COMMENTARY: Church burnings inflame all manner of passions

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.) (UNDATED) At the beginning of a summer expected to be long and hot, a shocking charge was made: Racists are burning black churches. In a June 8 address, President Clinton cited the burning of Murkland Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., which he described as the 30th such fire in 18 months. Subsequent reaction was swift and hot.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Religious leaders oppose school prayer amendment on eve of House hearing (RNS) Leaders from several major religious groups said Monday (July 22) that a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at assuring”religious equality”is not only unnecessary but would end the historic separation of church and state.”Why, if it’s not broke, are some Republicans now trying to fix our Constitution? In an election year, do we really have to ask?”said the Rev. Meg A. Riley, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Riley was one of nearly a dozen religious officials from Protestant, Jewish and Buddhist groups who held a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court to declare that the proposed”Religious Equality Amendment”to the Constitution is really a back-door way of restoring state-sponsored prayer in the public schools and permitting taxpayer-supported financial aid for religious schools. Supporters of the amendment argue that it is necessary to protect people from religious discrimination, especially public school students who are sometimes barred from various forms of religious expression such as carrying a rosary or saying grace at lunch.

TOP STORY: BUSINESS ETHICS: Global business environment makes it hard to be ethical

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Nike Inc. says it can’t prevent Asian subcontractors from employing young children. Yet U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich leads an effort to ban soccer balls, including Nike’s, stitched by boys and girls in Pakistan. Columbia Sportswear Co. says it shouldn’t be judged for its partnership with a firm partially owned by a military dictatorship in Burma.

COMMENTARY: Could this be the Republican crack-up?

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.) (UNDATED) It is tempting to say that Bob Dole’s abortion writhings are merely a clumsy attempt to harvest votes on both sides of the ideological chasm, but this ignores the deeper philosophical crisis that grips both Dole and the Republican Party. Watch closely.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Robertson says Dole’s running mate must oppose abortion (RNS) Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson has said that Bob Dole will lose to President Clinton in November unless the likely Republican standard bearer selects an anti-abortion, social conservative as his vice presidential running mate. In a Washington Times interview conducted Thursday (July 18), Robertson said that if Dole selects a”so-called moderate or somebody who is perceived as pro-choice”as his running mate, the results will be”absolutely devastating.” Not only will Dole be defeated, but Republicans also will lose control in the House of Representatives and the Senate in the November election, said Robertson, founder of both the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Christian Coalition. Robertson also was quoted as saying that anti-abortion voters will stop contributing to or volunteering to help the Dole campaign if the candidate does not soon make it clear that he intends to select an anti-abortion running mate.”(Dole) should make his intentions crystal clear now to begin to rally his troops, because the troops are beginning to desert en masse,”Robertson said.

NEWS STORY: Attorney: Christian Coalition didn’t address money allegations

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The attorney for the Christian Coalition’s suspended chief financial officer said Friday (June 19) that his client reported allegations of financial irregularities to federal authorities only after organization executives failed to give a”proper response”to her concerns. Judy Liebert _ who has been the Christian Coalition’s top financial official for four years _ was suspended June 1 after going to the United States attorney’s office in Norfolk, Va., with allegations that her attorney, Moody Stallings, said involved a direct-mail services vendor who has been paid millions of dollars for its work. Despite the suspension, Liebert, who earns $85,000 a year, is still on the payroll. She has, however, been barred from the Christian Coalition’s offices in Chesapeake, Va.

COMMENTARY: There’s no place quite like Ireland

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. His home page on the World Wide Web is at http://www.agreeley.com. Or contact him via e-mail at agreel(AT)aol.com.) (UNDATED) There was a pogrom last week in Northern Ireland. As pogroms go, it was a rather mild event _ only one person killed (a Catholic, of course).

TOP STORY: FIRST-PERSON THEOLOGY: Where was God when the plane crashed?

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Frederick Houk Borsch is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. This article is adapted from his new book,”Outrage and Hope,”published by Trinity Press International.) (UNDATED) God did not intervene to prevent the tragic crash Wednesday near New York of a TWA jet bound for Paris, just as he did not intervene on a dark, sleeting January afternoon in 1985, when the plane in which I was riding crashed into Boston Harbor. But as I ponder the horror that so recently unfolded in the sky over the Atlantic, it is clear to me that in both cases, God was not absent. Mysteriously and powerfully, God remains present, participating in what happens with us and through us, deep in the heart of life; offering faith and courage, even in the midst of tragedy.

Pentecostal group gives women ministers added authority

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The Rev. Catherine Payne has traveled the globe, representing the Church of God of Prophecy and preaching in pulpits from India to Bulgaria to Ukraine. But wherever Payne preached, she could not baptize converts, officiate at Holy Communion services or perform weddings. However, thanks to an historic vote taken at her 300,000-member Pentecostal denomination’s biennial general assembly in Louisville, Ky., which met July 8-14, Payne can now perform some ministerial functions that once were the exclusive domain of men in her church. In addition, women members who for decades were prohibited from addressing denominational business meetings can again do so.”It’s a pretty significant change for us,”Payne said of the changes in her Cleveland, Tenn.-based denomination.

NEWS STORY: Pentecostal group gives women ministers added authority

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The Rev. Catherine Payne has traveled the globe, representing the Church of God of Prophecy and preaching in pulpits from India to Bulgaria to Ukraine. But wherever Payne preached, she could not baptize converts, officiate at Holy Communion services or perform weddings. However, thanks to an historic vote taken at her 300,000-member Pentecostal denomination’s biennial general assembly in Louisville, Ky., which met July 8-14, Payne can now perform some ministerial functions that once were the exclusive domain of men in her church. In addition, women members who for decades were prohibited from addressing denominational business meetings can again do so.”It’s a pretty significant change for us,”Payne said of the changes in her Cleveland, Tenn.-based denomination.

Now women have promises to keep

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Five years ago, Christian men drawn to the emerging Promise Keepers movement began attending mass rallies in stadiums across the country, making pledges to make their faith and families paramount in their lives. Now, it appears to be the women’s turn. In churches and sports arenas from Kansas to southern California, plans are underway for female versions of Promise Keepers meetings. Some of these organizations’ goals sound quite similar to their male counterpart _ turning women into more”godly”resources for their families, churches and communities.

COMMENTARY: Casting stones at Pharisees

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) (UNDATED) Ellen F. Cooke, the former national treasurer of the Episcopal Church, was recently sentenced in federal court to five years in prison for embezzling $1.5 million in church funds and evading $300,000 in income taxes. Cooke’s crimes put the spotlight on Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, who had hired Cooke and then protected her from criticism when her major-league stealing was first revealed. Browning’s actions caused many Episcopalians to call for his resignation. Perhaps hoping to silence critics, Browning and six other top Episcopal officials wrote a letter July 3 to U.S. District Court Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, urging appropriate punishment for Cooke, who spent the stolen money on jewelry, limousines, real estate and private-school tuition for her children at a time when the church was forced to cut back on its charities and downsize its staff.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service A pope-Castro meeting? It’s possible (RNS) Fidel Castro may not be welcome on U.S. soil, but the Cuban communist leader could find a warmer reception at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II. The possibility of Castro meeting with the pope _ which has not formally been requested by either party _ was raised Tuesday (July 16) by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He told reporters in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains where the pope is vacationing that”if the request (from Cuba) arrives we will consider it.”

NEWS STORY: THE CHURCH AND THE POOR: Religious leaders urge defeat of welfare overhaul measure

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ A coalition of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish religious groups and charities Thursday (July 18) urged Congress to reject pending legislation that would overhaul the welfare system. If Congress approves the measure _ which would put states in control of welfare policies; impose a two-year limit on welfare benefits; and reduce food stamps and cash assistance to the poor _ the religious leaders said President Clinton should veto the bill.”This bill is not about ending welfare as we know it; it’s about creating child poverty as we haven’t seen it,”said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, the nation’s largest grassroots Christian anti-hunger network.”We are appalled by indications that President Clinton, former Senator Bob Dole and many congressional leaders are supportive of nutrition and welfare cuts that would likely push an additional 1 million children into poverty,”Beckmann said. As Beckmann and the other religious leaders spoke, the House began debating its version of the welfare bill _ a measure that was expected to pass before the end of the day. The Senate was expected to take up the issue on Thursday and pass a bill _ perhaps as early as Friday or by next week.