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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 11:17 am

Religion news in brief

By The Associated Press

NJ governor signs ban on gay conversion therapy

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed a law barring licensed therapists from trying to turn gay teenagers straight.

Christie said the health risks of trying to change a child's sexual orientation, as identified by the American Psychological Association, trump concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice. The APA and other major medical and mental health groups believe that "sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks."

In signing the ban, Christie reiterated his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin. That view is inconsistent with his Catholic faith, which teaches that homosexual acts are sins.

Conversion therapy gained attention two years ago when former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was questioned over whether her husband's Christian counseling business provided services that attempted to change gays and lesbians. Bachmann's husband, Marcus, denied involvement in the therapy.

In June, the leader of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that worked to help people repress same-sex attraction, announced the closing of Exodus. Alan Chambers apologized to the gay community for inflicting what he called "years of undue suffering."

But supporters like New Jersey-based JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Health, oppose the legislation. JONAH co-director Arthur Goldberg says scientific data point to effectiveness of the treatment. Goldberg also contends New Jersey lawmakers relied on false witness claims and misinterpretation of the views of professional groups.


Coalition of Evangelicals launches ad campaign in key congressional districts

WASHINGTON (AP) - A coalition of Evangelical groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention, hopes to give an earful to key congressional lawmakers about immigration reform.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, formed last year, has launched a $400,000 radio ad campaign in 56 congressional districts. The ads will feature local pastors and national voices encouraging passage of immigration reform without delay. Dr. Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission says the ads will air for two weeks "at saturation rates."

Pastor Felix Cabrera of Oklahoma City's Quail Creek Baptist Church says the collateral damage of the current policy that he has seen includes the detention and separation of parents from children born in the U.S.

And Amarillo, Texas, pastor Stan Coffey says Evangelicals should let their voices be heard on the issue and that he believes "this is what Jesus would have done if he were here."


Some former Soviet republics trending toward religious intolerances, abuses

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. analysts say it appears that some of the former Soviet republics are trending more and more toward religious intolerance.

That was the thrust of an op-ed published last week in the Moscow Times by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF.

It noted that its 2013 annual report earlier this year concluded that Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan fit the congressionally established criteria for countries of particular concern, or CPC. The designation is for nations that are among the most abusive of religious freedoms.

USCIRF also finds that Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia are on the verge of receiving CPC status. All three nations are said to have systemic failures to respect religious freedom and related rights.

Some of the offenses noted by USCIRF include limiting religion to state control, thus forcing non-sanctioned faiths to operate underground. Religious minorities facing discrimination include Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses.

USCIRF senior policy analyst Catherine Cosman says policies that were fairly liberal immediately after the Soviet breakup have deteriorated in some of the republics and have been replaced by harsh religion laws and extremism laws.

Cosman says the republics have signed international human rights accords and should be held accountable. She says violators should be "named and shamed" but also encouraged to understand that forcing religious groups underground only creates unnecessary problems.


Real estate entrepreneur wants to erect large statue of Jesus Christ in South Dakota

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) - A real estate entrepreneur in Spearfish, S.D., wants to erect a large sculpture of Jesus Christ on city-owned land high upon a hillside.

Rand Williams says the issue of separation of church and state is a legitimate concern, but he at least wants public discussion about his idea.

Williams last year bought a 6,000-seat amphitheater that hosted the Black Hills Passion Play for nearly 70 years. The play has attracted millions of visitors for summer productions.

The Black Hills Pioneer reports that Williams says his vision for revitalizing the amphitheater won't necessarily be derailed if the idea for the statue doesn't pan out.


100-year-old Oklahoma church burns, cause sought

BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - Six years after a historic downtown Burlington, Iowa, church was destroyed by fire, it's about to reopen.

Workers might complete the finishing touches on First United Methodist Church this week. It was gutted in April 2007. After the blaze, all that was left of the landmark granite church built in 1889 were the foundation and walls. A Burlington man was convicted of arson and is serving a 35-year sentence in federal prison.

Members considered building a new church in another part of town but decided instead to salvage what they could of the old structure and rebuild. Since the blaze, members have been holding a joint-service with Grace United Methodist.

If work is completed this week, the church plans a 12-hour prayer vigil before the first service Sunday morning.