Smoke, But Is There Fire?

Roman Catholic officials in New York City are standing behind priest Bruce Ritter, founder of Covenant House, the nation’s largest shelter program for runaway youths, in the midst of charges of sexual improprieties involving Ritter from three former Covenant House residents.

According to a report in the New York Times, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is investigating charges of financial wrongdoing, while a panel of the Franciscan order, to which Ritter belongs, is looking into the charges of sexual misconduct.

Ritter has stepped down from his post at Covenant House, though Catholic officials emphasized this is no indication of guilt. Ritter has dismissed the charges against him as “garbage,” expressing concern that the public’s faith in him, regardless of the outcome of the investigations, has been irreparably harmed. Giving to the ministry has slowed since the charges surfaced.

Suspicions Confirmed

A survey of more than 100,000 Episcopalians conducted by Episcopalians United for Revelation, Renewal, and Reformation proves, according to the organization, what it has been asserting for a long time—namely, that church leadership is out of step with the majority of Episcopalians.

The survey solicited viewpoints on the six most hotly debated issues in the church, including homosexuality and inclusive language. While the church has tolerated the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, almost 90 percent of those surveyed opposed both homosexual ordination and the blessing of homosexual unions.

On theological issues, 91 percent said they oppose changing the statement “Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life” to “Jesus Christ, a Way, a Truth, a Life.” Over 80 percent said evangelism should be the church’s top priority, while 88 percent opposed the use of inclusive language in worship services, defined as changing “the teaching of the person of God from our Father to many female images.”

Ted Nelson, chairman of the board of Episcopals United, said the survey establishes that the direction of the denomination’s current leadership “does not reflect the thoughts, feelings or beliefs of those worshiping in our churches.”

About-Face On Race

Citing an empirical report from the research offices at Fuller Theological Seminary, the University of Chicago, and the United Methodist Church, Emmanuel McCall, director of the black church extension division of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, recently declared the Southern Baptist Convention the most racially inclusive religious body in America.

McCall noted that the SBC was once known as the “chaplaincy arm” of the Ku Klux Klan. But he said the civil-rights movement helped open many closed minds within the SBC, which today is home to over 1,500 predominantly black congregations. In addition, about 300 black students are enrolled in the SBC’s six seminaries, while black home and foreign missionaries within the association of churches total 380.

Recommendation Official

Making official its stated intentions, a team sent by California’s superintendent of public instruction has recommended that state approval of the Santee, California-based Institute for Creation Research (ICR) be rescinded. According to the ICR, if this is carried out, the effect would be to close the school, which has enjoyed state approval since 1981. The ICR, which has insisted on teaching evolution as unproved theory, has been part of the creation-evolution debate among California educators for a few years now (CT, Dec. 15, 1989, p. 57). State education officials have threatened to take away the ICR’s license to operate unless it either removes creationist content from its courses or labels the degrees it issues theological instead of scientific.

Said Henry Morris, president of the ICR, “[W]e have the constitutional right to teach science as we understand it, not as the state defines science and commands us to believe.” The school intends to appeal the decision.

Briefly Noted

Banned: From membership in the First Baptist Church of Concord, New Hampshire, state lawmaker Stephanie Micklon, who has sponsored abortion-rights legislation, and recently tried to join the church. Pastor Clement Sutton III told the Associated Press that because of Micklon’s prochoice position, “We couldn’t before God and a good conscience recommend her for membership.”

Granted: A jury trial for 13 Wheaton College students who were among the 49 people arrested for their role in a rescue-style abortion protest.

Resolved: A long-standing dispute between the Christian film-making company Gospel Films and well-known California church Calvary Chapel over legal rights to the film Fury to Freedom (CT, Aug. 18, 1989, p. 40). A joint press release states that full details of the settlement may not be disclosed but that all parties “reconciled their hearts in Christian love and look forward to cooperative efforts in their God-given responsibility of preaching the Gospel to the whole world.”

Died: January 5 at age 74 following a long illness, Robert G. Rayburn, founding president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Covenant is the national seminary of the 200,000-member Presbyterian Church in America.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.