Presbyterian Church (USA) votes to keep "fidelity and chastity" requirement
An effort to allow the ordination of homosexual ministers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was defeated yesterday. Last year, the PCUSA's General Assembly voted to delete language in the PCUSA Book of Order requiring ordained church officers "to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness," but that move had to be approved by a majority of the denomination's 173 presbyteries. Yesterday, the deciding 87th vote was cast against the change. According to Presbyweb, an informative Presbyterian Weblog that has kept careful track of the debate, the vote now stands at 40-89. The site notes that the vote is being defeated by a much wider margin than similar measures in 1996 and 1997. "I'm definitely frustrated by [the vote]," Byron Shafer, a Manhattan pastor who was pushing for the change, tells The New York Times. "I've come over the years to know a lot of gay and lesbian Christian Presbyterians who have had the gifts of the Spirit, who obviously are gifted for ministry. This is just a failure of our church to recognize the gifts of the Spirit in these people." The Associated Press quotes the other side of the debate. "Hopefully, this strong vote will conclude the decades old repetition of attempts to alter the church's position on these matters," says Presbyterians for Renewal's Joe Rightmyer. "[The vote] reaffirms that the historic witness of Scripture and our confessions regarding sexual morality is clear and to be preserved within our denomination."
More on Ralph Reed's Enron ties
The Washington Post has also uncovered more involvement of former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed in the Enron scandal. Reed's lobbying for the company was discussed before, but never in this much detail: "Just before the last presidential election, Bush campaign adviser Ralph Reed offered to help Enron Corp. deregulate the electricity industry by working his 'good friends' in Washington and by mobilizing religious leaders and pro-family groups for the cause," writes Joe Stephens. "For a $380,000 fee, the conservative political strategist proposed a broad lobbying strategy that included using … conservative talk shows and nonprofits to press Congress for favorable legislation. Reed said he could place letters from community leaders in the opinion pages of major newspapers, producing clips that Reed would 'blast fax' to Capitol Hill."
Then there's this disturbing quote from Reed's memo: "In public policy, it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom."
Forget about the Enron scandal for a bit. What does this say about religious profamily groups? Are they pushovers, or does Ralph Reed overestimate his ability to get them to talk about whatever he wants them to? Why would these groups lobby for Enron? Would they argue that deregulating Enron is a key part of our Christian calling because … um … families and churches use energy?
Faith-based initiative exemplar busted
A "showcase of the Bush administration's faith-based initiative is violating federal rules and failing to deliver on its promise," The Washington Post reported yesterday. Last year, the Church Association for Community Services (CACS) purchased 300 abandoned Washington, D.C., houses from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It planned to renovate the houses and sell them cheaply to low-income families. But CACS hired a for-profit company to run the renovation and sales—a violation of federal regulations. The Post also notes that the program isn't really helping: "According to HUD records, the buyers have paid on average $39,000 above what it cost the group to purchase and repair the house. The average price of the 31 houses sold or under contract is $141,000, eliminating the savings intended for low-income families." CACS officials say they didn't know anything was wrong until the Post started asking questions. "The blame cannot be placed on the Church Association," says Walter E. Fauntroy, a CACS board member. "The fault is with HUD." The department has suspended its partnership with CACS.
"The agreement bridged two administrations and benefited from both," writes Post reporter Carol D. Leonnig. "In the waning days of the Clinton administration, officials waived the minimum standards required under the program at the request of [Fauntroy]. … Under the Bush administration, officials promoted the agreement because its core mission exemplified the president's faith-based agenda."
- Church aisle is wide cultural divide | Religion lies at the heart of the cultural divide that split American voters evenly in the 2000 election (USA Today)
- The anti-war religious left | George W. Bush, like Truman before him, knows evil, whatever the churches say. (Ernest W. Lefever, National Review Online)
- Change nation's flag, says Ghana Evangelical Society | Group wants to replace black star with cross and crown of thorns on a white banner (The Accra Mail)
- Georgian Orthodox prelate endorses religious violence | "Sectarians have to be shot dead," says Metropolitan Atanase Chkhvashvili (Keston/Catholic World News)
- Vietnam denies religious persecution | Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said Saturday that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom slandered Vietnam by distorting the status of religion in the Communist nation. (Associated Press)
- Pakistani government says no to repealing blasphemy laws | International pressure increasing, but officials say issue is settled (The News International, Pakistan)
- Also: Pakistan Peace Coalition condemns filing of blasphemy case against activist (Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan)
Liberia for Jesus declares "emergency":
- Christians declare State of Emergency | Liberia for Jesus Prayer Crusade pushes for major changes in nation (The News, Monrovia)
- Concrete action required to skip the emergency | We agree with Liberia for Jesus (Editorial, The News, Monrovia)
- Secrets confided to the clergy are getting harder to keep | Thanks, in part, to a spate of sexual abuse scandals involving priests, clergy-penitent privilege is no longer considered inviolable (The New York Times)
- Clergy 'may be urged to reveal secrets' | Ministers would be instructed to tell all "in extreme circumstances, particularly where the safety of children is concerned" (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Senator prods House on abuse bill | Measure would require clergy to report sex cases (The Boston Globe)
Sex & marriage:
- Welfare chief is hoping to promote marriage | The Bush administration official who oversees welfare wants to spend $100 million to promote marriage among the poor. (The New York Times)
- Marriage pledge rings hollow | If you think an institution is essential to civilization, how can you bar some citizens from it? (Rob Morse, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Alabama court rules against gay mother | Justice Roy Moore calls says homosexuality is "an inherent evil" and should not be tolerated (Associated Press)
- Two priests object to sex ed video | Video shown to sixth-graders was created by self-described conservative Christian who is director of men's ministries at a Presbyterian Church and who is studying to become a minister (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
- Old theological schools face axe as Church seeks a single voice | Under the plans, the Church of England would close its 12 colleges (The Daily Telegraph)
- A chance to 'gather at the river' | Cowboy Church offers an escape from rapid pace (Houston Chronicle)
- Looking for answers? | Alpha Course goes to Palm Harbor, Florida (The Tampa Tribune)
Missions & ministry:
- 9/11 casts shadow over young missionary dreams | Religious schools and agencies cancel, change short-term missions plans (The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee)
- 'Army' of Christians needed in AIDS fight, Franklin Graham says | Evangelist, acknowledging his own delay in addressing issue, says disease is greater threat than terrorism (The Washington Post)
- Military seeks more chaplains | "The problem is finding the right diversity," says deputy chief of the Air Force Chaplain Service (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
- Volunteeers sought for Graham crusade in October | The task of recruiting 20,000 North Texas workers for Billy Graham's Metroplex mission in October begins today. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
- Moscow vs. the Vatican | Schism worsens: Russian Orthodox Church feels threatened as Catholics raise profile. (Editorial, The Baltimore Sun)
- Pope has performed three exorcisms in his papacy, one last September | First was in 1982 (Reuters)
- Faith in metal | Local magazine focuses on Christian heavy metal (News 8 Austin, Texas)
- Utah businesses have faith that ads shalt not offend | Some sales pitches create a stir and boost revenue with a few lighthearted jabs at Mormonism. (Los Angeles Times)
- Land of milk and honey ice cream | Bible park walks fine line between amusement, sacrilege (The National Post)
Other stories of interest:
- Pastor on trial for family killings | Andras Pandy, who entered Belgium as a refugee and set up a Hungarian Protestant church in the Flemish part of the country, is also suspected by police of killing at least seven other people (BBC)
- Religious humor not so funny to some | Cartoonists, comedians treading carefully in today's climate (Religion News Service)
- E-mail linked to elusive religious group | Concerned Christians leader ID'd as 'seventh angel' (The Denver Post)
- What's lost (or found) in translation of Bible | Debate over TNIV continues (Newsday)
- Sacrifice is still good for the soul | Sydney's Catholic archbishop explains Lent (George Pell, The Daily Telegraph, New South Wales, Australia)
- Baptists split on possible convention boycott | Final decision could come Tuesday (WLWT, Cincinnati)
- Also: Boycott leaders to skip session (The Cincinnati Post)
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