Belief Bytes: Thursday’s Religion news Roundup

Here is your Religion News roundup for today:

By Daniel Burke

c. Religion News Services 2012

Reprinted with permission

The Gallup poll released yesterday suggests that Mitt Romney still has an “evangelical problem,” argues our own Mark Silk.

But Sarah Posner notes that “non-religious” voters comprise 1/3 of the electorate.

What’s a candidate to do? I, for one, would like to see this poll Slow Jammed.

Jewish Americans like Mormons and Muslims more than they like the “Christian right,” according to Public Religion Research Institute’s recent Jewish values survey.”

Read the rest of the article here.

-Samantha Freda, Wilmington Faith and Values news intern

Christian thriller “The Message” and “My Name is Paul” part of the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

The Cape Fear Independent Film Festival this weekend will feature a Faith and Family Film block.

The Christian paranormal thriller “The Message” shows at 3 p.m. Sunday (April 29) at the Browncoat Pub and Theatre, 111 Grace St. It was written and directed by local filmmaker Thomas Clay and features a young mother who confronts her indecisive views about God after a serious car accident.

The short film “My Name is Paul” follows “The Message.” The film is a modern telling of the Apostle Paul’s journey to belief in Jesus Christ.

Tickets for the film block are $5.

Details: festivaldirector@cfifn.org.

WilmingtonFAVS’ new welcome video — soon to be on our new site

Please check out WilmingtonFAVS’ new welcome video.

It tells you what we’re all about and will help introduce you to our new professional site – which will launch soon.

Very soon. . .

– Amanda Greene, editor

Shifts seen in support for death penalty

Electric chair

Electric chair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By KEVIN JOHNSON
c. 2012 USA Today
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) The campaign to abolish the death penalty has been freshly invigorated this month in a series of actions that supporters say represents increasing evidence that America may be losing its taste for capital punishment.

As early as this week, Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is poised to sign

a bill repealing the death penalty in Connecticut. A separate proposal

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Sa...

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Santa Fe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

has qualified for the November ballot in California that would shut down the largest death row in the country and convert inmates’ sentences to life without parole.

Academics, too, have recently taken indirect aim: The National Research Council concluded last week that there have been no reliable studies to show that capital punishment is a deterrent to homicide.

That study, which does not take a position on capital punishment, follows a Gallup Poll last fall that found support for the death penalty had slipped to 61 percent nationally, the lowest level in 39 years.

Even in Texas, which has long projected the harshest face of the U.S. criminal justice system, there has been a marked shift. Last year, the state’s 13 executions marked the lowest number in 15 years. And this year, the state — the perennial national leader in executions — is scheduled to carry out just 10.

Capital punishment proponents say the general decline in death sentences and executions in recent years is merely a reflection of the sustained drop in violent crime, but some lawmakers and legal analysts say the numbers underscore a growing wariness of wrongful convictions.

In Texas, Dallas County alone has uncovered 30 wrongful convictions since 2001, the most of any county in the country. Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, said he continues to support the death penalty “only in a select number of cases,” yet he says he believes that a “national reassessment” is now warranted given the stream of recent exonerations.

“I have been a proponent of the death penalty, but convicting people who didn’t commit the crime has to stop,” White said.

“There is an inherent unfairness in the system,” said former Los Angeles County district attorney Gil Garcetti, a Democrat. He added that he was “especially troubled” by mounting numbers of wrongful convictions.

A recent convert to the California anti-death-penalty campaign, Garcetti said the current system has become “obscenely expensive” and forces victims to often wait years for death row appeals to run their course. In the past 34 years in California, just 13 people have been executed as part of a system that costs $184 million per year to maintain.

“Replacing capital punishment will give victims legal finality,” Garcetti said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said California’s referendum marks a potentially “historic” moment in the anti-death-penalty movement in a state that houses 22 percent of the nation’s death row prisoners.

“Repeal in California would be a huge development,” Dieter said. “Just getting it on the ballot is big.”

Nationally, Dieter said, fading arguments for capital punishment as a deterrent to homicide and mounting numbers of wrongful convictions are “turning a corner” in the debate.

Democratic state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a sponsor of the bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty, said capital punishment’s “promise to victims and taxpayers is hollow.” In Connecticut, only one person has been executed in the past 52 years.

Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said the country’s system of capital punishment is in need of change, but not elimination. He said there is “strong motivation,” though, to fix a system that can take 20 years for offenders to reach the death chamber following conviction.

“The vast majority of states (33, not counting Connecticut) still have the possibility of the death penalty,” Burns said.

“I don’t see a blowing wind that will dramatically change that,” he added.

(Kevin Johnson writes for USA Today.)

Good Shepherd Center video walks the talk; shows Wilmington’s homeless in new light

Andy Lee

By Blogger Andy Lee
Walk the Talk

This is a great video. Very well done about our local homeless shelter Good Shepherd Center and the work they do.

First person: Breaking the chains of religious tradition

By FRAIDY REISS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.

Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.

Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Recently, two women have brought national attention to the fact that Orthodox Jewish women who leave that insular community risk losing custody of their children: Deborah Feldman of New York, whose memoir about her escape from the Satmar Hasidic sect hit The New York Times best-seller list; and Perry Reich of New Jersey, whose custody battle — which includes accusations from her husband that she sometimes wears pants — earned her an appearance last month on the “Dr. Phil” television show.

My story is similar to theirs. When I was 19, my family arranged for me to marry a man who turned out to be violent. With no education and no job, and a family that refused to help me, I was stuck. By age 20, I was a trapped, abused, stay-at-home mother.

Ten years later, still trapped and unhappy, I finally took what became one of my first steps away from Orthodox Judaism: I stopped wearing a head covering.

The consequences were swift and severe. My family cut off contact with me; one of my five siblings kept in touch long enough to inform me the others were contemplating sitting shiva for me, or mourning as if I had died.

Perhaps most shockingly, several rabbis informed me I should say goodbye to my children because I was going to lose custody of them during my looming divorce proceeding.

They were not bluffing. Numerous family attorneys unaffiliated with any religion advised me to stop publicly flouting Orthodox laws and customs.

As the attorneys noted, and as illustrated by Feldman’s and Reich’s experiences, judges look at religion as one factor in a custody dispute and generally view stability to be in the children’s best interests.

They have been known to award custody to the parent who will continue to raise the children in the same religion as before the family breakup.

Where I come from — that means here in the United States, in 2012 — women fear, legitimately, that they might lose their children if they lose their religion.

Feldman and I each managed to settle and avoid divorce trials, and each of us retained custody of our children. Others have not been as lucky. Reich, for example, remains mired in her custody battle.

Fear in the religious community, therefore, persists. I recently started a nonprofit organization, Unchained At Last, to help women leave arranged marriages, and the most common inquiry I receive is from Orthodox Jewish women who want to leave the religion and are willing to accept ostracism from their family and friends, but are terrified that a judge might remove their children.

For many, their situation seems especially hopeless because they, like Reich, felt pressured to allow a beit din (an Orthodox Jewish court) arbitrate their divorce.

The beit din’s binding decisions and agreements routinely include a provision that the children will be raised within Orthodox Judaism.

Secular courts generally enforce those decisions and agreements, even if a mother later realizes she does not want to raise her children in a religion where men bless God every morning for not making them a non-Jew, a slave or a woman.

Where I come from — the United States — the First Amendment is supposed to empower people to choose whether and how to practice religion, without interference from secular courts. What went wrong?

(Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last. She lives in Westfield, N.J. A version of this commentary first appeared in The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)

BRIEF: UNCW lecturer to speak about N.C. eugenics and Nazi eugenics Thursday

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from ...

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from a 1921 eugenics conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist Edwin Black will speak about eugenics programs used against blacks and mentally disabled people in North Carolina as well as the eugenics programs of the Nazis at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 26) in the School of Nursing McNeil Auditorium, Room 1005 on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

His speaking tour is based on his book War Against the Weak and is sponsored by UNCW’s History department, the Block & Rhine Fund for Jewish Studies in association with The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Details: 910-962-3308.

– Amanda Greene

Belief Bytes: Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

The Rev. Joel Osteen. Photo via RNS.

Here is your Religion News roundup for today:

By David Gibson
c. Religion News Service 2012
Reprinted with permission

“It’s official: Mitt Romney is a Christian. Joel Osteen tells me so.

Osteen is also set to sell out Nationals Park for a prosperity prayer rally this Saturday.

Billy Graham has a different take: “Instead of serving God, we serve money and things – and they end up controlling us.”

The “God gap” persists, and Romney has the “very religious” by 17 points over President Obama and Obama has the “moderately religious” by 14 points and the nonreligious by 31 points.

Joe the Plumber, newly-minted Republican candidate and born-again Christian, puts himself in the first category. He also says he doesn’t question Barack Obama’s faith and says those who do are not being Christian! To which he adds this charitable reading:

“After Barack Hussein Obama suddenly cast-off his Muslim roots, rejected his mother’s disbelief in God, turned tail on the Islam of his early life and converted to Christianity – BLAM – he’s elected President. Anyone who believes the two things are not connected is being disingenuous at best. I don’t know how or when it happened, whether when he was partying at college or five minutes before he first decided to run for office, but it doesn’t matter – he came to Christ and he is my brother.”

Thanks, bro.”

Read the rest of the article here.

-Samantha Freda, Wilmington Faith and Values news intern

Armenian Genocide International Remembrance Day

Editor’s note: This post did not get posted on Tuesday (April 24) because of edits to this site.

Christine Moughamian

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

Today, April 24, 2012 is the International Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, when the Muslim Ottoman Empire systematically killed an estimated 1-1.5 million Christian Armenians.

The commemoration is marked in the United States by David Godine’s

release of Franz Werfel’s novel ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.’ The new, expanded translation by James Reidel demands recognition as a major literary and cultural event.

Although a work of fiction, the 1933 novel is based on historical events. In his introduction to the book, Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York, writes:

“…I had read ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ in Armenian, when I was a teenager, and it had made quite an impression on me…I believed – and still do – that ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ saved the Armenian genocide from being neglect and gave a literary symbol of survival and renewal to the Armenians.”

The novel centers on the struggle of a small Armenian community in a mountainous region of the former Ottoman Empire as they are deported and exterminated by a totalitarian regime. First published in Austria in November 1933, it achieved international success.

Gregorian says:

“To Armenians, Franz Werfel still embodies the conscience of European literature and its commitment to universal justice and the dignity of man.”

Moreover, it foreshadows the Jewish Holocaust by the Nazis during WWII.

Historic Ephesus Junior Academy closer to reopening

Board member Ron Sparks poses with the Ephesus Junior Academy sign. He's trying to get the school started once more. Photo by Amanda Greene

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

Since his days as a Wilmington city councilman, Ron Sparks has been working diligently on a project very close to his heart – the reopening of Ephesus Junior Academy.

The kindergarten through eighth grade school is located on two floors of the brick L-shaped side of Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church at 1002 Castle Street. In its 100 years, the multi-racial school hosted thousands of students before it was closed because of its low class sizes in late 2010.

Because it did not have the required minimum of 12 students enrolled, the school’s accrediting organization, Adventist Education, temporarily closed Ephesus Junior Academy just before its 100th birthday.

“My mother went here, I went here, my aunt when here,” Sparks said. He’s on the school’s board. “The church stands behind the school. To say we were not happy when it closed is not even close to describing it.”

Ephesus alum Carl Newton said his heart broke when he heard the academy had closed.

“Especially now, kids need a school like that. That kind of attention,” he said, now a graduation coach at Hoggard High School. “Everybody can’t go to the same school. At that point in my life, that school met my needs.”

At one time, the church was so dedicated to keeping the school open, it subsidized tuition, sending up to $3,700 each month (the amount due for 12 students) to its parent organization, even though it only had four students enrolled. Tuition at the private school was one of the lowest in Wilmington at $250 per month.

But it wasn’t enough.

Adventist Education challenged Ephesus to boost its enrollment to at least 12 students and raise $60,000 in payroll balances for its teachers before re-opening. There are other Seventh-day schools in the area including Wilmington SDA School, Carolina Adventist Academy in Whiteville and Myrtle Beach SDA Christian School.

Sparks blamed the school’s sagging enrollment on the closing of a daycare linked to the school six years ago and the lack of community recruitment.

But he said the school has had a lasting impact on children in downtown Wilmington. In its history, the school was located in Castle Hayne and off Beasley Road.

The school once held fundraising education banquets with invited speakers talking about the state of American education. In 2002, one banquet theme was “The Role of the Home, the Church and the Community in the Education of the Child.” In 1985, an Ephesus school fundraiser featured Kennedy Center and Crystal Cathedral performer Wintley Phipps.

Sparks hopes the school can return to being a vibrant part of the downtown community again.

To prepare for a re-opening, Ephesus replaced all of the school’s windows, installed a handicapped stair access to its second floor and bought all new laptop computers.

There aren’t any electronic smartboards at Ephesus, as there are in

One of the classrooms at Ephesus Junior Academy. The school hopes to reopen in fall 2012. Photo by Amanda Greene.

many local public schools. But Sparks says the school has something more substantial – small class sizes and one-on-one teacher attention.

“We have a long history of being able to turn children around, children who have been in distress in the public school system,” he added. “When issues break out in the classroom, what the public schools can’t do is pray with the children. Our children can pray together.”

Ephesus Academy’s curriculum includes a bible class at each grade level along with art, computers, language arts, math, music, physical education, science and health and social studies.

But “turning children into Adventists isn’t the mission,” Sparks said. “We want to develop moral children to survive in the modern world.”

Newton took away many life lessons from his time at Ephesus Academy.

“Teachers then were more concerned with you learning the lesson versus preparing for a test,” he said. “And just being honest and always thinking about your fellow man, having integrity, always trying to do what was right and acknowledging the fact that you knew right from wrong. We were taught to acknowledge that.”

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS