NEWS FEATURE: Winter’s Bleak Beauty Can Restore Spirit and Soul

c. 2003 Religion News CLEVELAND _ Where does one achieve spiritual nirvana in January? Forget about going to the highest mountains in Tibet, or living a hermitlike existence amid the desert sands of North Africa. Nor will spiritual wholeness likely be achieved lounging around the beaches of Florida or Southern California sipping mai tais from the shaded comfort of umbrellas and lounge chairs. Those in the know, the people attuned to the majesty of the four seasons, will tell you it is in places like Cleveland, Buffalo, northern Maine and the Dakotas that seekers can best refuel the soul and reinvigorate the spirit for a new year.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service Southern Baptist Execs Oppose City’s Proposed Gay Rights Ordinance (RNS) Southern Baptist Convention executives, opposed to a proposed Nashville, Tenn., ordinance that would increase homosexual rights, say they could change their plans to hold their annual meeting in that city in 2005. Jack Wilkerson, vice president for business and finance of the denomination’s Executive Committee, wrote to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau in light of a final city council vote set for Jan. 21, the denomination announced through its news service. At that meeting, the council is expected to consider adding the words “sexual orientation” to a nondiscrimination clause in the city’s law dealing with fair housing and employment.

NEWS STORY: Church Leaders Step Up Criticism of Looming War with Iraq

c. 2003 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Two major religious leaders _ Pope John Paul II and the head of the U.S. Episcopal Church _ on Monday (Jan. 13) criticized the looming U.S. war against Iraq. The new statements came as the United States beefed up its deployment of troops in the Persian Gulf region and lawmakers expressed pessimism that a war against Saddam Hussein could be avoided. Nevertheless, Pope John Paul II implored Washington to look for peaceful options to settle its differences with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service Heresy Charges Filed Against Chicago United Methodist Bishop (RNS) Official charges have been filed against the liberal United Methodist bishop of Chicago, accusing him of heresy and abandoning the Christian faith. Twenty-eight people say Bishop Joseph Sprague should renounce his views or resign his office for not believing in traditional doctrines like the virgin birth of Jesus, his bodily resurrection and his role in salvation. Sprague has come under fire for a speech he gave last January at Iliff School of Theology in which he said the “myth of the virgin birth was not intended as historical fact” and added that “I cannot believe that (Jesus’) resurrection involved the resuscitation of his physical body.” Sprague, a prominent liberal and social activist, further laid out his beliefs in his recent book, “Affirmations of a Dissenter.” “He denies the physical resurrection of Christ’s body. He maintains that Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation and appears to deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ through his sacrificial death on the cross,” the charges said, according to United Methodist News Service.

NEWS DIGEST: Religion in Canada

c. 2003 Religion News Service Mosque Apologizes for Christmas E-mail TORONTO (RNS) A Somali mosque here has apologized for a Christmas Day message that said wishing someone Merry Christmas is comparable to congratulating them for committing murder or engaging in adultery. “The board (of Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque) sincerely apologizes for the distress that this e-mail has caused to subscribers of its e-mail list, other Muslims, and most importantly our Christian neighbors during this important season for them,” said a written statement quoted in the National Post. Mosque officials said the original message, sent out by e-mail on Christmas Day, did not come from the mosque’s leadership, nor did it reflect the mosque’s official policy. They said a junior employee copied the statement from a Web site and forwarded it to subscribers of the facility’s regular e-mail newsletter.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service Presbyterians: Jesus is True, But Not Necessary for Salvation (RNS) Nearly three-quarters of Presbyterians believe that the “absolute truth for humankind is in Jesus Christ,” but fewer than half say that only Christians will be saved, according to a new church survey. The periodic poll of members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) found that 70 percent of members, 75 percent of elders, 71 percent of pastors and 55 percent of specialized clergy (such as chaplains) agreed that the “only absolute truth for humankind is in Jesus Christ.” When asked if “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved,” 43 percent of parishioners, 50 percent of elders, 39 percent of clergy and 24 percent of specialized clergy agreed. The poll comes as the church awaits a report from a 20-member task force that is studying the theological unity of the 2.5 million-member church. The task force is expected to issue its final report in 2006.

NEWS STORY: Archbishop Criticizes Official Hired to Assess Church’s Sex Abuse Reforms

c. 2003 Religion News Service NEWARK, N.J. _ Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has delivered a stern rebuke to Kathleen McChesney, the former FBI official hired by U.S. Catholic bishops to assess church reform in the wake of the priest sex-abuse scandal, saying her decisions have perplexed a number of church leaders. Myers’ remarks came in a letter declining an invitation to attend an upcoming meeting of a reform-minded group of Catholics, Voice of the Faithful. McChesney, executive director of the Bishops’ Office of Youth and Child Protection in Washington, is scheduled to speak at the group’s meeting May 13 in Little Falls, N.J. McChesney, once the third-highest official in the FBI, was hired in November by a national panel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “I have met with Dr. Kathleen McChesney,” Myers wrote to a member of Voice of the Faithful April 21.

NEWS STORY: Dwindling Numbers Force Nuns to Sell Monastery

c. 2003 Religion News Service NEWARK, N.J. _ For 121 years, nuns have prayed for the troubled world outside the stone walls of the Monastery of St. Dominic here, living almost unknown to their neighbors. Although more than 100 nuns have spent their years in cloistered contemplation at the monastery since 1882, it has been 12 years since a new member has been taken in, and only 13 nuns remain. Now the nuns, who wear white habits and black veils, have decided they can no longer maintain their facility and must sell it.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service Agency Recommends Driver Training for Vans Often Used by Churches WASHINGTON (RNS) The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states require special training for drivers of 15-passenger vans after investigating accidents involving vans used by churches. The agency also recommended more stringent measures for detecting tire pressure since pressure levels that are significantly below manufacturer-recommended levels can adversely affect the handling of vehicles such as 15-passenger vans. “The NTSB’s recommendations are based on fact, science and data and our analysis in these accidents demonstrate that we must do more to protect children and adults who travel in 15-passenger vans,” said Ellen G. Engleman, the board’s chairman, in a statement. “Our recommendations are attainable, doable and will make an immediate impact for safety.” In the Tuesday (July 15) announcement of the recommendations, the agency cited its conclusions on the probable cause of two accidents involving 15-passenger vans used by churches.

NEWS STORY: NAE Says Faith-Based Funding Should Not Include Anti-Bias Provisions

c. 2003 Religion News Service EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. _ The right of faith-based organizations to hire and fire staff must be retained as the federal government seeks to make more funds for social services available to them, the National Association of Evangelicals said Thursday (March 6). Members of the evangelical umbrella organization adopted a resolution at their annual meeting applauding President Bush’s faith-based initiative but which used forceful language about their desire to make staffing decisions on the basis of religion regardless of federal, state or local anti-bias employment laws. “Such equal treatment without being accompanied by expressed legal guarantees of autonomy concerning the operation of a religious organization’s governance and internal administration is a false and dangerous promise for faith-based social service providers,” the resolution said.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service Bush Petitions Supreme Court to Hear Pledge Case WASHINGTON (RNS) The Bush administration has formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a lower court decision and allow the Pledge of Allegiance to include the words “one nation under God.” U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson said last summer’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the pledge violates the separation of church and state is “manifestly contrary” to previous church-state cases. “Whatever else the (First Amendment) may prohibit, this court’s precedents make it clear that it does not forbid the government from officially acknowledging the religious heritage, foundation and character of this nation,” Olson wrote Wednesday (April 30) in his argument. California atheist Michael Newdow sued in 2000, saying his daughter should not be forced to listen to the Pledge of Allegiance in her classroom. The first court to hear the case dismissed it, but the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled in Newdow’s favor.

NEWS FEATURE: At West Point Graham Grandson Marches To Different Drum

c. 2003 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Three decades ago, West Point awarded the Rev. Billy Graham its highest civilian honor _ the Sylvanus Thayer Award. Today, the evangelist’s grandson Edward Graham looks forward to his West Point graduation and a military commission for active duty at a time when war seems imminent. In an interview with Religion News Service, the third son of evangelist Franklin Graham and grandson of the legendary the Rev. Billy Graham said he wears his family stripes as proudly as he wears the West Point grays. His conversation, disarmingly earnest, reflects easy confidence tempered with a pronounced humility, strong convictions and a deep faith in God.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service Wheaton College Adds Dancing, Faculty Drinking to Community Covenant (RNS) Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill., will allow dancing and permit faculty to drink alcohol and use tobacco products off campus according to its new “community covenant.” “On-campus dances will take place only with official college sponsorship,” according to the covenant approved in mid-February. “All members of the Wheaton College community will take care to avoid any entertainment or behavior, on or off campus, which may be immodest, sinfully erotic, or harmfully violent.” The college included the new language in a list of “frequently asked questions” that accompanies the covenant and is posted on its Web site. “First, for not a few of our students, dancing was a significant part of their lives before they came to Wheaton, even though they come from strong Christian backgrounds,” the college said. “Across the country the evangelical world is today very mixed on this issue.” It noted it has held “innocent and wholesome” dances, such as square dances, since the 1970s.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service `Best Christian Places to Work’ Survey Results Announced (RNS) Organizations ranging from the Evangelical Christian Credit Union in Brea, Calif., to Colorado-based Group Publishing have been named some of the “Best Christian Places to Work” in a new survey commissioned by Christianity Today magazine. The look at Christian workplaces was administered by Best Christian Workplaces Institute, which accepted applications for the designation from organizations with a Christian mission, more than 15 full-time employees and a Christian product or service. More than 8,500 employees of applicants answered an online survey and their responses were judged by a panel that selected 40 finalists in 10 categories. The results were announced Monday (Feb.

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c. 2003 Religion News Service ADL: Anti-Jewish Incidents Up 25 Percent on Campuses (RNS) The number of anti-Jewish incidents in the United States increased slightly from 2001 to 2002 but similar incidents reported on campuses rose 25 percent in 2002, the Anti-Defamation League reported in its annual audit. The total of anti-Jewish incidents reported against Jews and Jewish institutions rose from 1,432 in 2001 to 1,559 in 2002, reports the ADL’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, issued Wednesday (March 26). “We are deeply concerned that despite the strides we have made over the years, anti-Semitic incidents continue to be carried out in large numbers,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “While we can take comfort that this year’s numbers have not increased substantially, it is unsettling that we are still experiencing anti-Semitism at an average rate of four incidents per day.” The incidents cited in the report include physical and verbal assaults, property defacement and vandalism, hateful e-mail messages and harassment.