COMMENTARY: Accepting the downfall of a hero

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy analyst and social worker to the homeless. He currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J.) UNDATED _ In his book,”Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65″(Simon & Schuster), Taylor Branch, using recently declassified material, unearths the seamy _ and to some, unknown _ side of the civil rights movement. In the book, a sequel to his earlier”Parting the Waters,”Branch shows Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries as at times duplicitous, jealous of one another and involved in promiscuous sexual relationships. It is a portrait at odds with the popular myth of King and the movement.

COMMENTARY: Looking for a few good men of God

c. 1998 Religion New Service) (Dale Hanson Bourke is publisher of Religion News Service.) UNDATED _ Like most children of his time and place, Don McKinnon dutifully attended Sunday school. But despite the best intentions of his teachers, he couldn’t stand it. For a bright and active boy, sitting still while listening to Bible stories was torture. So when Don was asked to teach Sunday school as an adult, he resolved to do things differently.

COMMENTARY: The continuing failure of the public schools

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at) UNDATED _ The purveyors of conventional wisdom have been rushing once again to rescue the public schools _ this time from the disgraceful performance of American high school seniors in international science and math tests. There seems to be two general thrusts to the arguments as they show up in the op-ed pages of The New York Times, the place where conventional wisdom is made official. The first is that the tests don’t matter because, despite the low math and science scores, the American economy is the strongest and most vigorous in the world.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Robertson, IRS settle tax case over political activities (RNS) Ending a 12-year-old tax and politics case, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has reached a settlement with the Internal Revenue Service that calls for CBN to make a”significant payment”to the IRS but preserves the organization’s tax-exempt status. The settlement, announced Monday (March 16), stems from the IRS’s contention that CBN violated its tax-exempt status with its political activities during 1986 and 1987. The activities were conducted by three now-defunct CBN affiliates _ Freedom Council, the National Perspectives Institute and the National Freedom Institute _ created to encourage conservative Christian political involvement. To settle the case, CBN agreed to surrender its tax-exempt status for 1986 and 1987 and to make an unspecified”significant payment”to the IRS.

COMMENTARY: Tell me an old, old story

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is the publisher of Religion News Service) UNDATED _ We are assaulted by e-mail, bombarded by phone messages. News bites inform us and sitcoms entertain us. Beepers and car phones ensure we are always within reach. But despite the dizzying technological advances, part of us remains unreached.

NEWS STORY: Methodist pastor acquitted in church same-sex `union’ trial

c. 1998 Religion News Service KEARNEY, Neb. _ A United Methodist pastor was acquitted Friday (March 13) of violating a denominational directive by presiding over a same-sex union ceremony involving two women at his Omaha church. The decision in the case of the Rev. Jimmy Creech is expected to have wide ramifications for the 8.5-million member United Methodist Church, the nation’s second largest Protestant denomination. The UMC has struggled with issues involving homosexuals for more than a quarter-century.

NEWS FEATURE: American atheists a diverse, fractious lot

c. 1998 Religion News Service POCOPSON, Pa. _ Margaret Downey says her friends tell her she looks so wholesome she could crash a Christian Coalition meeting, and the mere mention of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the nation’s best-known atheist, who disappeared in 1995, makes her recoil. “Mad, mad Madalyn,” she said. O’Hair, Downey believes, bullied her opponents with profanity.”And I was more fearful of disclosing my own atheism because of the stereotypes she created.” An estimated 4 percent of Americans consider themselves atheist or agnostic, according to the Princeton Religion Research Center.

COMMENTARY: Kosovo: It’s neither a melon nor Monica’s cousin

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is publisher of Religion News Service.) (RNS) Balkanize. The word has found a place in American pop culture, stretching its meaning to fit anything that is divided and dysfunctional. But a better definition might be disinterested. Mention the Balkans themselves and the average American’s eyes glaze over.”What now?”seems to be the tired response to the latest strife in the region.

NEWS STORY: Report: One in 10 Americans received food aid last year

c. 1998 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The nation’s largest hunger-relief organization said Tuesday (March 10) that last year more than 21 million Americans _ roughly one in 10 _ routinely received aid from food assistance programs, including food stamps, food banks and soup kitchens. Additionally, women, children, the elderly and the working poor are among those most in need of emergency food help, according to a landmark study of hunger in America. The report,”Hunger 1997: The Faces and Facts,”was commissioned by Second Harvest, the Chicago-based hunger-relief group that works with nearly 200 food banks and 50,000 local charitable organizations across the country. It was based on face-to-face interviews with more than 28,000 low-income Americans as well as data received from more than 11,000 charities operating about 12,000 feeding programs nationwide.”Our research indicates that hunger is _ at its core _ a consequence of poverty, and like poverty it most deeply affects along gender and generational lines,”Sister Christine Vladimiroff, president of Second Harvest, said at a news conference announcing the report.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Proposal to ease Presbyterian ordination standards unofficially fails (RNS) A proposal to ease the sexual standards required of pastors, elders and deacons in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has failed, according to unofficial tallies by interest groups on both sides of the issue. The proposal, known as Amendment A, was sent to the denomination’s presbyteries for their consideration and vote by last summer’s General Assembly, the church’s highest decision-making body. Under the proposal, which would amend the church’s Book of Order, ordained clergy, deacons and elders would be required to”demonstrate fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life.” It would replace the current standard, adopted last year, requiring church officers to live”in fidelity within the covenant of marriage …

NEWS STORY: Black churches to mark a week of prayer, healing on AIDS

c. 1998 Religion News Service NEW YORK _ There was a time when a cloak of silence about AIDS shrouded the black religious community, a shroud woven by stereotypes and misconceptions about what was considered a white, gay man’s disease. But Harlem Minister Canon Frederick Boyd Williams said he has seen a marked change in his congregation and his community from the days when people were afraid to come to meetings where AIDS was on the agenda. A dozen years ago, Williams, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Intercession, recalled in an interview, he dared not utter the word AIDS from his pulpit and he watched as African Americans with AIDS were shunned by their churches.”Everyone wore gloves and masks. They wouldn’t bury people with AIDS,”he said.