COMMENTARY: In the former East Germany, no place for God

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at) DRESDEN, Germany _ God may be alive and well on the banks of the Rhine, but not here on the banks of the Elbe. Dresden is a scruffy, smoke-scorched, down-at-the-heels city, most of whose citizens are atheists. Some of Dresden’s former beauty, destroyed by massive bombing in World War II, has been restored.

NEWS STORY: DISCIPLINE VERSUS CONSCIENCE: South Africa abortion law on fast track to passage

c. 1996 Religion News Service JOHANNESBURG, South Africa _ Passage of a liberal abortion bill gained strength this week as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) instructed its members Thursday (Oct. 17) to vote in favor of the bill rather than allow an open vote, the ANC announced in Cape Town. The ANC instruction to its 252-member delegation in the South African Parliament Thursday came after three days of hearings in Capetown before the ad hoc committee on health. The often emotional hearings featured more than 90 groups and individuals who made submissions.

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c. 1996 Religion News Service Refugee group urges continued sanctions on Burundi (RNS) The U.S. Committee for Refugees says the international community should continue to press Burundi’s Tutsi-dominated government to begin negotiations with ethnic Hutu rebels.”African nations should continue to impose economic sanctions, with support from Western governments, until negotiations occur,”the non-profit agency said in a new 21-page report,”From Coup to Coup: Thirty Years of Death, Fear, and Displacement in Burundi.” The report also called on the United States and other Western nations to fund the mediation effort of former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere.”Ethnic cleansing has occurred, a military coup has unfolded, and the country lacks a legitimate government,”the report said.”Economic sanctions have been imposed by Burundi’s neighbors, Burundian society is largely segregated along ethnic lines, and many killings have been defined as `genocide’ by United Nations investigators and by the U.S. government.” The report estimated that 750,000 Burundians have fled their homes, including 350,000 who have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Amnesty International reported in September that some 200 Burundians are killed each day.

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c. 1996 Religion News Service Children’s Sabbath to be marked across the nation (RNS) In Alaska, members of Fairbanks Lutheran Church will pray for each child in their community by name. In Florida, sixth-graders at the Hebrew School of Temple Judea in West Palm Beach will raise money for a shelter for abused children. In Forest City, Ark., 80 congregations from six denominations will join in an interfaith worship service. These are a few of the estimated 20,000 religious congregations that will mark the 5th annual National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths this weekend (Oct.

Translating Genesis with an open mind _ and an ear for a good story

c. 1996 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Stephen Mitchell’s”Genesis: A New Translation of the Classical Biblical Stories”(HarperCollins) is anything but a chapter-and-verse retread of the canonical Genesis. He presents the tales of the Bible’s first book with an open heart, an open mind, and an ear for a good story. This attitude has consequences that are evident in the translation. In the”Fall”story (Genesis 3), for example, the New Revised Standard Version quotes the serpent with a tone that makes his question to Eve seem quite innocent:”Did God say, `You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?'” By tinkering slightly with the syntax, Mitchell adduces an attitude of dissembling from the serpent:”Did God really say that you’re not allowed to eat from any tree in the garden?”The result is to transform what the committee version renders as a sincere question into the side-winding rhetorical question that leads to Eve’s deception.

TOP STORY: SEARCHING FOR UNITY: Lutheran and Episcopal bishops thrash out unity proposal

c. 1996 Religion News Service WHITE HAVEN, Pa. _ At a critical moment near the end of the historic six-day joint meeting of the bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutherans sent what amounted to a small valentine to the Episcopal prelates meeting separately, some 100 feet down the hall.”… We extend thanks to the bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA for the fellowship and sharing that have been our joy to experience in our time together here,”the Monday (Oct. 7) afternoon message said.”May we who have been called to lead God’s people be sensitive to the Spirit’s direction in the future.”

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c. 1996 Religion News Service Jesus seminar to discuss its future at upcoming meeting (RNS) For more than a decade, the Jesus Seminar _ a group of religion and biblical scholars that has popularized the scholarly search for the historical Jesus _ has deconstructed the text of the New Testament Gospels in an attempt to discover what Jesus actually said and did. Its task largely completed, the controversial Jesus Seminar now must decide its future course. That decision could come at the group’s upcoming fall meeting, set for Oct. 16-20 in Santa Rosa, Calif.

NEWS FEATURE: FAITH AND MEDICINE: True healing, doctors say, involves more than mere medical skill

c. 1996 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ Neurosurgeon Ayub Ommaya stood in the George Washington Medical Center auditorium and told a group of medical students the story of a 9-year-old patient with a brain tumor that usually kills within a year. The case was not only a medical anecdote; it proved to be a test of faith. Ommaya, who is a Muslim, recalled how the girl’s father towered over him and demanded that the doctor save her life. Ommaya turned to the girl and asked her what she thought:”She said, `My father is always right and I’m not going to die.’

TOP STORY: SEEKING UNITY: Lutherans, Episcopalians on the brink of an historic accord

c. 1996 Religion News Service WHITE HAVEN, Pa. _ Signaling a major turn in the ecumenical movement in the United States, the bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began gathering here Thursday (Oct. 3) to consider a plan to bring the denominations into full communion with one another. The historic, five-day joint meeting of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Conference of Bishops is designed to lay the groundwork for approval next year of a”Concordat of Agreement”between the two denominations.

COMMENTARY: O, Jerusalem: A tangle of religion and politics

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) (UNDATED) The recent violence in Jerusalem is a devastating reminder of how a volatile mix of religion and politics dominates the city. Diplomats must factor this inextricable relationship into any successful peace process. Even atheists and agnostics are moved when they first visit the Old City of Jerusalem. One such person told me:”I’m not sure the things that are supposed to have happened in Jerusalem really occurred, but if they did, this was the place!”

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c. 1996 Religion News Service Spyridon condemns attack on Orthodox headquarters in Turkey (RNS) Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has condemned a grenade attack on the Istanbul, Turkey, compound of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, calling on President Clinton and political and religious leaders in the United States to join in the condemnation. “This senseless and shameful attack violates both the sanctity and safety of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is an affront to universally accepted principles of religious freedom and human rights,” Spyridon said in a statement Monday (Sept. 30). Bartholomew is the pre-eminent spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Lutherans delay joint theological declaration with Vatican (RNS) Lutherans have delayed for a year a long-awaited joint declaration with the Roman Catholic Church on a crucial doctrinal issue that would have marked a major breakthrough in ecumenical relations. Both Lutheran and Roman Catholic church officials had hoped the declaration, which says that the Lutheran”doctrine of justification”is no longer a divisive issue between the two churches, would have been issued in 1997 _ the 450th anniversary of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent that condemned the Lutheran doctrine. The issue involves Martin Luther’s belief that human beings are declared by God to be”justified”not on the basis of their own”strength, merits or works,”but by faith alone. The”doctrine of justification”has been a principal point of contention between Lutherans and Roman Catholics since the 16th century.

TOP STORY: GAY FAMILY VALUES: Gay families push for a place in the mainstream

c. 1996 Religion News Service SAN FRANCISCO _ Given the stinging rhetoric that accompanied Congress’ recent approval of the Defense of Marriage Act, it’s hard to imagine homosexual-rights activists having much reason for optimism. Signed Sept. 21 by President Clinton, the new federal law defines marriage as a contract”between one man and one woman,”and allows any state to ignore gay marriages legally contracted in other states. The measure swept through Congress _ with votes of 342-67 in the House and 85-14 in the Senate _ after backers warned that gay marriages are immoral and would threaten social chaos.”The very foundations of our society are in danger of being burned,”said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., one of the sponsors of the measure.

COMMENTARY: Everyone seems to have lost touch with the soul

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, Calif., and has been involved in counseling and outreach programs for more than 25 years.) (UNDATED) Once a nice little girl had a slumber party. She was from a happy family, full of energy and friends but she lived a very short life. Her name was Polly Klaas.

COMMENTARY: Singing words we would never speak

c. 1996 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is the publisher of Religion News Service and author of”Turn Toward the Wind”.) (UNDATED) A few years back, when Tipper Gore and Susan Baker launched a bipartisan mother’s campaign to label record albums, I watched from the sidelines. My children were listening to nothing racier than Raffi, so I drew upon my own experience as a teen-ager. I can still remember my parent’s footsteps growing slower as they passed my bedroom, hoping to hear a word from one of my albums. They had suspicions about my music, but since even I couldn’t understand the lyrics, we confined most of our debates to volume. But now I have a teen-ager of my own.