RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service

Anglicans pledge aid to help renovate Bethlehem's Manger Square

(RNS) The Anglican Consultative Council, made up of leaders of the worldwide communion's 36 provinces, has pledged its aid for a plan to renovate Bethlehem's Manger Square, traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus' birth.

The restoration is being undertaken by the Palestinian National Authority.

According to the Anglican Communion News Service, the London-based news agency of the Anglican Church, the first part of the project will study the costs of renovating the square. The church will approach potential donors in the coming months to support the project that the Palestinian Authority hopes to complete by the year 2000, the news agency said.

An international support group of church leaders will be established to oversee the work. The square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, is in an area dominated by tourist shops and parking lots. Bethlehem is an important center for pilgrims and tourism.

The council, which meets every two or three years, ended its nine-day meeting in Panama City, Panama, on Saturday (Oct. 19). It also approved a resolution calling for the cancellation of the developing world's international debt.

The issue, pressed by leaders from Anglican churches in Latin America and Africa, was a central topic of the meeting and is likely to play a prominent role at the next Lambeth Conference of Bishops scheduled for 1998. The Lambeth Conference brings together bishops from all 161 countries with Anglican churches.

The debt crisis faced by poor nations has been an issue of increasing concern for all international church bodies. The churches are especially concerned about demands by the World Bank and other international lending agencies requiring poor nations to restructure their economies by reducing spending in such areas as health, education and anti-poverty efforts in order to pay off their international debt.

In other action during the meeting, the council called on the the U.S. government to lift its economic embargo against Cuba.

Post Office issues Hanukkah stamp

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(RNS) The U.S. Postal Service Tuesday (Oct. 22) issued a stamp commemorating Hanukhah, its first stamp taking note of a religious holiday other than Christmas.

The 32-cent stamp features a multi-colored sketch of a contemporary Hanukkah menorah, the candleholder used during the eight-day Jewish festival. Hanukkah begins this year at sundown on Dec. 5.

Israel simultaneously issued its own version of the stamp.

The stamp is the first in what Postal Service spokesman Robin Wright said would be a series of stamps marking secular as well as religious holidays that have"important cultural meaning to Americans." Stamps with Christmas themes have been issued since 1962. Each year, the Postal Service issues two such stamps, one with a traditional theme and one that is more contemporary.

Other stamps with religious themes have been issued to mark historical events. They include the 300th anniversary of religious freedom in the United States, the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi and the 500th birthday of Martin Luther. Father Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest who established a network of missions in California, has also been honored with a stamp.

The religious-themed stamps are generally well-received, said Wright. However, the stamps do have their critics.

Joseph Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the Hanukkah stamp and other such stamps violate the Constitution's church-state separation clauses."We don't think the government should be involved in promoting a religious holiday in any way,"Conn said in an interview."Madonna and child at Christmas and a Hanukkah stamp at Hanukkah are honoring one religious holiday over another. Will the government issue stamps for all 2,000 religions in this country? You can't honor some and not others."

Ohio public school challenged on portrait of Jesus

(RNS) The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has requested immediate removal of a framed painting of Jesus that has hung for 50 years in a Medina, Ohio, public school and will sue if the painting is not removed from a wall near the entrance of Garfield Elementary School.

The ACLU's legal director, Joan Englund, made the formal request in a fax received by the Medina City School District on Oct. 16.

Medina Superintendent Charles Irish said the district would try to resolve the issue quickly and would most likely concede to the ACLU."I'm not supporting litigation of this issue, unless we come across something which says we're right,"Irish said, noting that school attorneys have discovered that judges have barred the prominent display of portraits of Jesus in other schools."The legal precedent is clear and requires removal of the portrait,"Englund told the school district."Litigating the issue would prove not only futile, but costly." In 1995, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a Michigan high school that sought to overturn a lower court ruling ordering it to remove a portrait of Jesus that had hung in the school for 30 years."The school's ownership and display of the portrait endorses the Christian religion and promotes it exclusively,"the lower court had said.

The ACLU said the Michigan school was forced to pay $43,500 in attorney fees after losing the lawsuit. Medina school board President Robert Wilder said he did not want to jeopardize taxpayer money over the issue.

Irish said he would seek legal advice from groups that have protested the removal of religious ideas from schools but said there appeared to be no difference between the display of the Jesus portrait in the Garfield school and the Michigan situation.

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which covers Ohio, ruled against the Michigan school.

Ruling German party wants to bar Scientologists from public jobs

(RNS) Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ruling Christian Democratic Union said Monday (Oct. 21) that the Church of Scientology should be placed under official surveillance and its members barred from public service.

The Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, based in Los Angeles, responded by calling the CDU's action reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

The CDU, he said, had enacted"essentially a reprise of the law of 7 April, 1934, which banned non-Aryans from public service and teaching positions. What makes the comparison so obvious is that, then and now, German officials stand ready to carry out a public hanging through propaganda without proof or regard to anything about any individual accept membership in a group _ in this case a religion." The CDU action came in the form of a resolution passed without debate during a party convention and signals an escalation of the long-running dispute between German government officials and the controversial church.

Government officials have labeled Scientology a cult that exploits its members for financial gain and the German state of Bavaria has announced plans to screen civil service job applicants to weed out Scientologists. Musicians and actors associated with the church _ including jazz pianist Chick Corea and actor Tom Cruise _ have also been boycotted in Germany.

The CDU resolution called for a nation-wide information network to track Scientology's activities, the Reuter news agency reported. The resolution also called for state aid to those who leave the church, which was founded some 40 years ago by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

The church denies that it exploits members financially, although it admits that its training courses can cost thousands of dollars.

Scientology, which has sought tax-code recognition in Germany as a bona fide religion _ a status it has gained in the United States _ has aggressively fought back the attacks against it in Germany with full-page ads in newspapers such as The New York Times. The ads have repeatedly drawn parallels between its situation and Germany's Nazi-era treatment of Jews and others.

Claremont theology school changes its name

(RNS) It's now officially the Claremont School of Theology _ not the School of Theology at Claremont, an awkward name the United Methodist-owned seminary has lived with for nearly four decades.

After moving from the University of Southern California in 1957, seminary officials wanted to avoid any confusion with the cluster known as The Claremont Colleges in that city 30 miles east of Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, over the years many people shortened the official name to Claremont School of Theology, or simply wrote it that way by mistake.

Seminary President Robert Edgar and the Board of Trustees have decided to go with the popular choice."There are lots of schools of theology and there is only one Claremont,"Edgar said.

The seminary is now also formally linked to the Claremont Graduate School, one of the privately run Claremont Colleges it originally sought to distance itself from. They share a dozen faculty members.

Although the 350-student seminary draws its enrollment largely from oldline, ecumenical churches, and the non-denominational Fuller Theological Seminary in nearby Pasadena attracts mostly evangelical and charismatic students, Edgar said he was pleased about a side benefit of the name change."We have moved up in alphabetical order _ ahead of Fuller,"he joked.

Nigerian seminary urged to ease monogamy requirement

(RNS) A Nigerian village leader has called on the Lutheran Church of Nigeria to ease its strong insistence on monogamy in marriage, saying it deters would-be students from entering the seminary.

Chief Ita Bassey Etuk of Nung Udoe village, quoted in the denomination's newsletter, The Lutheran Herald, said the monogamy stance of the church not only deters would-be pastors, but also causes many church members to quit the church or abandon their faith.

Etuk appealed to the Lutheran Church of Nigeria to review some of its doctrines that have"outlived their usefulness, especially in a traditional African society." He said he saw no reason why everyone in his village, site of the first headquarters of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, would not be a Lutheran"if the church had discarded some of the dogmas enacted almost 500 years ago and moved along with society.

The 80,000-member church dates its origin to the arrival of U.S. missionary Henry Nau at Nung Udoe in 1936.

Quote of the day: John Rowell, Northside Community Church in Atlanta

(RNS) Churches have developed their own"welfare"model of doing mission, according to John Rowell, pastor of Northside Community Church, an Atlanta congregation that is part of the Evangelical Free Church in America. These churches, he said, are becoming too reliant upon agencies to do missions work for which they should be taking responsibility:"We have come to believe that missions is not the purview of the church anymore; it's for professionals. It's demoralizing and demeaning. It's time for churches not just to be satisfied with giving and sending but doing."