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.

NEWS STORY: Episcopal church treasurer gets five years for embezzlement

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Ellen F. Cooke, the high-living former treasurer of the Episcopal Church who admitted embezzling more than $1.5 million from the church, was sentenced Wednesday (July 10) to five years in prison. U.S. District Court Judge Maryanne Trump Barry in Newark, N.J., said that Cooke”systematically looted”the denomination. Barry dismissed as”spurious”Cooke’s claim that a mental disorder combined with stress led to the embezzlement of what church officials said was more than $2.2 million. Barry imposed a stiffer sentence than the court guidelines usually suggest.

TOP STORY: RELIGION AND POLITICS: When `evangelical’ doesn’t necessarily mean `conservat

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When the progressive civil liberties group People For the American Way was considering civic activist and philanthropist Carole Shields for its presidency, board members liked the idea of a religious Christian at the helm. “Somebody said, `Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Baptist preacher’s kid as president of the American Way?'”said Shields, who was named to the post in April. “It would make it a little more difficult for the Religious Right to claim we’re a bunch of heathens.” While progressive evangelicals in religious organizations have become increasingly vocal, less visible are leaders like Shields, who are making headway in the secular arena, in government agencies, and in universities and public policy groups from the State Department to the Children’s Defense Fund. Like many of their more conservative peers, they believe the Bible is the inspired word of God _ albeit recorded by imperfect scribes _ and they are committed to promoting what they see as biblically based values, from equal rights for minorities to environmental stewardship.

TOP STORY: RELIGION AND CULTURE: Does prayer help the medicine go down?

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _”I’m an honest-to-God doctor,”said Larry Dossey, grinning at his pun. Dossey _ a physician, best-selling author and executive editor of the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine _ is a proponent of synthesizing spirituality and science.”Faith empowers science,”he said during a recent visit to Washington.”If you join reason with faith, then you have something more powerful than either.” Dossey’s new book,”Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer”(HarperSanFrancisco), is the most recent attempt by the Santa Fe, N.M., internist to popularize the growing body of research on the health benefits of prayer. The book appears as the medical profession wrestles with the increased attention being paid to the subject.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Religious leaders want ban on CIA use of missionaries (RNS) A panel of religious leaders told a Senate committee Wednesday (July 17) that an absolute ban on the use of clergy by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was necessary to protect the lives of missionaries in foreign countries. But CIA director John Deutch, backed by an influential Democratic senator, said he wanted the agency to retain the right to waive the ban under certain”exceptional”circumstances. The conflicting views were aired during an open meeting of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. In addition to the religious leaders, the committee also heard testimony from Ted Koppel of ABC News'”Nightline”; Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report; and Kenneth Adelman, a columnist for The Washington Times.

COMMENTARY: Good deeds are like old cars; they can both backfire

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Dick Feagler is a columnist for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland) (UNDATED) Sometimes you hear people say that no good deed goes unpunished. But that’s pretty cold and cynical. It’s warmer and fuzzier to say that good deeds are like old cars. They often backfire when you least expect it.

COMMENTARY: Living in a material world

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is the author of”Turn Toward the Wind”and publisher of Religion News Service.) (UNDATED) The two stories ran 13 pages apart in the Sunday New York Times. The first, just four pages into the first section, told the heartbreaking story of men and women who live in steel cages stacked atop one another in a grimy section of Hong Kong. They are incarcerated by poverty, and the cages are what they call home. In the same section, below a photo of a woman who is laughing while a man runs his fingers through her hair, was the story of another trend: the $500 hairdo.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Churches urge U.S. action on environment (RNS) The National Council of Churches and a dozen Protestant and Orthodox bodies called Tuesday (July 16) for greater U.S. leadership in reducing the emission of”greenhouse gases”that many scientists believe are changing the Earth’s climate.”These are profound issues of global justice,”the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches told a Washington news conference.”While we will all suffer from the consequences of climate change, it is the poor in the United States and in other nations who will be most severely affected and who will have the least recourse.” Climate change, or global warming, is caused by the emission of so-called greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, which are released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil in electricity generation, heating and automobiles. Many experts believe the climate changes will increase the volatility of weather patterns, which could disrupt agriculture and magnify the effects of storms and floods. Some climate changes can cause micro-organism proliferation, and in turn, health problems. It could also affect forest ecosystems and raise sea levels, which would impact low-lying coastal areas.

BODY & SOUL: Gambling is a poor bet for satisfying the soul

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Body & Soul is a regular column exploring the interplay between spirituality and psychology. Pythia Peay is the author of”Putting America on the Couch,”to be published by Riverhead Books in 1997.) (UNDATED) As his mother lay dying, Alex Walters’ father was nowhere to be found. Panic-stricken, Walters drove by his father’s house to check on his whereabouts. But when Walter saw that his father’s car was missing, he guessed the truth: His 80-year-old parent was away gambling in Atlantic City.

FEATURE STORY: Modern-day Moses carves Ten Commandments

c. 1996 Religion News Service PORTLAND, Ore. _ Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments carved in stone. Steve Williams stepped down from his Safeway semi-truck with the same religious edicts etched in two types of marble and slate. Tradition holds that Moses received the commandments directly from God.

Best-selling religion books

(Editor’s note: This list is compiled by Publishers Weekly magazine from data received from general independent bookstores, chain stores and wholesalers within the month of June. Copyright 1996 Publishers Weekly. Distributed by Religion News Service. Check RNS Online for the list in a graphic format.) HARDCOVER 1. The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris.

NEWS STORY: Yancey wins Christian Book of the Year prize

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED)”The Jesus I Never Knew”by Philip Yancey (Zondervan Publishing House) has won the Christian Book of the Year Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. The fifth annual award, presented jointly with the Christian Booksellers Association, was given Saturday (July 13) to Yancey, a best-selling author and editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine. The Christian Book of the Year Award honors a book for having the most significant effect during the preceding calendar year. In addition to the book of the year, 22 Gold Medallion Book Awards were presented by the publishers’ association.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service World Council of Churches faces severe financial crisis (RNS) The World Council of Churches (WCC) is facing severe financial difficulties and only”drastic action”on the part of the international ecumenical agency’s 330 member churches can end the crisis, the Rev. Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary, has told members.”By the end of this year, despite strict expenditure control and savings, the general funds and reserves available will have been used up,”Raiser said in a July 1 letter to WCC member churches.”Income is no longer sufficient to pay for the present activities in which the Council is engaged,”he said. Raiser said that a year ago, the council thought it was in”one of those periodic fluctuations, which would correct itself before long. We believed that our reserves were sufficient to tide us over the difficulty.”You will see from the enclosed report that such a belief was over-optimistic, the decline in income has been greater and lasted longer than anticipated, and shows no sign of improvement,”he said. In response to the financial woes, Raiser said a 16 percent reduction in WCC staff is planned.

COMMENTARY: Witnesses to slavery

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) One could charitably say that Louis Farrakhan is, at best, in deep denial about slavery, but he can no longer honestly say there is no independent proof that slavery exists in Africa. While the Nation of Islam leader is outspoken in his condemnation of Jews and others, he remains silent about slave traders, at least when it’s his friends who live in the plantation houses.