COMMENTARY: America has become a plutocracy

c. 1997 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. Check out his home page at, or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at) UNDATED _ In these dog days of summer, the only news seems to be about the financial scandals surrounding the last presidential campaign (scandals that little interest most Americans despite stern lectures from pundits that they are obliged to be interested). But little attention has been paid to the biggest scandal of all: The United States has become a plutocracy, a country ruled by and for the rich. Technically, one person, one vote is still the rule of law, so a wealthy man has no more votes than a poor one.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Rhem found guilty of sexual misconduct at church trial (RNS) A local jurisdictional body of the Reformed Church in America has found the Rev. Richard Rhem guilty of”gross sexual conduct”and has removed him from the ordained ministry of the denomination. The verdict, rendered by the Muskegon Classis of the RCA, means Rhem, the controversial pastor of the 2,800-member Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, Mich., means the denomination no longer recognizes him as a minister and he will be barred from preaching or administering the sacraments in other RCA churches. Rhem’s own congregation, however, has no intention of removing him from the pulpit and has filed a civil suit asking a secular court to order the classis to allow the church to leave the RCA. The congregation declared its unilateral independence of the RCA on July 4, 1996.

NEWS FEATURE: African-rooted churches springing up in America

c. 1997 Religion News Service UNDATED_For generations, Christian missionaries from the United States journeyed to Africa to teach their religion. Now, however, amid an explosion of Christianity in Africa, churches there are sending thousands of missionaries overseas to preach the Christian message in their own unique style. And many of those missionaries are coming to the United States. “We have been blessed by the U.S. and now we want to give back to them through the gospel of Christ,” said Badeg Bekele, pastor of the Emmanuel Ethiopian Church in Los Angeles.

NEWS FEATURE: Ecumenical institute seen as `new way’ to be Christian

c. 1997 Religion News Service SEATTLE _ As popes, prelates and church commissions pursue the delicate diplomacy of Christian unity, here in the Northwest, 10 Protestant denominations and one Catholic school have simply rolled up their sleeves and made it happen _ with a path-breaking program in which Protestants and Catholics train together for the ministry. Seattle University’s new Institute for Ecumenical Theological Studies was officially launched July 11. Though Catholics and Protestants study together at a number of theological consortiums at universities, its organizers say this is the first degree-granting Protestant institute to be established at a Catholic university and collectively administered by the participating denominations. An air of celebration pervaded this urban campus during a week’s worth of inaugural programs and activities.

NEWS FEATURE: Quest to become Orthodox rabbi puts woman on the cutting edge

c. 1997 Religion News Service JERUSALEM _ If the topic of the 1983 Canadian Bible Contest had been Genesis instead of the Book of Numbers, Devora Shonfeld might never have aspired to become a rabbi _ an Orthodox rabbi. When Shonfeld, a Toronto native, won the Bible contest at age 10, it changed her life. Now living in Jerusalem, she spends her days and nights studying the weighty tomes of the Talmud, the volumes of Jewish law which expound, define and refine the basic commandments handed down to the people of Israel as they wandered out of Egypt and into the Promised Land some 3,000 years ago.”Learning the Book of Numbers gave me the sense that God cares about what we do, and the way to connect to God is by performing his commandments,”Shonfeld recalled.”I always knew I was going to be a rabbi. I knew Jewish text would be central in my life.”

COMMENTARY: Learning about faith from Carl Sagan

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Robert A. Seiple is President of World Vision U.S., one of the largest privately funded Christian relief and development organizations in the world. He lives outside Seattle.) UNDATED _ Are science and faith mutually exclusive? For three years, I was privileged to debate that question with one of the 20th century’s best-known scientists, the late Carl Sagan. Through our correspondence, his questions challenged me to recapture a sense of wonder and curiosity _ to allow my faith to be so strong that I could work through doubts from a position of strength.

COMMENTARY: The routines of vacation and the routines of God

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal priest in Winston-Salem, N.C., an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter. E-mail him at journey(at) UNDATED _ My broken wristwatch is being repaired. I have no idea of the time as I awaken at my father-in-law’s farm in southern New Hampshire on the first day of summer vacation. The golden glow across fields of timothy looks brighter than usual.