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CULTURE DIGEST: Interest in Royal Ambassadors on the rise

NASHVILLE (BP) — Protestant churches other than Southern Baptists are inquiring about the Royal Ambassadors program as an alternative to Scouting, following the Boy Scouts of America’s vote in May to open its membership to boys who profess homosexuality.

Presbyterians, Methodists and other have inquired about RAs, said Julie Walters, corporate communications team leader for the Woman’s Missionary Union, which directs the program.

“While featured missionaries in RA curriculum are always Southern Baptist, the basic components of missions education for boys would be applicable to evangelical Christian denominations other than Southern Baptist,” Walters said.

“The first week following the [Boy Scout] vote we received more than 25 requests via Facebook and email from churches and individuals interested in beginning an RA program,” Walters said. “This is an increase from the typical number we receive on a weekly basis. Most of the inquiries are in regard to whether there are RA programs in their area, how to begin an RA program and if RA materials can be used by churches that are not Southern Baptist.”

Meanwhile, at least one new organization is forming as a Christian alternative to Scouting. The new outdoor-based program, its name to be announced in September, is aimed at developing boys’ character and molding them into responsible husbands, fathers and citizens, said program organizer John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.net.

Several national and regional groups, including Faith Based Boys, TrailHead USA and Frontier Service Corps, have partnered with OnMyHonor to organize the outreach, Stemberger said. Rob Green, a former Scouting executive from Spartanburg, S.C., has been named as the group’s interim director. The group will be open to boys of all religious groups, but leaders will sign a Christian oath, Stemberger said.

The Southern Baptist Convention at its 2013 annual meeting passed a resolution opposing the new Scout membership policy while affirming the right of families and churches to decide whether to sever ties with the Scouts. The resolution suggests as an alternative RA, which immerses boys in fun activities that are age- and gender-appropriate, with curriculum to nurture their mental, social, physical and spiritual development.

“Royal Ambassadors is unique and significant in that it instills godly characteristics in boys while helping them understand the mission of God and their responsibility for living out and sharing the Gospel,” Walters said. “At a young age, boys learn that life isn’t all about them as they develop a biblical worldview by actively serving others and learning how God is at work through missions efforts around the world.”

About 3,000 churches in the U.S. currently operate RA groups, with some churches operating multiple groups, and RA leaders total 6,300, Walters said. About 31,000 people subscribe to “RA World” magazine for RA members, indicating at least that many boys participate in the ministry.

Free sample materials and information to help start an RA group is available at wmu.com/getstarted. Subscriptions for “RA Leader,” “RA World” and the RA Leader Kit may be ordered from WMU Customer Service (1-800-968-7301) or online at wmustore.com.

ETHICISTS DECRY 3-PARENTS EMBRYOS — Britain’s move toward permitting three-parent embryos not only raises ethical questions but also opens the door to genetic engineering, pro-life ethicists say.

The British government expects to draft regulations later this year for the creation of children with in vitro fertilization methods that use genetic material from three people, the British Broadcasting Corp. News reported June 27. Parliament is expected to vote on final rules next year, and the techniques could be available by 2015, according to the BBC.

The three-person procedures are designed to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial diseases from a mother to a child. Mitochondria produce power in the body’s cells. Mitochondrial diseases vary in seriousness, but the most extreme can result in blindness, heart failure or death, the BBC reported.

Two scientific methods designed to block the transfer of the diseases involve placing genetic information from the mother into an egg of a donor with normal mitochondria. Combined with the father’s sperm, such an IVF procedure would produce a child with genetic material from three people.

Three-parent IVF “opens the door to engineering future generations of children,” Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said. “We have been able to resist this temptation up to now.

“There is no reason to think that this technique will be used only for therapeutic purposes,” said Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a biomedical and life issues consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Some parents will jump at the chance to have God-like power to control their child’s genetic future. The science fiction in the movie ‘Gattaca’ is rapidly becoming science fact.”

“Gattaca” is a 1997 movie set in a future in which embryos with the best hereditary features are selected for implantation and social order is based on genetics.

British pro-life ethicist Peter Saunders said, “This is not about finding a cure. It is about preventing people with MCD [from] being born.”

The techniques are unethical, and he is skeptical about their safety and effectiveness, Saunders said in a June 28 blog post.

“Let’s keep a cool head and instead concentrate on finding real treatments and providing better support for affected individuals and their families rather than spending limited health resources on unethical, risky and highly uncertain high tech solutions that will most likely never deliver,” said Saunders, chief executive officer of the British-based Christian Medical Fellowship.

One of the options to the three-person IVF methods is adoption, Saunders said.

SINGLE-FATHER HOUSEHOLDS ON THE RISE — Eight percent of American households are now headed by single-parent fathers, who tend to be less educated and financially stable than married fathers.

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of households headed by single fathers increased to more than 2.6 million in 2011, compared to less than 300,000 in 1960.

A variety of factors have contributed to the increase in single fathers, including an estimated 13 percent increase in the number of unmarried women giving birth from 1990 to 2008.

“[T]he role of fathers has evolved, and the public now acknowledges their importance not only as breadwinners, but also as caregivers,” Gretchen Livingston of Pew Research said. “And Pew Research surveys find that the public believes that a father’s greatest role is to provide values to his children, followed by emotional support, discipline and income support.”

The study noted that 19 percent of single fathers are high-school dropouts and earn an average income of $40,000 for a household of three. Married fathers earn an average of $70,000 for the same household size, and 40 percent have a bachelor’s degree.

In addition, the study showed that 18 percent of single fathers are under the age of 30, compared to only 8 percent of married fathers.

The data used in the study included single fathers who were separated, divorced, widowed or never married as well as fathers living with and without partners. Single fathers facing the greatest challenges, Livingston noted, were those who cohabitated.

“Cohabiting single fathers are particularly disadvantaged on most socio-economic indicators,” Livingston said. “They are younger, less educated and more likely to be living in poverty than are fathers who are raising children without a spouse or partner in the household.”

Forty-one percent of single fathers are cohabiting, making an average of $5,000 less than single fathers who do not cohabitate.

But the study revealed that the struggles facing single fathers –- whether cohabitating or not — are fewer than the problems of their female counterparts.

With their numbers swelling from 1.9 million in 1960 to 8.6 million in 2011, only 16 percent of single-parent mothers cohabitate. The study also showed that single mothers are more likely to have obtained some college education, with 40 percent of single mothers claiming this achievement, compared to 32 percent of single fathers.

However, the average income for a single-mother household of three is $26,000, or about $14,000 less than single-parent fathers’. As a result, 43 percent of single-mother families live at or under the poverty level.

In addition, the number of households with children raised by two married parents has decreased from 92 percent in 1960 to 67 percent in 2011.

PREGNANCY CENTERS WIN & LOSE AT FOURTH CIRCUIT — Maryland pregnancy help centers gained only a partial victory in recent decisions by a federal appeals court.

On July 3, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., provided a favorable ruling for pro-life pregnancy centers in Maryland’s Montgomery County but a disappointing opinion for such centers in Baltimore.

An 11-3 majority of the full appeals court upheld a federal judge’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a Montgomery County ordinance requiring pregnancy help centers to post signs saying the country’s health officer “encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.” The lower court, however, did not halt enforcement of a provision that mandates centers display signs reporting they do not “have a licensed medical professional on staff.”

Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said of the appeals court’s decision in the Montgomery County case, “Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of abortion sellers. The court of appeals affirmed that a hostile government cannot force pro-life centers to speak a message contrary to their interests without the highest form of justification for doing so.”

In an 8-4 opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court dismissed a federal judge’s ruling that struck down by summary judgment a similar Baltimore ordinance. The appeals court did not rule on the law’s merits but returned the case to the lower court with instructions to permit the city to proceed with discovery of information.

U.N. COUNCIL RESISTS INCLUDING ABORTION IN RAPE SOLUTION — The United Nations Security Council has rejected efforts to include an explicit right to abortion in a resolution regarding victims of rape during war.

The 15-member Security Council, which is responsible for preserving international peace and security, approved a resolution June 24 that opposed sexual violence during conflicts but refused to include abortion and the “morning-after” pill, which can act as an abortifacient, as means of assisting rape victims, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) reported.

While the Security Council resisted lobbying from advocates to endorse abortion for wartime sexual assault victims, its resolution included the ambiguous term “sexual and reproductive health.” That phrase includes abortion in countries where it is legal but does not include the procedure in countries where it is illegal, according to C-FAM.

The Vatican criticized the Security Council for including the phrase, saying it “seeks to promote a potentially destructive notion of health care,” LifeSite News reported.

The Security Council consists of five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. The 10 countries now serving two-year terms as non-permanent members are Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Korea and Togo.

FRENCH PRESIDENT HOPES TO LEGALIZE EUTHANASIA DESPITE PANEL’S REPORT — French President Francois Hollande plans to seek the legalization of euthanasia despite a national ethics committee’s opposition.

Hollande reiterated his intentions July 1, following up on a campaign promise last year, Reuters News Service reported.

A one-vote majority of a 17-member ethics committee recently said it would be “dangerous to society” to legalize assisted suicide. The panel said the effect of legalizing assisted suicide in The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg was a cause for concern.

“These countries [legalized] euthanasia for patients in the terminal stage who are able to decide for themselves, but in practice the target group has progressively grown broader and been extended to vulnerable groups in society,” the committee’s report said, according to Reuters.

STATE CLOSES DURHAM, N.C., ABORTION CLINIC — The North Carolina government has closed a Durham abortion clinic because of safety violations.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services discontinued the certificate of operation for The Baker Clinic for Women July 5. The department said a survey of the clinic showed it failed to provide adequate quality control of blood banking for 108 patients, according to The Durham Herald-Sun.

The abortion clinic, which opened in January, has 60 days to appeal its suspension, but John Baker, the clinic’s owner, said he hopes to correct the problems and resume operation, The Herald-Sun reported.

In May, Maryland shut down four abortion clinics and suspended the licenses of three abortion doctors for procedural infractions, according to the Associated Press.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and Baptist Press staff writers Diana Chandler and Beth Byrd. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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