Presbyterian special Assembly called off
The headline of the Associated Press story says, "Presbyterians Won't Debate Gay Clergy Ban," but don't you believe it. If anything, yesterday's announcement that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) won't hold its first-ever special meeting has only inflamed the debate within the denomination.
The denomination's moderator, Fahed Abu-Akel, says the petition to call the special Assembly no longer has enough signatures now that 13 of the 57 original signers withdrew their names from it. Abu-Akel had earlier complained that the session would be too expensive and would fall too close to the denomination's next General Assembly, which meets in Denver on May 24.
"It was not an easy decision to make," he said in a letter to the the 554 attendees of last year's General Assembly. "There are no winners in this situation. … It has become even more obvious through this that there are people who are in great pain in our denomination, and for that I have great concern and compassion."
Meanwhile, those behind the call for the special Assembly, which was intended to enforce the denomination's ban on ordaining practicing homosexuals, say Abu-Akel had no right to ask the petitioners to reconsider their signatures.
"It's blatant manipulation of these poor people's lives," Alex Metherell, who presented the petition, told the Associated Press. "It took real bravery for these people to sign this petition in the first place, and we can see here why that is so."
In an interview with The Layman, a conservative denominational publication, Metherell was more technical. "There's no provision [in the denomination's Book of Order] for people to withdraw their names," he said. "I believe the office of the stated clerk has acted completely contrary to the constitution and that this demonstrates a very sophisticated form of defiance on the part of the clerk. They are reading what they want the constitution to say, not what it actually says."
The fight for the special Assembly continues. Earlier, a Canton, Ohio, church filed a complaint against Abu-Akel and the denomination's stated clerk, claiming that their refusal to convene the special Assembly constitutes a failure to perform their duties.
Don't expect the debate to go into hiding until May. For those really interested, keep an eye on the Presbyterian weblog Presbyweb.
Baptist missions board "counsels" missionaries who haven't signed statement
Christianity Today has earlier reported the debate among Southern Baptist foreign missionaries about requirements that they sign the denomination's latest statement of faith. Most missionaries supported by the denomination's International Missions Board were appointed before the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message was adopted, and several disagree with the changes. For the last year or so, whether missionaries should be forced to sign has been a matter of frequent debate in the denomination.
Now the hammer has dropped. But there's some serious spin going on in the reports.
Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention (which issues press releases, news stories, and articles that are a mixture of the two), puts it this way:
Just as new missionaries are not sent overseas until they have affirmed that they will work in accord with the faith statement, Willis is telling workers on stateside assignment they will not be returned to overseas assignments unless they have done so as well, said Clyde Meador, associate vice president of overseas operations. Missionaries preparing to come back to the United States for stateside assignment are being told they must make their decisions before coming back.
"These calls are not being made to inform people that they are being fired. Avery is seeking to counsel missionaries and persuade them to make the affirmation," Meador said. "Everyone was asked a year ago to decide whether or not they would make this affirmation."
Then there's the report from Associated Baptist Press, an independent news service that often goes to great lengths to show that it's not controlled by the Southern Baptist leadership:
Some international missionaries supported by donations from Southern Baptist churches are getting "the call." But this call, they contend, is not from God.
Instead, the calls are being made by Avery Willis, senior vice president for overseas operations with the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board. … The stress of the situation is taking a toll on missionary families, however, reported one relative of a missionary couple who refuse to sign. The stateside relative told of a missionary child who has developed physical symptoms of anxiety because of the stress the parents are under.
So far, at least 32 missionaries have resigned instead of signing the statement.
Christians held in Zimbabwe:
- Lutherans: Charges dropped against workers in Zimbabwe | Still likely to be deported for visa violations (Reuters)
- Detained aid workers freed (AFP)
- Earlier: Church workers and journalist detained in Zimbabwe | Zimbabwean authorities detained five foreign Lutheran church workers and a local journalist in a rural hotel today on suspicion that they violated the nation's stringent security laws, the workers said (Associated Press)
- Also: Church workers to be charged in Zimbabwe | Five foreign Lutheran church workers, including an American, have been put under house arrest and are expected to be charged for violating Zimbabwe's media laws and immigration regulations, diplomats said Monday (Associated Press)
- Also: Foreigners still detained (The Daily News, Harare, Zimbabwe)
- Mentor program primed for growth | Jeb Bush wants to involve churches in mentoring (Tallahassee Democrat)
- Also: Gov. Bush wants churches involved in finding mentors (Associated Press)
- Faith-based initiative has its advocates | The President's faith-based initiative is coming to Memphis, whether you like it or not (David Waters, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis)
- Some see hope, but others fear trouble in faith-based plan | U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Newport News, can see the employment ads now: "Catholics and Jews need not apply." (Daily Press, Hampton Roads, Va.)
- 'Faith-based' policies gaining ground in states | Florida and other states are rapidly jumping onto a conservative pro-family bandwagon being made possible through "faith-based" initiatives at the White House (Women's Enews)
- When church and state mix | Civil liberties and churches alike are threatened by ever-expanding faith-based initiatives (Geov Parrish, Workingforchange.com)
- Leap of faith | In our brief three centuries, we have built a sad legacy of religious intolerance. Let's not make it a new government policy (Editorial, The San Francisco Examiner)
- Constitution? What Constitution? Bush seeks new church-state mix | What began as a laudable goal of ending government discrimination against religious groups has taken a sudden turn toward fostering religion (Editorial, The San Jose [Calif.] Mercury News)
- Federal funds to build churches | The Bush administration's plan to allow federal money to be used to erect buildings in which religious services occur defies constitutional precedents (Editorial, The New York Times)
- Straying from faith | This time President Bush has proposed a "faith-based initiative" that makes even his allies uncomfortable (Editorial, The Washington Post)
- The prince of peace was a warrior, too | Though the Christian Gospel is often cited by opponents of war, Jesus talked about the moral obligation to oppose evil with a strong hand (Joseph Loconte, The New York Times)
- Religious leaders try to raise voice for peace | Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, who is organizing tonight's religious event, at which Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs plan to pray together against war (The Boston Globe)
- Religious scholars discuss struggle of Christians in wartime | For some Christians, loyalty to their faith and country in a time of war is a personal battle of ideology (The Times, Northwest Indiana)
- Deeply committed Christians, yet so out of step | Bush, Blair and Howard say they are Christian. So why won't they listen to the churches - and the gospel? (Peter Matheson, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)
- Democracy and the religious experience | One hundred years after William James published ''Varieties of Religious Experience,'' perhaps our most poignant tribute to religious tolerance, educated people in Western democracies are being stirred to something like religious war (Bernard Avishai, The Boston Globe)
Politics and law:
- Testing the church's influence in politics | Since scandal rocked the Catholic Church, the limits of its power in the secular realm—on issues from abortion to immigration to Iraq—are apparent now (The New York Times)
- Faith integrated into Sen. Dole's message | "I just want to ask you to be prayer warriors for me," she told audiences across the state of North Carolina. "Just lift me up that I may do God's will, whatever it is." (Bradenton [Fla.] Herald)
- Malawians pray for Muluzi third-term plan to fail | Thousands of Malawians attended a church service in the commercial city of Blantyre on Sunday to oppose President Bakili Muluzi's plan to change the constitution so that he can stay in office longer than 10 years (Reuters)
- Also: Muluzi dismisses Church criticism of third-term ambitions | "Why do they want to create unnecessary tension and hatred in peaceful Malawi?" (Associated Press)
- Denomination criticizes Bush over Iraq, affirmative action | The Church of God in Christ, a large African American denomination that Bush counted as an ally in his "faith-based" initiative, issued a pair of statements on Friday excoriating his policies on affirmative action and Iraq (The Washington Post)
- Secular Israeli party gaining | Ultra-Orthodox clout targeted (Chicago Tribune)
Missions and ministry:
- Burnhams start move into their new home | Friends and relatives of Gracia Burnham formed a line Monday morning outside the front door of the home volunteers built for her family (The Wichita Eagle)
- Healing faces | Louisville doctors, team reach out to patients in the Philippines (The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)
- Clothes that make a few statements | Frederick Purifoy II, a representative for recording artists at a gospel music label and a man of style, has a strategy for conveying faith through fashion (The New York Times)
- Divine services | Christian ideals are essential to one garage (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Christian theme park proposed for Bandera Downs | Messiah Project would feature theatrical performances that depict the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Associated Press)
- Missionaries experience a world of danger | In the best of times, the risks may include lawlessness, unfriendly governments and the suspicion accorded to outsiders. But as the United States confronts Islamic fundamentalism and prepares to attack Iraq, it seems an especially bad time to be a Christian missionary overseas. (The Virginian-Pilot)
- Unbleeped bleep words spread on network TV | Broadcast television, under intensifying attack by saltier cable competitors, is pushing the limits of decorum further by the year, and hardly anyone is pushing back (The New York Times)
- Curse of the foul mouth | It's not just celebrities. Profanity is everywhere. (Gene Veith, The Wall Street Journal)
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