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Three mainline Protestant denominations — the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of the Brethren — have experienced steady decreases in U.S. membership rolls, continuing long-term trends, according to separate June reports.
A “state of the church” report issued by the UMC said its U.S. membership fell to 7.9 million — a loss of nearly 6 percent — from 1995 to 2005. In Africa and Asia, however, Methodist numbers are growing, with 200 percent increases on each continent during that decade.
UMC membership dropped about 1.4 percent in 2006, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
Active membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) fell by more than 46,000, to 2.27 million in 2006, according to the church’s Office of the General Assembly. Almost 1,000 fewer adults, and 230 fewer children, were baptized by the church last year, the church said.
Several large congregations have left the PC(USA) this year, choosing to affiliate with the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church instead.
The Church of the Brethren reported a 1.4 percent decrease in membership last year, to about 128,000. Membership fell by a similar percentage in 2005, the church said.

(RNS) Hoping to improve America’s negative image in the Muslim world, President Bush said he will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a political group of 57 nations home to more than 1 billion Muslims.
But at least one expert warned that while many Muslims will welcome the envoy, others will see it as just another empty gesture from an administration they say is at war with Islam.
“Some will say the damage done is far more complex and the solutions go beyond just setting up an envoy,” said Qamar-Ul Huda, a senior program officer for religion and peacemaking at the United States Institute for Peace, a think tank.
Speaking Wednesday (June 27) at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Bush said the special envoy “will listen to and learn from representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America’s views and values.”
While much of the Islamic world sympathized with America after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that support has plummeted in recent years over Iraq, Afghanistan, and U.S. policy toward the Israeli/Palestinian disputes.
But the envoy, Bush said, would also advocate for American views and stress what the United States has done in the Muslim world. Indeed, Bush used the announcement to remind Muslims of American help to Indonesia, Pakistan and other Muslims countries struck by devastating natural disasters in 2005.
Bush also blamed Islamic extremists for suppressing religious freedom in the Muslim world, and promised to help Muslims defeat them.
“We must help millions of Muslims as they rescue a proud and historic religion from murderers and beheaders who seek to soil the name of Islam.”
More than 24 hours after Wednesday’s announcement, the OIC had yet to respond to the administration’s proposal.
A State Department spokesman said he did not know if members of the Islamic group — including nations such as Iran and Sudan that do not have diplomatic relations with Washington — would have to approve accepting the envoy.
The OIC’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, as well as the Pakistani ambassador to the U.N., whose country now chairs the OIC, could not be reached for comment.

Jefferson City, Mo. – People who carry out executions can sue others who disclose their identities, under a new law that followed reports that a doctor who attended Missouri executions had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times.
Some of the 36 other death penalty states also shield the names of their executioners. But the Missouri measure, which Gov. Matt Blunt signed in private Saturday and announced Monday, is believed to make that state the only one with penalties for disclosing their information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Supporters say the law is an important protection against threats to workers just doing their jobs. The Department of Corrections said offering confidentiality would help in recruiting medical professionals to assist with executions.
“This legislation will protect those Missourians who assist in fulfilling the state’s execution process as directed by the courts,” Blunt said in a statement.
Critics contend the bill further shrouds the death penalty process in secrecy, violates constitutional free press protections and goes against the public interest.
“It prevents oversight and accountability of the execution process,” said Rita Linhardt, death penalty liaison for the Missouri Catholic Conference, which opposes executions.
The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, followed the revelation last summer by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the identity of Dr. Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City. Doerhoff participated in dozens of executions and testified anonymously to a federal judge in a lawsuit challenging lethal injection.
Doerhoff came under criticism after disclosing that he occasionally altered the amount of anesthetic given to inmates, and after news reports that he had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times.
Post-Dispatch editor Arnie Robbins said Monday that the public has a right to know how the execution process works. But he said the newspaper isn’t planning a legal challenge.
The Missouri Press Association hasn’t decided whether to fight the law, but the group’s attorney, Jean Maneke, said the bill is “a direct attack on the public’s right to have people performing public service be properly qualified to do so.”
State Corrections Director Larry Crawford has said the bill should make it easier to recruit a doctor to assist in executions. For the past year, Missouri has been unable to find a willing physician with an expertise in anesthesia, as demanded by a federal judge.
“The value of the public’s need to know is trumped by the safety of both the guard and doctor and their family,” Crawford said in May.
Linhardt questioned that explanation.
“If the safety of the execution team members would’ve really been a major problem, we would’ve seen this bill long before we had 66 executions,” Linhardt said. “There’s a lot of people family members could take their revenge out on, but their identities are not confidential.”
The bill does make the state’s lethal injection protocol an open record, covering things such as the types, amounts and timing of drugs used, but not the doctor and execution team’s names or addresses.
A federal appeals panel ruled last month that Missouri’s lethal injection method is not cruel and unusual punishment, overruling a lower court’s effective freeze on executions. That decision is being appealed.
Missouri is among at least nine states that have put executions on hold as they grapple with whether lethal injection is humane. The state hasn’t executed an inmate since October 2005.

Topeka, Kan. – Hoping to end a criminal case against him, a high-profile abortion provider filed a legal challenge Monday to the constitutionality of part of a Kansas law restricting late-term procedures.
Dr. George Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians performing late-term abortions, faces 19 misdemeanor charges in Sedgwick County District Court.
Attorney General Paul Morrison alleges that the Wichita doctor broke the law by consulting in 2003 on late-term procedures with a physician who had business ties to him. A 1998 law requires two doctors to sign off on some late-term procedures and says those physicians cannot have financial or legal links.
Tiller’s attorneys filed a motion Monday to dismiss the charges, arguing that the requirement is unconstitutional. They say it is vague, places an undue burden on a physician’s right to practice medicine and violates a woman’s right to obtain an abortion as outlined in court decisions.
“There is absolutely no guidance in the state as to what activities constitute legal or financial affiliation – or how a physician might avoid some prosecutor making such a finding,” the attorneys wrote.
One of the attorneys, Dan Monnat, said a hearing on the request is set for July 13.
Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said the attorney general had anticipated that Tiller would challenge the law’s constitutionality. “We will defend the constitutionality of the statute,” she said.
The law under which Tiller is charged applies when abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy and the fetus can survive outside the womb.
Two doctors must determine that continuing the pregnancy will lead to the mother’s death or cause “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” a phrase interpreted to include mental health. The second doctor cannot be “legally or financially affiliated” with the abortion provider.
In 19 such procedures from July 8, 2003, through Nov. 18, 2003, Tiller consulted with Dr. Ann Kristin Neuhaus, according to Morrison’s complaint. The attorney general has said they had a financial relationship, although he hasn’t been more specific.
Neuhaus’ attorney has said Tiller did not pay her. Tiller’s attorneys have said the charges stem from “a difference of opinion” among attorneys about technicalities in the law.