NEWS STORY: Farrakhan visit to South Africa stirring controversy

c. 1996 Religion News Service JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (RNS)-The view of sprawling low-hung shanties outside Farhad Hussen’s Pretoria office window fades in and out of the choking canopy of cooking-fire smoke and drizzle. Bent figures float across the expanse of mud, between the wobbly shacks of wood and tin, hauling bundles of firewood and plastic buckets of water. Here in the shadow of the glitter of downtown Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, is a place that reeks of misery.”It doesn’t take much to see that Christianity has failed in this country,”said Hussen, the director of Pretoria’s Institute for Islamic Services.”Christianity has only kept these people down. It was the religion of apartheid.

TOP STORY: RELIGION AND CULTURE: Baltimore museum is a window on the soul of `visionary art’

c. 1996 Religion News Service BALTIMORE (RNS)-Gerald Hawkes is an artist whose internal dialogue prompts him to paste together thousands-sometimes millions-of painted wooden matchsticks, producing creations he said reflect a struggle between God and Satan to speak through him. Each matchstick, said the 52-year-old Hawkes, a former printer left partially disabled by a mugging some 12 years ago, represents an individual soul. Combining them in his art, he added,”shows the love and beauty we could produce if we only worked together.” Hawkes’ work falls into the genre known as visionary art, a name applied to the idiosyncratic creations of self-taught artists who tend to lead hard lives beyond the pale of polite society.

NEWS STORY: Luce Foundation funds study of Abrahamic religions

c. 1996 Religion News Service HARTFORD, Conn. (RNS)-The Hartford Seminary’s center for the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations and the University of Hartford’s center Judaic studies are joining in a major project to promote understanding among the faiths. A $400,000, five-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation of New York will establish”the Luce Forum in Abrahamic Religions”to be run jointly by the university and the seminary. The grant will enable the two schools to establish a joint visiting professorship drawn from top scholars of Abrahamic religions to oversee scholarly and cultural activities, the two schools announced.

NEWS STORY: Nation’s largest Baptist university lifts ban on campus dances

c. 1996 Religion News Service FORT WORTH, Texas (RNS)-Baylor University in Waco, Texas, the nation’s largest Baptist-related school, will begin allowing on-campus dances this spring, a move that has upset some religious conservatives. Robert B. Sloan Jr., the school’s 46-year-old president, approved the dances Friday (Jan. 26), lifting a ban going back more than a century.”We want to make sure it’s done in the right way,”said Sloan, inaugurated president last year.”Obviously, there will be no alcohol and we won’t allow any obscene or provocative kind of dancing.” Students are planning the first event, possibly a street dance, for later in the spring, said student body President Collin Cox.”It’s exciting for us,”he said.”I think it’s great.

TOP STORY: BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP: Did Jesus have brothers? Some scholars say yes

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-Did Jesus have brothers? Some prominent Catholic biblical scholars, bypassing centuries-old church doctrine that Mary was a lifelong virgin, say that indeed he did. The”brothers”of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament were probably siblings, the scholars say. Protestantism has long taken Gospel mentions of brothers, and sometimes sisters, of Jesus in family contexts.

TOP STORY: BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP: Did James, `the brother of the Lord,’ write the epistle attri

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-Is a brother of Jesus the real author of a letter attributed to him in the New Testament? Luke Timothy Johnson, a Catholic who teaches at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, is bucking conventional wisdom by proposing that James-called the”brother of the Lord”by the apostle Paul in the New Testament-is the true writer of the Letter of James, a series of exhortations known for the line”faith without works is dead.” Many scholars say the Letter of James was written decades after James’ death by an unknown author who put James’ name on it to give it authority. A letter attributed to another reputed brother of Jesus-the Letter of Jude-is commonly regarded as having been written long after Jude’s lifetime.

NEWS STORY: Hillary Clinton announces Catholic-Orthodox relief effort in Bosnia

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-Hillary Rodham Clinton, honoring the work of 30 religious and secular humanitarian groups working in Bosnia, said Monday the federal government will help finance the first joint Roman Catholic-Orthodox Christian relief program in the former Yugoslavia. Clinton, at a meeting and reception in the White House East Room, called the joint initiative”a crucial step in promoting religious reconciliation.”It is this kind of courageous cooperation that must be emulated”throughout Bosnia, she said. Clinton hosted the Jan. 29 meeting, which included representatives from numerous Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and secular private agencies, to highlight the aid work many of the groups are doing in Bosnia.

Denominational Report

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Following is a collection of news stories compiled from RNS staff, wire and denominational reports). Colorado’s Catholic bishops distance church from Christian Coalition (RNS)-Colorado’s three Roman Catholic bishops have sent a letter to the 200 Catholic priests in the state saying that the Christian Coalition’s Catholic Alliance does not represent”the so-called Catholic position”on policy issues before the nation.”We must say as strongly as possible: the Catholic Alliance of the Christian Coalition does not represent the Catholic Church,”the letter said.”The Catholic Church addresses issues of morality, justice, peace and human dignity”through the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and its social-policy arm, the U.S. Catholic Conference, it added. The letter was issued by Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver, Bishop Richard C. Hanifen of Colorado Springs, and Bishop Arthur Tafoya of Pueblo. They wrote that the church may agree with the Coalition on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and pornography,”but we sharply disagree on issues such as welfare reform, capital punishment and health care reform.”

Global Religion Report

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Following is a collection of international religion stories compiled by RNS staff, wire and denominational reports.) Pope urges sacrifices to combat world hunger (RNS)-Pope John Paul II said Thursday (Jan. 25) that hunger is a”great tragedy afflicting humanity”and he urged Roman Catholics to make sacrifices to combat the suffering. The pope’s call was contained in his annual Lenten message marking the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday (Feb. 21) and Easter.

NEWS STORY: World Jewish population plummeting, study says

c. 1996 Religion News Service JERUSALEM (RNS)-The Jewish population is plummeting around the world-with the exception of Israel, Germany, Canada and Panama-according to a demographic”State of the Jewish World”report issued during the World Jewish Congress annual convention held this week in Jerusalem. Only 13 million Jews are alive today worldwide-meaning that the community has not recovered numerically from the Holocaust, before which there were some 18 million Jews. In the United States, the percentage of Jews has plummeted drastically. From a post-war high of 4 percent of the U.S. population, it has plunged to 2.3 percent, or 5.8 million Jews, as a result of a relatively low birthrate and a high rate of intermarriage.

COMMENTARY: Yasser Arafat’s carefully calculated Big Lie

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) (RNS)-About 15 years ago the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat, began a propaganda campaign by describing Jesus as”a Palestinian.” At first, I thought he was kidding. Surely, I naively believed, no one would swallow Arafat’s utter nonsense of rhetorically claiming Jesus for posthumous PLO membership. But I was wrong.

TOP STORY: BUDDHISM IN AMERICA: Buddhist Churches of America roiled by change, dissension

c. 1996 Religion News Service SAN FRANCISCO (RNS)-Since it was established here 97 years ago, the Buddhist Churches of America has provided cultural shelter, and a religious center, to four generations of Japanese-Americans. At the religious center has been Japan’s Jodo Shinshu Buddhism-an Americanized stepsister of Zen Buddhism. But it was the BCA’s sponsorship of a wide array of cultural activities-youth sporting events and mixers, scouting programs, ladies auxiliaries-that enabled older Japanese-Americans to hang together in their adopted country. With 60 temples throughout the nation, the BCA has long been the best organized Buddhist organization in the United States.

NEWS STORY: Appeals court rules Religious Freedom Restoration Act constitutional

c. 1996 Religion News Service NEW ORLEANS (RNS)-City government said the old Spanish-style Catholic church that held only 350 worshipers was too beautiful to replace, even though the 1,300 families of St. Peter’s in growing Boerne, Texas, were having to gather for Mass in a nearby meeting hall. But in a religious liberty case with national church-state implications, a federal appeals court in New Orleans this week sided with church officials who want to knock down the 83-year-old St. Peter’s for a bigger building.

TOP STORY: RELIGION IN INDIA: Sunset falls on an ancient Jewish community

c. 1996 Religion News Service COCHIN, India (RNS)-“There was no need for it to come to an end, but now the party’s over,”Lily Koder said as she stood looking down Jewtown, a narrow lane leading to one of Asia’s oldest synagogues. Koder’s father, Samuel, who started Cochin’s first electric company and ferry service, was a businessman who opened shops all over the Indian state of Kerala. But now most of the shops have closed. Nearly 500 years ago a group of European and Persian Jews settled on this tiny island, with its Chinese fishing nets standing sentinel over the harbor.

NEWS STORY: Pope urges media to foster improved image of women

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-Pope John Paul II has called on the mass media to cease their”exploitation of women”in print, broadcast and cinema portrayals, and promote the rights and”dignity”of women by accurately depicting their lives. The pope wrote in a message prepared for the Vatican’s 30th World Communications Day, on May 16, that women are wrongly depicted as sexual”objects”and often portrayed as a”masculine caricature”bent on scaling the corporate ladder. Meanwhile, he asserted, their roles as wives and mothers are”undervalued.””Sadly …,”the pontiff wrote,”we often see not the exaltation but the exploitation of women in the media.” John Paul stated that his message was aimed at journalists and the television and motion picture industries”where a new culture is being shaped.”