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CULTURE DIGEST: Some megachurches are closing for Christmas; Tyson launches faith-friendly campaign

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Several megachurches across the nation are drawing complaints from fellow evangelicals in response to their decision to close their church doors on Christmas Day, which falls on a Sunday this year.

First Baptist Church in Atlanta, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago and Fellowship Church near Dallas are among those canceling their regular Sunday services Dec. 25.

“We just want our volunteers to have an opportunity to spend the holiday with their families,” Rick Holliday, director of administration at North Point, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It would be difficult for them to get here, and we thought we’d give them a day off.”

The other churches give similar reasons for closing — hundreds of volunteers and staff workers are needed to serve the thousands of congregants who enter the doors each week, and it’s simply too much to ask them to work rather than spend time at home with family on Christmas Day.

Willow Creek doesn’t see a conflict with a Christian church closing its doors on the day its Savior’s birth is celebrated, a spokeswoman said.

“If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning?” Willow Creek’s Cally Parkinson said, according to the Associated Press.

Christianity’s most celebrated holiday last fell on the customary day of corporate worship in 1994, when churches reported low attendance.

But while Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist in Atlanta and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is among those pastors choosing to celebrate Christmas Day outside the church walls, other prominent Southern Baptists are opposed to his decision.

“It’s a mistake,” Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., told The Journal-Constitution. “It clearly is an accommodation of culture. Some churches would justify that by [saying] that we’re honoring the family by not interfering with home celebration. But there’s no reason why you couldn’t have both.”

Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and president of the SBC, is scaling back rather than canceling services at his church, where two services will be consolidated into one during the holiday in anticipation of lower attendance.

Megachurches’ decision to cancel Sunday services on Christmas Day stands in stark contrast to Roman Catholic churches and mainline Protestant congregations, AP noted. Such churches traditionally see a surge in attendance for Christmas celebrations.

“If you didn’t worship on the Lord’s Day, somehow it’d diminish the significance of the birth of the Savior,” Ed Tomlinson, an executive assistant at the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, told The Journal-Constitution.

TYSON FOODS GOES ‘FAITH-FRIENDLY’ — The core values statement of Tyson Foods Inc. includes the phrases “We strive to be a faith-friendly company,” and “We strive to honor God and be respectful of each other, our customers, and other stakeholders.” And now the chicken, beef and pork marketer is rolling out a line of mealtime prayer guides in the form of free downloadable booklets online.

The booklets contain words of thanks expressed across a variety of faiths from Christianity to Islam; the move is seen as one that could become more common as marketers position themselves as faith-friendly to connect with spiritual Americans, Advertising Age magazine noted on its website, AdAge.com Dec. 6.

“This unique booklet is designed to help you discover (or rediscover) the joy and power of saying a word of thanks at mealtime,” Tyson says on its website. “It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the sharing of good food with family and friends.”

During the past few years, Tyson, which is led by a born-again Christian, has placed 128 part-time chaplains in 78 plants across the country, Advertising Age said, and they’re hoping the 95 percent of Americans who claim to believe in some sort of higher being will appreciate the company’s recognition of their values.

“We thank you, loving Father, For all your tender care, For food, and clothes, and shelter, And all your world so fair,” one of the prayers reads.

The prayer guides are available at www.tysonfoodsinc.com.

ACLU’S GAINS, ACHES & PAINS — The American Civil Liberties Union’s membership has soared 81 percent, to 558,000, and its revenue has increased by 34 percent, to $59 million, since Anthony D. Romero became the organization’s executive director just days after Sept. 11, 2001. “Big donors have been wooed and won,” The New York Times reported Dec. 8.

But the ACLU is weathering some turbulence under Romero’s leadership, according to the recent front-page Times article about the openly homosexual exec who came to the ACLU’s helm from the Ford Foundation.

Romero’s “operating style,” as The Times put it, “has led to a rift in the organization.” Romero’s critics within the ACLU see him as more concerned about fundraising, for example, than civil liberties.

The critics also are complaining about a lack of civil liberties within the ACLU. The Times noted: “Several staff members are complaining about a new requirement that they sign an agreement by Jan. 6 never to disclose information broadly defined by the group as confidential” — an apparent contradiction to the ACLU’s affinity for whistle-blowers in other walks of life. The organization’s 83 board members “have been asked to refer all calls from the news media to the A.C.L.U.’s public relations managers,” The Times also reported. And a former ACLU archivist has complained about the shredding of documents at the ACLU’s offices.

Among Romero’s defenders, however, are ACLU workers in conservative states, who formerly lived “hand-to-mouth,” The Times recounted, but now are receiving increased funding from the national office along with the assistance of a new department specifically assigned to their needs.

HOME SCHOOLING ON THE RISE AMONG BLACKS — More blacks are choosing to educate their children at home rather than sending them to public schools where they may not receive the moral instruction they need or where their lives may even be in danger, according to a report by the Associated Press Dec. 10.

The move toward home schooling in general, AP noted, is indicative of a desire among all races to guide their children more closely, especially in terms of religion and cultural heritage.

“About 10 years ago, we started seeing more and more black families showing up at conferences, and it’s been steadily increasing since then,” Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, told AP.

About 1.1 million children nationwide were home-schooled in 2003, which represents about 2.2 percent of school-age children. That number was up 850,000, or 1.7 percent, in 1999, AP said, based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics in the Department of Education.

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  • Erin Curry Roach & Art Toalston