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c. 1998 Religion News Service

Religious groups react favorably to Iraq inspection accord

(RNS) Religious leaders who opposed U.S. military action to resolve the standoff with Iraq said Tuesday (Feb. 24) they generally support the accord reached between Saddam Hussein and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that, at least for now, has defused the confrontation.

The Vatican expressed its”satisfaction”with the agreement and said it should form the basis for ending the economic embargo against Iraq.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the accord”confirms once again that dialogue is the path to resolving problems which military actions do not only do not resolve but, in fact, worsen.” Like other religious leaders, Pope John Paul II had denounced the threatened military action, saying it would not weaken Saddam Hussein but only add to the problems of ordinary Iraqis.

The pope has also repeatedly called for an easing of the U.N. sanctions against Baghdad, which have devastated the Iraqi economy and reportedly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children weakened by malnutrition and disease.

In his statement Tuesday, Navarro-Valls again called for an end to the sanctions, which were imposed by the United Nations after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and have been in place ever since.”It is hoped that such an agreement will be the premise to resolving the problems of the embargo, which is so painful for the Iraqi population,”he said.

In the United States, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, also called for a”softening”of the sanctions to allow”churches to deliver humanitarian aid to alleviate Iraq’s suffering.” In a statement, she also said the accord presents an opportunity to build”new ties between Iraqi people, Americans and other peoples of the world …” In Washington, several Muslim organizations held a joint news conference at which they noted their relief that military action had been alleviated for now.

One speaker, Altaf Husain, vice president of the Muslim Students Association of the USA and Canada, urged Saddam Hussein to honor the agreement and not”unnecessarily move (the world) closer to war.”At the same time, he called upon President Bill Clinton to”listen to the voices of the American people who oppose any attacks on Iraq.”

Methodist report: Homosexuality represents `danger of … schism’

(RNS) The issue of homosexuality is so divisive within the United Methodist Church it could”harbor the danger of explicit disunity or schism,”according to a new church report expected to be finalized early next month.

The draft document, entitled”In Search of Unity,”was prepared Feb. 19-20 during a”theological dialogue”in Dallas that included 23 participants who expressed a wide range of views on homosexuality, according to a United Methodist News Service report.

It has now been handed over to a four-member steering committee for final editing and is expected to be released in early March.”We’re all weary of being preoccupied with the issue of homosexuality, but that is the issue the church is preoccupied with, and to ignore that is to ignore what is going on out there in the church,”the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. and a member of the steering committee, told UMNS.

Also serving on the committee are the Rev. Billy Abraham, of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; the Rev. Linda Thomas, of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill.; and the Rev. Donald Messner, president of Iliff School of Theology in Denver.”We believe we may experience substantive disagreement around a variety of theological faith (issues); the meaning of the incarnation; and our views of the saving work of Christ, to name a few,”the paper states.”All these arise out of differing understanding of Scriptural authority and revelation. However, in this document, we have turned to the practice of homosexuality as illustrative of our divergence because it is one of the most visible presenting issues in United Methodism today.” Both viewpoints on the role of gays in the life of the church are presented in the paper, which describes”compatibilists”as those who believe that a diversity of views on the issue can coexist within the denomination and”incompatibilists”as those who are convinced such conflicting views make it”unfaithful, impractical, or unadvisable”to remain in the same denomination, UMNS reported.

The issue touches virtually every aspect of Methodist life because the denomination has adopted a statement declaring homosexuality”incompatible with Christian teaching”and barring the use of any church funds for projects that might promote homosexuality. In addition, a church trial is expected to begin early next month involving a Nebraska pastor who performed a same-sex blessing ceremony in his church.

However, in a section on sustaining unity and avoiding schism, the paper states:”Foremost in the preservation of unity is the love of Jesus Christ and the active presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in the life of the church as a whole. … This is not a pious comment, but a lasting judgment derived from our conviction that it is God who holds us together in the church and not we ourselves.”

Israeli parliament backs compromise on `who is a Jew’ dispute

(RNS) In a non-binding vote, Israel’s parliament asked the government Tuesday (Feb. 24) to adopt a set of recommendations for settling a longstanding controversy between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish groups over the question of”who is a Jew.” The Knesset, in a vote of 26-5, recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopt the proposals of a recent commission headed by Finance Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman, which call for cooperation between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews on the conversion of non-Jews. Twenty-four other Knesset members abstained.

The Ne’eman committee recommended that the Jewish streams create a joint”conversion institute”in which all potential converts would study, while the actual conversion procedure would be carried out by state-appointed Orthodox rabbis, as it has been in the past.

However, it’s not clear the recommendation can be implemented because Israel’s chief rabbis, who hold the ultimate authority on conversions, have rejected any proposal for cooperation with their non-Orthodox peers.

Meanwhile, representatives of the more liberal Jewish Reform and Conservative groups have said that in the absence of a pledge by the chief rabbis to recognize their legitimacy, their movements will continue to perform conversions independently, and seek state recognition for the process through the civil courts.”We appreciate their (the Knesset’s) good intentions, but the chief rabbinate holds the key,”the Reform and Conservative leaders said in a joint press release following Tuesday’s vote. “Since the chief rabbinate has legal responsibility over conversions in Israel, the recommendations of the (Ne’eman) commission cannot be implemented without the chief rabbinate’s full participation,”said Rabbi Ehud Bandel, a leader of Israel’s Conservative (Masoreti) Movement.

French religious leaders commemorate Edict of Nantes

(RNS) French religious leaders joined French President Jacques Chirac on Feb. 18 for a ceremony in Paris marking the 400th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes, which granted extensive rights to Protestants in predominantly Roman Catholic France.

The Edict of Nantes was signed in April 1598 by the French king Henry IV, and brought an end to the French religious wars by giving Protestants civil equality with Catholics as well as the freedom to practice their religion throughout France.

But 87 years after it was signed, the Edict of Nantes was revoked by King Louis XIV, prompting a new wave of persecution against Protestants that sent many fleeing to neighboring countries, such as Germany, England and The Netherlands.

Chirac said the revocation of the edict is a reminder that peace can never be taken for granted, reported Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency.”You should never lower your guard,”Chirac said.”Civic peace is always fragile. The values and the principles which allow us to live together must be unceasingly reaffirmed and defended.” In addition to Chirac, the ceremony was attended by Michel Bertrand, president of the French Reformed Church, France’s largest Protestant denomination; Roman Catholic Archbishop Louis-Marie Bille, president of the French bishops’ conference; Metropolitan Jeremie, president of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in France; and representatives from France’s Muslim and Jewish communities.

Bertrand used the occasion to urge tolerance for all religious groups in France, especially the nation’s growing Muslim population.”French Protestants who painfully and laboriously have won their place in society have a particular responsibility to work to achieve the same for those who do not yet have a place, and to promote their integration within our community,”Bertrand said.

In a total population of some 58 million, there are more than 2.5 million Muslims in France and just 900,000 Protestants. The French Roman Catholic Church has 42 million members.

The Feb. 18 ceremony was one of several events being organized throughout the year to mark the anniversary.

Chinese report claims human rights advances in Tibet

(RNS) As a delegation of U.S. religious leaders toured Tibet, China released a report Tuesday (Feb. 24) that claimed human rights improvements in Chinese-occupied Tibet and was highly critical of the Dalai Lama.

The U.S. delegation _ comprised of Roman Catholic Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J., the Rev. Don Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals and Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation _ arrived in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital Monday.

The delegation, appointed by the White House, is exploring allegations of widespread religious persecution of Christians and Muslims in China and Buddhists in Tibet.

The Chinese report castigated the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Prize-winning exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, for allegedly failing to acknowledge the gains in income, health and education it said Tibet has achieved under Beijing’s control, the Associated Press reported.

As for the Dalai Lama, the report said he ran a”dark, savage and cruel”feudal, theocratic state prior to fleeing into exile in India in 1959.

The report did not mention the assertions by various human rights and other groups that China has systematically surpressed Buddhism in Tibet and has jailed or murdered Tibetans who have remained loyal to the Dalai Lama, who was the political and religious leader of the Himalayan nation.

China overran Tibet by force in 1950, claiming it historically a Chinese province. The report claimed that life expectancy in Tibet has increased from 36 in pre-1950 Tibet to 65 today.

Quote of the day: United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan

(RNS)”There were millions of people around the world rooting for peace. That is why I say you should never underestimate the power of prayer.” _ United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan in remarks Tuesday (Feb. 24) to the United Nations on his return from Baghdad, Iraq, after reaching an agreement to permit U.N. inspectors access to Iraqi sites.


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