RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Update: Christian protest over Pakistan’s blasphemy law turns violent (RNS) Some 600 people were arrested as thousands of Christians protested Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law Friday (May 15). Protesters torched businesses and cars after police tried to disperse the mob with tear gas and steel-tipped batons, according to witnesses. Scores were hospitalized for tear gas inhalation and other injuries, the Associated Press reported. Before the tumult began, Christian demonstrators prayed and waved banners outside the Punjab legislature to protest the blasphemy law, which imposes the death penalty on anyone convicted of insulting Islam or its prophet, Muhammad.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Dutch Christians ask for Bosnian `disappeared’ accounting (RNS) Some 60,000 Dutch Christians have signed a petition calling on the Muslim, Croatian and Serbian leaders of Bosnia for a”clarification”on the status of the nearly 20,000 people still unaccounted for following the end of the war in Bosnia.”In spite of the international pressure to look and to focus on rebuilding the country, for those who have lost a loved one it is very important to find out what happened to that person,”said Heleen Kleijn-Jonker, coordinator of the Dutch campaign and staff member of the Mission and World Service agency of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.”If this does not get priority, it will stand in the way of reconciliation,”she added.”You can’t have peace without justice.” The petition also calls on the Bosnian government to cooperate with international efforts to bring to trial those responsible for the”disappearances.” On Wednesday (May 13), investigators from the international war crimes tribunal investigating crimes of genocide in Bosnia came across what they said are the bodies of some of the the 7,500 Muslim men missing from Srebrenica, the one-time United Nations-declared”safe haven”for Muslims that was captured by Bosnian Serbs near the end of the war. It is widely believed the captured Muslims were massacred and their bodies hidden by the Serbs.

NEWS STORY: Jewish, evangelical leaders voice support for Netanyahu

c. 1998 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ American Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders have rallied to the defense of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the White House should desist from pressuring Netanyahu into ceding another 13 percent of the Israeli-controlled West Bank to Palestinian control. The support for Netanyahu came as the Israeli leader met here Wednesday (May 13) with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in another effort to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process. No immediate progress was reported after the 90-minute meeting, which followed by two days Netanyahu’s rejection of what was widely interpreted as a White House ultimatum to accept a 13 percent pullback. Netanyahu maintains that anything greater than a 9 percent pullback at this point would endanger Israeli security.

COMMENTARY: Where have all the unisexuals gone?

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is the publisher of RNS and the mother of two sons who prefer to be called”manly men.”) UNDATED _ I’m so old, I remember when unisex was a new, risque term. Back in those days, we ducked into shops promising unisex fashions and stuffed our newly rounded figures into men’s hip-huggers in dressing rooms where we could see male toes poking out from the next cubicle. It was all so daring! Many a sermon was preached on the moral decline of the world as illustrated by the unisex trend.

NEWS FEATURE: Episcopal Bishop Spong wants to ignite a new reformation

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ For Jack Spong _ or, more formally, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Diocese of Newark, N.J. _ virtually everything in the Christian lexicon is up for grabs. Spong, who has made a career of challenging conventional Christian teachings on such topics as the virgin birth and the Resurrection, the ordination of homosexuals, and the sexuality of the Apostle Paul, wants to ignite a new reformation within the church. But unlike his 16th-century predecessor Martin Luther, who nailed his theses for debate to a church door, Spong has published his manifesto in a new book,”Why Christianity Must Change or Die”(HarperSanFrancisco).”To put it in its most sort of end-of-the-world headlines, I’m calling for a reformation that I think will be so big, it will make the Reformation of the 16th century look like a Sunday School tea party,”Spong said.”What I am suggesting in this book is that, given the intellectual revolution, the whole frame of reference against which Christianity was told to us has been changed so dramatically that the way we were telling the Christian story no longer is communicating to anybody,”he added.”And we’ve got to change the very nature of the way we communicate the Christian story.”All issues are up for grabs.” And those issues include _ but are not limited to _ the questions that have preoccupied Spong, the Episcopal Church and much of Christianity for the last several decades: human sexuality and the role of women and homosexuals in church and society.

NEWS FEATURE: Habitat’s Fuller plans big Houston push

c. 1998 Religion News Service HOUSTON _ Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, has never been intimidated by big names or big money. After all, he’s working to build _ literally _ the kingdom of God. And in a recent visit here, Fuller said he wants to do something his famed housing program for the poor has never done before in the United States: build 100 homes _ a small piece of the kingdom _ in a week.”Together, we can do a miracle,”Fuller told civic leaders as he urged them to rally behind his 1998 Jimmy Carter Work Project.”And that’s what it will be.” This summer, 3,500 Houstonians and 1,500 out-of-towners will build 100 homes at four inner-city sites in a week.”This is a historic project,”Fuller said in an interview.”One hundred houses in a week has never been done in the United States.”

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Bishop, religious, peace activists call for end to Iraq sanctions (RNS) Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, joined by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and some 80 other religious and peace activists, have delivered some $4 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq.”We have come in defiance of our own government,”Clark told a news conference in Baghdad.”We do not feel any people can be forced to ask permission of a genocidal power.” Although such visits to Iraq technically violate United Nations sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. government has tended to ignore visits by U.S. aid groups. A host of religious and peace groups, including the National Council of Churches, have called for easing or ending the economic sanctions against Iraq and to allow more food, medicine and other humanitarian aid be shipped to the country. The trip to Iraq was sponsored by Sanctions Challenge, a network of activists and organizations opposing the U.N. economic embargo because of its effect on the Iraqi people.

NEWS FEATURE: Preaching as a `precise tornado’

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, for the last 28 years the minister at Harvard University’s Memorial Church, has become an American expert on preaching. Gomes, 55 (he turns 56 on May 22), was ordained in the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and became assistant minister at Harvard in 1970. He has been a professor and the minister at the Cambridge, Mass., institution since 1974 and has spoken in pulpits across North American and the United Kingdom. When he’s not preaching or teaching, Gomes lives in Plymouth, Mass.

COMMENTARY: `If your enemies are hungry, feed them’

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Timothy Dearborn is chief of staff for World Vision, United States). UNDATED _”If your enemy is hungry, feed them.” These words from Scripture still ring with challenge. A deadly famine has been stalking for more than two years a part of the world unseen and ignored by most.

COMMENTARY: Preaching lifestyle rather than proclaiming God

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Tom Ehrich is the author of”On a Journey,”daily meditations available through Journey Publishing Co. If you have feedback or want to suggest a question for a future column, e-mail him at journey(AT)interpath.com) UNDATED _ It was a preacher’s dream: Mother’s Day and a Scripture reading admonishing to”love one another.” To set the stage, I reminisced about my own mother and my experience of being loved. I counted some of the simple ways _ schoolday lunches, countless baseball games and school events, always encouraging, always believing in me.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1998 Religion News Service Baptists to consider family-related amendment to faith statement (RNS) A committee of the Southern Baptist Convention plans to recommend an addition to the denomination’s statement of faith that affirms heterosexual marriage and declares the husband is responsible for the family and the wife should”submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” The proposed addition to the Baptist Faith and Message speaks of family as the”foundational institution of human society”and calls marriage”God’s unique gift”for men and women.”A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect and to lead his family,”the proposed statement reads.”A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” The proposed addition also states that children are a blessing”from the moment of conception”and should be taught”God’s pattern for marriage”by their parents.

NEWS STORY: Early reaction positive to new Lutheran-Episcopal accord

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ A proposed new accord between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church is getting its first look by the ELCA’s grassroots as the denomination’s synods _ or regional jurisdictions _ hold their annual meetings. So far, church officials say, the response is positive _ in contrast to last summer’s action when the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly narrowly rejected a similar proposal to bring the two mainline church bodies into full communion. At stake with the new accord are closer ties with the Episcopal Church, including the ability to share clergy across denominational lines and increased cooperation in social service and other mission programs.”There was a general mood of openness and appreciation for the clarity in the new document,”said the Rev. Daniel Martensen, the ELCA’s chief ecumenical officer. Martensen noted that the first synods to consider the new draft accord were from the Midwest, generally considered an area of theological conservatism and pietism in the ELCA, where congregational autonomy takes precedence over hierarchical structure, thus fueling suspicion of such things as the office of bishop.

COMMENTARY: Women and Islamic Law: It’s a matter of interpretation

c. 1998 Religion News Service (Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a Los Angeles physician and past president of the Muslim Women’s League.) UNDATED _ For supporters of women’s human rights, it may sometimes seem as though Islam offers nothing but obstacles. While so-called Islamic countries are quick to modernize other areas of civil law _ policies affecting business and international relations, for example _ fear of alienating or inciting religious extremists keeps them from re-examining laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and women’s status. But a thorough understanding of Islam reveals the problem is not the religion itself, but rather the dominance of rigid interpretations of Islam. Indeed, the faith embodies the potential means to elevate the status of women in all levels of personal and civil life.

NEWS FEATURE: Holocaust hero reunited with those he saved, subject of documentary

c. 1998 Religion News Service PRAGUE, Czech Republic _ Nearly 60 years ago, a young British stockbroker, Nicholas Winton, arrived in Prague to help evacuate Jewish children in the months before World War II. This spring, the 90-year-old Winton returned to greet 10 of the 664 people whose young lives he saved from the Holocaust and to cooperate in making a documentary film about his actions.”You look great!”said 75-year-old Frantisek Lebenhart of Prague as others embraced their rescuer. The survivors, though many are now grandparents, still call themselves”Winton’s children.” Winton was first reunited with his once-young charges about 10 years ago, when his heroism emerged from long obscurity.

NEWS FEATURE: When should the hating stop?

c. 1998 Religion News Service”For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”_ Ecclesiastes 3. UNDATED _ The cries for Jewish males to come out to the street were heard and followed by Romek Zaks at the beginning of World War II in Poland. The only boy among seven siblings was herded to the edge of town, where he was told by soldiers with machine guns to dig a ditch. It would be his burial place.