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c. 1998 Religion News Service Criticism of Clinton’s China policy continues (RNS) Religious and political opponents of President Clinton’s China policy maintained their steady drumbeat of criticism as the president prepared for his scheduled departure for China. He was scheduled to depart Wednesday (June 24) for his 10-day China trip. Opponents of Clinton’s China policy want him to stress religious and human rights concerns while in China. Clinton has said he would bring up those issues during his visit, but insists national security and trade issues also must be considered when dealing with China.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Clergy gets OK to bring concealed weapons to Kentucky churches (RNS) Ministers and church officers in Kentucky are now allowed to carry concealed weapons inside their churches thanks to a new provision in a state law. The 1996 law allows residents to carry concealed weapons with the proper permit, but had banned them from schools, government buildings and houses of worship. Exceptions were made originally for judges in their courtrooms and legislators at work. Some Kentucky pastors petitioned _ and won _ the right to be included in the exemptions.”It’s a matter of equal rights and equal protection under this gun law,”Willie Ramsey, a preacher at the Somerset Church of Christ told the Associated Press.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Controversial Islamic school gets OK from Virginia county board (RNS) Leaders of a suburban Washington, D.C., county have, over sharp objections from some residents, approved plans to build a private Islamic school for 3,500 students that would be financed by the Saudi Arabian government. The $50 million Muslim school was approved by a vote of 7 to 2 Wednesday (March 4) by the Board of Supervisors of Loudoun County, Virginia. Board members said their decision was based on the fact that plans for the school meet land-use rules, The Washington Post reported. They did not heed the concerns of opponents, who thought the plan should be rejected because the Saudi Arabian government has a poor human rights record and the school might be a target for terrorists.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Crowd of 100,000 gather for woman’s message from Virgin Mary (RNS) A crowd of 100,000 people gathered in Conyers, Ga., Tuesday to hear a message from the Virgin Mary given by a woman who claims to have had visits from Mary since 1990.”If you are worried about the future, put not your attention to these matters,”homemaker Nancy Fowler read from handwritten notes to a rapt audience.”The future holds no concern to those who truly seek God and love him and remain in his favor.” The woman claimed that Mary visited her earlier that day inside her small farmhouse about 30 miles east of Atlanta, the Associated Press reported. Fowler delivered messages from Mary on the 13th of each month from October 1990 to May 1994. After that date, she announced that there would be a public message from the Virgin Mary just once a year _ on Oct.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Church women call for canceling poor nations’ debts (RNS) The 125-member U.S. delegation who attended the festival marking the end of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women has written President Clinton calling for”the complete cancellation of debts for the most heavily indebted countries as a first step in changing the unjust economic policies which govern our world.” The global debt issue was a primary concern during the four-day festival in Harare, Zimbabwe, marking the end of the World Council of Churches-sponsored ecumenical decade which highlighted progress and setbacks for women in church and society. The campaign to reduce or cancel the debts of some 41 heavily indebted nations _ many of them in Africa _ as a means of marking the turn of the Christian millennium in the year 2000, has become a major drive by religious leaders and groups, including Pope John Paul II. The U.S. women’s letter to Clinton, his wife Hillary, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the presidents of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund said the debt burden of the poorest countries falls heaviest on women and their children.”We as Christians need to help our government and the IMF to reflect on how they are asking these countries to pay their debts,”said Thelma Adair, the prominent U.S. ecumenist and member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”And we need a Marshall Plan of Christian sympathy that goes in to these areas (suffering from poverty) to get them where they can participate.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Christian retailers voice concerns about book company merger (RNS) Christian retailers have voiced concerns about how the plans of Barnes & Noble to purchase Ingram Book Group will affect their business. Ingram Book Group, a subsidiary of Nashville, Tenn.-based Ingram Industries, owns Spring Arbor Distributors, a major wholesale distributor to Christian book stores. In early November, Barnes & Noble, which is based in New York, announced its plans to purchase Ingram for $600 million. Bill Anderson, president of CBA, the trade group formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association, said retailers affiliated with his organization have expressed a number of concerns.”It raises questions about service levels,”said Anderson, whose office is in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Catholic, Mennonite leaders open talks to `heal memories’ (RNS) For the first time, an international group of Roman Catholic and Mennonite theologians and church leaders have sat down together to discuss what separates the two faith bodies.”The purpose of the consultation was to promote better understanding of positions about Christian faith held on each side and to contribute to overcoming prejudices that have long existed between Mennonites and Catholics,”the group said in an official communique issued as a result of the Oct. 14-18 meeting. During the meeting, two sets of papers were delivered. The first set included a profile by each church describing for the other church”who we are,”while the second set focused on historical questions helping to shed light on the reactions to each other in the 16th century.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Catholic priest doesn’t regret giving Clinton communion (RNS) A Roman Catholic priest in South Africa who broke church rules by giving Holy Communion to President Clinton, a Southern Baptist, said Thursday (April 2) he believes he acted correctly.”I’m ready to put my head on the block for that,”said the Rev. Mohlomi Makobane, whose church in the black township of Soweto was visited by Clinton and his entourage during the president’s 12-day visit to Africa, which concluded Thursday (April 2). Makobane said he didn’t have much choice when Clinton got in line Sunday (March 29) at Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church to receive communion, the Associated Press reported.”If the president stands up to come receive Holy Communion, how much embarrassment would it have caused him by my saying `Please sit down,'”the priest said in an interview.”Let’s be practical. He’s a child of God and came willingly to share the Eucharist with us and pray with us,”Makobane said.”And he’s the most powerful man in the world. …

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Christianity Today editorializes against death penalty (RNS) Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, has, for the first time, come out against capital punishment.”However we learn to apply … biblical themes of reconciliation and the abhorrence of vengeance in the public sphere, it seems clear that the death penalty has outlived its usefulness,”the magazine concluded in an editorial in its April 6 issue.”It has not made the United States a safer country or a more equitable one.” The two-page, unsigned editorial cited reasons why the death penalty is”unfair and discriminatory,”does not deter murders and fails to console the survivors of murder victims. Richard Kauffman, an associate editor of the magazine, said the editorial was sparked in part by the controversial execution of pickax murderer Karla Faye Tucker. Tucker, who was executed Feb.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Christendom marks Good Friday (RNS) In what has become an annual Good Friday tradition, Pope John Paul II heard confessions from citizens from around the globe Friday (April 10) in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica just hours before he was scheduled to participate in a cross-bearing procession to the Colosseum. Due to health limitations, the pope was expected to carry the large wooden cross for only a short time during the candlelit march, which symbolizes Jesus’ carrying the cross to his Crucifixion. The meditation during the procession was to focus on the suffering of women and lament that Jews were made to suffer by Christians because they have long held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, a notion the Vatican repudiated in a 1965 document.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Church World Service plans more aid for North Korea (RNS) Church World Service, the relief and humanitarian arm of the National Council of Churches, has announced it plans to send $500,000 in new aid to North Korea to help people survive the next crucial”crunch”in March or April, when basic food supplies will again begin to run out.”Aid provided last year has made the current winter months more endurable, but the country’s people remain in peril,”said Victor Hsu, directors of CWS’ East Asia and Pacific Program. Hsu visited North Korea last month. North Korea has been suffering since two years of floods and drought severely crippled the nation’s agricultural capacity creating famine conditions throughout much of the country. Since 1995, Church World Service has sent more than $2.2 million in rice, corn, barley, beef, antibiotics, blankets and clothing to help alleviate the suffering.

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Church of England set to debate Britain’s drug policies (RNS) For the first time, the general synod of the Church of England is set to publicly debate Britain’s drug problem and the government policies used to tackle it, including the volatile issue of easing laws prohibiting drug use. The synod, the Anglican body’s key decision-making group, will meet July 4-7 in York, England, and high on its agenda will be discussion of a paper prepared by the Rev. Kenneth Leech, a church expert in the field of drug policy. Leech’s paper argues the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair needs to recognize _ as its predecessors did not _ that drug treatment costs less and works better than does prohibition.”The most disappointing aspect of the present government’s strategy,”Leech said in his report,”is the failure to see how drug policy has helped to produce the present appalling situation”of drug abuse. He said both”criminal syndicates”and the widespread availability of powdered heroin only came on the British illicit drug scene with the passage of the 1967 Dangerous Drug Act.

NEWS SIDEBAR: Groups aiding in Hurricane Mitch relief

c. 20013 Telephone: 1-800-HELP-NOW Spanish: 1-800-257-7575 Baptist World Aid 6733 Curran Street McClean, VA 22101-3804 Telephone: (703) 790-8980 CARE 151 Ellis Street NE Atlanta, GA 30303-2426 Telephone: 1-800-521-2273 Catholic Relief Services P.O. Box 17090 Baltimore, MD 21203-7090 Telephone: 1-800-235-2772 Childreach 155 Plan Way Warwich, RI 02886-1099 Telephone: 1-800-556-7918 Christian Children’s Fund 2821 Emerywood Parkway P.O. Box 26484 Richmond, VA 23261-6484 Telephone: 1-800-776-6767 Church World Services 28606 Phillips Street P.O. Box 968 Elkhart, IN 46515 Telephone: 1-800-297-1516, ext. 222 Doctors Without Borders 6 East 39th Street, 8th Floor New York, NY 10016 Telephone: 1-888-392-0392 Episcopal Church/Presiding Bishop’s Fund 815 Second Avenue New York, NY 10017 Telephone: (212) 867-8400 International Aid, Inc. 17011 West Hickory Spring Lake, MI 49456 Telephone: 1-800-968-7490 Lutheran World Relief Church Street Station P.O. Box 6186 New York, NY 10277-1738 Telephone: 1-800-597-5972 Map International 2200 Glynco Parkway P.O. Box 215000 Brunswick, GA 31521-5000 Telephone: 1-800-225-8550 Mercy Corps International 3030 SW First Ave. Portland, OR 97201 Telephone: (503) 796-6827 Operation USA 8320 Melrose Ave., Suite 200 Los Angeles, CA 90096 Telephone: 1-800-678-7255 Oxfam America Central America Relief Fund 26 West Street Boston, MA 02111 Telephone: 1-800-77OXFAM Salvation Army World Service Office 615 Slaters Lane Alexandria, VA 22313 Telephone: (703) 684-5528 Save the Children Hurricane Mitch Emergency Appeal P.O. Box 975-M 54 Wilton Road Westport, CT 06880 Telephone: 1-800-243-5075 Share Foundation PO Box 192825 San Francisco, CA 94119 Telephone: (415) 882-1530 United Methodist Committee on Relief 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330 New York, NY 10115 Telephone: 1-800-554-8583 World Relief P.O. Box WRC Dept. 3 Wheaton, IL 60189 Telephone: 1-800-535-5433 World Vision P.O. Box 9716 Federal Way, WA 98063-9716 Telephone: 1-888-511-6565 DEA END RNS

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c. 1998 Religion News Service Churches denounce Northern Ireland bombing (RNS) Church leaders in Europe have denounced last weekend’s bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland, which took the lives of 28 people, including seven children and 14 women.”That such an unspeakable crime should have been committed, in which so many innocent people have suffered death, injury and bereavement, has appalled people throughout Europe and other parts of the world who have the cause of peace in Northern Ireland in their hearts and in their prayers,”the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches said in a joint statement Monday (Aug. 17). The statement said the massacre”is a challenge to the democratically elected leaders in both islands to root out the sectarianism that has taken a heavy toll during the last three decades.” The statement, signed by the Rev. Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the WCC, and the Rev. Keith Clements, general secretary of the CEC, said the bombing may make the road to peace”now seem more still more difficult and perilous.”

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Church of Scotland eases stance against gambling (RNS) The general assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland _ by a mere 11-vote margin _ has relaxed its opposition to gambling to allow local congregations and other church agencies to apply for National Lottery funding to help pay for community work and the repair and maintenance of historic church buildings. The vote Monday (May 18) essentially affirmed the report of a special commission set up last year to look at the tricky question of the church benefiting from lottery money when it opposes gambling as immoral. The commission report said Britain’s National Lottery was an intrinsic part of the mix of public funding for many activities in which the church is involved and that the division between lottery and other public funding had become indistinct. Critics of the lottery said the commission’s report would undermine the church’s expressed opposition to gambling on moral grounds _ a stand the assembly reaffirmed along with its concerns over the effect of the National Lottery on the nation.