RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Treasury department releases seized Cuba-bound computers (RNS)-The U.S. Treasury Department late Friday (May 24) released some 374 Cuba-bound computers seized earlier this year from Pastors for Peace, a clergy and lay activist group that opposes U.S. policy toward Cuba. The computers, to be used in Cuba’s faltering health-care system, were seized by U.S. Customs agents in January and February during three efforts by Pastors for Peace, a Minneapolis-based group, to take the computers across the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego without government permission. Late Friday, the computers were handed over to officials from the United Methodist Church and six other mainline Protestant agencies as part of a deal aimed at resolving the three-month dispute between the activists and the government. The dispute led the Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of Pastors for Peace, and two other activists to begin a liquid-only fast.

NEWS STORY: Bishops who brought heresy charges to take fight to Episcopal convention

c. 1996 Religion News Service DALLAS (RNS)-A group of 10 Episcopal Church bishops who accused retired Bishop Walter Righter of heresy for ordaining a non-celibate gay man as a deacon said Tuesday (May 28) it has not yet ruled out whether it will appeal Righter’s acquittal by a church court. Instead, the group said it will file a formal”Statement of Exceptions”to the May 15 acquittal of Righter and also take its case to the denomination’s 1997 General Convention, seeking passage of church legislation that would specifically bar such ordinations. In addition, the 10 bishops said they would take steps”to create a fellowship of Episcopal parishes and dioceses”to resist gay ordinations.”We categorically reject the opinion of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop,”the 10 bishops said in a statement released at a news conference.”We decry this opinion as deeply flawed and erroneous.” The statement was released by Bishop James Stanton of Dallas and Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, two of Righter’s 10 accusers.

TOP STORY: SOUTH AFRICA: Once backer of apartheid, South African party now espouses family values

c. 1996 Religion News Service JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (RNS)-A few days after it announced it was withdrawing from the coalition government formed with the African National Congress, the National Party and its leader, F.W. de Klerk, uttered a message central to its new opposition stance: Family values. What emerged from the collapse of the coalition, religious leaders and political observers here argue, is a potentially much stronger National Party, one that is in a position to appeal to a broader section of the electorate. The NP, the architect of apartheid that dominated South African politics for 44 years, can now concentrate on erasing its image as an oppressor and billing itself as the bearer of Christian values, potentially drawing not only from its traditional white base but also from the majority black community, observers say.”Family values is a growing theme in this country,”said Edward Antonio, a professor of religious studies at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.”People here are deeply concerned about growing crime, abortion, the death penalty and pornography. Using these issues, the NP can very well turn itself into a South African Moral Majority.”

New book on the Holocaust stirs angry debate among scholars

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-To author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, it seemed like common sense: The Germans who participated in the deaths of 6 million Jews in Germany were not a small or coerced group of killers. Challenging the work of his fellow scholars and invigorating the Holocaust debate with his first major publication,”Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust”(Knopf), Goldhagen asserts that the atrocities committed against Jews during the Holocaust were the actions of”ordinary Germans”and not those of a small group of Nazis whose goal was to eliminate the Jewish race. Goldhagen’s focus on what he calls”eliminationist”or”exterminationist”anti-Semitism among average Germans strikes some Holocaust scholars as a”keyhole view of German history”that lacks comparative historical analysis. Others-adhering to conventional arguments that the Holocaust was the result of Adolf Hitler’s power and Germany’s economic distress-angrily view his work as an indictment of the collective German character.”I’m maintaining what seems to me to be the unremarkable, and indeed commonsensical, position that the German killers of Jews were like the perpetrators of other manslaughters,”Goldhagen, an assistant professor of government and social studies at Harvard University, said at a symposium at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in April.

One man’s fight against child porn on the Internet

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-It was a scene Kurt Vonnegut could have written. Barry Crimmins, a bearded, 42-year-old, left-wing political satirist from Lakewood, Ohio, was testifying before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee investigating child pornography on the Internet. To make matters richer, he had been invited to testify by his newfound ally, the very conservative Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Crimmins, in his suit and Jerry Garcia tie, thought he looked like a “marijuana grower appearing at his arraignment” rather than a man who was one of the first America Online users to alert authorities to the child-pornography trade.

COMMENTARY: An anatomical argument for the existence of God

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Frederica Mathewes-Green is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is the author of the recent book”Real Choices”and a frequent contributor to Christianity Today magazine.) (RNS)-I found out the other day I have a pancreas. Not that I would have ever denied it; I know that the existence of such things is generally taken for granted, and one would disagree only at the risk of looking foolish. If the phone rang and it was a pollster inquiring about mine, I’d know the correct answer:”Yup, got it right here.”

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Religious leaders warn against hate talk (RNS)-The rising tide of hate talk permeating the U.S. airwaves in particular and public discourse in general is endangering the nation, according to a group of religious leaders.”Our American public square is being systematically poisoned by the language of assault,”the fourth Maston Colloquium held at the Center for Christian Ethics said in a statement May 23.”Brutal attacks on public figures are now commonplace in the media as well as in the political arena,”the statement said. Titled”Countering the Language of Assault Without Compromising the First Amendment,”the colloquium statement urged media owners, personalities, and consumers to turn away from”the language of assault”to more responsible public dialogue. It did not name any specific programs. The incivility found in much talk radio threatens the rule of law, undermines authority and chisels away at the civil contract among Americans, the religious leaders said.”We call on people of good will and especially on people of faith in God to build a fence of protest, rejection and correction around those who may persist in spewing the pollution of hate into the public airways.” Participants involved in drafting the statement included Foy Valentine, president of the Center for Christian Ethics; Jimmy R. Allen, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Franklin H. Littell, retired professor of religion at Temple University; the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Elspeth Davies Rostow, Stiles professor emerita at the University of Texas; and Oliver S. Thomas, special counsel, National Council of Churches.

Portraits of compassion in words and pictures

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-In boldface below is caption information for six photographs by Phil Borges. Following each, in quotes, are comments by the Dalai Lama on the nature of compassion that accompany Borges’ portraits, in”Tibetan Portrait: The Power of Compassion,”a new book they co-authored, published by Rizzoli Press. 1. Tenzin Gyatso, 59 At the age of two, Tenzin Gyatso was declared the reincarnation of the Buddha of Infinite Compassion.

COMMENTARY: A beach bum’s guide to great literature

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)compuserve.com.) (RNS)-Many of us vacation with our families, but we also bring along friends: Our favorite authors. While some prefer the works of such literary megastars as Joan Collins and Robert Ludlum, for others, a week spent reading the literature of gratuitous sex and violence leaves a bad taste in the soul.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Aid groups join call for U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia (RNS)-A group of 13 religious and secular relief agencies have appealed to the U.S. government to take the lead in creating a United Nations peacekeeping force for war-torn Liberia.”The prolonged crisis in Liberia has forced nearly a third of the country’s population to flee their homes and seek refuge abroad,”said the groups, organized by InterAction, a Washington-based umbrella agency of more 150 U.S. relief, development and humanitarian groups.”Years of negotiations have failed to resolve the conflict among Liberia’s warlords,”the groups added.”The pleas of the Liberian people for peace continue to be ignored by those leading the various armed factions.” Civil war broke out in Liberia in 1989 and has killed an estimated 150,000 people since then. Last year, the factions agreed to a truce and the formation of an interim government including representatives of the major warring groups. Renewed fighting broke out on April 6, between troops loyal to Charles Taylor, who leads the Liberian government, and a faction headed by Roosevelt Johnson.

NEWS STORY: Vatican appeals to Algerian Muslims for peace

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-The Vatican expressed horror Friday (May 24) over the murder of seven French Trappist monks by Islamic extremists in Algeria and urged Muslims to unite against the violence that has gripped the country. French President Jacques Chirac’s essentially confirmed earlier the same day that the monks, who had been kidnapped two months ago, had been executed. In response to Chirac’s apparent confirmation, the Vatican described the event as,”one of the saddest chapters in the history of Algeria.” Algeria’s militant Armed Islamic Group, which said it had”slit the throats”of the monks, tried to pin the blame for the murders on the French government, which refused to negotiate a prisoner swap with the Islamic group.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Prosecutor won’t use confession given to Catholic priest (RNS)-An Oregon district attorney says he will not use a tape of a jailhouse confession given to a Roman Catholic priest by a murder suspect. Lane County prosecutor Doug Harcleroad said Wednesday (May 22) that he was”wrong to authorize the taping of that conversation”between the Rev. Timothy Mockaitis and suspect Conan Wayne Hale. Their April 22 communication was part of the church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as confession. Church officials were stunned when they learned that a conversation they considered privileged was going to be used in a criminal prosecution, and they demanded that the tape and any transcripts be destroyed.

NEWS FEATURE: Bishop said to be within rights on excommunication order

c. 1996 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY (RNS)-If Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz is mistaken, as some critics charge, he’s erred on the right side. That, at least, is the early assessment among leading Catholic scholars and Vatican cognoscenti who have watched the Lincoln, Neb., bishop launch a crusade to cleanse his diocese of dissent. Bruskewitz has said that Catholics belonging to any of 12 groups he deems objectionable will be subject to excommunication, which bars offenders from receiving the sacraments. Bruskewitz’s order was scheduled to go into effect May 15.

TOP STORY: CHARITY AND POLITICS: Dole Foundation does good work with money some see as tainted

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-“The needs are great; I don’t care where the money comes from,” says Paul Hearne, president of the Dole Foundation for Employment of People With Disabilities. The needs are great: There are 49 million people in the United States with a disability, at least two-thirds of whom are unemployed. But while the needs may be great, Hearne is defensive because things get murky on the money side. The foundation was created by Sen. Robert Dole, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.