Study: Religious charities may be more effective
Early evidence shows religiously based social service programs might be more effective than secular ones, but studies have been few and their methods uneven, a University of Pennsylvania survey concluded.
A review of about 100 studies on faith-based efforts such as rehabilitation for prison inmates showed somewhat better success rates than other, nonreligious programs.
"The early returns look quite positive," said chief researcher Byron R. Johnson of Penn's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society. But the report said more research is needed before making any firm conclusions.
Penn professor John J. DiIlulio Jr. also cautioned that it remains unproven that the "faith factor" Â or spiritual beliefs alone Â account for the varying effectiveness of secular and religious programs.
By some accounts, religious groups spend as much as $20 billion a year on services for 70 million Americans, according to the study.
Convert hopes to become first U.S. black female rabbi
Alysa Stanton's spiritual journey started in her childhood, when she and her family attended a Pentecostal church. As a young adult, she explored other religions, eventually choosing Judaism.
Now, at age 38, the Denver woman, above, is poised to take her faith another step by studying to become a rabbi Â the first black woman rabbi in the United States, according to experts.
"I want to be a rabbi who breaks barriers, inspires dreams and builds bridges," said Stanton, who is preparing to start five years of study leading to ordination.
There are black rabbis in the Ethiopian Jewish community. But if Stanton completes the program at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, the Reform movement's seminary, she will be the first black woman rabbi in this country, Jewish authorities believe.
"It's a reminder that Jews come in all colors and all ethnic groups," said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of rabbinic studies at Hebrew Union College.
Ten Commandments plaque popular wedding backdrop
The Ten Commandments plaque in the Hamilton County, Tenn., courthouse is serving as the backdrop for a makeshift wedding chapel.
There's no precise figure on the number of couples exchanging vows near the plaque since it was posted Dec. 18, but it has become a popular location.
"It is the preferred spot for couples to exchange vows," said Mark Sandilands, a pastor who performs courthouse weddings in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Last fall, Hamilton County commissioners decided to display the commandments in the courthouse and two other county buildings. Their presence will be challenged April 29 in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union, which considers them a violation of church-state separation.