Denominational Report

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c. 1996 Religion News Service

(Following is a collection of news stories compiled from RNS staff, wire and denominational reports.)

Justice department investigating arsons at black churches

(RNS)-Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday the Justice Department is investigating a series of fires at predominantly black or integrated churches in southern states for possible violations of civil rights laws.”We want to make sure that we pursue the cases, to make sure that we do everything right, consistent with the evidence, (and) to take us where the evidence leads us,”Reno said.

But she said the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which is working with the FBI on the probe, has not developed any theories about the arsons.

The NAACP has been pressing for an investigation at eight churches in Alabama and Tennessee.

Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said the investigation was started in December and involved at least the eight churches named by the NAACP, but he declined to say how many incidents were involved in the probe. On Thursday, USA Today reported that arson fires have damaged at least 17 predominantly black churches in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas since January 1995.

Most recently, on Feb. 1, three black churches and a charitable group’s building in Louisiana were burned by alleged arsonists, the Associated Press reported.”The fires at the churches … resurrect historically painful memories among African Americans,”Wade Henderson, director of the NAACP’s Washington office, said in a Jan. 29 letter to Reno.”We all are aware of the time when the pursuit of religious education by African-Americans was itself a violation of law, and when groups of vigilantes sought to violently suppress religious freedom,”Henderson wrote.

Jewish group urges New York to ease law on making health care decisions

(RNS)-The American Jewish Congress has asked the New York state legislature to pass a law that would authorize family members, or in some cases friends, to make health care decisions for incapacitated patients.

Current state law compels doctors to continue treatment of hopelessly ill patients who have not signed a health care proxy statement, said Lois Waldman, co-director of the AJCongress’ Commission on Law and Social Action.

In testimony Wednesday (Feb. 6) before a joint Senate and Assembly Health Committee, Waldman said a bill pending before the committee that would authorize surrogates-family members or, where there are no family members, friends-to make the full range of treatment decisions, should be passed as a preferable alternative to the current situation.

The proposed law would establish a system of ranking relationships, which the hospital would use to identify surrogates. The ranking would begin with a spouse and then extend to other family members. When no family member is available to act as a surrogate, the hospital could recognize a close friend of the patient.”A well-known Jewish scholar has said the developments of medical technology have caused problems which our ancestors could hardly have foreseen,”Waldman said in her testimony.”We must not forget, in our loyalty to tradition, the welfare of the suffering patient who, when the Giver of Life has proclaimed the end of his earthly existence, should be allowed to die in spite of our machines,”she said.

United Methodists asked to seek forgiveness for 1864 Indian massacre

(RNS)-The United Methodist Church is being asked to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for an 1864 massacre of a Cheyenne Indian village in which 200 Native Americans, mostly women and children, were killed.

On Nov. 29, 1864, the 1st Colorado Cavalry, a unit of volunteers under the command of John Chivington, a Methodist lay preacher, conducted a pre-dawn raid on the Indians, headed by Chief Black Kettle, according to a resolution to be presented at the Methodist denomination’s General Conference in April.

The General Conference will be meeting in Denver, Colo., not far from the site of the massacre.

According to the resolution’s sponsor, the Rev. Alvin Deer, pastor of El Reno and Kingfisher United Methodist Churches in Oklahoma, Chief Black Kettle had been told that an American flag flying over his teepee would protect his village from any American aggression.

Nevertheless, Chivington’s cavalry unit launched a pre-dawn attack on the village. Chivington received a commendation from the army for his attack and was honored by Coloradans and Methodists at his death in 1894 as a hero and pioneer.

Deer’s resolution proposes that delegates at the General Conference ask forgiveness from the Indians and seek reconciliation.

The resolution asks that during the April meeting, delegates hold”a healing service of reconciliation, asking that tribal leaders, tribal elders and spiritual elders come and sit with us and pray with us and bless us and let us heal the past.”Lutherans delay debate on economic statement

(RNS)-The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has put off for two years action on a statement spelling out the denomination’s stance on economic issues confronting the nation and the world.

Originally, the denomination was scheduled to vote on a statement in 1997. But at the recommendation of the 5.2 million-member church’s Council of Bishops, action on the still-unwritten statement has been put off until 1999.

The ELCA had previously been stung by fierce reaction to a proposed statement covering controversial issues of human sexuality. Many church leaders had said the proposed statement was presented without adequate preparation of church members. That statement has been abandoned for the foreseeable future.

The economics statement could be equally volatile as it will take up such issues as the morality of capitalism, the distribution of income, and questions of consumption and poverty.

Instead of distributing a first draft of the proposed statement this fall, the task force will distribute a guide to help church members begin studying economic issues from a faith perspective.

Pew Trusts gives $3.3 million to develop Hispanic religious leadership

(RNS)-The Pew Charitable Trusts has given a $3.3 million grant to the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta to support a program to develop Hispanic religious leadership.

The money, the largest program grant in religion ever given by Pew, will be used for a program, headquartered at Candler, to provide financial aid to Hispanic theology students and faculty at other theology schools across the nation. The grant also will be used for scholarship support for master’s level students and multi-year financial support for doctoral students.

William McKinney elected president of Pacific School of Religion

(RNS)-William McKinney, dean and professor of American religion at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., has been elected president of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.

Pacific School of Religion, an interdenominational school, was founded in 1865 and is the oldest Protestant seminary in the West.

McKinney, 49, is best known for his research on American mainline religion. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and worked for 11 years as research director for the denomination’s Board for Homeland Ministries. He became dean at Hartford in 1985.

He succeeds Thomas J. Henderson, who has been serving as interim president at Pacific School of Religion since May 1994.

Leonard E. LeSourd, former Guideposts magazine editor, dies

(RNS)-Leonard E. LeSourd, who served as managing editor of Guideposts magazine for 23 years, died Feb. 5 in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 76.

The Catherine Marshall Center, which announced the death, did not give a cause but said LeSourd died at Bethesda Hospital after a brief illness.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, LeSourd wrote his first book,”Skybent”(1946), based on his experience as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

In 1946, LeSourd began his career at Guideposts, the inspirational magazine founded by Ruth and Norman Vincent Peale. He served as executive editor of the magazine from 1951 until 1974 and oversaw its growth from a circulation of a few thousand to more than 2 million.

In 1959, LeSourd married Catharine Marshall, the religious writer best known for her book”A Man Called Peter”(1951) and the 1967 novel”Christy.”LeSourd edited the 18 books Marshall wrote between their marriage and her death in 1983.

In 1985, LeSourd married Sandra Simpson, author of”Compulsive Woman”(1987) and”The Not-So-Compulsive Woman”(1992).

LeSourd was an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a trustee of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a member of the national advisory board of the Christian Healing Ministries and a former vice president of the Presbyterian & Reformed Renewal Ministries.


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