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c. 2005 Religion News Service

Religious Hate Crimes Surge After London Attacks

LONDON (RNS) Since the July 7 bombings in London that killed 52 people and injured 700, religious hate crimes have multiplied more than sixfold in the British capital, according to figures released by the police.

In the three weeks after July 7, 269 religious hate crimes were recorded, compared to 40 in the equivalent three-week period in 2004.

Most of these were verbal abuse and minor assaults, but they also included damage to mosques.

The Muslim Association of Britain attributed the reaction to “media hysteria,” and said the true number of incidents is likely higher because not all Muslims who had suffered abuse are reporting it to the police.

The Metropolitan Police’s highest-ranking Muslim, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, said he had never seen so much anger among young Muslims. Communities were particularly frustrated by the increased use of the police’s power to stop and search people.

Ghaffur warned that the increase in incidents affecting the Muslim community could lead to “these communities completely retreating and not engaging at a time when we want their engagement and support.”

However, in Birmingham, West Midlands Police reported only 10 incidents of religious hate crimes since the London bombings.

A spokesman for the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit, Maxi Hayles, attributed this to the city’s diverse communities bonding together in troubled times.

“What the terrorists tried to do was divide the communities, but that hasn’t worked,” he was quoted as saying by the Birmingham Evening Mail.

_ Robert Nowell

Antiochian Orthodox Leave National Council of Churches

(RNS) The Antiochian Orthodox Church has decided to pull its membership from the National Council of Churches, a move that some conservatives hope will prompt other churches to leave the liberal-leaning ecumenical body.

The 339,000-member Orthodox church voted to leave the NCC on July 28 during its General Convention in Troy, Mich. The decision to leave the New York-based NCC was supported by its leader, Metropolitan Philip.

Topping a list of grievances, apparently, was the NCC’s liberal drift and actions by its outspoken general secretary, the Rev. Bob Edgar. “It got to be too much,” church spokesman the Rev. Thomas Zain told Ecumenical News International. “There was no reason to be part of it.”

Zain also said, “We just feel we don’t have much in common with the (other NCC-member) churches,” pointing to a decision by the United Church of Christ to support gay marriage, and the Episcopal Church to approve an openly gay bishop.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church traces its roots to Arab-speaking immigrants who previously belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2003, it was granted full autonomy by Antiochian church leaders in Syria.

Pat Patillo, director of communications for the NCC, declined to comment on the church’s decision, in part because the agency had not been formally notified of it. “There was no word before, during or after,” he said.

But Mark Tooley, a frequent NCC critic at the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, said the Antiochian decision should prompt the 35 remaining Orthodox and mainline churches in the NCC to “seek out alternatives that actually strengthen the body of Christ rather than divide it with dubious political causes.”

Patillo said he doubted the Antiochians would prompt an exodus. “A denomination will do what it wants to do (for its own reasons), rather than because somebody else did it,” Patillo said.

_ Kevin Eckstrom

Orthodox Bishops Say Sex Abuse Will Find `No Safe Haven’ in Church

WASHINGTON (RNS) Eastern Orthodox bishops said Tuesday (Aug. 2) that “sexual abuse or misconduct will find no safe haven” in their churches, adding that they will require new priests to undergo criminal background checks.

The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, which represents the nine major ethnic Eastern Orthodox churches in North America, issued its statement in response to a series of sex abuse scandals involving clergy that have shaken the Catholic Church.

The SCOBA guidelines suggested background checks and criminal investigations for all seminary applicants, and the bishops said such checks now will be mandatory for all men entering the priesthood.

The bishops sought to make clear that sexuality, while a natural human impulse, must be controlled _ and treated as “something which has great potential either for good or for harm.” If a clergyman behaves inappropriately, SCOBA said, he will be removed from his position.

“Orthodox Christians understand human sexuality to be one important aspect of the whole mystery of human personhood,” the statement said. “As is evident from Holy Scripture, human sexuality is intended to be a sublime means of expressing mature and self-giving love between a man and a woman united in marriage, of deepening that love in a communion of two lives, and of enabling a couple to participate with God in the wondrous and sacred work of creation of new life.

“Conversely,” the statement continued, “choosing the way of self-centered, undisciplined and unbridled sexual indulgence ultimately is life-destroying rather than life-affirming in that sinfulness, in whatever guise it takes, always leads us away from God.”

Although guilty clerics will be removed from their positions, those who repent will be forgiven in the eyes of the church.

“The Church will not turn her back on these former clerics, if they repent of their destructive behavior and receive forgiveness, even though they can no longer serve as clergy or in other positions of authority,” the statement said.

_ Hugh S. Moore

Survey Finds More Hindu, Jewish Doctors Than in General Population

(RNS) Physicians are often every bit as religious as their patients, but what they believe is apt to be quite different, according to a new survey.

That’s because a disproportionate percentage of physicians come from religious minority groups, according to University of Chicago research published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Data came from responses to a 12-page questionnaire, which researchers had mailed to a random sample of 2,000 physicians practicing in the United States.

Among the findings, physicians proved to be 26 times more likely to be Hindu than the overall U.S. population (5.3 percent of doctors vs. 0.2 percent of non-physicians), the survey found. They are seven times more likely to be Jewish, six times more likely to be Buddhist and five times more likely to be Muslim.

Across the board, 55 percent of doctors said their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine, but researchers are still asking questions about how that happens.

“We have paid a good deal of attention to the religious beliefs of patients and how their faith influences medical decisions,” said the study author, Dr. Farr Curlin. “But until now, no one has looked in the same way at physicians, the other half of every doctor-patient relationship.”

“These findings lead us to further wonder how doctors’ faiths shape their clinical encounters.”

In terms of faith, doctors as a group appear more devout thant other scientists. In this survey, 76 percent of respondents said they believe in God. By contrast, only 39 percent of all scientists believe in God, according to surveys published in 1997 and 1998 in the journal Nature.

Among those who answered the Chicago survey, Christian, Mormon and Buddhist doctors were the most likely to affirm the statement, “my religious beliefs influence my practice of medicine.” Jews and Hindus were the least likely.

_ G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Minister Who Was Tapped to Lead Christian Reformed Church Ousted

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) The newly named top executive of the Christian Reformed Church has been forced to resign just three weeks before he was to take office.

The Rev. Calvin Bremer was asked to step down by CRC officials who felt he showed bad judgment in seeking to promote a female colleague to a prominent CRC post.

Bremer resigned on July 29 both as executive director of the CRC and director of the Back to God Hour, the denomination’s worldwide broadcast ministry. He was to assume the CRC’s top administrative post Aug. 22.

Officials said the executive committees of both the CRC and the Back to God Hour found Bremer had acted inappropriately in recommending an employee of a closely related fund-raising organization to be director of development for the CRC.

Bremer’s endorsement of the employee was inappropriate because his relationship with her “crossed professional boundaries,” said the Rev. Peter Borgdorff, executive director of ministries for the Grand Rapids-based CRC.

“This really was a lapse in good judgment that became known and therefore had to be dealt with,” Borgdorff said. “The information we dealt with caused an erosion of confidence in Cal’s leadership ability, to the point where we felt he could not function as the executive director.”

The woman worked for RACOM Associates, a nonprofit that raises money for Back to God Hour, and resigned her position the same day as Bremer. With offices in Holland, Grand Rapids and Chicago, RACOM is separate from the CRC but takes its directives from Back to God Hour, said the Rev. Robert Heerspink, president of the Back to God Hour board.

The woman, 56 and a married resident of Grand Rapids Township, worked at RACOM about three years. She is a former employee of Calvin College, International Aid and Worldwide Christian Schools, Borgdorff said.

Bremer, who has been a minister for 33 years, said he had not done anything morally wrong but admitted to poor judgment.

“If your employer says you lack good judgment, by definition you lack good judgment,” said Bremer, 57, a Holland native and graduate of Calvin College and Seminary who lives in Dyer, Ind. “There are things I would choose to do differently if I had the opportunity to do it over.”

In his resignation letter, Bremer wrote, “I regret that my lack of good judgment to maintain appropriate boundaries with a colleague in ministry has caused pain to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and to many of you. Please forgive me for the pain and injury that my actions have caused to you and to the witness of the church.”

_ Charles Honey

Churches of Christ Distance Themselves from UCC Gay Statement

(RNS) The recent decision by the United Church of Christ to endorse gay marriage has caused concern and confusion for some members of the more conservative Churches of Christ.

In Mississippi, six Churches of Christ congregations took out an ad in Brookhaven’s Daily Leader newspaper that disavowed any connection to the more liberal United Church of Christ.

At Abilene Christian University in Texas, officials distributed a statement that said “Abilene Christian University has NO affiliation with the United Churches of Christ” after parents of some prospective students expressed concern. About two-thirds of students come from the Churches of Christ, school officials said.

The Cleveland-based UCC, which traces its history to New England Congregationalists, has about 1.5 million members and is considered the most liberal of American Protestant churches. On July 4, church delegates approved a statement urging civil marriage rights for gay couples.

The Churches of Christ, meanwhile, claims 2 million members and traces its roots to a frontier revival in the early 1800s. The conservative, loose-knit denomination is perhaps best known for not using musical instruments during worship services.

“It’s fair to say that they are a theologically liberal group and we are certainly not that,” said Cecil May, dean of the College of Biblical Studies at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

The Churches of Christ is most popular in a wide swath of the mid-South that stretches from Tennessee across to Oklahoma and Texas. It promotes a form of “primitive New Testament Christianity” that tries to replicate the life of the early Christian Church.

Don Vinzant, the minister of Edmond (Okla.) Church of Christ, said confusion between the two churches is “fairly common but not all that frequent,” and said the Churches of Christ would never endorse homosexuality.

“We accept the Bible at face-value for what it is, and I don’t know anybody in the Churches of Christ who wouldn’t believe that the Bible condemns homosexual conduct as sin.”

Vinzant said his denomination would not adopt any churchwide statement, on homosexuality or any other issue. “As weird and crazy as it sounds, we don’t have a central headquarters,” he said.

And if it wasn’t confusing enough, both bodies swear off any affiliation with the International Churches of Christ, which is labeled a college-campus cult by critics.

_ Kevin Eckstrom

Toronto Law School to Offer Courses in Islamic Law

TORONTO (RNS) The University of Toronto’s law school has hired two full-time professors to teach the institution’s first-ever courses in Shariah, or Islamic law.

“The early indications are that students are going to be beating down the doors, and it’s a testament to the timeliness of it, with Islamic fundamentalism in the news abroad,” acting law school dean Lorne Sossin told the Globe and Mail newspaper.

The move hits close to home in Ontario, which has been pondering whether to allow Shariah tribunals to settle private civil and family disputes between Muslims _ amid vocal protests, especially from Muslim women.

“Islamic law is not just about these rules about cutting hands off thieves or discriminating against women,” said one of the professors hired to teach Shariah, Anver Emon, who was recruited from Yale University. “It’s a living tradition in which jurists are trying to embrace and engage in active acts of interpretation.”

Shariah is being employed more and more outside the Muslim world, according to the other professor, Mohammad Fadel, a hire from private practice in New York who will incorporate Islamic legal precepts into his course in business law.

“It is increasingly relevant, say, for commercial transactions in which you have Islamic investors, and they want the contracts to be compliant. It’s not something that’s so obscure.”

Homa Arjomand, who heads the International Campaign Against Shariah Courts in Canada, said the hirings are “like a green light for Shariah. I’m so mad.”

Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said Canada’s legal system should be completely secular.

Ontario’s attorney general is expected this autumn to decide whether to permit Shariah-based legal tribunals. A report issued earlier this year, after six months of research, recommended that religious law keep a place in family arbitration as long as safeguards are built in to protect women and children.

Some American law schools, including the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, offer courses in Shariah.

_ Ron Csillag

Civil Rights Group Defends Employee Who Called Homosexuality `Perversion’

(RNS) A national civil rights group has taken up the case of a William Paterson University employee who was reprimanded for sending a professor an e-mail describing homosexuality as a “perversion.”

Jihad Daniel, a graduate student and employee of the Wayne, N.J., school, was found guilty last month of violating state discrimination and harassment laws after he sent the head of the women’s studies department the e-mail. In it he complained about an invitation he received to an on-campus showing of a film about a lesbian relationship.

“These are perversions,” Daniel wrote. “The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned.”

The professor said she found Daniel’s one-paragraph e-mail threatening and filed a complaint with officials on the public university’s Wayne campus. They launched an investigation that eventually resulted in a letter of reprimand in Daniel’s permanent employee file.

“William Paterson’s punishment of Mr. Daniel is a direct attack on freedom of speech,” said David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil rights group that has taken up Daniel’s case.

“For the university to convict a student of `harassment’ for sending a single, non-threatening e-mail dangerously trivializes real harassment,” French added.

University officials declined to discuss the case.

The case began March 8 when Daniels received a campuswide announcement in his e-mail account inviting him to a viewing and discussion of the film “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House” in the campus library.

The announcement, sent by Professor Arlene Holpp Scala, described the film as a “lesbian relationship story.” The event was in honor of Women’s History Month.

Daniel replied to Scala with a one-paragraph message asking not to be sent any more announcements related to homosexuality. Scala, chair of the women’s studies department, filed a discrimination complaint with university officials two days later.

“Mr. Daniel’s message to me sounds threatening and in violation of our university non-discrimination policy,” Scala wrote in her complaint. “I don’t want to feel threatened at my place of work when I send out announcements about events that address lesbian issues.”

_ Kelly Heyboer

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to Move, to Dismay of Russian Orthodox

MOSCOW (RNS) In a move sharply criticized by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church announced Tuesday (Aug. 9) it would move its headquarters from the Western city of Lviv to the capital Kiev.

The Russian Orthodox Church has long decried what it says are attempts by the Roman Catholic Church to poach converts among Orthodox followers, and it sees this as another encroachment that could hinder Catholic-Orthodox relations.

“The seat of the archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church … will from August 21 be in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital,” the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, also known as the Ukrainian Uniate Church, said in a statement.

Following the move, the church’s leader, Cardinal Lyubomir Husar, will no longer be known as the major archbishop of Lviv, but as “major archbishop of Kiev and Galicia,” a reference to the western Ukrainian region where Lviv is located, the statement said.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, allied to Catholicism but with its own rites and traditions, has 5.5 million members, most of them in western Ukraine. Banned by dictator Josef Stalin under the Soviet Union’s policy of favoring Russian Orthodoxy, it became legal again in 1990.

The move reflects newfound confidence in the church amid Ukraine’s push for Western integration following last year’s Orange Revolution.

It was quickly denounced by the Russian Orthodox leadership in Moscow as an attempt to expand into traditionally Orthodox territory. The expansion of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has been a key issue of contention between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate.

“The persistent desire of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics to move their see to Kiev and give their metropolitan the title of Metropolitan of Kiev shows clearly who is the aggressor in Orthodox-Catholic relations,” Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchy’s external-relations department, told the Interfax news agency.

Chaplin said he expected the move would hurt attempts at reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. At a time “when the Orthodox Church and the Vatican seem to be ready to restore good relations, the Uniates are trying by all means to accomplish the drive to the East before it is too late,” he said.

_ Michael Mainville

Quote of the Week: Washington-area Latter-day Saint Rachel Morrissey

(RNS) “You have to be thin and pretty and smart, and you’re not allowed to be sad that you’re not with someone, because that makes you feel like you messed up, but you’re not allowed to be happy about not being with someone, either, because that’s wrong. It’s a hard church to be single in.”

_ Rachel Morrissey, a Washington-area member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was quoted by the Washington City Paper.


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