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CULTURE DIGEST: Pediatrics group denounces abstinence; most U.S. doctors believe in God; Barna examines S.S. changes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The American Academy of Pediatrics has released an updated teen pregnancy policy, which recommends teaching less about abstinence and more about birth control and emergency contraception.

“Even though there is great enthusiasm in some circles for abstinence-only interventions, the evidence does not support abstinence-only interventions as the best way to keep young people from unintended pregnancy,” said Jonathan Klein, chairman of the pediatricians’ committee that wrote the policy, according to an Associated Press report.

The new recommendations were published in the July edition of the academy’s journal, “Pediatrics,” and they omit a key phrase from the 1998 policy, which said “abstinence counseling is an important role for all pediatricians.”

AAP now urges doctors to help ensure that all teenagers — not just those who are sexually active — have access to birth control, including emergency contraception like the morning-after pill, AP reported.

“I used to admire our professional organizations,” said Gene Rudd, associate director of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. “I saw them as bastions of scientific truth. And while scientific knowledge is not to be equated with God’s truth, it is good for us to pool our best minds in our quest for scientific understanding.”

Rudd, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said the American Academy of Pediatrics relied on a “large amount of biased ideology in reaching their conclusion on abstinence education, altering the science beyond recognition. They ignored a substantial body of data that supports the opposite view.”

Doctors with the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas, called the AAP’s new policy “a great disappointment,” which “rehashes old, failed arguments” about teen pregnancy prevention and fails to look at “the whole child,” according to The Washington Times.

But Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, welcomed the support of “safe sex.”

“Early access to emergency contraception is a key component of helping reduce the rate of adolescent pregnancy,” she told The Times.

Emergency contraception, The Times explained, refers to a series of high-dose birth control pills taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and intended to end a pregnancy that might have begun.

MOST U.S. DOCTORS BELIEVE IN GOD — A survey in the latest issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that three-fourths of doctors in the United States believe in God, and more than half are influenced in their medical practices by their religion.

The survey of 1,044 doctors found that 76 percent said they believe in God, 59 percent said they believe in some sort of afterlife, and 55 percent said their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.

“We were surprised to find that physicians were as religious as they apparently are,” Farr Curlin, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, told the AP. “There’s certainly a deep-seated cultural idea that science and religion are at odds.”

Curlin said while medicine is science-based, doctors differ from scientists who work primarily in a laboratory setting, and their direct contact with patients in life-and-death situations may explain the differing views. A previous survey reported that fewer than half of scientists believe in God.

“Many of us went into medicine to help our fellow man in accordance with the second part of the great commandment,” David Pauls, a member of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations’ ethics commission, said. “Care for those less fortunate is a part of most of the major religious systems. It’s only natural that believers from many religious walks should go into medicine.”

BARNA EXAMINES SUNDAY SCHOOL — The Barna Research Group has found that Sunday School is still one of the great mainstays of ministry, holding steady in a culture of theological transformation. And while the general concept of Sunday School remains in place in most churches, certain details surrounding its practice are evolving with the times.

Barna found that 19 out of every 20 Protestant churches offer “a Sunday school in which people receive some form of planned or systematic Bible instruction in a class setting,” and across denominations Sunday School remains one of the most widely embraced ministry programs.

One change Barna noticed was that churches are increasingly less likely to offer classes for children under the age of 5 and for junior high and high school students, which researchers calculated as 20,000 fewer churches providing Sunday School for each age group. The most common Sunday School programming is offered for elementary age children and for adults, Barna found.

Another emerging change in Sunday School is that congregations are moving toward “customized” curriculum, meaning they create their own. Southern Baptist churches are among those least likely to customize their material, with just 4 percent reporting such a practice.

Barna also found that since 1997, there has been a 15 percent decline in the percentage of churches offering Vacation Bible School. Southern Baptists were among those most likely to continue the tradition, but other denominations are moving away from the program, citing a lack of teachers as the most common reason.

While further examining educational programs beyond Sunday School in churches, Barna discovered a 10 percent drop in the proportion of churches that have midweek programming for children, representing 20,000 fewer churches providing such opportunities. Again, midweek programming for children was most common among Southern Baptists.

David Kinnaman, director of the Barna study, was optimistic about the results of the research on Sunday School.

“Rumors of Sunday School’s imminent demise are greatly exaggerated,” he said. “Every weekend more than 300,000 churches offer some type of systematic religious instruction in a classroom setting — and those programs are attended by nearly 45 million adults and more than 22 million youth and children. In fact, nearly nine out of every 10 pastors said they consider Sunday School to be an important part of their church’s ministry.

“The changes facing Sunday School seem to be more about the form — not the function — of Sunday School,” he said. “It appears as though churches are moving toward a ‘label-less’ future: They will offer summertime programs, but not necessarily VBS, and they will continue to prioritize Christian education, but not necessarily Sunday School.”

For more information on the study released July 11, visit www.barna.org.

CHURCH OF ENGLAND MOVES TOWARD WOMEN BISHOPS — Leaders of the Church of England voted July 11 to begin a process leading to the ordination of women as bishops.

The House of Bishops voted 41-6 in favor of “the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women in the episcopate,” which is likely to take up to four years to complete, The New York Times reported.

The Church of England has ordained women as priests since 1994, and the exodus of conservative priests following that decision leads many to believe another such exodus is looming. The move to ordain women as bishops almost certainly will widen the gap between the more conservative Anglicans in Africa and the rest of the world and many of those in Europe and the United States, The Times noted. A schism has already developed over the Episcopal Church USA’s acceptance of homosexuals, and in particular the ordination of an openly homosexual bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.

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  • Erin Curry