Linscott Granted New Trial

Former Bible college student Steven Linscott, who in 1982 was convicted of murder and subsequently spent over three years in prison, may soon be getting another day in court. The Illinois Supreme Court on January 31 granted Linscott a new trial.

The unusual case has revolved in part around Linscott’s account of a dream that bore similarities to the actual crime (CT, Feb. 4, 1983, p. 42). Police considered Linscott’s recollection of his dream a veiled confession to the crime. In 1985 an appellate court overturned the trial court’s guilty verdict, leading to Linscott’s freedom. A series of other decisions and appeals followed; the Illinois Supreme Court’s latest ruling finally clears the way for a new trial.

Linscott attorney Thomas Decker said it was uncertain when the case will come to trial, or even if it will. Calling the prosecution’s case against his client “ill-considered from the outset,” Decker noted that most of the scientific evidence used to convict Linscott, mainly blood and hair samples, has been disallowed by higher courts.

Ordain Practicing Homosexuals?

A task force of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) is recommending that the church open its pulpits to practicing homosexuals, despite evidence that laity and clergy in the 2.9 million-member denomination overwhelmingly oppose such a move, according to Religious News Service.

The church’s special task force on human sexuality voted to forward a 200-page report containing the recommendation to the church’s 1991 general assembly for a two-year study period. The new recommendation is sure to stir controversy among the denomination’s laity and some clergy, who already strongly oppose the church’s current policy of ordaining celibate homosexuals.

According to a survey in the recent Presbyterian Panel Report, an ongoing study of denominational issues, more than two-thirds of the church’s elders and members disagree with the current policy of ordaining celibate homosexuals and more than half “strongly disagree.” One group, Presbyterians for Renewal—a reform group led by several high-ranking PCUSA pastors—already has voiced strong opposition to the direction taken by the task force on human sexuality.

Professor Sues

A Memphis State University professor has filed suit charging that his contract was not renewed because of his Christian convictions and extracurricular religious activities. The suit, filed with the aid of the Rutherford Institute, a Christian religious-rights legal group, claims the school released Byron Johnson, assistant professor of criminology at Memphis State, despite his record of distinction during his four years at the school.

Johnson claims he began experiencing “tension” with his department chairman after he formed the Christian Faculty/Staff Fellowship. The suit alleges Johnson was told by university officials that “he did not fit in” and that “given his philosophical leanings, he should consider teaching at some smaller, religious affiliated school.” He is seeking reinstatement, back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.

Memphis State director of relations Charles Holmes said Johnson was under a one-year contract with option for renewal. He refused to explain why Johnson’s contract was not renewed, citing the pending litigation.

Church Spies Banned

A federal district judge has ruled that government investigators do not have “unfettered discretion” to infiltrate church services. U.S. District Judge Roger Strand’s recent ruling does not prohibit federal investigations of church activities, but it holds that the government must work in good faith.

The issue dates back to 1986, when several Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations and their parent denominations filed suit to challenge alleged covert investigations by federal agents of churches suspected of involvement in the sanctuary movement, which sheltered refugees from Central America whom the federal government considered illegal immigrants. Court records showed that undercover informants had attended church services, and on at least one occasion had secretly taped a worship service.

Briefly Noted

Overturned: by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Jim Bakker’s 45-year prison sentence. The three-judge panel upheld Bakker’s conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges, but ordered that he be resentenced by another judge because of remarks made by the trial judge, Robert Potter. During the hearing, Potter said Bakker had no regard for “those of us who do have a religion [and] are ridiculed as being saps [for] money grubbing preachers.”

Named: Thomas Graves, as the first permanent president of Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, formed by Southern Baptist moderates of the Southern Baptist Alliance. Graves, 43, was the pastor of Saint John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte. He was professor of philosophy of religion at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, from 1979 to 1987.

Correction: Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas has not voted to remain in the Presbyterian Church (USA), as reported by CT in the February 11 North American Scene. The congregation will vote to remain or withdraw from the denomination on May 19.

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