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c. 2004 Religion News Service

Black Church Leaders Seek Caucus Support for Marriage Amendment

(RNS) A group of African-American church leaders opposed to gay marriage have asked members of the Congressional Black Caucus to support a constitutional amendment to “protect marriage.”

“As bishops, pastors, ministers, evangelists and leaders, we want to join forces with you to protect black families at this defining moment in American history,” reads the two-page letter, dated Wednesday (Sept. 8) and signed by dozens of people.

“We are calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to take a leadership role in the development of a constitutional amendment.”

The leaders, who appeared at a Capitol Hill press conference on the same day, were in Washington to participate in a related summit sponsored by the Traditional Values Coalition, a Washington-based conservative Christian group.

They said the amendment is necessary because the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, has been challenged by federal judges.

“Historically, we as African-Americans understand the need to eliminate loopholes in legislation,” the letter reads. “For example, when the Emancipation Proclamation was written, it was still necessary that a constitutional amendment be passed so that slavery would be outlawed in every state. The same process is needed to protect marriage today.”

The letter added that its signers do not advocate violence against gay men or lesbians but wish to “protect the moral foundations of our society.”

Dozens of ministers signed the letter, including the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price of Los Angeles, Bishop-elect C. Anthony Muse of Oxon Hill, Md., and the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas.

_ Adelle M. Banks

L.A. County Unveils New Seal Without Controversial Cross

(RNS) The controversial Los Angeles County seal has been redesigned without a cross and the goddess Pomona, but critics insist they will continue to fight to have the original seal reinstated.

L.A. County Supervisors voted in June to remove a small gold cross _ meant to symbolize Jesuit missionaries who settled the area _ after lawyers advised it would not withstand a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The new seal replaces the gold cross with an image of the San Gabriel Mission without a visible cross. Pomona, goddess of fruit trees, has been replaced by a Native American woman holding a basket. Oil derricks in the old seal are also gone, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“It emasculates the mission by removing the cross,” said Mike Antovich, a supervisor who supports the old seal. “Rewriting history has never been right.”

Hundreds of people packed a supervisors meeting in June to protest the order to change the old seal. Critics said they would also demonstrate at a supervisors meeting next week when the new seal comes up for approval.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose father, Kenny Hahn, designed the seal with artist Millard Sheets in 1956, said she was “horrified” by the new design.

“They caved in and removed the cross, but they never had a mandate to redesign the county seal,” she told the newspaper. “Millard Sheets and Kenny Hahn are turning over in their graves.”

Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen said the Board of Supervisors approved the design from 30 renditions submitted by a county artist. “We took a good deal of abuse about the fact that we were removing the cross and keeping the pagan goddess,” he said.

At least one party, the ACLU, was pleased with the new design. “As far as we’re concerned, they could have satisfied their legal obligation by simply removing the cross,” said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. “But they went a step further and tried to devise a symbol that would really reflect the diversity of the county.”

Anglican Panel on Gays in Church to Issue Its Report Oct. 18

LONDON (RNS) The Lambeth Commission on Oct. 18 will make public its final report with recommendations on how the Anglican Communion can cope with the tensions created by the election and consecration of gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and the proposal by the Anglican Church of Canada to authorize a service of blessing for same-sex unions.

The announcement was made Friday (Sept. 10) at the conclusion of the third and final meeting of the commission, chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames of Armagh. Publication of the report will coincide with a meeting of the joint standing committee of the primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, the two bodies that deal with the affairs of the worldwide Anglican Communion between the once-a-decade gathering of all the world’s Anglican bishops.

Noting that the commission had been “greatly challenged” in the task it was set, Eames said: “I have no doubt that their collective insights and recommendations can and must make a profound and practical impact for good in the life and mission of the Anglican Communion. This has been a labor of love in the faith that Christ is our guide and strength in working for peace and healing.”

According to a report in The (London) Times just over a week ago, the commission is expected to recommend the suspension of the Episcopal Church until such time as it has “repented” of its decision to elect and consecrate Robinson, with similar sanctions being applied to the Anglican Church of Canada if it goes ahead with authorizing a formal liturgy for blessing same-sex unions.

Meanwhile, a report in the Church of England newspaper Friday indicates that if sanctions are applied against the U.S. church, it will bring existing tensions within the Church of England to a breaking point.

“The idea that you can sort things out by scapegoating Americans is absolutely preposterous,” said the Rev. Giles Frathe, chairman of Inclusive Church, a pro-gay organization. “I can’t believe it’s going to happen. It would bring civil war to the Church of England.”

Another Church of England priest, the Rev. Robert van der Weyer, told the paper, “I personally would find myself unable to be a member of an ecclesiastical organization which effectively condemned homosexuality as sinful.” Given that American Anglicans who disagreed with the line taken by ECUSA were seeking the supervision of Ugandan and Nigerian bishops, “we might seek U.S. supervision _ and that’s probably what we might find ourselves forced to do.”

_ Robert Nowell

Baptist Leader Re-elected for Second Five-Year Term

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) One of the nation’s largest black religious denominations handed a second five-year presidential term to a Philadelphia pastor who pulled the church out of scandal and disarray left by his predecessor.

Delegates to the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA re-elected the Rev. William Shaw over a challenge by the Rev. Franklyn Richardson of Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

Delegates from most of the convention’s 33,000 churches voted all day Thursday (Sept. 9) between speeches by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, representing the Bush campaign, and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

In a 90-minute session Wednesday, supporters sporting buttons for either Shaw or Richardson waved campaign signs and shouted as each candidate made his plea for the convention leadership.

Shaw pledged to continue to rehabilitate the convention, whose business affairs were left in a `shambles” by his predecessor, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Lyons served nearly five years in prison for grand theft and racketeering.

Shaw, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church, forswore his $100,000 president’s salary to demonstrate his commitment to serving the convention.

Shaw, 70, ran on his record, which included paying off a debt of nearly $3 million on the convention’s headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., instituting new financial controls and retooling the convention’s constitution and bylaws.

Richardson, 55, had run twice before. He promised a broad platform of changes: increasing the size of the convention, moving all the business affairs of the convention from the president’s home church into the national headquarters, building a new hotel and publishing center on the Nashville site and reinvigorating the American Baptist College, the convention’s struggling Bible college.

Both candidates pledged to usher the convention into a new era of cooperation with other African-American churches.

In January, leaders of the National Baptist Convention are scheduled to participate in a historic summit in Nashville to discuss cooperating on a national agenda with leaders from three other black Baptist denominations that splintered from it years ago.

_ Bruce Nolan

Update: Shariah Law Protest Draws 100 in Toronto

TORONTO (RNS) About 100 protesters, many of them Muslims, gathered before the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday (Sept. 8) to denounce proposed shariah-based tribunals in the province _ an issue that has galvanized Muslims and women’s groups around the world.

Homa Arjomand, the Iranian-born coordinator of the International Campaign Against Shariah Courts in Canada, said simultaneous protests were held in cities across the country and in European capitals in front of Canadian embassies and consulates.

“We have gathered over 4,000 signatures on our online petition,” she told RNS. “This is not just a government issue. It’s a moral one.”

Speaker after speaker representing Islamic, women’s, humanist and leftist groups condemned the proposed shariah panels as a tool to oppress women.

Critics fear that women, especially new immigrants, would be coerced into using the panels and forced to accept rulings that would favor men in family matters. Others have expressed fear that should they reject shariah courts, women would face ostracism from their communities.

The issue is a divisive one. At least two Muslim groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada and the Muslim Canadian Congress, oppose shariah-based courts.

Ontario’s 1991 Arbitration Act allows for voluntary faith-based arbitration, which permits Muslims, Jews, Native Canadians and members of other faiths to use the tenets of their religion to settle matters such as divorce, inheritance and custody issues outside the court system.

These religious courts also settle business and commercial disputes, and their rulings are binding provided the litigants use them voluntarily.

“Voluntary is a lie,” pronounced Isaam Shokri, an Iraqi-born member of the coalition opposing the panels. “I know firsthand about shariah. These women (would) live under the hand of mullahs and sheikhs. We say no to your misogynist ideas.”

Arjomand, who fled Iran on horseback and now counsels abused women and children in Toronto’s Muslim community, said “many” of her clients have been victimized by shariah.

“I have helped some to escape abusive relationships, polygamy and child marriages,” she said.

Amid the furor, the Ontario government has appointed a former attorney general, Marion Boyd, to examine the act and how it relates to religious courts. Her report is due Sept. 30.

The country-wide protests occurred on the same day as B’nai B’rith Canada came out in support of shariah courts, but only if provincial laws are amended to introduce additional safeguards to ensure that participation is voluntary and informed.

“We have tried to reduce the hype around the proposal to implement shariah law tribunals in Ontario,” said John Syrtash, a family lawyer with B’nai B’rith. “Shariah-based courts will not bring the Taliban to Canada.”

_ Ron Csillig

Quote of Day: Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus

(RNS) “Terrorism and the terrible tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 produce many emotions, ranging from anger to profound sorrow. But as we recall the losses of that awful day and honor those who died, we should also remember that peace and understanding, not revenge and retribution, must be our ultimate goal. We can best achieve that goal by raising our voices to God, reminding him that we share his deep and abiding desire for peace on Earth, and asking his divine guidance and help.”

_ Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus urging Sept. 11 be marked as a Worldwide Day of Prayer for Peace.

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