Matters of faith

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On a billboard near you

He's back! Those disarming one-liners are again showing up on billboards along American highways, signed by - God.

"Life is short. Eternity isn't."

"If you must curse, use your own name!" And more.

Recommended: Thirty ideas from people under 30: The Faith Leaders

The nondenominational GodSpeaks campaign, which first appeared in 1998, was recently relaunched on billboards and posters in 21 cities. The campaign sponsor remains anonymous, but the Outdoor Advertising Association of America is a partner. The humorous ads can also be found on a new website: www.GodSpeaks.com.

Number of Nonchurchgoers Grows

About one-third of American adults are today finding their own way when it comes to spiritual practice. The number of "unchurched" - those with no regular involvement in organized religion - is growing by about a million people annually.

Yet, according to a nationwide survey of religious behavior by the Barna Research Group, the great majority of the unchurched remain spiritually active through prayer, Bible reading, and/or involvement with various religious media.

Americans "are not rejecting Christianity as much as they are shifting how they interact with God and people in a strategic effort to have a more fulfilling spiritual life," says researcher George Barna.

Indeed, 56 percent of the unchurched call themselves Christians, and 20 percent are aligned with a non-Christian faith; only 24 percent of the group are atheists or agnostics.

More Americans are making use of Christian media than are attending church. Among the stay-at-home population, about 20 million adults watch Christian TV each month, some 17 million listen to Christian radio, and 13 million read Christian magazines. People under 40, however, show limited interest in such media.

The survey finds that Catholics are less likely to attend church than Protestants. In regional terms, the Northeast is home to the largest percentage of stay-aways (42 percent of all adults). What may be surprising to some is that the church dropout rate among people who consider themselves political moderates is rising faster than it is among liberals or conservatives.

Middle East-US dialogue

In a bid to counter stereotypes about a "clash of civilizations," citizens of three Middle Eastern countries are now visiting the US to share their own healthy experiences with interfaith work.

Muslim, Christian, and Druze leaders from Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon are holding dialogues in college and congregational settings in several major American cities.

"Our desire is to clarify that there is an alternative reality existing in the Middle East that demonstrates positive, vital models of cooperation between Arab Christians and Muslims," says the Rev. Riad Jarjour of the Beirut-based Arab Group for Christian-Muslim Dialogue. The visit of two teams of academic, political, and religious leaders includes sessions with US Muslim and Christian organizations, and particularly with conservative Christians.

Religious Freedom Sanctions

Last fall the US State Department added Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea to its list of severe violators of religious freedom. But the Bush administration has not met a deadline for imposing sanctions required by US law.

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