NEWS STORY: Israel clamps new restrictions on foreign Christian workers

c. 1998 Religion News Service JERUSALEM _ They were dubbed the”golden angels”by one grateful client and were awarded a civic prize for their charity work. Still, Carl and Marlene Bennett of Denver, Colo., _ who operate a free home repair program for needy Jerusalem families under the auspices of a local Christian charity _ have been told by visa authorities they have overstayed their welcome in Israel. The Bennetts’ situation is an example of the increased pressure Christian organizations here are feeling as visa permits for critical foreign staff become harder to obtain. It coincides with a press by ultra-Orthodox Jewish politicians for legislation that would impose a three-year jail sentence on anyone convicted of missionary activities.

Public television to air documentary on Bernardin

UNDATED _ Even though spirituality has managed recently to filter through the realm of popular TV dramas and sit-coms, producers of in-depth documentaries that explore the soul have, with such rare exceptions as Bill Moyers’ specials, found it harder to break the secular prime-time barrier. Now, two independent filmmakers hope to convert network brass with a PBS documentary entitled”Bernardin,”the story of a very public churchman whose personal trials engrossed the nation. The hourlong program focuses on the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who endured the humiliation of false sex-abuse charges before succumbing to cancer two years ago. Co-producers Frank Frost and Martin Doblmeier are basking in the warm reception of their film by PBS affiliates nationwide. Programmers have given”Bernardin”choice time slots, mostly in early July.

NEWS FEATURE: Historic chaplaincy program expands at trucking firm

c. 1998 Religion News Service DECATUR, Ga. _ One of the nation’s pioneers in the field of industrial chaplaincy has become an international leader in blending practical Christian ministry with the busy workplace. Allied Systems of Decatur, Ga., is the largest auto-hauling company in the world, with over 10,000 employees, more than 5,300 hauling rigs and nearly 150 terminals in the United States and Canada. It delivers more than 12 million cars per year from shipping centers and manufacturing plants to car dealerships.

NEWS STORY: Lutherans agree to lift anti-Catholic condemnations

c. 1998 Religion News Service UNDATED _ The Lutheran World Federation, in an historic vote aimed at healing a 450-year-old rift with the Roman Catholic Church, has voted to lift the Reformation-era condemnations and anathemas Martin Luther and other Reformers hurled at the pope and Catholicism. Meeting in Geneva, the LWF Council _ the governing body of the international organization of 124 Lutheran churches around the world _ voted unamimously to approve the”Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,”a 45-paragraph statement to be issued jointly with the Vatican on the schism-producing issue on the role faith and works play in salvation.”This is what we have been praying for and hoping for after 30 years of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church,”the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, told a news conference after the June 16 vote.”It should be celebrated as a historic moment for our two churches and also as an important moment for unity within Lutheranism,”he added. But while the joint declaration goes a long way to ending one of the nagging scars of the Reformation, Lutheran-Catholic unity remains far off as the two churches continue to have sharp differences over authority in the church, especially the role of the pope, and on the nature of the ministry, especially the issue of women’s ordination. Nor does it pave the way for Catholics and Lutherans to take Holy Communion together.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Prayer votes shows strengths, limits of religious right’s political clout

c. 1998 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The fax machines of the legions of religious right groups that steadily churn out reaction and opinion on virtually every twist of inside-the-beltway policymaking were eerily quiet in the hours following Thursday’s legislative rebuke of one of conservatism’s most cherished political goals _ a constitutional amendment to rework the First Amendment’s religion clauses. Indeed, it seemed as if the usually voluble leaders and spokesmen were struck dumb by the 224-203 vote _ more than 60 short of the two-thirds needed for passage _ that killed the 86-word Religious Freedom Amendment. Sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., the proposal would have put the word God into the Constitution for the first time and restore organized _ perhaps state-sponsored _ prayer in the public schools. It also would have paved the way for extending constitutional protection to tax-funded religious education.

NEWS STORY: House rejects school prayer amendment

c. 1998 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ After some five hours of debate, the House of Representatives on Thursday (June 4) failed to approve by the required margin a controversial constitutional amendment strongly backed by Christian conservatives that would have allowed organized prayer in public schools. The vote was 224 to 203 in favor of the measure, 61 votes shy of the two-thirds vote necessary for passage of a constitutional amendment. Twenty-seven Democrats and 197 Republicans voted in favor. While there was little doubt the measure would not gain the two-thirds margin, the first House vote on a prayer-related constitutional amendment since 1971 provided a larger margin of defeat than even its most ardent opponents had hoped for.”This was a real surprise,”said Joseph Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based church-state watchdog group.”This was a tremendous defeat for the religious right.

NEWS FEATURE: New Smithsonian exhibit showcases black church diversity

c. 1998 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ An exhibit exploring the diversity of the African-American religious experience _ its churches, temples and home altars _ has opened for an 18-month showing at the Smithsonian Institution.”Speak to My Heart: Communities of Faith and Contemporary African-American Life”fills a wing of one of the city’s top tourist attractions _ the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall. The exhibit, which opened Friday (May 22) and runs through March 2000, is framed on each end by symbols of the tradition and challenges within the African-American church community. Inside one entrance, a life-size mannequin of an African-American usher in a white uniform stands ready to welcome visitors just as ushers grace the foyers of churches in a variety of denominations. On the opposite end of the exhibit stand two brass doors from a predominantly black church in Houston _ doors once installed in a segregated movie theater there.”We could not go through those doors at the theater,”reads a quote in the exhibit from the Rev. William Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.”So we had to have them so that they would be open to all who might desire to enter.”