Matters of faith

Churches in Canada split on gay marriage

Religious groups in Canada are speaking out as Parliament prepares to consider legalizing gay marriage early in 2005. While some churches galvanize members for the debate, other groups are calling for a national referendum.

The country's Supreme Court ruled Dec. 9 that the federal government has the authority to define marriage, and that gay unions are constitutional. The court also said clergy could not be required to perform same-sex ceremonies.

Six of Canada's 10 provinces already allow gay marriage, and the Liberal Party bill to make it legal nationwide is considered likely to pass. The Conservative Party plans to put up a fight via amendments to protect traditional marriage, allow gay unions with the same rights and benefits, and ensure religious liberties.

The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination, is supporting gay marriage. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Catholic Church are among those opposing it. Prime Minister Paul Martin has rejected the idea that voters should have a say in the matter, and the Conservatives are reluctant to press for it. A recent Gallup poll showed 51 percent of Canadians support gay marriage and 47 percent oppose it.

A majority of Americans cite prayer as health aid

Fifty-five percent of Americans say they've used prayer for health reasons, with women much more likely to do so than men, according to Richard Nahin of The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Fifty percent have used other forms of alternative medicine.

The National Health Interview Survey released earlier this year explored the use of 27 alternative forms of care through in-home interviews in 2002. The methods most commonly used in the previous 12 months were prayer for oneself (43 percent); prayer by someone else for one's health (24.4 percent); and use of natural products (18.9 percent).

African-Americans used prayer much more than other groups, with Hispanics and native Americans also more likely to do so than whites. Prayer was more prevalent among residents of the South, and among lower income groups. The study also showed a positive correlation with age, with prayer rising with each higher age group.

Dr. Nahin spoke Dec. 11 at a conference on spirituality and healing in medicine in Boston.

A challenge to 'intelligent design'

Eight Pennsylvania families backed by civil liberties groups are mounting the first legal challenge to the teaching of "intelligent design" in US public schools, saying it violates the religious liberty of students, parents, and faculty. The suit filed last week by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Americans United for Separation of Church and State is directed at the Dover Area School District, which voted this fall to require science teachers to teach the concept as an alternative to evolution theory.

Intelligent design holds that the complex universe is best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process of natural selection. The suit argues that the theory is a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science.

Anti-Christian by any other name

Apparently coining a new term, the Roman Catholic Church this month asked international organizations to add "Christianophobia" to the list of recognized forms of prejudice and persecution. The Vatican's foreign minister said anti-Christian incidents are increasing globally.

Both the UN - which recently held special sessions on countering anti- Semitism and Islamophobia - and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe are discussing the issue.

A plea to clergy to fight terrorism

"Use your pulpit to curtail terrorism and militancy." That was the message to 120 religious leaders in Southeast Asia at a gathering this month in Indonesia sponsored by the Indonesian and Australian governments. Several countries in the region face rising religious tensions and terrorist incidents.

"People ... like you have the responsibility to bring your message of truth, unity, and hope deep into the grassroots of society," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the clergy, as reported by Ecumenical News International.

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