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c. 1997 Religion News Service

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship becomes chaplain-endorsing body

(RNS) The General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has declared that the moderate Baptist group is a”religious endorsing body”that can be allowed to endorse chaplains without becoming a denomination.

The vote on Saturday (June 28) came after two years of study.

Chaplains, who serve in the military, hospitals and other settings, are usually endorsed by conventions or denominations. But the fellowship, a more loose-knit group of individuals and churches, has resisted becoming a convention.”We would not have to declare ourselves a denomination in order to endorse chaplains,”said Ed Beddingfield, a Sylva, N.C., pastor who led the fellowship’s chaplaincy study group.

The”religious endorsing body”label allows the fellowship to meet criteria established by chaplaincy groups such as the Congress on Ministry in Specialized Settings. Beddingfield said it still must be learned whether or not the U.S. military will accept CBF endorsements, reported Associated Baptist Press, an independent Baptist news service.

Some moderate Baptists prefer not to seek endorsement through the North American Mission Board, an agency in the conservative-dominated Southern Baptist Convention.

The general assembly, whose meeting in Louisville, Ky., concluded on June 28, also partially restored a budget allocation for next year to the Baptist World Alliance. The budget now includes $20,000 for the global organization of Baptist bodies. Some fellowship members had been angered by plans to completely delete funds for BWA from the budget. CBF’s Coordinating Council plans to continue studying the fellowship’s relationship with BWA.

Martha Teague Smith, a laywoman from Gastonia, N.C. will be the fellowship’s moderator in 1997-98.

During the meeting, fellowship coordinator Daniel Vestal spoke of how he had to”repent”for previously opposing women serving as pastors.

He said he began to change his mind when he met a woman pastor for the first time and realized she”didn’t have horns growing out of her head.” But despite his own transformation, Vestal warned that other CBF members should be patient with those who have not had such a change of heart.”Time is on truth’s side,”he said.”For some of us it takes time. We’re slow learners. All of us need to be patient with each other.” Vestal told Baptists attending the assembly that the group’s commitment to women ministers will attract Baptists”who want to see the whole church mobilized for mission and ministry.”

Lutheran leader: Give China”benefit of the doubt” (RNS) The Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Assembly, has called on Christians to take a more positive attitude toward China’s regaining sovereignty over the former British colony of Hong Kong.”We shouldn’t be so negative, we should give them the benefit of the doubt,”Noko said from Hong Kong as the ceremonies ending British rule took place.

Noko attended the July 1 midnight handover ceremony and was among the 4,400 guests at the inauguration ceremony for the Hong Kong Administrative Region. The ceremony was boycotted by top U.S. and British officials to protest the fact that the new Provisional Legislative Council was not elected.

Noko dismissed the boycott as”political quibbling”but also expressed concern about establishing democracy in Hong Kong.”It is important that democratic institutions be developed from the beginning,”he said.”(Chinese President) Jiang Zemin has promised there will be democratic elections (after) May next year.”We should also remember that the (British) governor of Hong Kong was never elected,”Noko told Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency.”He was sent by Britain, Chris Patten was not elected by the people of Hong Kong.”Patten was the last British governor of Hong Kong.

The Lutheran World Federation will become the first international body to meet in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong when it opens its world assembly next week (July 7).

Methodist mission body calls for dialogue on Russian religion law

(RNS) The United Methodist Church’s Board of Global Ministries has called on the Russian Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches to initiate a worldwide dialogue on proposed religious legislation in Russia that would restrict the activities of some faith bodies.

The Russian legislation, called the”On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”bill, is widely perceived as granting special privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church while potentially curbing the activities of some minority churches.

The bill, which has already passed the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, has generated an outpouring of international concern.

United Methodist Bishop Ruediger Minor of Moscow, who oversees the Methodist Church in Russia, has expressed concern about the bill’s impact on the 5,000-member Methodist Church there.

In the statement, the New York-based Board of Global Ministries said it rejects proselytism _ a major concern of the Russian Orthodox Church, which strongly supports the proposed legislation _ and noted”the harmful work of some sectarian groups and religious cults in Russia.” The Methodist statement said while it respects”the right of the Russian Orthodox Church to a primary mission carried out over a millennium of witnessing and suffering,”Methodists in the United States will”continue to support the growth and development of the Russian United Methodist Church as an authentic Christian faith tradition.”

Polish court puts hold on publication of pope biography

(RNS) The American publisher of a controversial biography of Pope John Paul II has won a round in the Polish courts in its efforts to stop sales of a Polish edition of the book, which it says has been altered without permission.

Bantam Doubleday Dell and co-authors Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi had filed a lawsuit in Warsaw to stop publication of the book,”His Holiness.” In the suit, the publisher and authors accused the Polish publisher, Amber Publishing Ltd., of deleting or distorting important passages involving the pope’s health.

On Tuesday (July 1), the Associated Press reported that Warsaw’s regional court ruled that Amber had changed the text without permission and ordered that circulation and sales of the book be stopped.”This is a first and very important decision, but we are are still demanding compensation,”Maria Strarz-Kanska, the Polish representative of the U.S. publisher, told the AP.

Castro allows news coverage of Catholic Mass

(RNS) In a move apparently reflecting the Cuban government’s effort to give more latitude to the Roman Catholic Church prior to Pope John Paul II’s scheduled visit in January, the ruling communist party’s newspaper reported on an open-air Mass _ the first such celebration in more than three decades.

The newspaper, Granma, printed a six-paragraph report by the national news agency AIN on the Mass, held Sunday (June 29) in the square in front of Havana Cathedral.

Church officials said permission for the open-air Mass was an encouraging sign of more official flexibility in the government’s dealing with the church, Reuters reported.

Slimmer Church of England governing body recommended

(RNS) A drastic slimming down of the Church of England’s general synod has been recommended following a review of the church’s system of synodical government.

Under the proposals in a report made public Monday (June 30) in London, the general synod _ the elected governing body of England’s Anglican Church _ would have 390 members instead of the present 575, while there would no longer be synod seats reserved for certain church offices such as deans and archdeacons.

The report also recommended the abolition of deanery synods, which would leave the Church of England with three layers of elected representative governing bodies: parochial church councils, diocesan synods, and the general synod.

The report further recommended the abolition of the Convocations of Canterbury and York. These date from the Middle Ages and were the Church of England’s only national representative bodies until the establishment in 1920 of the Church Assembly, the precursor of the general synod, which came into existence in 1970.

The Convocations consist of the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy, divided according to the two English provinces of Canterbury and York. Their remaining functions _ scrutinizing synod legislation bearing on doctrinal or liturgical matters _ would be taken up by separate meetings of the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy.

Quote of the day: The Rev. Jean Fischer, general secretary of the European Conference of Churches

(RNS) As the Second European Assembly drew to a close in Graz, Austria, June 29, the Rev. Jean Fischer, general secretary of the European Conference of Churches _ the Protestant and Orthodox body that co-sponsored the event _ was interviewed by Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency. In the interview, Fischer reflected on the possibility of Europe undivided between rich and poor:”A sharing of bread and the sharing of work are targets and objectives which are very close to some of the values that we see in the beatitudes and in the Gospel.”


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