NEWS FEATURE: Janet Cooke saga puts redemption issue in ethics spotlight

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-America, as former Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke knows, has always been the land of the second chance. Its hospitality to fresh starts springs from its immigrant heritage and its free-enterprise economic system. It comes partly, too, from religious impulses of forgiveness and redemption. Now comes Cooke asking for a second chance 15 years after jolting Washington with a spectacular public lie in the most notorious journalistic fraud of our time.

COMMENTARY: Born-again values have a place on playing field

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)-It’s become something of a bad joke when sports announcers tap their microphones and proclaim:”Ladies and gentlemen, the starting lineup.” Chances are that the ladies and gentlemen are about to be introduced to at least a couple of players who have put in another kind of appearance lately-in a police lineup.

TOP STORY: CHURCH FIRES: Church arsons in South heighten fear of militant racism

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-Arsons that have damaged or destroyed dozens of black churches in the South are rekindling fears of militant racism in the United States and leading some church and civic leaders to compare the incidents to the violence of the civil rights era of the 1960s, when churches were burned to intimidate African-Americans. Since 1990 there have been about 50 cases involving burning or desecration of houses of worship, most of them black, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. On Tuesday (May 21) the House Judiciary Committee will hold oversight hearings on the arsons. “This is an issue about racism,” said the Rev. Mac Charles Jones, associate for racial justice of the National Council of Churches, an organization of 33 Protestant and Orthodox denominations.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Investment fund following Islamic law started in Britain (RNS)-Flemings, a major British investment bank, announced Monday (May 20) it is beginning an investment fund that follows the requirements of Islamic law (sharia). The fund, called Oasis, is designed to appeal to Britain’s growing Muslim community, estimated at between 1.5 million and 2 million. According to an announcement by the bank, a sharia supervisory board of three Islamic scholars-two from Saudi Arabia and one from Pakistan-has created investment guidelines for the fund and agreed to a list of companies that meet the criteria. Excluded companies include those in such fields as alcohol or gambling.

NEWS STORY: Supreme Court rejects Colorado amendment barring protection for gays

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-In a decision hailed by homosexual groups as a huge legal victory, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday (May 20) struck down a voter-approved Colorado constitutional amendment that prohibited laws specifically designed to protect gay and lesbian rights. Elizabeth Birch, executive director of Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based national gay and lesbian lobbying group, called the 6-3 decision”an outstanding moral victoryâÂ?¦ especially important in light of the congressional gay-bashing, which has reached an all-time high in the last two weeks.” Her statement was a reference to congressional hearings on proposed legislation to allow states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. But Frank Whitworth, executive director of Ground Zero, a coalition of Colorado homosexual groups formed to fight the amendment, said the ruling”does nothing to erase the extreme campaign of vilification, hatred and stereotypes”that the”fundamentalist evangelical community”had directed at gays and lesbians.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Orthodox jurisdictions repair rift over church in Estonia (RNS)-The Russian Orthodox Church and its mother church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey, have restored ties and avoided a schism, according to church officials. Three months ago, the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox denomination in the world, broke off relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the spiritual center of world Orthodoxy, over who should exercise jurisdiction over the 40,000 to 45,000 Orthodox Christians in Estonia, a Baltic state that was once part of the Soviet Union.”There are again normal relations between the churches,”Archbishop Johannes, temporary head of the Estonian Orthodox Church, told Reuters. The archbishop said both sides agreed to an unusual plan under which both Moscow and Constantinople would exercise jurisdiction in Estonia, and Estonian Orthodox believers would choose which denomination to live under. Orthodoxy in Estonia has long been something of a football between the Moscow and Constantinople jurisdictions.

TOP STORY: FATHERHOOD: Religious leaders examine issue of absent fathers

c. 1996 Religion News Service HERNDON, Va. (RNS)-In 1960, about 7 million U.S. children lived in homes without a father. That figure now stands at nearly 23 million. At an”Interfaith Summit on Fatherhood”convened by the National Fatherhood Initiative, a 3-year-old advocacy group, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and others drew attention today (May 17) to the issue of father absence and examined how religious institutions can ameliorate the problem.”We believe that this (father absence) is the most socially consequential problem of our time,”Wade Horn, director of the National Fatherhood Initiative, said at the gathering, which drew about 60 people.

NEWS STORY: Pastors for Peace gains partial concession in Cuba aid dispute

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON (RNS)-The Treasury Department said Friday (May 17) it is releasing 21 computers seized from Pastors for Peace that the group had sought to send to Cuba for that nation’s churches and medical system. The computers were among some 375 units customs agents seized in January and February during three failed attempts by Pastors for Peace to deliver humanitarian aid to Cuba. Under U.S. law, trade with Cuba is prohibited. But the federal government makes exceptions for goods delivered as humanitarian aid, provided the aid is not under the control of the Castro government.

NEWS FEATURE: Books on ethics and values are flooding American bookstores

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-From Hillary Rodham Clinton’s”It Takes a Village”to Jim Lichtman’s”The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West”to William J. Bennett’s”The Moral Compass,”books on ethics and values are flooding American bookstores, warning us that society is plummeting to perdition and begging us to mend our ways. Whether the authors are religious or secular, conservative or liberal, whether their motivations are political, therapeutic or purely financial, the message is the same: We were never a perfect society, but we once were more decent to one another. If we can’t be bothered to understand the best of that past, we are condemned to a Hobbesian future in which crime, callousness and dishonesty reign, and citizens live nasty, brutish, short lives, bereft of warmth, compassion and meaning. At their most hopeful, the books describe a nation that has strayed but can find its way back with a halfway decent map.

COMMENTARY: Something fishy about cruises for Christ

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-Last week, I received an advertisement in the mail inviting me to participate in a program sponsored by a Christian travel agency. For $3,000, I could”feast my eyes and feed my soul,”vacationing with other true believers on”wholesome”gospel-oriented cruises. NOTE: These tours are only open to those who want to avoid the more traditional tours where people actually cruise for Satan. Among other things, the program touts the pleasures of cruising for Christ to Caribbean islands where there are”tales of swashbuckling pirates and buried treasures”and”romantic, sun-kissed beaches.”

TOP STORY: THE AFTERMATH OF CHERNOBYL: A decade after Chernobyl, Jewish victims face uncertain futur

c. 1996 Religion News Service TEL AVIV, Israel (RNS)-“My bones ache even as I am speaking,”exclaimed Alexander Kalentirsky. A formidable man who once held a senior post with a high security clearance at a Moscow construction firm, 51-year-old Kalentirsky is not used to feeling ill or powerless. Ten years ago, he volunteered to supervise the construction of the protective”sarcophagus”over the radioactive remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which exploded on April 26, 1986. He felt it was his professional duty.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Rwandan refugees killed in monastery in Zaire (RNS)-At least 10 Tutsis, taking refuge in a French-run monastery in Zaire, have been killed by rival Hutus in an action reminiscent of the 1994 ethnic genocide in Rwanda, news agencies reported Thursday (May 16).”About 10 bodies … were found by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the scene of the attack or on the road leading to Kitchanga, and more than 30 wounded are receiving treatment in a dispensary set up by the Dutch MSF (Doctors Without Borders),”the Red Cross said in a statement released in Kinshasa, Zaire, according to Reuters. The ICRC said another 750 Tutsi refugees, who had taken shelter at the Roman Catholic facility in Mokotos, near the border with Rwanda, had fled to Kitchanga, a neighboring village. An estimated 500,000 Tutsis lost their lives during the April-August 1994 spasm of killing in Rwanda.

COMMENTARY: Where will Farrakhan lead and who will follow?

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy analyst and social worker to the homeless. He currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J.) (RNS)-“Long live the spirit of the Million Man March!” The chant was heard in urban centers throughout the nation as hundreds of thousands of black men, their sins atoned and their souls challenged, returned to their communities after last October’s march in Washington, D.C., with a renewed sense of purpose. The magnitude of the Million Man March and the subsequent activities of its two chief organizers, the Rev. Ben Chavis and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, have set the stage for a new style of leadership and governance within the African-American community.

NEWS FEATURE: Book on synagogue bombing reveals rabbi’s bravery in exposing ‘50s racism

c. 1996 Religion News Service (RNS)-Though five years have passed since Melissa Fay Greene’s acclaimed”Praying for Sheetrock”earned the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, the author hasn’t been idle. Now she has produced”The Temple Bombing,”a look at the 1958 bombing of an Atlanta synagogue. “I had the idea for it on the plane ride home from the National Book Awards,”Greene said during a telephone interview.”A number of publishers in New York wanted to know if I wanted to do a history of Southern Jews or a history of the Klan. But both of those had been done.

COMMENTARY: In the diplomatic arena, let there be light

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) (RNS)-When foreign ministers, ambassadors and other diplomats express themselves in public, they often employ a special language I call”diplospeak.” Diplospeak disguises reality and deliberately makes facts obscure or ambiguous. This dense and opaque language is an exquisite art form only skilled orators can effectively use. And only a fellow diplomat can accurately decipher such rhetoric.