Ruth Bell Graham Dies at 87

Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died at 5:05 EST June 14, surrounded by her husband and five children at her Montreat, N.C., home. She was 87.

"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team," Billy Graham said in a statement after her death. "No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.

"I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we've had in the mountains together," Graham added. "We've rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in heaven."

For several weeks, Graham had been confined to bed as she suffered from degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck, and two weeks ago she was diagnosed with pneumonia and seemed to be recovering, A. Larry Ross, a spokesman for the Graham family, told Baptist Press. But on the morning of June 13 she fell into a coma.

Baptist Press

Adult Stem Cells Make Insulin in Lab

In a fundamental discovery that someday may help cure type 1 diabetes by allowing people to grow their own insulin-producing cells for a damaged or defective pancreas, medical researchers at the University of Texas have reported that they have engineered adult stem cells derived from human umbilical cord blood to produce insulin.

The researchers announced their laboratory finding, which caps nearly four years of research, in the June 2007 issue of the medical journal Cell Proliferation. Their paper calls it "the first demonstration that human umbilical cord blood-derived stem cells can be engineered" to synthesize insulin.

Larry Denner, the lead author of the paper, said this research used human umbilical cord blood because it is an especially rich source of fresh adult stem cells and is easily available from donors undergoing Caesarian section deliveries.

Denner said that by working with adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells, physicians might avoid organ rejection, which requires organ recipients to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their lives.

March for Jesus Draws 1 Million In Sao Paulo

Evangelicals from across Brazil flooded San Paulo June 7 for the "March for Jesus" event, as live Christian bands accompanied more than one million marchers. Participants also protested homosexuality ahead of what some regard as the world's largest gay pride parade June 10. The March for Jesus is held each year on the same day the Catholic Church celebrates the Corpus Christi holiday, which is not observed by evangelical Protestants but is a national holiday in Brazil, according to The Associated Press. Although "March for Jesus" organizers said 3.5 million participants were expected for this year's evangelical event, police estimated a lower number of about one million marchers actually showed up. The march was somewhat overshadowed by the absence of the rally's founders, Estevam Hernandes Filho and Sonia Haddad Morales Hernandes, who are currently under house arrest in Florida for allegedly smuggling $56,000 cash on a flight from Sao Paulo to Miami.

Christian Today via MissionNet

Evangelical Couple Admits Smuggling

A couple who lead one of Brazil's biggest evangelical churches pleaded guilty on June 8 to smuggling tens of thousands of dollars into the U.S. in luggage, a backpack, and a Bible. Estevam Hernandes Filho, 53, and Sonia Haddad Morales Hernandes, 48, known as Apostle Estevam and Bishop Sonia, are also charged in Brazil with stealing millions of dollars from parishioners for luxuries such as mansions and horse farms. They will likely be deported home after their U.S. case is resolved. The couple, who admitted to evading U.S. currency requirements and conspiracy, founded Brazil's Reborn in Christ Church in 1986. It now claims hundreds of thousands of followers and about 1,200 temples in Brazil, the country with the world's largest Roman Catholic population. The church also has temples in Orlando, Deerfield Beach, and Boston, and their empire also includes newspapers, TV and radio stations, a recording company, and a Brazilian patent on the English word "gospel." The charges carry a maximum of 10 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 each. The couple will remain under house arrest at a home they own in a gated neighborhood in Boca Raton until their sentencing, which was scheduled for Aug. 17.

WorldWide Religious News via MissionNet

Methodists Approve Transgender Pastor

Leaders in the United Methodist Church apparently have no problem with a transgender pastor leading one of their congregations, and in fact, at the annual gathering of the Baltimore-Washington Conference they applauded the pastor's bravery in charting new territory within the denomination. About a year ago, the female pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore changed her name from Ann Gordon to Drew Phoenix, had a sex change operation, and proceeded with hormone treatments. On May 25, Phoenix was reappointed to another term as pastor of the congregation.

"The gender I was assigned at birth has never matched my own true authentic God-given gender identity, how I know myself," Phoenix, 48, said, according to The Baltimore Sun. "Fortunately today God's gift of medical science is enabling me to bring my physical body in alignment with my true gender."

United Methodists as a denomination do not permit non-celibate homosexual clergy, but their Book of Discipline does not mention transgender people. Mark Tooley, director of United Methodist Action, a conservative group affiliated with the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said the decision to approve a transgender pastor "sets a troubling precedent. Once again, liberal church elites, presiding over dwindling churches, are making decisions without regard for historic Christian teaching or a wider consensus among the church's membership.The God whom we worship knew us as male or female before He created us. Gender is not a choice but a reality."

Baptist Press

Survey Shows Third of Americans Take God's Word Literally

About one-third of Americans believe the Bible is absolutely accurate and that it should be taken literally word for word, according to a recent Gallup poll, and the majority of those who don't believe the Bible is literally true believe it is the inspired word of God.

Gallup, in a news release May 25, said Americans' views on the Bible haven't changed substantially over the past 16 years that the organization has been conducting polls on the matter. About 1 in 5 Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of "fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man," Gallup said.

Analysts say the higher the level of education a person has, the less likely the individual is to believe that the Bible is the actual, literal word of God, but even the majority of those with postgraduate degrees believe the Bible is the inspired word of God rather than just a human creation.

Those who claim to be Protestants, Gallup said, are significantly more likely than Catholics to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Of those with no religious identification, 10% believe the Bible is literally the word of God and another 26% believe it is inspired, Gallup said.

Baptist Press

Major Report Says "Europe Aborts a Child Each 25 Seconds"

The Madrid-based Institute for Family Policies (IFP) has issued a report to the European Parliament warning about the alarming "deterioration of the family panorama." According to the report, a child is aborted every 25 seconds, a rate that far exceeds any other external cause of death in Europe. The number of marriages has declined by 22.3% since 1980. Divorce rates are skyrocketing, with one occurring every 30 seconds. One out of every three babies born in the EU is born out of wedlock. The report also underscores the changing face of Europe with a modest population growth rate that is attributable almost exclusively to immigration, an increasing aging population and a dwindling number of youth under the age of 14.

Urging the European Parliament to adopt a "genuinely family-oriented approach," the IFP has proposed a set of social, economic and cultural measures to promote the family. These include: the creation of offices that would be charged with promoting the family as a policy priority; the launch of media campaigns which promote the family and place value on childhood and maternity; and the increase of family benefits such as tax breaks, maternity and paternity leave, and assistance for families caring for elderly relatives at home. via

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