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c. 1999 Religion News Service

Trial set for Methodist pastor over same-sex union ceremonies

(RNS) Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, religious leader of United Methodist Church in northern Illinois, said Wednesday (Feb. 24) that the Rev. Greg Dell will be tried on charges he violated church law by performing same-sex union ceremonies.

Dell, a popular Chicago pastor, will go on trial March 25.

He has been charged with”disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church”because he performed a same-sex union service for two gay men in his congregation last Sept. 19.

Retired United Methodist Bishop Jack Tuell, one of a handful of denominational bishops trained to conduct such a trial, will preside.

The trial is expected to last two or three days.

It will be the second trial of a United Methodist pastor for violating church rules barring performance of same-sex unions. In the first, the Rev. Jimmy Creech was narrowly acquitted.

Following Creech’s acquittal, however, the denomination’s Judicial Council ruled that the provision barring performance of same-sex marriages, contained in the church’s Social Principles, nevertheless had the force of church law.

Sprague, who disagrees with the denomination’s policy, nevertheless said in October he felt duty bound to bring charges against Dell.

If Dell is found guilty, he faces a range of penalties, including removal of ministerial orders, the equivalence of being defrocked.

In addition to Dell, charges have also been filed against an Iowa pastor for his participation in a Jan. 16″holy union”service in California. The Rev. David Holmes was one of more than 150 pastors who participated in the ceremony.

Bank begins no-interest home-buying plan for Britain’s Muslims

(RNS) A project to enable Muslims to obtain home mortgages without violating Islamic law forbidding the taking or paying of interest on loans has been launched in London by the United Bank of Kuwait.

Under the Manzil Ijara, or”house leasing,”home purchase plan, the bank buys a house and then leases it to the purchaser for an agreed term _ say 25 years. Over that period the purchaser pays the bank rent, but at the end of the term the bank transfers ownership of the property to him so the home buyer is paying rent, not interest.

The idea was first implemented in California in 1993, when the Committee for Islamic Home Finance was set up to work out ways where Muslims could afford to buy homes without having to accumulate all the capital needed beforehand and without contravening Islamic law.

One of those working on the California plan, Abdul Kader Thomas, joined the United Bank of Kuwait in 1995 and is the general manager of the Islamic banking unit in its New York Office.

In developing the program, Thomas said he found useful precedents in the practice of the Orthodox Jewish community who follow biblical prohibitions on taking interest on a loan but also later rabbinic teachings which drew a distinction between loans to those in need and loans which were in effect a kind of business transaction.

In the latter case the person making the loan was seen as entering into a business partnership with the borrower and was therefore entitled to a share in the profits.

A similar process of re-interpretation enabled medieval Christian theologians from the 13th century onward to find ways of side-stepping the ban on usury which Christianity had inherited from Judaism.

Over the past few years, British financial institutions have been developing programs tailored to the needs of Britain’s growing Muslim community. In 1996, Flemings launched Oasis, an Islamic investment fund, in which dividends are”purified”by having the interest element removed and donated to charity while allowing investors to reap profits from sharing in the risk of the investment.

Indiana man charged with burning seven churches

(RNS) An Indiana man has been charged with burning seven churches in the southern part of that state since 1994, the Justice Department has announced.

Two other people also have been charged in one of the arsons.

Jay Scott Ballinger, 36, of Yorktown, Ind., was charged Sunday (Feb. 21) with setting the seven fires in several counties.

Donald A. Puckett, 37, of Lebanon, Ind., and Angela Wood, 24, of Athens, Ga., were charged with burning the Concord Church of Christ in 1994 in Lebanon. Authorities allege that satanic symbols were written in the church before it was destroyed.

The charges came as a result of continuing work of the National Church Arson Task Force, which includes local, state and federal authorities.”These fires may have scorched the structures but they did not sear the spirit of the communities in which the churches are located,”said Bill Lann Lee, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, who co-chairs the task force with a Treasury Department official.

The penalty for each of the charges is a prison term of 5 to 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, Ballinger confessed to setting between 30 and 50 church fires between 1994 and 1998. He was arrested earlier this month after being questioned at a hospital where he was being treated for burns.”We’re aggressively pursuing leads in Tennessee and Alabama regarding these Indiana-based defendants,”said Jim Cavanaugh, director of the Tennessee-Alabama division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.”We think they have traveled extensively down South.” All three suspects are white and most of the church burnings in Indiana have involved predominantly white, rural congregations, the Associated Press reported.

Court documents identify Wood as Ballinger’s girlfriend.

The ATF said satanic books and writings and a gasoline container were found during searches of Ballinger’s home.

Closing arguments paint two pictures of Baptist leader

(RNS) In contrasting closing arguments in the Florida trial of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, the Baptist leader was depicted as a man of greed and a”little preacher”struggling to deal with big corporations.

State prosecutors, who have charged Lyons and co-defendant Bernice Edwards with racketeering, called them the”Bonnie and Clyde”of the National Baptist Convention, USA. Lyons is the president of the prominent black denomination and Edwards is the former public relations director. They are accused of swindling more than $4 million from corporations that sought to market products to denomination members.”Instead of using a gun to go and rob their victims, they used a pen and they used their word,”Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson told the jury.”If I had to think of a name for this case … I think I would call it, `Their creed was greed.'” Grady Irvin, the attorney for Lyons, defended his client and said the trial is a case of”corporate giants and the little preacher,”the Associated Press reported.

He argued that Lyons’ failed business deals were not crimes.”They just kept coming back,”Irvin said.”Not for prayer. For profit. For access. Thank you for opening that gate and letting us in.” Lyons also is charged with grand theft. Prosecutors say he stole more than $200,000 from the Anti-Defamation League and used the money intended to rebuild burned churches for the personal expenses of himself, his wife, and alleged mistresses.

Irvin said the case is about religious freedom, not adulterous affairs.”They want to come here and tell you about affairs … The moral police,”he said of the prosecutors.

But Irvin said Lyons has retained the leadership post of the denomination because he did not steal money from them or commit any other wrongdoing.”This is a religious organization,”he said.”It’s not up to these prosecutors … to tell them how to run their organization.”

Samaritan Project urges evangelicals to address racial issues

(RNS) The Samaritan Project, a conservative group that broke off from the Christian Coalition, has announced plans to encourage evangelical churches to address racial reconciliation.”We must have the vision to see the end of racial animosity in our nation _ a nation where the David Dukes and the Louis Farrakhans of the world have no one to talk to and no followers to lead,”said Bishop Earl Jackson, the project’s national president.”We must have the vision to see the fulfillment of our pledge to be `one nation under God.’ … This is our vision and its realization begins with national repentance, and that repentance must begin in the Christian community.” But one aspect of the project’s plan _ a covenant of racial healing and reconciliation _ already has prompted criticism.

Jackson said several conservative groups _ which he declined to name _ have chosen not to sign”The New American Compact”because it currently reads”we repent for the sins of our forefathers and mothers.” Jackson said he may change the wording to read”we express our sorrow,”but added:”The spirit that it expresses is not going to be changed.” In addition to the covenant, the project is urging churches to participate in a”Racial Reconciliation Sunday”on April 25 and in follow-up discussion groups. The project also plans to work on”the de-racialization of the school choice debate”and seek alternatives to affirmative action by assembling a group of scholars to consider other ways to help disadvantaged people.

Jackson said he hopes the project’s events will culminate with a”Millennial March for Racial Healing and Reconciliation”in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2000.”We’re at the dawn of a new millennium and we cannot afford another 100 years of racial division, tension and strife,”he said.

Jackson, who was ordained by an independent group of Pentecostal bishops last year, said the Chesapeake, Va.-based organization has about 5,000 individual members and chapters in Milwaukee, Boston and Houston. The project separated from the coalition at the end of 1997, a year after the coalition initiated it.

At least 18 dead in new Indonesian religious strife

(RNS) Renewed violence between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia has claimed at least 18 more lives.

Local news reports said soldiers opened fire Wednesday (Feb. 24) on brawling Muslims and Christians after they hurled homemade bombs at each other in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province and the scene of earlier interreligious conflict. More than 140 people have died in Maluku this year, according to the Associated Press.

Violence erupted anew in Ambon Monday when Muslim and Christian youths armed with knives, swords, clubs and homemade explosives attacked each other. Indonesian soldiers then fired on the mobs to disperse them.

The rioters reportedly stopped automobiles and demanded to know the religion of those inside.

Predominantly Muslim Indonesia has been plagued by economic and political uncertainty since last spring, which has led to repeated violence along ethnic and religious lines.

Quote of the day: Home-run champion Mark McGwire

(RNS)”I wish I would have gotten to sit down and talk to him, because I would have told him that the Big Man upstairs had a reason and purpose for what happened last summer.” _ Home-run champion Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, speaking about what he wanted to tell Pope John Paul II about breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record last season, in an interview published Wednesday (Feb. 24) in USA Today.


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