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CULTURE DIGEST: Wal-Mart brings back ‘Merry Christmas’; new head of Episcopal Church rejects Jesus as only way to God; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Wal-Mart, which recently upset some Christians over its partnerships with homosexual groups, has announced that it will use “Merry Christmas” in its stores again this year.

“We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year,” Linda Blakley, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, told USA Today. “We’re not afraid to use the term ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’ll use it early, and we’ll use it often.”

During last year’s Christmas season, several groups, including the American Family Association and the Catholic League, protested retail stores’ decisions to ban the religion-specific Merry Christmas in favor of the more general “Happy Holidays.”

So this year, Wal-Mart said it will air television ads mentioning Christmas, change the name of its seasonal decorating department back to “The Christmas Shop” instead of “The Holiday Shop,” post signs in stores counting down the days until Christmas, play Christmas carols on speakers throughout their stores, and carry about 60 percent more merchandise with the label “Christmas” rather than “holiday,” according to USA Today Nov. 8.

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At least one other store is following suit. Macy’s, the largest department store chain in the United States, plans to post “Merry Christmas” signs in all departments and give Christmas themes to all of its window displays.

HEAD OF EPISCOPAL CHURCH REJECTS EXCLUSIVITY — Katharine Jefferts Schori, who became the first woman presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church Nov. 4 at Washington National Cathedral, holds key views contrary to what her own church believes.

A CNN reporter asked Schori, “So what happens after I die?”

“What happens after you die? I would ask you that question,” Schori responded. “But what’s important about your life, what is it that has made you a unique individual? What is the passion that has kept you getting up every morning and engaging the world? There are hints within that about what it is that continues after you die.”

When Time magazine asked her if belief in Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, she said, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand Him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

And when a National Public Radio host asked her to elaborate on that answer, Schori said, “Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. Umm — that is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through … human experience … through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted on his blog Nov. 10 that the Articles of Religion used by the Episcopal Church clarify that “Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”

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Schori also affirms the ordination of homosexual bishops and the blessing of homosexual unions.

“Many Episcopalians and Anglicans around the world will recognize that the logic of subverting Scripture in order to ordain women to the preaching ministry opens the door to all these aberrations,” Mohler wrote. “This is a church in deep trouble.”

Eight Episcopal dioceses have asked to be placed under a leader other than Schori, the Associated Press reported.

ANGLICAN CHURCH REJECTS MALE PRONOUN — The Archbishop’s Council of the Anglican Church in England produced a set of guidelines in October calling on anyone with pastoral responsibility to avoid using a male pronoun for God in order to curb domestic violence.

“Responding to Domestic Abuse” grew from a motion passed by the General Synod in July 2004 calling on dioceses to consider how to “speak out against the evil of domestic violence.”

The guidelines advise clergy to use “gender-neutral” pronouns in Sunday services because “uncritical use of masculine imagery” encourages male violence against women, LifeSiteNews.com said. The nature of Christian marriage tends to enforce a sense among husbands that their wives are property, the guide also stated.

STUDENT WINS FREE SPEECH SETTLEMENT — A former student at Missouri State University has won a legal settlement after she was formally punished for refusing to sign a letter supporting homosexual adoption.

Emily Booker, who graduated from the university last May, faced intense interrogation from an ethics panel for more than two hours because her instructor accused her of the highest level of grievance an individual can bring against a student at the university.

Booker’s social work class was assigned a project promoting homosexual foster homes and adoption, which required students to write and sign a letter to the Missouri legislature in support of homosexual adoption, according to Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the complaint on Booker’s behalf.

During the interrogation, ethics panel members reportedly asked Booker personally invasive questions such as “Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?” and “Do you think I am a sinner?”

“The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, and professors should be tolerant of the opinions of Christian students as well as those of non-Christian students,” David French, ADF’s senior legal counsel, said in a news release Oct. 30. “But at Missouri State University, officials have singled out a student for punishment simply because she refused to write and sign a letter to the state legislature supporting homosexual adoption.”

According to the settlement, Booker’s academic record will be cleared, she will be paid cash for her attorney’s fees and her tuition will be waived for graduate school, according to The Springfield News-Leader newspaper in Missouri. The professor who caused the problem has been put on non-classroom duties for the rest of the semester.

TIME MAGAZINE EXAMINES YOUTH MINISTRY — Time magazine’s recent look at youth ministry in American churches concluded that during the past 20 years or so youth ministers have figured the way to attract teens to their groups was to package biblical content in pop-culture gimmicks. The magazine then identified what it calls a new trend in churches to offer more Bible-based truth than entertainment.

“Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early ’90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all,” Time said Oct. 31.

Scholars have said the spiritual drift among young Christians can be attributed to a lack of knowledge about their faith, the magazine added, and now churches are trying to “reverse the flow by focusing less on amusement and more on Scripture.” As a result, Bible-based youth ministries are enjoying great success these days.

Allen Jackson, professor of youth education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Time article “doesn’t seem to allow for the notion that a healthy youth ministry is balanced between fun and intense Bible study, fellowship and mentoring, age-appropriate activity and inclusive activity.”

“As I got into the article, I felt like the author identified correctly that youth ministry needs to have solid doctrinal foundations and teaching but at the same time needs to have a ‘fun’ aspect,” Jackson told Baptist Press. “I believe that the title of [Young Life founder] Jim Rayburn’s book sums it up: ‘It’s a Sin to Bore a Kid with the Gospel.’”

Jackson added that Southern Baptist seminaries have been teaching balanced, intentional youth ministry for years.

“If anything, I believe that the title of the article was a little misleading,” he said. “It is not so much ‘either/or’ as it is ‘both/and.’”
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