RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Abortion opponents offended by Clinton veto threat (RNS)-Abortion opponents said Wednesday (Feb. 28) they are offended that President Clinton is asking Congress to soften a bill that would ban a controversial late-term abortion procedure except in cases when the life of the mother is at stake. In a letter to Congress, Clinton said he found the controversial procedure”very disturbing.”But he said he wanted Congress to rewrite the legislation so that it allows exceptions where the”health”as well as the life of the mother is at risk. The procedure is known medically as”intact dilation and evacuation.”Abortion opponents call it”partial-birth”abortion because under the procedure, the fetus is partially extracted feet first, and the skull is collapsed by suctioning out the brain to make it easier for the fetus to pass through the birth canal.

Russian Orthodox suspend ties with Ecumenical Patriarch

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-As the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II presided at a liturgy Feb. 23 in Moscow’s Cathedral of the Epiphany, he omitted from the day’s prayers the name of the pre-eminent leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. It was a startling omission, the first time in the 1,008-year history of the Russian Orthodox Church that the well-being of the Ecumenical Patriarch was not included in the litany of petitions. Aleksy’s failure to pray for Bartholomew was the first public acknowledgment of a profound rift between the 100 million-member Russian Orthodox Church-the single largest Orthodox body-and the man who is considered the ultimate authority, or”first among equals”for some 250 million Orthodox Christians around the world. Surrounded by 50 bishops of the Russian Orthodox Synod, Aleksy then declared a”break in communion”with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and directed Russian Orthodox clergy to no longer celebrate liturgies with clergy who remain under Bartholomew’s jurisdiction.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Episcopal Church weighs question of doctrine in heresy trial over gays

c. 1996 Religion News Service WILMINGTON, Del. (RNS)-For a generation, Episcopalians have struggled with the issue of how gays and lesbians fit into their denomination, especially the ranks of the clergy. Over the years, the debate has produced a flurry of studies, resolutions, statements and counter-statements along with a handful of controversial ordinations of non-celibate gays and lesbians. And now it has produced a heresy trial.”Heresy is the church’s equivalent to treason,”Michael Rehill, chancellor of the diocese of Newark, N.J., said Tuesday (Feb.

TOP STORY: ISRAEL: A mood of public restraint in terror-stricken Israel

c. 1996 Religion News Service JERUSALEM (RNS)-The youths huddled together on the curb of the busy roadside, singing sad folk songs, reading Psalms and lighting candles in memory of the 25 victims of Sunday’s suicide attacks on two Israeli buses by the Islamic group Hamas. Only a few hours before, the road had been blocked with the burning hulk of a bus, bloodied victims and gruesome shreds of metal and body parts-scenes that have become all too familiar to Israelis, who have lost about 100 victims in similar terror incidents over the past two years. Yet this time, something in the public response was different. The cries of”death to the Arabs,”the angry protests and denunciations of government figures that have marked Israeli reaction to past bombings were largely absent-even as the public struggled to come to grips with what was probably the worst terror attack in the state’s 48-year history.

Pope revises rules on papal elections that could alter outcome

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-Pope John Paul II has revised the way the next pope will be elected, allowing cardinals voting in secret ballot to abandon two-thirds majority approval and resort to a simple absolute majority if a stalemate is reached. The revision, outlined in a papal document, could affect the outcome of the next election, known as a conclave, in which 120 cardinals participate. Titled Universi Dominici Gregis (God’s Universal Flock), the 63-page document otherwise reaffirms or fine-tunes papal-election procedures that Pope Paul VI instituted in 1975. Among other things, John Paul ordered improved secrecy measures, such as the seclusion of the cardinal electors in a new compound that has been built specifically for the election.

COMMENTARY: A V chip? How about an E chip—for `Embarrassing?’

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is the author of”Turn Toward the Wind”and the publisher of Religion News Service.) (RNS)-With the rating system for television programs gaining momentum, even the Europeans are getting into the act. According to Variety, the European Union is considering legislation to fit TV sets in Europe with a chip that makes it possible to read and block programming according to the ratings. It seems the Europeans blame U.S. programs for”the growing amount of sex and violence on EU screens.” On a recent trip to Europe, I witnessed this trend.

A waiting game for humanitarian aid to Cuba

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-A multimillion-dollar shipment of insulin and antibiotics to stock the empty shelves of Cuban hospitals stands waiting in a Miami warehouse. When the supplies will arrive is anybody’s guess, now that the Clinton administration has tightened the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and banned all direct charter flights to the island. But the Rev. Kenneth Vavrina is determined his mission of mercy will not be deterred in the fallout from the downing by Cuban MIGs Saturday (Feb. 24) of two civilian aircraft piloted by Cuban-American activists.”If we can’t ship the supplies by air, we’ll ship them by sea.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Lutherans in flap with China over Hong Kong assembly (RNS)-China has asked the Lutheran World Federation to postpone its 1997 world assembly scheduled for Hong Kong because the meeting is to be held just one week after the British colony comes under Beijing’s control. So far, the federation-which consists of 122 Lutheran denominations around the world-has declined to postpone the gathering, which will mark its 50th anniversary and bring about 2,000 church delegates to Hong Kong. Hong Kong will revert to Chinese rule at midnight on June 30, 1997. The world assembly is set for July 8-16.

TOP STORY: THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Historic heresy trial of Episcopal bishop gets under way

c. 1996 Religion News Service WILMINGTON, Del. (RNS)-Invoking Scripture, age-old tradition and even speed-limit laws, a pair of secular lawyers Tuesday (Feb. 27) thrashed out the question of whether the Episcopal Church has a “doctrine” forbidding the ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood. The day-long argument before a panel of nine bishop-judges was the first stage in the historic heresy trial of retired Bishop Walter Righter, accused of violating church doctrine when, in 1990, he ordained a gay man as a deacon, the initial stage to becoming a priest.

TOP STORY: JIM BAKKER: Televangelist takes to the pulpit in wake of conviction

c. 1996 Religion News Service NEW ORLEANS (RNS)-Former televangelist Jim Bakker, bathed in a standing ovation from a nearly full church Sunday (Feb. 25), preached a new gospel of humility he said he learned in prison. But Bakker, convicted in 1989 for bilking 116,000 followers out of nearly $158 million, did not acknowledge whether a federal court jury was correct when it sent him to jail six years ago. It was a rare appearance, although apparently the beginning of a more public role for Bakker, who said he seldom leaves his farm in North Carolina and goes only where he feels at home.

NEWS STORY: Israel bombings draw condemnation from religious groups

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders affiliated with the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East Monday (Feb. 26) condemned Sunday’s two terrorist bombings in Israel that killed 25 and injured nearly 80 others. A committee statement said,”No matter what the cause, there is absolutely no moral justification for such violent attacks on civilians.” Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rejects the peace agreement between Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Clinton names his favorite preachers (RNS)-President Bill Clinton has named a half-dozen pastors, including his Southern Baptist minister in Little Rock, Ark., and the Methodist cleric he hears most frequently in Washington, D.C., as his favorite preachers. Clinton provided his list to Newsweek magazine for an article on Baylor University’s list of the 12″most effective”preachers in the English-speaking world. Those on Clinton’s list are the Rev. Rex Horn, senior pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, the president’s home church; the Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, pastor emeritus of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Bill Hybels, pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch in South Berrington, Ill.; the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, pastor of Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, D.C, where Clinton frequently attends when he is in the capital; evangelist Billy Graham; and Tony Campolo, evangelist and sociology professor at Eastern College, St. David’s Pa.

COMMENTARY: Religious Right is a misunderstood political force

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Charles W. Colson, former special counsel to Richard Nixon, served a prison term for his role in the Watergate scandal. He now heads Prison Fellowship International, an evangelical Christian ministry to the imprisoned and their families. Contact Colson via e-mail at 71421,1551(at sign)compuserve.com.) (RNS)-Many voters are somewhat familiar with the Republicans now seeking their party’s presidential nomination, though most would be hard pressed to name them all. But few would have trouble identifying the other actor in this drama, a force allegedly as nefarious as it is virulent, a juggernaut that, if not checked, will allegedly replace representative democracy with a system not too far distant from the political arrangement currently existing in Iran.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Arab-American group decries accusations in wake of 1995 blast (RNS)-Early reactions to the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City blamed Arabs or Muslims for the blast, accusations that”made visible the negative feelings against Arabs which lie just below the surface of everyday life,”the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee said Friday (Feb. 23). The group, in a wide-ranging report on discrimination faced by Muslims and Arabs in the United States, pointed to the Oklahoma City bombing as showing a relationship between”crisis events and the upsurge in anti-Arab (and increasingly anti-Muslim) incidents.”Initial news stories inaccurately reported that the suspects were `Middle Eastern looking men,'”the report said.”Self-proclaimed `terrorism experts’ rushed to the media to implicate Arabs and Muslims.” There were 222 incidents of anti-Arab harassment reported to Arab or Muslim groups in the first three days after the blast, according to the report.

Pope revises rules on papal elections that could alter outcome

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-Pope John Paul II has revised the way the next pope will be elected, allowing cardinals voting in secret ballot to abandon two-thirds majority approval and resort to a simple absolute majority if a stalemate is reached. The revision, outlined in a papal document, could affect the outcome of the next election, known as a conclave, in which 120 cardinals participate. Titled Universi Dominici Gregis (God’s Universal Flock), the 63-page document otherwise reaffirms or fine-tunes papal-election procedures that Pope Paul VI instituted in 1975. Among other things, John Paul ordered improved secrecy measures, such as the seclusion of the cardinal electors in a new compound that has been built specifically for the election.