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Religion Notes

Mainliners sink to a new low

Officials from the National Council of Churches and the Presbyterian Church (USA) joined business leaders and senators in endorsing a proposed law that would provide employment protection for homosexuals. At an Oct. 23 hearing before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Oliver Thomas of the NCC and Herbert Valentine of the PCUSA expressed their organizations' support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The bill would establish homosexuality, under the category of "sexual orientation," as a classification deserving protection in the same way race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion, and disability now have protected status in the workplace. It failed to gain passage in the Senate last year by only one vote, 50-49. A procedural move cut short the hearing before Mr. Thomas and Mr. Valentine could testify, but they explained the NCC and PCUSA positions in written testimony. Mr. Thomas, NCC counsel, said because federal civil rights laws presently don't cover discrimination based on sexual orientation, "gay and lesbian people are currently deprived of basic human rights." Mr. Valentine, chief executive of the Baltimore Presbytery, said passage of ENDA is "the Christian thing to do." He said homosexuality is not a prominent biblical concern, and Jesus did not express an opinion on the issue. In voicing support for the measure, committee chairman James Jeffords (R-Vt.) said his staff had scoured the country for witnesses with differing opinions, but to no avail. However, leaders of at least four Washington-based organizations that oppose the bill said their groups were not contacted about testifying: Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, and Concerned Women for America. Will Dodson, ERLC's public policy director, told Baptist Press he left the hearing "angry" and "disgusted" that church leaders supported a bill that legitimizes homosexual practice. "It is inexcusable for Christians to defend life-styles which are contrary to Scripture."

Oregon-based evangelist Luis Palau had the support of nearly 500 churches for a crusade last month in Kansas City, Mo. Some 41,000 people attended crusade events, aides said, and Nielsen TV ratings indicated more than 50,000 watched a five-night live call-in show Mr. Palau hosted.

Sanctification and immunity

People over 65 who go to church or synagogue at least once a week are healthier in body and mind than those who don't. And part of the proof is in their immune systems. So say Duke University researchers Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist, and Harvey Cohen, who directs a Duke center on aging. Their findings, part of the largest national survey ever conducted on aging, were published in the October issue of the International Journal of Psychiatry. Blood samples of the 1,718 participants showed that religious-service attenders were twice as likely to have strong, stable immune systems. Among other things, their blood levels of the undesirable immune system protein Interleukin-6 (IL-6) were lower, Dr. Koenig said. "This is the first study I know that tried to look at the pathways to translate religiosity to medical outcome," said Marcia Ory, chief of social science research at the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the project. The results support a similar link between religion and good health that Dr. Koenig found last year in interviews with 4,000 randomly selected elderly people.

Hell? Yes.

Fifty-two percent of American adults are certain there is a Hell, and 27 percent think there might be, according to a poll published by USA Today. Those who believe in Hell are almost evenly split on whether it is a real place where people suffer eternal fiery torment (48 percent), or whether it is an anguished state of existence (46 percent).

Anglican leaders: Gay agenda "not acceptable"

Anglican leaders abroad are increasingly concerned about the U.S. Episcopal Church and views and practices of sexuality condoned by some of its clergy. Some 50 Anglican archbishops and bishops from 16 countries attended a recent Anglican Life and Witness conference in Dallas. Of that number, 37-many of them from Africa-signed a letter addressed to each American bishop demanding to know why so many of them are ordaining priests who are sexually active outside of marriage, and why they are permitting their clergy to perform same-sex union rites. They asked for a response in writing or in face-to-face meetings by the first of the year. Their letter warned that failure to repent could lead to a rupture in the worldwide Anglican Communion. "It is not acceptable for a pro-gay agenda to be smuggled into the church's program or foisted upon our people, and we will not permit it," they said. Indeed, in earlier meetings abroad, some prelates suggested that the American church has drifted so far from theological and moral standards, it should be excluded from the Lambeth Conference next July in Canterbury. The once-a-decade Lambeth meetings bring together hundreds of bishops representing the churches to which the world's 70 million Anglicans belong. However, religion columnist Terry Mattingly points out, although 75 percent of Anglicans attend largely conservative churches in the "Two-Thirds World," most of the bishops who can afford to attend Lambeth will come from the First World. One-fourth of them will come from the Episcopal Church alone, he predicts. Also, he adds, Lambeth planners have not included any plenary sessions; participants will be scattered among small-group sessions and have little opportunity to organize large-group actions, such as protests.

Lending a hand

Churches have come to the aid of public schools in Prince William County, Virginia. School Superintendent Edward L. Kelly told The Washington Post he saw a host of problems when he looked at his schools. Parents seemed less involved than a generation ago. Student expulsions and suspensions were on the rise. More kids were turning to gangs and drugs. More families were abandoning public education in favor of homeschooling or private schools. The schools needed help, and they needed it quickly. Mr. Kelly laid out a plan for his principals: Each school should forge a partnership with nearby churches. (Such alliances, common in black communities, are relatively new in predominantly white communities and almost always attract close scrutiny from church-state separation extremists.) So far, about two-thirds of Prince William's 66 schools have found one or more church partners; some have 10 or more. The help comes in different forms. Some churches are sending volunteer tutors into the schools. Others are donating supplies or letting students use church computers after school or helping with fundraising projects. Ministerial staffers drop by school cafeterias to chat with students. Church activities for youth can be publicized on campus. The volunteers are under orders by Mr. Kelly and his principals not to promote their religious beliefs on school property. That's okay, says youth pastor Frank Jenkins of First Baptist Church of Woodbridge, which fields dozens of volunteers for several schools. Going to a school translates to students as, "I care about you. Tell me about your day." He said students talk about classes, problems, teachers, relationships. "We would like every teen-ager to have a relationship with Jesus. That's our ultimate goal. But I don't preach that at the schools." He told WORLD that as a result of contacts at school, some non-churched students are showing up at church meetings and events "to find out what we're about." Mr. Kelly, a member of a Catholic parish with strong evangelical leanings, says he understands the concerns of critics. (A local rabbi complains of misgivings about having unsupervised adults conversing with students.) But, Mr. Kelly adds, church help is essential to ease the strain on teachers and to compensate for lack of parental involvement. Michael Farris, president of Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, says the partnership between churches and schools can be a "good thing." Churches should take the opportunity to minister to anybody they can, he says, because "Christian adults need to be penetrating every segment of public life, including public schools." However, he adds, the churches need to be careful "not to give a signal that such an arrangement is a substitute for Christian education." (Mr. Farris estimates 1.25 million children across the nation are being schooled at home, many of them because parents see little hope of their getting a proper education in public schools.)

China bound

As part of the U.S.-China summit , Beijing agreed to host discussions with three American religious leaders. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that communist government officials had agreed to a meeting in Beijing with Donald Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Catholic archbishop Thomas McCarrick of Newark; and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. No details were available regarding the purpose and agenda of the Beijing talks, to take place sometime this winter, but Ms. Albright said the discussions would include religious-freedom issues. Mr. Argue was the only religious leader at the White House state dinner honoring Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin. Following a meeting in the oval office in early 1996, where Mr. Argue discussed persecution of believers, Mr. Clinton appointed him to the State department's Advisory Committee on Religious Liberty. Billy Graham's wife Ruth and son Ned, who heads a ministry to China, were guests at a State Department luncheon for Mr. Jiang hosted by Vice President and Mrs. Gore on Oct.29. Toward the end of Mr. Jiang's U.S. visit, Billy Graham met privately with him in Los Angeles. A curiously worded press release from the Graham organization said that details of the half-hour Graham-Jiang meeting were "not disclosed." The release also said the evangelist "acknowledged" the two had "discussed the issue of human rights in China, and especially religious freedom."

Church: "Your spiritual home"

More than 200 self-identified male and female homosexuals attended the first Mass for homosexuals in the Richmond (Va.) diocese. "You know you belong here. It's about time somebody says that to you.... This is your spiritual home," Bishop Walter F. Sullivan said during the sermon at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is immoral, as is any extramarital or premarital sex. But in recent years some Catholic leaders have been emphasizing that homosexual orientation itself is not sinful because, they believe, it is not freely chosen. As a result, critics contend, many of the outreach ministries to homosexuals in some 30 Catholic dioceses across the country are virtually silent on the immorality issue.

Prison ban lifted

Under pressure from Congress and religious groups, the federal Bureau of Prisons lifted a short-lived ban on donations of prayer books and other religious materials. The ban was imposed in September under a narrow interpretation of a new ethics rule at the Justice Department signed by Attorney General Janet Reno. The rule said no Justice employee "may solicit gifts or encourage the solicitation of gifts to the department" without Miss Reno's approval in advance. The measure was intended to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, a spokesman explained. However, federal prison officials interpreted the order to include religious donations intended for inmates. A week before the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, chaplains telephoned a Jewish prison outreach group. They said they had to return prayer books and ritual items they had previously ordered for Jewish inmate use during the holy days. Prison wardens now can accept donations worth up to $250. Beyond that, the assistant attorney general must review the donation.

Evangelist Billy Graham, who turns 79 this month, is still filling stadiums. Overflow crowds packed San Francisco's Cow Palace last month to hear him, and over 40,000 were on hand for each of two nights at the Oakland Coliseum. Earlier, record throngs greeted him at a stadium in San Jose. Aides described the more than 60 percent public response among young people from 12 to 18 in Oakland to Mr. Graham's appeal to turn to Christ as the highest in his 50 years of crusade evangelism. Over 1,400 churches from about 100 denominations joined in the three-city, eight-rally outreach crusade in the San Francisco Bay area.

PCUSA gay man allowed to keep office of elder

The Presbyterian Church (USA) regional Synod of the Covenant in Ohio ruled a homosexual holding the office of elder at Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati may retain his ordination and office. The ruling reversed a decision by a Cincinnati presbytery judicial review commission. A Knox member had complained to the presbytery that the man admitted his homosexuality to a church group, and the church's directory lists him as living at the same address with another man. PCUSA law prohibits any "self-affirming, practicing homosexual person" from holding an ordained leadership position. As is customary with ordination candidates, Knox's leaders had asked the man if there was anything in his life that might prevent him from fulfilling his duty with integrity. He replied "no" and was ordained. In explaining its decision, the synod appeals court said Knox's leaders at no time were "able to conclude that a declaration of sexual orientation had been made."

Signed, sealed, and delivered

Bishops of the state Lutheran church in Denmark unanimously approved homosexual marriages but declined to permit separate wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples. Instead, homosexuals can have their marriages "sealed" as part of regular church services. Clergy in the church have been deeply divided over the issue since 1989, when Denmark became the first country to legalize civil marriages for homosexuals.

Golden Gate Baptist seminary will begin offering a master of theology degree via the Internet next fall. It may be the first such graduate school in the nation to do so, if the Southern Baptist school's accrediting agencies allow it. Under the three-year pilot plan approved by trustees last month, the degree program will consist of courses totaling 28 semester hours, a thesis, and weekly on-line dialogs among students and faculty on selected seminar topics. The course is designed to be completed in two to four years, Golden Gate officials said. More than 1,600 students are enrolled at the seminary's main campus in the hills north of San Francisco. The school also operates satellite campuses in southern California, Washington State, Arizona, and Colorado. The Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) recently established the Christian Distance Learning Institute as a resource center for member schools exploring ways to offer courses via the Internet. The ideal educational environment is on a Christian campus, "but distance learning is here to stay," CCCU president Robert Andringa said.

Texan Gary L. Bishop, a former Navy aviator with a career in corporate management, was named president of Mission Aviation Fellowship, based in Redlands, Calif. He succeeds Max Meyers, who led the group for 12 years. MAF, founded in 1946 by former World War II pilots, says it serves more than 500 Christian and humanitarian agencies with a fleet of 81 aircraft.

Heritage USA, the former PTL ministry headquarters and Christian theme resort founded by disgraced TV personality Jim Bakker, will close at the end of this month, officials said. Signature Hospitality Resources, the Malaysian corporation that bought the 600-acre complex in 1992 for $42.6 million, said it could not find an investor with deep enough pockets to continue operating the 501-room hotel and conference center. Mr. Bakker, convicted in 1987 of defrauding his followers, was paroled from prison in 1994. At its zenith, Heritage USA employed 2,000 people and hosted 6 million visitors a year.

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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.

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Preserving the Trinity

The Virgin Mary will not be upgraded to co-redeemer, and there are no plans to study the possibility. That was the Vatican's response to a Newsweek cover story floating the idea. The magazine reported the delivery to the Vatican of a petition bearing 40,383 signatures urging Pope John Paul II to make such a declaration. It also said 4.3 million Catholics, the late Mother Teresa, nearly 500 bishops, and 42 cardinals from around the world had made the same appeal. Catholic scholar Michael Novak said the article was misleading, either misused or failed to define key terms, and generally mishandled complex theological issues. He warned it could disrupt relations with evangelicals and other Protestants, and could confuse many Catholics. A papal study commission last year concluded Mary could never be "named on the level with the Word of God in his particular redemptive function." Pope John Paul II, who prays to Mary and credits her with saving his life from a would-be assassin's bullet and with the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, has addressed the issue numerous times. "It is always necessary in Marian doctrine to safeguard the infinite difference existing between the human person of Mary and the divine person of Jesus," he said in one talk.

Opening eyes on Capitol Hill

Christian groups on prayer tours of the U.S. Capitol now pray with their eyes open, pending a decision in federal court. "If we don't bow our heads or clasp our hands, the Capitol police don't seem to mind," says Gretchen Trump, coordinator of Capitol Hill Prayer Alert, a small ministry that arranges prayer tours. Some people pray silently, others aloud in low conversational tones, she adds. Police last fall warned the leader of a tour group of eight that prayer in the Capitol Rotunda is considered a demonstration, and demonstrations there are illegal. Violators could be subject to penalties of up to $500 in fines and six months in jail. The leader was Pierre Bynum, Prayer Alert's editor and an assistant pastor at the Waldorf (Md.) Christian Assembly. He filed suit, seeking clarification of his rights. Federal courts have never ruled on whether the Rotunda is a public forum, which would allow all expressions of free speech, his attorney said. The police contend it is a workplace. A hearing was set for this month.

Supervising the shepherds

Catholic officials in Dallas asked the Vatican to nullify the ordination of the priest at the center of a sexual abuse lawsuit that led to a $119.6 million judgment. The diocese said Rudolph Kos deceived church officials about his background and sexual orientation. A jury ordered the award to 11 plaintiffs in the civil suit on July 24, finding unanimously that the diocese was grossly negligent and concealed information in its handling of Kos. The diocese did not deny the plaintiffs were abused but contended its handling of the situation was not negligent. It suspended Kos more than a year after a youth complained of sexual abuse by him. Given Catholic theology concerning the priesthood, Vatican watchers say there is little chance the nullification request will be granted. The last such action on misrepresentation grounds occurred 47 years ago. Besides, says former Vatican embassy lawyer Thomas Doyle, "the damage has been done.... Is this a ploy to make the church look a little better? They ignored warnings for years and didn't do anything. You can't undo that." Meanwhile, a church accused of not adequately supervising its pastor was found not guilty by a jury in a civil court case in Santa Fe, N.M., last month. First Baptist Church, Chama, N.M., which has about 60 attendees, had been sued by a man who said his 13-year marriage fell apart after his wife became romantically involved with the church's pastor at the time. The suit said the church was negligent for not adequately researching a man's background before calling him as pastor, not adequately training him to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities, not adequately supervising him, and not firing him for cause. Defense attorneys said the pastor resigned immediately after the affair became known-before the church could fire him. The plaintiff collected $4,000 from the ex-pastor in a separate action, according to Baptist Press. The suit originally also cited the New Mexico Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. The two Baptist bodies were dropped from the suit after lawyers explained the autonomy of local churches. Observers speculated that millions of dollars of judgments against the Catholic Church for sexual abuse by priests may have been behind the naming of the Baptist groups in the lawsuit.

Studying faith's effects on health

The John Templeton Foundation awarded grants of $25,000 each to eight more medical schools in the United States to develop programs for teaching future doctors about the role of religion in health care. So far, 19 of the nation's 126 medical schools have received funding from Templeton for such programs. Approaches vary among the schools. Many offer courses aimed at helping medical students understand the religious and ethical beliefs of patients and how to respond to them during treatment. Some look at how faith affects patients facing long-term illness, chronic pain, and death. At Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, students will be paired with terminally ill patients from the day of the diagnosis until the day of the funeral. The awards are administered through the private National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR). It is headed by David Larson, a former researcher at the federal government's National Institutes of Health. The NIHR has been compiling and distributing a number of scientific studies that suggest religious faith and practice can help prevent illness as well as relieve pain and suffering in illness or death. The group also has been conducting conferences for doctors for the past three years. Dr. Larson, an Episcopalian, says the aim is to create a cadre in medicine that is familiar with the scientific findings and can talk professionally about their application. "We're truly helping to lift the taboo against spirituality in medicine," he said.

Regent gets new president

Broadcaster Pat Robertson announced that Terry Lindvall, 49, will leave the presidency of Regent University, Virginia Beach, Va., and return to the classroom. The new president will be retired Army Lt. Gen. Paul G. Cerjan of Alexandria, a member of Regent's board. The change takes effect in November. Mr. Cerjan has served as president of the National Defense University and the Army War College, both in Washington, D.C. He will be the fifth president since Mr. Robertson founded Regent (originally known as CBN University) 19 years ago. Mr. Robertson tapped Mr. Lindvall, a well-liked zesty communications professor at Regent, for the presidency in 1993, during a period of faculty shakeups and turmoil on campus. With major expansion plans for the graduate-level university pending, Mr. Lindvall said he felt the time had come to return to his first love, teaching. He will take over a $2 million endowed chairmanship in visual communications.

Promise Keepers hit by new attack

First it was the National Organization of Women that declared war on Promise Keepers as the ministry made plans for a national "Stand in the Gap" gathering of men on the Washington Mall on Oct. 4. NOW launched a "No Surrender" campaign to "take the mask off" the PK movement and show the group's real goal is to repeal women's rights. It said it will stage demonstrations during the six-hour afternoon rally. This month, the New York-based Center for Democracy Studies (CDS) launched a media campaign, warning that PK's goal is to force a Christian agenda onto local, state, and national levels. CDS is headed by lawyer Alfred Ross, a former researcher for Planned Parenthood. He alleged the Oct. 4 gathering is "a dry run for a more ambitious holy war." PK founder Bill McCartney and other PK leaders have denied such charges repeatedly. No politician is among the 40 scheduled speakers. Said Mr. McCartney: "America is suffering from a severe shortage of integrity, and men are behind some of its worst manifestations.... The focus of [the rally] will be on the responsibility of men to seek God, confess their sins, and begin making the necessary changes, as God empowers them." As of early this month, more than 500,000 have arranged to attend, PK organizers announced.

Never, never on a Sunday

When a pharmaceutical firm told workers they needed to work some Sundays, three workers begged off for religious reasons. The company conditioned approval on their finding someone to work their Sunday shifts. They filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. A Labor compliance unit concluded last month that Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical, a federal contractor, had not discriminated against the employees. But it found the company had violated federal law by requiring workers to find Sunday substitutes. Laws banning discrimination based on race, sex, and religion also require employers to make "reasonable accommodations" to the religious practices of their employees. "Companies must bear the burden of accommodations and cannot shift this responsibility to employees," the compliance unit said. For two of the workers, it's a moot point. They were fired for alleged errors on the job, company officials say. The workers claim they were targeted because of their complaint. The compliance ruling followed the issuance of new guidelines on religion in the federal workplace by President Clinton earlier in the month (World, Aug. 23/30). The guidelines were drafted mainly by Steven McFarland of the Christian Legal Society and Marc Stern of the American Jewish Committee. Completed in January 1996, the document was sent to the White House three months later. A revision by the Justice Department, Mr. McFarland said, rendered the guidelines "almost unrecognizable." Mr. McFarland and Mr. Stern, with support from a broad section of religious leadership, fought for reinstatement of much of the original language, and Mr. Clinton sided with them.

PCUSA: Chastity or "integrity"?

Should church officers be either "living in fidelity within the covenant of marriage" or practicing "chastity in singleness"? Or should they be allowed to "demonstrate fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life," with fidelity and integrity left so undefined as to allow for homosexual relationships? That is one of the questions that local and regional bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are voting on now and over the next several months. The voting by presbyteries comes in the wake of this year's PCUSA general assembly in June. The general assembly last year adopted an amendment to the denomination's Book of Order that required all married church officers to be faithful and all single officers to be chaste. One effect was to bar from church leadership self-affirmed, practicing homosexuals. However, all that was put in jeopardy by the success of denominational bureaucrats, homosexual advocates, and other liberals at this year's assembly. By a 60-40 percent margin the assembly favored a new amendment that if adopted by the presbyteries will open the door to ordination to homosexuals and other sexually impure persons. Evangelicals who have remained in the PCUSA hope they can defeat the new amendment at the presbytery level. They are also thinking about what to do if the new rule passes. Some may leave. Others may stay, forming a "confessing movement" while withholding their funds from denominational agencies, ignoring church courts above the local level, and seeking fellowship and cooperation with each other. Denominational bureaucrats have charged that some of the battling evangelicals are troublemakers. This is reminiscent of the situation earlier this century when theologian B.B. Warfield before one general assembly was asked to pray for peace at the meeting. He responded, "I am praying that, if they do not do what is right, there may be a mighty battle." Shortly before his death in 1921 Mr. Warfield talked with his colleague J. Gresham Machen, who later founded Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Mr. Machen expressed the hope that there might be a split in the church "in order to separate the Christians from the anti-Christian propagandists." Mr. Warfield's reply was, "No, you can't split rotten wood." These conversations illustrate the ways evangelical Presbyterians have responded to the decline in mainline Presbyterianism that has proceeded with little abatement since the 1920s. Some have followed Mr. Machen, splitting from the mainline denomination to seek to form a more pure expression of the church. At this point the PCUSA, though bleeding 35,000 members a year, still has 2.7 million members. The largest of the theologically conservative groups, the Presbyterian Church in America, has 278,000 members. Others have followed the example of Mr. Warfield, and though not many of them still hold to Mr. Warfield's staunch Calvinism, those evangelicals in the PCUSA soldier on in hope of a better day.

California cross lamp must be kept under a bushel

San Francisco civic and religious groups are hailing an arrangement that will keep in place the 103-foot-high concrete cross atop Mt. Davidson. It has stood there, often robed in fog, as a sentinel overlooking the city since its dedication by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. For years, it was a magnet for Easter sunrise and prayer services. In response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Congress, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that a religious symbol on public land violates the state constitution. It rejected claims that the cross was a landmark, not a religious icon. In a carefully crafted plan to save the cross, city supervisors in July voted unanimously to sell at auction the one-third of an acre of the park on which the cross stands to an Armenian American federation for $26,000. The group pledged to maintain the cross and grounds. It also agreed to stipulations by the lawsuit's plaintiffs. Among them: The cross no longer can be illuminated except twice a year, although ground lighting will be allowed year-round for safety purposes. The court is expected to grant its blessing next month, followed by voter approval in November.

A rise in born-again Catholics

A growing number of U.S. Roman Catholics say they are born-again Christians, according to pollster George Barna. In just two years, there has been a 41 percent increase in the number of Catholics in his annual surveys who affirm two statements: "I have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today," and "I believe that after I die I will go to heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior." In Mr. Barna's 1997 survey, 43 percent of all respondents agreed with both statements, up from 39 percent in 1996 and 36 percent in 1995. The overall increase, he said, was due mostly to a change in the number of Catholics who meet the criteria: from 22 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 1997. The study involved a scientific sample of 1,007 adults nationwide.

Knesset sits on evangelism bill

An anti-evangelism bill is still pending in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. It has passed the first of four required readings. Messianic Jewish pastor Baruch Maoz in suburban Tel Aviv told reporters a poll he took of Knesset members indicated that about 60 percent would support its passage. Critics of the proposed legislation claim a strict interpretation would ban possession of the New Testament. Sponsors insist there is no intention to ban the New Testament or the freedom of Christians to practice their faith. The aim, they say, is to regulate proselytism pitches that offend a large segment of the population. Officials say the bill was introduced in reaction to protests by thousands of Israelis who received an especially offensive tract in the mail from controversial San Diego TV evangelist Morris Cerullo. Under pressure from Israeli tourism officials and evangelical groups from abroad that have been traditionally pro-Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out against the bill. He also pledged in a form letter to keep it from becoming law. Mr. Cerullo vows on his World Wide Web site to continue mass distribution of literature in Israel.

Communities dealt a bad hand

Gambling could be the fastest-growing cause of record rates of bankruptcy in America, a study for the credit-card industry concludes. The findings by SMR Research Corp. of Hackettstown, N.J., suggest a connection between the spread of legalized gambling in 298 counties in the United States and the rise of bankruptcy filings in those areas. The study found bankruptcy rates are 18 percent higher in counties with one gambling business, and 23 percent higher in counties with five or more such businesses. In Atlantic City, the bankruptcy rate was 71 percent higher than in any other county in New Jersey last year. Court records show a total of 1.3 million bankruptcy cases were filed in the past year, a record level. And despite the booming economy, current rates are soaring ahead of last year's, they indicate. The findings were released as a new federal commission, the National Gambling Impact Commission, opened hearings in Washington. Commission member Francis Dobson of Focus on the Family urged the panel to look closely at the impact riverboat casinos in Tunica, Miss., have had on the region around Memphis, Tenn. Counties with the highest bankruptcy rates in the nation were the counties in Tennessee and Arkansas close to Tunica, the SMR study found.

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