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c. 1996 Religion News Service

Formal unity talks urged for British Methodists and Anglicans

(RNS) A new report by officials from the Church of England and the British Methodist Church has recommended that the two denominations enter into formal talks aimed at reuniting the two bodies, which have been separated since the 18th century.

The new proposal, released Tuesday (July 9) and prepared by a committee of officials from both churches, comes after the failure of two earlier efforts for Anglican-Methodist reunion _ in 1972 and again in 1982.

Methodism had its origin as a reform movement within the Anglican Church in the mid-18th century. John Wesley, its most important early leader, refused to formally break away from the church. After Wesley’s death in 1791, however, the Methodists formed as an autonomous denomination.

The new proposal suggests a gradual process of”growing together into unity”through a series of small steps.

According to the report, formal talks could lead to the mutual recognition of each other’s standing as legitimate Christian churches with valid sacraments and ministry.

The talks could also lead to the two churches making a”solemn commitment”to take a number of steps integrating the church’s ministry though joint ordinations.

Because the Methodist Church in England, unlike its American counterpart, does not have bishops, the question of the episcopate _ the office of bishop _ and how it is to be organized also remains to be resolved, the report said.

Other outstanding issues include authorizing the laity to preside at the celebration of Holy Communion, which is allowed in the Methodist Church in some instances, but is not allowed by Anglicans. The two churches also have differing practices regarding the role of women. Currently, the Church of England excludes women from the office of bishop while the Methodists have had women serve as district chairman, the closest equivalent office.

The question of establishing formal talks will come before the Church of England’s general synod in 1997 and the Methodist Conference in 1988.

Criswell College president resigns over `rapture’ dispute

(RNS) The president of Criswell College in Dallas has resigned after disagreeing with prominent Southern Baptist W.A. Criswell on a theological point concerning the end times.

Richard R. Melick Jr. and Criswell differ on whether the church will be raptured before or after the tribulation, a seven-year period described in the Bible as preceding the second coming of Jesus. Those who believe in the rapture expect Christians who are alive at the time to be”caught up … to meet the Lord in the air,”based on the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians in the New Testament.”It’s become apparent that, at this point, we’re not in full agreement,”Melick said, according to Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.”So the best thing is for me to step aside.” Melick, 51, told Baptist Press,”I lean to a historic premillenial view,”believing that the church is raptured after the tribulation.

Criswell, on the other hand, believes that the church is raptured before the tribulation.

Criswell, 86, is pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Dallas and chancellor of the college, which is independent of the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to a news release distributed by the chairman of the board of trustees of the 450-student college, Melick submitted his resignation voluntarily.”Dr. Melick announced that out of respect for Dr. W.A. Criswell, for whom the college is named, and its trustees, and in view of his differences regarding the prophetic interpretation of the church and the `great tribulation’ that occurs prior to Christ’s Second Coming, he was voluntarily submitting his resignation.”

Sephardic rabbi accused of sanctioning murder of Reform Jews

(RNS) The Reform Jewish movement _ the largest branch of Judaism in North America _ has accused Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi, who is Orthodox, of implying that the killing of Reform Jews was religiously sanctioned.

On Tuesday (July 9), Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi Doron, the religious leader of Israel’s Sephardic Jews, who came to Israel from Middle Eastern nations, gave a sermon in which he referred to the biblical story of Phinehas, the great-nephew of Moses, who murdered the Jew Zimri for having sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman, the Midianite Cozbi.

In his talk, Doron referred to Zimri as”the first Reform Jew.”He also said Phinehas had committed a”pure”act, according to news reports from Israel.

Orthodox and Reform Jews have long been at odds over intermarriage, which is rare among the former, particularly in Israel, but prevalent among the latter.

In response to Doron, Rabbi Lennard Thal, vice president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, jointly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to repudiate the chief rabbi’s remarks.”Clearly, only months after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the world knows that hateful words can have terrible and tragic consequences. No person articulating such a view is worthy of the title rabbi, much less chief rabbi of Israel,”Thal and Saperstein said in a joint statement.

There was no response from Netanyahu, who met with President Clinton in Washington the day Doron’s comments were reported.

World Council of Churches sending team to Brazilian peasant massacre site

(RNS) The World Council of Churches said Tuesday (July 9) that it is sending an international delegation of church leaders to Brazil to investigate last April’s killing of landless peasants and to express concern over alleged human rights abuses of peasants in that South American nation.”April’s massacre is, sadly, not unique,”the Geneva-based international organization of 330 Protestant and Orthodox churches said in a statement announcing the visit.”Those who have called for the forthcoming visit believe the tragedy must be used to increase worldwide concern for the continuing human rights abuses and killings meted out to Brazil’s landless.” The visit by the international team _ which will include a member of the German parliament and Protestant and Roman Catholic officials from Sweden, Switzerland, and France _ was in response to a request by Brazilian church and human rights officials.

On April 17, during a demonstration near the town of Eldorado do Carajas in the Brazilian state of Para, at least 20 people were killed when military police opened fire on the demonstrators, supporters of the Landless Peasant Movement.

The demonstrators were among the more than 35,000 peasant families, organized in 169 camps, who occupy the Macaxeria Hacienda, a vast tract of private, absentee-owned land in the Amazonian rain forest.

The Catholic Land Pastoral Commission has reported that since 1979 there have been 33 peasant massacres resulting in more than 200 deaths. In August 1995, another clash between police and peasants resulted in the death of nine peasants and the disappearance of 75 others, according to the Catholic agency.

In its statement, the World Council said the team, which will be in Brazil July 16-19, will”obtain first-hand information on the current situation of landless families”and urge government officials to”end the impunity enjoyed by those who have committed crimes in rural areas over many years.” Cardinal Sin hospitalized with kidney problems

(RNS) Cardinal Jaime Sin, the leading Roman Catholic official in the Philippines, has been hospitalized for a”mild kidney disfunction,”but his life is not believed to be in danger, church officials said Wednesday (July 10).

Sin, who achieved international fame for playing a key role in the 1986 overthrow of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has been hospitalized since Sunday (July 7), the Reuter news agency reported.

Sin, who will be 68 next month, is archbishop of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation.

Father Arids Sison, a spokesman for the Manila archdiocese, denied a local newspaper report claiming Sin was in need of a kidney transplant.”The doctor said it’s a minor condition very common among people of (Sin’s) age. He is not in danger,”Sison said.”He is his usual jolly self and is in high spirits.”

Quote of the day: Jerome M. Segal, research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, on `simple living’

(RNS) In the July/August issue of Tikkun, the Jewish bimonthly magazine, Jerome M. Segal, a research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, writes on”the politics of simplicity”and notes that the allure of voluntary simplicity is growing as Americans worn out by a stressful lifestyle search for alternatives.”It is important to distinguish poverty from simple living. The difference is not just a matter of the level of provision. Nor is it merely a question of whether or not the lifestyle is chosen.”In conceptualizing the simple life, I favor the term `graceful simplicity.’ It combines two notions. Life is graceful in that it is unharried, and free from dominant fear and stress; the individual is cultivated and appreciative, rather than covetous. Life is simple in that the level of consumption is modest, and the human good is found largely in the simple pleasures of friends and family, a good book, a walk in the woods.”

END RNS

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