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Faith Digest

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Article on papyrus delayed. The Harvard Theological Review is postponing publication of a major article on the papyrus fragment in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife, raising further doubts about a discovery that captured headlines when it was announced last September. The article by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King was scheduled for the journal's January edition. It was expected to provide answers to questions that had been raised about the relic's authenticity soon after King announced the discovery to select national media and at an international conference of biblical scholars in Rome. Kathryn Dodgson, spokesperson for Harvard Divinity School, said the owner of the papyrus—whose identity has not been disclosed—"has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results."

Church of England OKs celibate gay bishops. The Church of England confirmed it has dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops—but only if they agree to remain celibate. The move represents a major shift for the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which already had weathered a major schism when Anglicanism's American branch, the Episcopal Church, consecrated openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire in 2003. Evangelical Anglicans said they would fight the move to let gay clergy become bishops.

Death penalty grows rarer in U.S. Although the number of death-row inmates executed in 2012 remained unchanged from 2011 at 43, death penalty opponents said the year still showed capital punishment is on the wane. With the addition of Connecticut, the number of states to repeal the death penalty grew to 17. Some states that had relatively high numbers of executions in the past executed no one in 2012 or issued no new death sentences. Nine states executed death-row inmates, led by Texas, which executed 15 people. In comparison, 13 states used the death penalty in 2011. Overall in 2012, four states—Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arizona—carried out more than three-quarters of all state executions.

Do disasters signal the Second Coming? More than a third of Americans—36 percent—believe the severity of recent natural disasters herald the End Times described in the New Testament—a period of turmoil preceding Jesus' Second Coming and the end of the world. The conviction particularly is strong among white evangelical Protestants (65 percent), and less common among Catholics (21 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (15 percent), according to the poll, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. A majority of Americans—63 percent—connect extreme weather to climate change, according to the poll, conducted Dec. 5-9, about six weeks after Hurricane Sandy wracked havoc on the mid-Atlantic coastline. The poll of 1,018 Americans had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Christianity losing ground in Britain. New figures from the 2011 Census show the number of people who identify as Christians in England and Wales fell by 4 million over the last 10 years, from 37.3 million in 2001 to 33 million in 2011. The data shows the number of people declaring themselves to be atheists rose by more than 6 million, to 14.1 million. Other polls have detected similar shifts. The 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey showed only about half of Britons claim a religious affiliation, down sharply from 20 years ago, when two out of three Britons did. Barely a quarter of young people identify themselves as religious. The new figures show Islam is the U.K.'s second-largest religion, at 2.7 million. Hinduism is third, at 817,000. The number of self-identified Jews rose by 3,000, from 260,000 to 263,000.

       
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