NEWS FEATURE: Chiasms _ The Unseen Biblical Codes

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Were you fascinated by the poetic riddles, arithmetic puzzles and other enigmas in “The Da Vinci Code,” the mystery novel by Dan Brown that has spent more than a year atop the best-seller lists? Many Bible-literate readers, despite enjoying the word puzzles, were disappointed by the speculative lore about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being married. Little do they know that the Bible itself has countless examples of coded writing waiting to be discovered. Biblical scholars have for years cited these literary patterns seen in sentences, long sections and whole texts that were composed in ancient times for a reading elite and attentive audiences.

NEWS FEATURE: The Form of the Biblical Chiasm

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When looking in the Bible for coded literary patterns called chiasms, you can learn from tight, clear examples. Take, for instance, Gospel of Mark chapter 11, verses 12, 13, 14 and the start of verse 15. The first rule is: Don’t let those numbered verses limit where you start, end or make breaks for each possible step that you identify. Here is Mark 11:12-15a as translated in the Revised Standard Version: A 12 _ On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.

NEWS FEATURE: Pakistan Blasphemy Law Used to Threaten, Harass Christians

c. 2004 Religion News Service LAHORE, Pakistan _ A market vendor sold Christian brothers Saleem and Rasheed Masih ice cream, then told them they had to pay for the bowls because he couldn’t again serve a Muslim from the now-defiled utensils. The brothers refused. Days later, the vendor accused the brothers of verbally insulting the Prophet Mohammed. Under Pakistani law, Section 295-C, that’s blasphemy, which can be punishable by life in prison, a stiff fine or death.

NEWS STORY: Episcopal Theologian Sees Crisis as Outgrowth of Civil Rights Movement

c. 2004 Religion News Service ROME _ An eminent Episcopal theologian sees the present crisis in the Anglican Communion over the American church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop as a logical outgrowth of the civil rights movement in an independent church founded on the democratic principles of the American Revolution. But R. William Franklin believes the Episcopal Church may well have to sacrifice some of its historical independence if the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, to which it belongs, is to remain viable. Along with the Scripture-based debate about homosexuality, the crisis raises underlying questions about the lack of central authority in the communion, which includes 36 self-governing provinces with the archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual leader. A commission appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to make suggestions for resolving the crisis is also studying whether his role should be expanded to include some form of practical authority over the worldwide communion.

COMMENTARY: O’Malley Should Skip Sermon, Kick the Dog Instead

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author of “Cardinal Bernardin’s Stations of the Cross,” published by St. Martin’s Press.) (UNDATED) If you dialed “O for O’Malley,” as Bing Crosby’s Father Chuck O’Malley invited the troubled to do in “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” who would answer the phone _ the new archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, or the pope in a mad mood about America? Archbishop O’Malley has worked hard to steady the barque of Peter after it took on so much water _ and pitched Cardinal Bernard Law overboard _ running the rapids of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Survey: Presbyterians Prefer Cremation, Memorial Services (RNS) A survey of Presbyterian pastors and parishioners shows that most prefer a memorial service to a funeral, and want their bodies cremated rather than buried. The periodic survey by the Presbyterian Panel measured pastors’ and members’ thoughts about death and dying in late 2002 and was released in April. The survey was sent to 3,000 members, elders and ordained ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Forty percent of members and 53 percent of pastors want to be cremated; about 20 percent of respondents weren’t sure.

COMMENTARY: Politicians Talking Like Clergy

c. 2004 Religion News Service (Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Saint Leo University.) (UNDATED) The 2004 presidential race is becoming an old-time religious revival with both candidates rushing to declare their spiritual convictions. Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seem more like clergy than politicians seeking America’s highest elective office. It was different in 1960 when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon competed for the White House. Because JFK was only the second Catholic presidential candidate _ in 1928, Gov. Al Smith of New York was the first _ he faced opposition from some Protestant leaders, including the late Norman Vincent Peale.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2004 Religion News Service Boston Archdiocese Sells Bishop’s Mansion to BC in $100 Million Deal (RNS) The Archdiocese of Boston has agreed to sell its ornate archbishop’s residence and 43 surrounding acres to Boston College for nearly $100 million, and could sell more land in two years for $8 million more. The deal announced Tuesday (April 20) gives the cash-strapped archdiocese money to help finance an $85 million settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse. It also gives the Jesuit-run college needed room to expand. Under the deal, BC would acquire the archbishop’s mansion, a former high school seminary, a retreat house and 43 acres in suburban Brighton for $99.4 million.

NEWS FEATURE: More Young People Turning to Short-Term Mission Work

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Steve Holt spent his first semester away from home doing typical college freshman things: making friends, going to class, working out. He had new streets to learn and lessons to study, just like his peers. But when Holt left the classroom, he went to orphanages and churches, not the dining hall or quad. His days were spent evangelizing or talking about AIDS.

NEWS STORY: Homosexuality Likely to Dominate Methodists’ General Conference Meeting

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) When the United Methodist Church convenes in Pittsburgh next week (April 27) for its quadrennial General Conference meeting, nearly all quarters agree that the same subject that has divided the church for 30 years will again dominate the agenda _ homosexuality. Setting the stage for the 11-day meeting was the recent acquittal of a lesbian pastor, the Rev. Karen Dammann, in Washington state. She was charged with violating the church’s ban on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy. Some 1,600 pieces of legislation on a host of issues will be considered by the 998 delegates representing the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination.

NEWS SIDEBAR: United Methodist Policies on Homosexuality

c. 2004 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Following are excerpts from the United Methodist Church’s official policies and statements on homosexuality: Same-Sex Unions: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” _ United Methodist Book of Discipline Clergy Standards: “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.” _ United Methodist Book of Discipline Homosexuals: “Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends.