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Religion Notes

"Religion Notes" Continued...

Issue: "Rebel with a cause," Jan. 30, 1998

Pew poll

In 1997, "strong religious faith soared" in America from levels 10 years earlier, according to a survey released last month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Among the findings: More Americans believe in miracles (61 percent) and rely on prayer "as an important part of my daily life" than at any time in the past decade (53 percent) compared to 47 percent and 41 percent, respectively, in 1987. Of those surveyed, 71 percent said they "completely agree" with the statement: "I never doubt the existence of God." In 1987, only 60 percent said they completely agreed. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they agreed completely with the statement: "We all will be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins." Only 52 percent completely agreed a decade ago.

Broadcasters targeted

Religious radio and TV broadcasters are seven times more likely to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service than is the general public, according to a survey by Bruce Bates, former publications director of the National Religious Broadcasters. His findings were reported by Religion Today, a Web-based news service. Mr. Bates, who runs a marketing and communications firm in West Palm Beach, Fla., said religious broadcasters had a 1-in-20 chance of being audited in 1997. Individuals and businesses in general stood a 1-in-146 chance of being audited, former IRS commissioner Margaret Richardson said. Mr. Bates' study was based on a random sample of 10 percent of the nation's some 5,400 religious broadcasters. Mr. Bates found that most of those audited are relatively small businesses, with 57 percent having nine or fewer employees, and 71 percent having revenues under $500,000 in 1996. Just over 4 in 10 are non-profits. The IRS placed liens against the assets of 14 percent of the audited organizations. Mr. Bates says he believes the government's executive branch "has been using the IRS to go after their political adversaries, particularly certain religious organizations and their leadership, for the past several decades." Religious broadcasters tend to be more conservative and critical of President Clinton's ethics and policies than their secular brethren.

Mel White: Spooking former clients

The ACLU last month bestowed its National Civil Liberties Award on Mel White, a well-known evangelical author and film-maker who broke with his past in the early 1990s and became a homosexual activist. He was given the award for his application of the principles of nonviolence "to the struggle for justice for sexual minorities," the ACLU said. Mr. White's past included ghostwriting books for Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, and Ollie North. After years of therapy for sexual orientation problems, he left his wife in the early 1990s, settled in the Dallas area with a boyfriend, Gary Nixon, and in 1993 was installed as dean of the 14,000-congregant Cathedral of Hope Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas, reputedly the nation's largest predominantly homosexual congregation. Three years ago, Mr. White also was named to an unsalaried position as national Minister of Justice for the 300-church Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. Shortly afterward, he was arrested for trespassing at Pat Robertson's CBN Center in Virginia Beach, Va., during a pro-gay demonstration. He spent 22 days in a jailhouse fast that attracted national media attention and embarrassed some of his former ghostwriting clients. He and Mr. Nixon also were arrested during a demonstration on the White House sidewalk in 1996.

Pay or pray ends

Dallas justice of the peace Bruce McDougal used to offer teens guilty of misdemeanors a choice: Pay a $200 fine or attend eight weeks of church and Sunday school. That was before the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of a 14-year-old youth. The teen was charged with fighting in school under the school system's zero-tolerance policy. He argued the non-fine alternative was unfair because he was an atheist and hadn't been raised as a churchgoer. Judge McDougal, up for retirement within a year, told reporters he would quit offering the choice rather than fight. In return, the ACLU agreed to drop its lawsuit.

Boom in Brazil

Catholic charismatics in Brazil are multiplying rapidly and will soon account for the majority in the church there, according to a cover story published by the national weekly IstoE and summarized by several U.S. news services. Their number has doubled in the last three years alone, with some 8 million meeting in 60,000 prayer groups, the article said. It noted that charismatics dominate broadcasting on the church's 181 radio stations and own three TV studios as well as engage in publishing.

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