CULTURE DIGEST: Catholics, 4 denominations reach baptism agreement
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Catholics and four Protestant denominations in the Reformed tradition have publicly agreed to recognize the validity of each other's baptisms, citing a desire for unity and to accommodate families with more than one faith tradition.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops signed an agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ Jan. 29 at the annual meeting of the ecumenical association Christian Churches Together in Austin, Texas.
To be considered valid, baptisms must be performed "with flowing water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," according to the agreement.
"This ecumenical effort, this mutual recognition of baptism, is part of our response to Jesus' prayer that 'we may all be one,'" Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin told the Austin American-Statesman.
The agreement was the result of six years of study by Catholic and denominational leaders during the seventh round of the Catholic-Reformed dialogue in the United States. The first round began in 1965. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, co-chaired the latest dialogue.
Karen Georgia Thompson, the UCC's minister for ecumenical relations, said the agreement is helpful to people from different backgrounds.
"Many families live in more than one tradition, so it's helpful that families can be united in a common understanding of baptism," Thompson said in a news release.
Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained, "The denominations in this agreement are the most leftward in the Reformed communion and, strangely enough, the furthest away from the creedal commitments of Pope Benedict and the church magisterium.
"As Baptists, of course, we must stand apart on this one, and confess baptism to be a sign of the new covenant, a sign of union with Christ," Moore told Baptist Press.
"As John and the apostles of our Lord Jesus commanded, we must immerse only the repentant and the believing. That said, we should wish our fellow churches well, but call them to reconsider what Jesus meant when, in His authority, He sent us out to baptize," Moore said.
GAY CONVERSION PANEL A FIRST AT UNITED NATIONS -- Religious leaders and mental health and human rights advocates have convened a panel at the United Nations to discuss the efficacy of gay conversion therapy.
Panel co-organizer Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, expressed hope the conversation would be the first of many official discussions on the controversial treatment, the Huffington Post reported.
Joining Knotts was Mordechai Levovitz, LGBT advocacy coordinator at the Unitarian Universalist office. He and Knotts are openly gay and have had unsuccessful brushes with conversion therapy, the Huffington Post reported.
New reports indicated most speakers at the event were against the therapy, but a letter was read from an ex-gay man who wrote that the therapy "saved my life."
"Let's make sexual orientation change efforts better and more responsible, but please don't eliminate it," wrote the man, who asked event organizers to withhold his name.
The treatment to help patients abandon the homosexual lifestyle has supporters and opponents in the United States, where California enacted legislation in 2012 outlawing the treatment among minors there, becoming the first state to do so. However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has placed the California law on hold until the court can hear full arguments on the issue.
Christian supporters of the practice cite a biblically-based belief that homosexual behavior can be overcome, and some research does support the belief.
Particularly, results of a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy indicated 23 percent of study participants reported successful conversion to heterosexual orientation and function, and another 30 percent reported stable behavioral chastity with a significant dis-identification with gay orientation. Twenty percent of the subjects had given up and embraced a gay identity. The study involved 61 voluntary participants and tracked their progress over six to seven years.
At the U.N. panel, Jack Drescher, a psychoanalyst and member of the American Psychiatric Association, said any real debate about the treatment is cultural, not clinical.
"The truth is we actually don't know why people are gay, or straight," Drescher told the group. "But polls tend to show that the more someone believes that sexual orientation is innate, the more likely they are to believe in civil rights [for gay people]."
THOUSANDS OF NYC TEENS RECEIVE ABORTION-CAUSING DRUGS -- New York City has covertly distributed more than 28,000 doses of a contraceptive with abortion-causing properties to public school students during the last three years.
The news, first reported Feb. 2 by the New York Post, uncovered a project by the city that far surpassed what it had previously revealed. In September, the city said it had started distributing the "morning-after" pill and other contraceptives in health centers at 13 high schools. Only 567 girls had received Plan B, a "morning-after" pill, at the time, according to city authorities.
Actually, 40 school health clinics had given out 12,721 doses of Plan B in the 2011-12 year, 10,720 in 2010-11 and 5,039 in 2009-10, according to a report obtained by the Post under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The "morning-after" pill, which includes the brands Plan B and Next Choice, works to restrict ovulation in a female, but it also can act after conception, thereby causing an abortion. This secondary mechanism of the drug blocks implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterine wall.
City officials declined to comment, according to the Post, but some parents and pro-life advocates did not hesitate to criticize the program.
"I'm in shock," said Mona Davids, president of the NYC Parents Union and the mother of a Manhattan high school student, according to the New York newspaper. "What gives [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] the right to decide, without adequate notice, to give our children drugs that will impact their bodies and their psyches? He has purposely kept the public and parents in the dark with his agenda."
Most of the school health clinics are in poor neighborhoods, said Davids, who is African American.
"This was population control on blacks and Latinos without our knowledge," she said.
Bioethics specialist Wesley Smith wrote on his blog, "I really think these people want teenagers to have sex. That debatable point aside, there is no question that parents are losing their rights to parent their own children. When I was young, we were taught that such a thing only happened in totalitarian countries."
New York law does not require underage children to have their parents' permission before receiving contraceptives.
About 6,300 girls less than 17 years of age had unplanned pregnancies last year, and more than 50 percent had abortions, according to the city. About 70 percent of those who deliver their babies drop out of school, the city reported, according to the Post.
BRITISH ABORTIONS FOR DISABILITIES HIGHER THAN REPORTED -- British abortions for such conditions as Down syndrome, club foot and cleft lip and palate are much higher in number than previously reported, a new study shows.
Eurocat, which records congenital impairments in European countries, found the following discrepancies in abortion reporting in England and Wales:
-- 886 unborn babies were aborted for Down syndrome in 2010 instead of the 482 recorded by the British Department of Health.
-- 157 unborn children were aborted for cleft lip and palate from 2006 to 2010 instead of the 14 officially reported.
-- 205 abortions were performed for club foot in the same five-year period, far more than official records showed.
The British newspaper The Telegraph reported the discrepancies.
Eurocat's statistics are based on reports from fetal medicine and sonogram experts and screening labs, while the Department of Health's figures are based on forms completed by doctors who performed the abortions.
The abortion doctors often refused to report the real reasons for the procedures, apparently to avoid controversy or to protect the women's emotions, according to The Telegraph.
3 MORE ABORTION CLINICS CLOSE -- Three more abortion clinics have shut down recently, according to reports from Operation Rescue.
The pro-life organization, which tracks developments regarding abortion clinics and doctors, reported it had received news of the closings of these clinics:
-- A Woman's Choice in Greensboro, N.C.
-- Whole Women's Health in Minneapolis, Minn.
-- Womancare in Livonia, Mich.
Operation Rescue reported the Greensboro closing Feb. 4 and the other two Feb. 6.
Four abortion centers had closed already in 2012, reducing the total number of clinics remaining open in the United States to 652, according to Operation Rescue. That contrasts with nearly 2,200 such centers in 1991, the organization reported.
"Every time an abortion clinic closes, lives are saved," Operation Rescue President Troy Newman said in a written statement. "Over 70 percent of all abortion clinics have closed over the past 22 years or so and abortion numbers have dramatically dropped. This is great news for women and babies."
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).