Despite progress in defeating extreme global poverty, most Americans see no end in sight, according to a Barna Research survey sponsored by Compassion International. Christians who attend church at least monthly and consider religion very important in their life overwhelmingly (96 percent) expressed concern about the world’s poorest people. But they were skeptical global poverty could be ended in the next 25 years, with only 41 percent saying it was possible. Only 32 percent of all adults see an end to poverty in 25 years. The survey found four in 10 people said they gave nothing in 2013 to combat global poverty; the median gift was just $5 per month for all adults. However, it was more than double—$13 per month—for practicing Christians, or 38 percent of all surveyed. The survey of 1,052 U.S. adults, conducted online between Dec. 11 and 28, 2013, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
State Department should double list of religious-freedom offenders, report says. Secretary of State John Kerry should cite 16 countries for severe violations of religious freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended in its 15th annual report. The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list has remained static since 2006, when eight countries—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan—were cited for concern. The commission, an independent watchdog panel created by Congress to review international religious freedom conditions, criticized the government’s unchanged list and sanctions against them, claiming such measures have provided little incentive for governments to reduce or halt religious freedom violations. “The past 10 years have seen a worsening of the already-poor religious freedom environment in Pakistan, a continued dearth of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, backsliding in Vietnam, rising violations in Egypt before and after the Arab Spring, and Syria’s descent into a sectarian civil war with all sides perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations. Yet no new countries have been added to the State Department’s … list,” the report states. The commission recommended the list be expanded to include these countries along with Iraq, Nigeria and Tajikistan. Its 2013 report made similar recommendations, with the noteworthy addition this year of Syria. In addition to its 16 recommended Countries of Particular Concern, the commission lists 10 “Tier 2” countries where religious freedom violations are serious but do not fully meet the stricter standard—Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey.
Methodist agencies allow gay-marriage benefits. Same-sex partners cannot marry in a United Methodist church, but if one of the spouses works at one of the denomination’s 13 general agencies, the couple can get benefits if state laws allow it. The decision, made at a recent meeting of the UMC’s Judicial Council in Little Rock, Ark., affirms one made in October by the church’s General Council on Finance and Administration, which expanded the definition of “spouse” to include same-sex spouses and partners. The decision does not extend benefits to the same-sex spouses and partners of those who work for the church’s general agencies in states that prohibit same-sex marriage. Also at the Little Rock meeting, the board affirmed clergy candidates should be allowed a job interview no matter their sexual orientation. The denomination prohibits noncelibate gay clergy. The council also struck down part of a gay rights resolution passed by the UMC’s Desert Southwest Annual Conference, because it supported clergy who performed same-sex weddings.