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Notebook Religion


Religion Notes

CAN can sue

The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) may pursue its 1995 lawsuit against the Church of Scientology International and the church's Illinois unit, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled. The decision reversed a Cook County court's dismissal of the suit. In its suit, CAN complained that 21 lawsuits filed against it in 1992 and 1993 by Scientologists proved a "conspiracy to maliciously prosecute" it out of business. The high court, noting that the suits were filed within a short period and were either dismissed or settled out of court, said CAN must be given opportunity to prove they were brought "without probable cause and with malice."

Sabbath soccer

They're arguing about kids' soccer on Sundays in Milwaukee. Methodist minister John Sumwalt wrote a letter, asking coaches and tournament organizers not to schedule games on Sunday mornings. More than 50 area clergy joined in the request. Sunday morning soccer conflicts with Sunday school and confirmation classes in many churches, Mr. Sumwalt told reporters. It forces parents and children to make a difficult choice they shouldn't have to make, he said. Weekend tournaments with more than 200 teams and thousands of children make Sabbath-sensitive scheduling next to impossible, organizers said. They did acknowledge switching some games from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate Jewish parents. But relatively few games are scheduled on Sunday mornings, and few parents complain, they insisted. Coaches and parents have been told that religious observance is a valid reason for missing a game or practice, they said. However, soccer official William Gromacki told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he wonders at times whether religion and family togetherness have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of organized soccer and other children's activities. Meanwhile, Mark Botterill, director of a club that fields 11,000 youngsters ages 5 to 19 to play each weekend, suggested that clergy be invited to conduct pre-game services at game sites. In nearby Waukesha, a tournament late last month involving 188 teams and 3,600 players ages 8 to 19 was hosted by a Catholic church. A priest conducted a 7:30 a.m. pre-game mass for parents and players. But that practice may end. A spokesman said the archbishop plans to ban church-sponsored leagues from playing on Sunday mornings.

Return to North Korea

Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, spoke briefly at one of only three government-sanctioned churches that are open in North Korea during a six-day visit to the famine-stricken communist-run country. As a youngster in the 1930s, she had attended a school in Pyongyang for children of missionaries. She told a Sunday morning congregation at Bongsu Church how those were important years in her spiritual development. Among those accompanying her were son Ned Graham, who heads East Gate Ministries in Seattle. East Gate does Bible distribution and outreach work in China, but also has provided aid to North Korea during the food crisis, according to a release from the Billy Graham organization. The tour included a visit to a tuberculosis diagnostics center where the visiting Americans helped dedicate a modern X-ray unit. It had been donated by Samaritan's Purse, led by the Grahams' older son, Franklin.

Easy come, easy go

Sam Moore, founder and president of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the Nashville-based religious publishing giant, settled a complaint against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC alleged he had illegally pumped up the price of Nelson stock just prior to a 1995 secondary public offering. The SEC said he bought large numbers of shares through his sister's account to overcome a dip in price and push it back up to $20. That was the amount the Nelson directors attached to the offering. As a result, the company took in nearly $360,000 more than if Mr. Moore had not intervened, according to news reports citing SEC documents. Without admitting or denying guilt, Mr. Moore agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty. He also promised not to violate anti-fraud rules in the future. The company agreed to reimburse shareholders who paid more than they should have. Mr. Moore retains the confidence of the board and will remain CEO, a company spokesman told The Washington Post. He suggested Mr. Moore didn't know he was breaking the rules.

And stay out

In Congress, the House International Relations Committee approved a proposal that would ban U.S. visits by representatives of China's officially recognized churches and other religious groups. Human rights violators from China also would be barred from entering. China's government-recognized churches are often a charade, helping to mask persecution of other believers who don't toe the government line. The proposed measure is intended to send a message about persecuted Christians in China prior to the upcoming meeting between President Clinton and Chinese strongman Jiang Zemin. Critics argued that the ploy could backfire, resulting in a ban against American evangelists and others who carry on ministry in China.

Some things are sacred

Executives at ABC television said they will not pull the plug on its controversial new show, Nothing Sacred, despite pressure from religious groups, an exodus of advertisers, and poor ratings. The show portrays an inner-city Catholic priest who questions his faith and vocation, has lustful thoughts, treats the Bible lightly, and is ambivalent about Catholic doctrine on such issues as abortion and celibacy. In the premiere, Father Ray declared a moratorium on hearing about sexual sins in the confessional. The congregation applauded. An informal coalition of several dozen religious groups has bombarded Walt Disney Co., owner of ABC, with petitions reportedly signed by more than 500,000 people. Some of the most intense pressure against Disney and ABC is coming from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Thousands of its 35,000 members began calling ABC and advertisers months before the show began airing to protest it, League officials said. The program "is clearly a political statement against religious teachings on sexuality, and we decided to fight it," researcher Tamara Collins told reporters. Sears, K-Mart, Weight Watchers, Red Lobster, DuPont, American Izusu Motors, and other firms canceled ads. ABC defended the show in a statement, saying it offers "an honest depiction" of one priest's desire to balance his faith in God with the challenges of modern-day life. It suggested future episodes will help opponents see that the series "reflects positively on the issues of faith, for that is our intention."

Most important

Editors in Life magazine's Sept. 29 issue named the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455 as the most important event of the last 1,000 years. They saw the event as ushering in the information revolution. It appeared at the top of a list of 100 of the most important events of the millennium (the Protestant Reformation came in third). Martin Luther ranked third on a list of 100 of the most important people.

Do not adjust your set

A class-action lawsuit on behalf of donors was filed against the board of directors of Christian Television Network of Largo, Fla. It alleges misuse of funds, illegal elections, and payoff of a female employee with donor money. It claims she and the network's founder and former president, Robert D'Andrea, had engaged in "immoral activity." Mr. D'Andrea was forced to resign as president in 1996 but remained a board member, according to James Fountain, who filed the suit. Mr. Fountain leads the Tampa-based National Christian Community Development Corp., which provides job training to inner-city residents. He told reporters a group of donors asked him to lead a reform effort because he is known as a leader in the Christian community. Donations are down, staff members have been laid off, and no one seems to be managing day-to-day operations, he said. The 24-hour anchor station, WCLF-TV Channel 22, a mainstay for the Tampa Bay Christian community for years, is in jeopardy, he warned. The network also has stations in West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, and Pensacola in Florida, Mobile, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn. The suit seeks temporary judicial oversight of finances, preservation of records, and election of a new and expanded board. Mr. Fountain claimed a confidential agreement to pay a former secretary six months' salary as severance pay was a misuse of donor money to "indemnify" Mr. D'Andrea. Attorney David Gibbs III, the network's board chairman and acting president, said the board will move to have the case dismissed. He suggested Mr. Fountain, a "complete stranger" to the ministry, has no legal standing to sue. Control of a valuable broadcast license is what really is at stake, he alleged. Mr. Gibbs said he is serving as an unpaid volunteer and at the unanimous request of the board. More than 50 people are employed full time at Channel 22 and the local network office, executives run day-to-day operations, and income is $135,000 ahead of last year, he said. He acknowledged that under a restructuring plan, more jobs will be handled by volunteers. Mr. D'Andrea resigned from the board this month, he said.

Gay quotas?

Having pledged to name five homosexuals to top White House posts, President Clinton chose as his first such appointee an ex-nun and lesbian activist, Virginia M. Apuzzo, 56. She will take over White House operations, the job once held by Clinton friend David Watkins. With a long record of involvement in Democratic politics and AIDS causes, she becomes the highest-level open homosexual in a U.S. administration. She was appointed an associate deputy secretary of labor in 1996.