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c. 1997 Religion News Service

Atheists protest Promise Keepers, plan future

(RNS) Members of American Atheists, gathered in Washington to demonstrate against Promise Keepers, are making plans to be more active in efforts to maintain a strict separation of church and state.

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, told a Friday (Oct. 3) news conference that members of her group will protest the Promise Keepers at the latter’s Stand in the Gap rally Saturday because they believe men can be good fathers and husbands without a faith commitment.”My husband is a wonderful father and a wonderful husband and he’s an atheist,”said Johnson.

Johnson also differed with the Promise Keepers’ notion that men need to be on their knees in prayer.”No one is going anywhere in America until we get up off our knees,”she said.”You want to empower the men of America? Get them off of their knees.” The atheist group added its voice to the chorus of protesters who believe Promise Keepers is a political organization promoting male supremacy. Promise Keepers officials have repeatedly denied they have political aims.

More generally, the atheist group hopes to take a higher profile in the future and”bring atheists out into the open,”said Ronald Barrier, national spokesman for American Atheists.”We do not depend on supernatural divinities or virgin-produced offspring in order to guide our decisions or to instill us with responsibility,”he said.

Barrier said atheists object to efforts on Capitol Hill to enact legislation on the issues of religious freedom and freedom from religious persecution, which he called”all special rights for believers, by which they would by virtue of religious belief, be given special protections not available to all Americans.” Johnson said a Sept. 26 half-page ad _ signed by more than 600 atheists and freethinkers and titled”Defending the Wall _ No Submission”_ taken out by her organization in USA Today is a sign of the future. “Even though we’re not a million strong, I’m just very, very proud of every atheist who put their name on this ad and I think this is a new beginning,”she said.

American Atheists was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair in 1963, the same year she won a lawsuit removing organized Bible reading from public schools.

O’Hair disappeared with one of her sons and a granddaughter in August 1995. In registration materials for the atheist group’s symposium in Arlington, Va., supporters were told”there is no new information”about O’Hair and”officers of American Atheists will not be discussing the disappearance of the family at all”during their weekend in Washington.

South African liberation theologians told to confess sin of violence

(RNS) The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) has called on priests and theologians who supported liberation theology during the campaign against apartheid to confess to the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that they condoned violence for political purposes.”During this period of conflict, religious leaders launched at least three initiatives designed to advance the cause of liberation through violence rather than reconciliation,”John Kane-Berman, the SAIRR chief executive wrote in the most recent issue of the group’s journal, Frontiers and Freedom.

In particular, Kane-Berman attacked signers of a 1989 declaration,”The Road to Damascus: Kairos and Conversion,”which he said promoted the idea that”the only true Christians were those who adopted liberation theology.”On their definition,”Kane-Berman said,”Pope John Paul II, who played a major role in bringing about the collapse of communism without resorting to liberation theology, would be a heretic.” The Kairos document, as it was called, was widely circulated, not only in South Africa but also in Europe and the United States. In the U.S. it became a model for religious activists dealing with a host of issues, including the U.S. government’s support for counter-revolutionary movements in Central and South America.”Those priests who gave their blessing to the use of violence are conspicuous by their absence from the list of people and institutions the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been probing, or is planning to probe,”Kane-Berman said.

Albert Nolan, a leading South African liberation theologian, told Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency, that Kane-Berman does not understand liberation theology, the Kairos document or traditional Christian views about the use of violence. He said the Christian just war theory permits the use of violence in cases of self-defense and against tyrannical governments.”Kane-Berman’s problem seems to be that he still does not think that apartheid was a tyranny and that self-defense was needed,”Nolan said in an ENI report from New London, South Africa.

Excommunicated theologian says he doesn’t feel excommunicated

(RNS) Excommunicated Roman Catholic theologian Tissa Balasuriya says he doesn’t feel very excommunicated.”I feel much more in communion than ever before with Catholic Christianity. … I don’t feel out of communion at all,”the priest told a news conference in London.

Balasuriya, a Sri Lankan priest and theologian, was excommunicated earlier this year for views expressed in his book”Mary and Human Liberation,”which the Vatican said deviated from Catholic teaching.

But Balasuriya, who has a strong reputation among both Protestant and Catholic Third World theologians, was unrepentant about his views. Asked if the Vatican should declare an”amnesty”for theologians it has condemned over the past 30 years, Balasuriya responded:”I am not asking for an amnesty … I want justice and truth, not charity.” At a public symposium, the theologian accused church officials in Rome of distorting the doctrine of human freedom to create a society in which there is no discussion but only submission.”But truth is universal, God is universal, the Spirit is universal,”he said.

Balasuriya also criticized regulations published recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith _ the Vatican’s theological watchdog office _ for examining theologians’ writings and limiting the appeal rights of those the congregation finds guilty of heresy.”Can the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith make its own rules?”he asked.”Can the pope cancel canon law? Can he override the church’s supreme court? I think we need something like a Magna Carta.”

Quote of the day: Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre

(RNS)”The hardest thing for me is listening to the Beatitudes. It says, `Blessed are the peacemakers,’ not `Blessed are those with peaceful intentions.'” Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, a Lutheran, discussing the moral dilemma he faces as the No. 2 civilian in the Defense Department, in an interview with the Washington Post.


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