dahoud Abu Dahoud, demanded $30,000 and registration in his name of property the pastor had inherited. Bajalia said Dahoud had raised objections to a team of Christian visitors, which he had brought from the United States, praying for Muslims in Ramallah. In a telephone interview, Dahoud denied making the threats and said he was seeking only repayment of money he had given Bajalia for property the pastor had failed to sign over to him. Bajalia, however, told Compass that when the Islamic security official began harassing him in August, he made reference to the ministry project by the Christian visitors in May.

Religion Today Summaries

VA Rescinds Ban On Mentioning God In Funeral Rites

After first decreeing that 125 national cemeteries could no longer honor military veterans' families with a flag-folding recitation ceremony because one person complained that the ritual mentions God, the Veterans Administration quickly bowed to an uproar of complaints and said Nov. 6 that the banned ceremony would be allowed if families desired it. Under the VA's "clarification," volunteer honor guards "are authorized to read the so-called 13-fold' flag recitation or any comparable script," though "survivors of the deceased need to provide material and request it be read."

Rees Lloyd, with the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project of the American Legion had said, "One disgruntled narcissist has caused a complete ban affecting 300 million Americans who want to honor our war-dead.... We think it's an outrage, and we intend to fight it." It turned out to be a short fight.

The complaint had been filed with the White House over the phrase accompanying the 11th fold that mentions "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," Fox News reported.

Lloyd said, "We're gratified that the Veterans Administration bureaucrats have realized that their knee-jerk reaction to the complaint of a single complainantwas an error," he told Family News in Focus. "Someone forgot in Washington that the Veterans Administration exists to serve veterans, and not the other way around," Lloyd said.

Compiled from reports by Religion Today, Christian Newswire and

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