COMMENTARY: There’s a biblical parallel with Iran’s Khatami

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee.) UNDATED _ CNN, the Cable News Network, recently aired an interview with Mohammad Khatami, the president of Iran. It was Khatami’s first extended appearance in the Western media and he used the opportunity to say a few positive things about America, a nation officially labeled “the Great Satan” by the Muslim mullahs who have tightly controlled Iran since 1979. Some editorial writers and government officials in this country were ecstatic about Khatami’s somewhat benign rhetoric. They suggested Iran, the modern name of Persia, had perhaps changed its 20-year policy of fierce opposition to the United States.

NEWS PROFILE: Making Scripture available to `the average person’

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ Two hundred years ago, a man named Thomas Nelson wanted to put books into the hands of the common people of Scotland. Now, the company still bearing his name is a key player in an American industry striving to make Bibles and other Christian literature more accessible to average consumers.”In the past, Bibles were made basically at the whim of scholars, what they thought was important,”said Sam Moore, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, Tenn. Moore, who as a recent immigrant from Lebanon sold Bibles door to door to pay his tuition, said he learned everyday people wanted Scriptures that weren’t just for scholars.”My dream was to make a Bible that the average person can understand,”Moore said in a recent interview. His dream came true by taking advantage of”niche”marketing, in which numerous Bibles and other products have been created and aimed at specific categories of people, such as students, women, children and African-Americans.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Religious groups continue to urge diplomacy to end Iraq crisis (RNS) Religious leaders against new U.S. military attacks on Iraq are continuing to express their opposition in letters to President Bill Clinton and statements to the media. Tuesday (Feb. 17), the leaders of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in a joint statement, urged no new attacks, despite Saddam Hussein’s ruthlessness.”We entertain no illusions about the nature of the Iraqi regime,”wrote the Rev. Paul H. Sherry, president of the Cleveland-based UCC, and the Rev. Richard L. Hamm, general minister and president of the Indianapolis-based Christian Church. The two mainline Protestant denominations share some ministries and functions.”It is, however, our vocation as church leaders not only to condemn the wrongdoing of tyrants, but also to speak on behalf of those who are rendered voiceless and without advocates in the corridors of power, in this instance the people of Iraq,”Sherry and Hamm said.

NEWS PROFILE: Faith, family inspire popular `painter of light’

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ Like a modern American Renoir, Thomas Kinkade is a”painter of light”whose cozy, flower-laced cottages invite onlookers to crawl inside their warmly lit windows for a romantic evening before the radiant hearths imagined within. Images of Kinkade’s idyllic Victorian villages and inspirational landscapes”account for more sales than any other living artist,”he says matter-of-factly. And if past sales are any indication, this year one in 20 Americans will purchase a Kinkade lithograph, poster, collector’s plate, calendar, book, figurine or greeting card. But it’s not sales that drive him.”God speaks to people through these paintings,”Kinkade said during a recent telephone interview from his studio in the northern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains outside San Jose, Calif., as he worked on his latest canvas,”The Mountain Chapel,”which he described as a”vast mountain landscape with the glory of God pouring through the clouds and a little chapel by the lake.”

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Judge bars video distribution of film in religious copyright dispute (RNS) A federal judge in Virginia has barred distribution of the video version of”Devil’s Advocate”until the film’s maker, Warner Bros., resolves a copyright dispute with sculptor Frederick Hart over Hart’s allegation the film illegally used an image of his work at Washington’s National Cathedral. If the film company and Hart cannot come to an agreement in 48 hours, U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III said Tuesday (Feb. 10), Hart and the cathedral have grounds to go to trial on their copyright infringement suit. The trial is set for March 16 and Ellis said the artist would”very likely”win.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Vatican orders inquiry of former Vienna archbishop (RNS) In response to rising anger among Austrian Catholics, the Vatican on Thursday (Feb. 12) launched a formal investigation of former Vienna Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer amid fresh allegations of sexual misconduct. Groer was forced to retire in 1995 after nine years as archbishop, when a majority of Austrian Catholics said they were convinced of his guilt in an alleged case of sexual molestation of a student some two decades earlier. The new allegations, in which several other students have come forward with claims of misconduct, have forced Groer to resign from his new job as head of the Benedictine monastery of Maria Roggendorf.

Wednesday News Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Scientology paid government $12.5 million to settle IRS dispute (RNS) The Church of Scientology has paid the U.S. government $12.5 million as part of a 1993 settlement with the Internal Revenue Service establishing the controversial group’s tax-exempt status.”Bottom line, the document (settlement) is a peace treaty. The war (with the IRS) is over,”Mark Rathbun, a church spokesman told the Associated Press. The Scientology payment to the IRS was made public in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. The settlement has ended a dispute between Scientology and the government stretching back to 1967.

COMMENTARY: An excess of holiday expectations produces dangerous anxieties

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin is the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee.) UNDATED-The psychiatrist who lives in my apartment building tells me the long holiday season, which begins at Thanksgiving and extends until after New Year’s Day, is his busiest time of the year. His office is filled with anxiety-ridden patients, half of whom dread being without their families during”the holidays,”and the half dreads being with their families.”Either way, they are unhappy,”chortles my neighbor. The chaplains who were on-duty at Chicago’s O’Hare airport during the recent Christmas/Hanukkah travel rush say the same thing. The many passengers who flocked to the airport chapels before boarding their flights were not worried about aircraft safety.

Nuns on the ‘Net: Cloistered sisters join cyberspace craze

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Ed. note: Photo to accompany this article is available from RNS Stock. To receive free software for downloading photos, call 800-767-6781.) UNDATED-Sister Mary Martin and Sister Ann rise at 5:30 each morning, meditate, and eat a simple breakfast in silence. For the cloistered nuns on an isolated hilltop in Ortonville, Mich., every day begins with prayer.

NEWS FEATURE: Church marches to reclaim drug-infested neighborhood

c. 1998 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ It’s 7 p.m. on a raw January night in the Bronx and the Rev. John Jenik is gathering his flock in the parking lot of Our Lady of Refuge Church for their monthly prayer vigil. Instead of turning into the sanctuary, however, they head out beyond the iron gates and razor wire protecting the church and into the street _ 25 parishioners armed only with some prayers, a few songs and their faith _ on a mission to reclaim their neighborhood. With a cry of”Vamanos,”Jenik rallies his troops. They depart, under heavy police escort, to wage their peaceful war with the violent gangs that control the streets of the Fordham-Bedford neighborhood.

NEWS STORY: Argue leaving National Association of Evangelicals post

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ The Rev. Don Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), plans to resign his post this spring to become president of Northwest College, an Assemblies of God school in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, Wash. The Rev. Leonard Hofman, NAE chairman, described Argue’s departure as”unexpected but … not forced at all.”Argue said Thursday (Feb. 5) he would leave the NAE shortly before assuming his new position June 1.

NEWS STORY: Aging ex-priests ask better treatment for a reluctant church

c. 1998 Religion News Service BOSTON _ A dispute between a former Roman Catholic priest and his archdiocese in Boston has mushroomed into a national movement for aging priests who left the priesthood in the turmoil of the 1960s and who now say the church has denied them pension benefits they had been told to expect. While the issue may first appear to be a matter of legal interpretations, organizers of a new campaign on the ex-priests’ behalf said they aim to introduce moral arguments into the debate _ one that could call into question the very nature of the contemporary priesthood that only recently has had to confront secular retirement issues. The dispute began three years ago when Paul Francis McGreevy, a San Diego-based attorney who was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1956, began an advocacy campaign for priests who left the active ministry to get married and are now reaching retirement age. McGreevy contends the priests have been denied money they had contributed to what he called a retirement fund.

NEWS STORY: Political dissidents buoyed by pope’s pilgrimage to Cuba

c. 1998 Religion News Service SAN MIGUEL del PADRON, Cuba _ Maritza Lugo is under the surveillance of government agents. Her husband, Rafael Ibarro Roque, is serving a 20-year sentence on what she says is a trumped-up charge. But in the wake of Pope John Paul II’s history-making five-day tour of Cuba, during which he called for greater religious and civil liberties, Lugo is giddy with optimism as she sits with fellow dissidents in her small home on the outskirts of Havana. “It’s been so hard, but nothing has influenced me to give up _ I feel stimulated,” said Lugo, 34, a member of the 30th of November group, which calls itself an opposition party in a country where only the Communist Party is legal.

Friday News Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service WCC delegation urges no attack on Iraq (RNS) A World Council of Churches delegation that recently visited Iraq has warned against a renewed U.S. military assault against Baghdad, saying such a course would only intensify the suffering of the Iraqi people. The delegation urged churches to lobby their respective governments to oppose a military strike, which U.S. officials say is becoming more likely because of Saddam Hussein’s continued unwillingness to provide full access to United Nations’ inspectors seeking weapons of mass destruction suspected hidden by Iraq. A statement Friday (Jan. 30) from the WCC’s Geneva office said military action”would only intensify the sufferings of the powerless Iraqi people caught up in the middle of this conflict.”