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c. 1998 Religion News Service Ministry focusing on race relations to shut down (RNS) Officials of Reconcilers Fellowship, an evangelical Christian ministry focusing on racial reconciliation, have decided to shut down the organization after the death earlier this year of one of its leaders. Chris Rice, the group’s president, made the announcement in an August […]

c. 1998 Religion News Service

Ministry focusing on race relations to shut down

(RNS) Officials of Reconcilers Fellowship, an evangelical Christian ministry focusing on racial reconciliation, have decided to shut down the organization after the death earlier this year of one of its leaders.

Chris Rice, the group’s president, made the announcement in an August letter to ministry supporters. He began Reconcilers Fellowship with the late Spencer Perkins in Jackson, Miss. Perkins died Jan. 27 after suffering a heart attack.”After lengthy discussions with local and national leaders and RF’s board, the decision has been made to bring RF to a close as an organization,”wrote Rice.

Rice, who is white, co-authored the book”More than Equals”in 1993 with Perkins, who was black. Their relationship had been a pivotal part of the ministry.”What became clear is that the basis for this particular ministry was a relationship God had called together,”Rice wrote.”That relationship was the crucible of growth and energy, and our deepest witness.” Perkins and Rice were ministry partners for more than a decade and had co-produced Urban Family magazine, which later became Reconcilers magazine. In 1996, their ministry expanded and was named Reconcilers Fellowship.

Rice hopes the mission of his organization will continue through the work of different ministries and cited Promise Keepers as an example of another group that has focused on racial reconciliation.

In addition, the Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development, led by John Perkins, a veteran civil rights activist and Spencer’s father, will be developing a training center in Jackson that will offer workshops on racial reconciliation.

Rice said a new owner for Reconcilers magazine is being discussed.

The ministry expects to cease operations this fall.

Fraud trial begins for former South African cleric

(RNS) After years of postponements, the fraud trial of Allan Boesak, the once-prominent South African cleric known worldwide for his anti-apartheid activities, began Monday (Aug. 24) in Cape Town.

Boesak, the former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, was charged in 1994 with 32 counts of theft and fraud. He is accused of embezzling nearly $200,000 in donations to his Foundation for Peace and Justice during the 1980s. The donations came from the Swedish International Development Agency, DanChurchAid, the Church of Norway, pop singer Paul Simon and the Coca Cola Foundation.

Before entering the Cape Town High Court, where he pleaded not guilty Monday on all counts, Boesak predicted his acquittal.”I feel good. I’ve waited four years for this. It’s finally happening,”he told reporters.”By the end of it all, the world will be astounded by the faithfulness of God.” Last year, Freddie Steenkamp, the foundation’s bookkeeper, was jailed for six years after pleading guilty to similar charges, Reuters reported.

Boesak’s trial, which is expected to last three months, was postponed several times over funding for his defense. Earlier this month, an anonymous donor pledged some $175,000 to pay for Boesak’s legal team, allowing the case to begin.

The Rev. Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, is expected to be one of 167 witnesses for the prosecution, Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency reported.

Update: Methodist officials deny evangelical bias

(RNS) Calling it a”stretch,”United Methodist officials have dismissed charges its University Senate has a theological bias against evangelical seminaries.

The University Senate is the agency that determines which seminaries may be attended by the church’s ministerial students.

Earlier this month, Good News, the unofficial evangelical caucus within the denomination, accused the senate of having a”liberal bias”for withdrawing its approval of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an interdenominational evangelical school in South Hamilton, Mass.

In January, the Senate also dropped from the list of approved schools evangelical-oriented Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.; Oral Roberts School of Theology in Tulsa, Okla.; and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.”To assume a theological bias based on four examples is a stretch,”said the Rev. John Harnish of the church’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry, a University Senate-related agency.

Good News noted that the four dropped schools have all been accredited by the national Association of Theological Schools.

But ATS accreditation is not the sole criteria by which Methodists judge seminaries fit for their ministerial candidates, Harnish told the United Methodist News Service, the church’s official news agency.

Of the 250 seminaries approved by ATS, just 60 have been approved by the University Senate, Harnish said.

The criteria the Senate uses in judging seminaries is: freedom of academic inquiry; opportunity for growth in the United Methodist tradition; compatibility with the church’s guideline Social Principles; the ethnic and gender makeup of the faculty and student body; and academic quality.

Harnish noted that while Gordon-Conwell’s Massachusetts campus did not make the approved list, its Charlotte, N.C., campus did. Also, the evangelical-oriented Seattle extension program of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., were approved by the Senate.”I don’t think the evidence supports the claim that there is a theological bias,”Harnish said.”A school is not told it cannot have a confession of a particular theological point of view,”said Harnish in explaining the freedom of academic inquiry requirement.”However, since the Senate believes it is best for United Methodist students to be exposed to a broad theological reflection, schools with confessional statements must demonstrate how they provide for a freedom of inquiry in that context.” The United Methodist Church is one of the few denominations that do not require its ministerial candidates to attend Methodist seminaries.

Children donate school supplies to developing countries

(RNS) Children from more than 2,000 churches across the United States have gathered school supplies for fellow students in developing countries.

The efforts are part of a joint project involving World Vision, the evangelical Christian relief and development agency, and Group Publishing, a Colorado-based publisher of Christian education materials.

World Vision has received 52,000 pounds of school supplies at its distribution headquarters in Pittsburgh. The agency will send the supplies to educational programs worldwide, including some in Ghana, Lesotho and other countries where children face war, famine, political unrest and severe poverty.”We’re thrilled that the children in churches across the country are showing the love of God to children around the world through these school supplies,”said Joani Schultz, chief creative officer of Group Publishing.

Dick Johnson, director of World Vision’s International Distribution Center, said the school supplies will meet a two-fold need.”Not only do the supplies put quality learning tools in the hands of needy kids, but they also free up scarce funding for things like school repairs,”he said.

Mexican bishops call for Chiapas disarmament

(RNS) A group of Mexican Roman Catholic bishops has called on all sides in the conflict in rebellious Mexican state to disarm and restart peace talks to resolve the four-year-old conflict in the region.”Until all groups put down their arms, no matter what their political allegiance, we will not have the conditions to achieve reconciliation and peace,”said Bishop Luis Morales Reyes, head of the Mexican bishops’ conference and one of those issuing the disarmament call.

The call for across the board disarmament came from bishops on the church’s Commission for Peace and Reconciliation.

Morales made his comments after a meeting with Zapatista supporters in Chiapas. The Zapatista movement, made up largely of indigenous people, launched their rebellion in an effort to win more recognition and better treatment from the government.

But the call by the bishops for general disarmament was met with pessimism by observers of the Chiapas situation, according to Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency.

Pierre LaRamee, executive director of the North American Congress on Latin America, said a unilateral call to disarm was not realistic because of what he called the Mexican government’s bad faith in negotiations with the Zapatistas.

Previous efforts to talk peace between the government and the Zapatistas have broken down and, since the massacre of nearly 50 Zapatista peasants _ many of them women and children attending church _ in the village of Acteal last December, the region has been especially tense.

LaRemee accused the government of”systematically fomenting division and conflict, most explicitly through its arming of paramilitary groups.” In June, Bishop Samuel Ruiz, head of the Catholic diocese that includes Chiapas, resigned as head of the commission mediating between the rebels and the government charging the government had persecuted his diocese and was no longer interested in meaningful negotiations.

Government officials, for their part, accused Ruiz of openly siding with the Zapatistas.

Quote of the day: Sam James, Southern Baptist missions executive

(RNS)”What we want is for all our missionaries to know that for the foreseeable future no American anywhere in the world is safe. There’s no country we can say now is beyond the reach of terrorism. Still, nowhere are we going to say let’s shut down the work.” _ Sam James, vice president for creative leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, discussing the effect of U.S. air strikes on suspected terrorist operations in Sudan and Afghanistan, as quoted by Baptist Press, the denomination’s official news service.

END RNS

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