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c. 2006 Religion News Service

Diverse Groups Join to Seek Common Ground on Sexual Issues

WASHINGTON (RNS) Delegates of Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization of Women and the National Council of Churches have all reached some agreement on a topic that usually divides them _ sex.

Members of these groups, and 14 others whose views range from abortion and birth-control rights to staunch opposition to abortion, together released an interim report Thursday (May 18) on the sexual health and behavior of Americans.

While the points of consensus were relatively controversy-free _ such as a call for parental responsibility and a condemnation of sexual violence _ the fact that members of such diverse groups came together marks a milestone, officials said, even though some groups walked away from the process.

“We feel that America needs to talk more about sex and sexual health, and especially in a mature and respectful fashion,” said Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general and interim president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“We got a group of people who aren’t known for talking to each other … but who agreed to try and come together.”

Satcher led the project on behalf of his school’s Sexual Health Program in the National Center for Primary Care, following up on his calls for more discussion of sexuality. He convened a series of meetings among the groups from April 2004 to February 2006.

“It became an incredible opportunity to build towards the common good,” said the Rev. Michael D. Place, the recently retired president of the Catholic Health Association. “I never get uncomfortable with the presence of folks with whom I disagree as long as we can build toward something that would be good for the society.”

Sharon Camp, president of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a left-leaning sexual research firm, agreed with Place.

“I had to get inside the heads of people that I had never really had much of a conversation with before,” Camp said. “I think that if we can continue to have these types of conversations, we might be able to lower the level of polemics a little bit. … I think that in the future we’re all going to cut each other a lot more slack.”

But of the 28 participants invited to the discussions, three rejected the invitation upfront, and seven people withdrew from the talks. Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition, said she withdrew from the discussions because of repeated “unprofessional and nasty comments.”

Lafferty claimed Satcher personally berated her a number of times, adding that Janice Crouse, a senior fellow for Concerned Women for America, was “practically threatened by him” and also left as a result.

Others who left included Kevin Jennings from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Walt Larimore, a former top official of Focus on the Family.

“It was never balanced from the beginning,” argued Lafferty. “There was a spirit of continued intimidation and an attempt to intimidate those of us who were religious conservatives.”

Lafferty said she has not seen the interim report but said there is “no way that it can be balanced, and probably … should be disregarded.”

_ Piet Levy

Irwin Confirmed as President of American Bible Society

NEW YORK (RNS) The Rev. Paul G. Irwin has been appointed as the president of the American Bible Society (ABS) after serving as the interim head of the Bible mission organization for nearly a year.

Irwin, an ordained United Methodist minister who has taught at the Boston University School of Theology, was “affirmed” to continue as president after a yearlong search, the New York-based society announced Thursday (May 18).

Calling Irwin “deeply committed to the Bible cause,” the Rev. Lamar Vest, chairman of the society’s board of trustees, said Irwin is prepared to “energetically push forward” the ABS’ mission.

The New York-based organization, founded in 1816, is preparing to mark its bicentennial in 2016. The society’s stated mission is “to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford.”

Irwin is overseeing a number of ambitious goals for the ABS, including one to introduce the Bible “to every person on Earth in the next 10 years,” the society said.

“We are committed to completing this mandate by the year 2016 when we observe 200 years of accomplishing our mission,” Irwin said.

The innovations Irwin has overseen include the creation of an ABS-sponsored weekly television series, “American Bible Society Presents,” that appears weekly on more than 300 cable systems in the United States.

Irwin, who was once a pastor of Methodist congregations in New York and Massachusetts, is also the former president of the Humane Society of the United States.

_ Chris Herlinger

Report Says Williams Favors Two-Track Solution for Anglicans

LONDON (RNS) Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is backing a plan that, in hopes of avoiding open schism, would allow liberals and conservatives in the worldwide Anglican Communion to move along separate paths on contentious issues such as gay clergy, the London Daily Telegraph reported Friday (May 19).

The newspaper said it had obtained a copy of the proposals, which it described as “audacious” and said had been drafted by senior advisers and approved by Williams and church leaders at a private meeting in March.

The report suggested the “two-speed” plan could permit North American liberals _ in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada _ to push ahead with divisive reforms such as openly gay bishops while the majority of conservatives in the 77 million-strong global Anglican Communion continue along their own, more traditional path.

The blueprint is seen as the basis for a new “covenant” aimed at averting future crises such as the furor over the gay issue that was triggered by the Episcopal Church’s consecrating Gene Robinson as Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop. The move has pushed the Anglican Communion to the edge of outright schism.

The blueprint was short on details, but the Daily Telegraph said the archbishop of Canterbury will appoint a 10-member panel to “flesh out” the proposals with practical terms and procedures ahead of the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops.

The preliminary plan calls for all 38 autonomous Anglican Church provinces that make up the worldwide Communion to be asked to sign the covenant as an agreement that would stop them from acting unilaterally over contentious issues.

But even if a number of provinces _ the Daily Telegraph suggested that up to one-third of the 38 _ refuse to sign because they want to retain their freedom, under terms of the covenant they would not necessarily be seen as less Anglican. The could, however, find themselves still shoved toward the fringes.

Other potential pitfalls abound. The newspaper report suggested that Anglican conservatives could see this whole project as an attempt to buy their compliance amid their demands that the U.S. church be kicked out of the Communion because of Robinson.

But what Williams hopes, the Daily Telegraph said, is that the plan “may help to dilute some of the acrimony and distrust that has grown up between the rival factions of the church.”

_ Al Webb

Insurer Aims to Limit Swimming Deaths at Church Summer Camps

(RNS) A leading insurer of religious organizations has developed a new system designed to eliminate drowning deaths at church-owned summer camps.

Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Swimmer Safety Program features fluorescent, color-coded wristbands that swimmers wear to indicate the level of their swimming ability.

Non-swimmers wear red wristbands according to the program’s system, intermediate swimmers yellow and “qualified swimmers” will wear green. Non-swimmers must stay in designated areas, while intermediates are forbidden from entering water above their shoulders.

“These bright-colored wristbands are intended to allow lifeguards and other supervisors to quickly scan the swimming area to see if a poor swimmer has wandered beyond the safe zone,” said Rick Schaber, the company’s risk control manager.

In 2004, 11 people covered under Church Mutual policies drowned _ a nearly 100 percent spike from the year before _ and 38 have died by drowning since 1998. Church Mutual insures 94,000 religious organizations nationwide.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in 2003 there were 3,306 unintentional non-boating-related deaths from drowning in the United States.

_ Nate Herpich

Episcopalians Launch Home-Building Effort in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana hopes to eventually build 150 homes to sell to low-income first-time home buyers, to help rebuild the city that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

“Our goal is to first construct 150 homes in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. While doing so we pray that we will be able to collaborate with other faith groups in sharing this ministry so important to the future of New Orleans,” said Bishop Charles Jenkins.

The home-building effort is getting off to a modest start. The diocese has acquired five lots and plans to start by building homes on those properties. Once those first homes have been sold, the diocese will use the money it makes to buy another round of properties to build on.

Homes will be built using various building techniques, including steel framing, cement and modular construction. Those first homes will help to determine which technique works best when building on empty lots.

The purpose of the first five homes is to work out the kinks, including site selection, client identification and home-buying training, the availability of homeowners insurance and the cost of mortgage products.

The building program is being undertaken by Jericho Road LLC, a new group created in March by the local Episcopal Diocese and the national Episcopal Relief Development.

Whitney National Bank is making construction loans for the project and will make permanent loans to qualified home buyers. Whitney has committed $20 million to building the 150 homes. The $20 million will be used as a revolving fund; as homes are completed and sold, the sale money will be put back into the fund and used to finance more construction.

Church officials said there is no clear timetable for completing the 150 homes, but Jenkins said he hopes the city will donate abandoned, blighted homes to the building program, a move that would speed up the process considerably.

“Jericho Road … will again set the standard for people of diverse ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to live together in mixed and vibrant communities,” said the Rev. David duPlantier, dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral.

“One of our city’s most unique characteristics is that for hundreds of years people of vastly different backgrounds have lived in close proximity to one another, inspiring and influencing culture, religion and family life.”

_ Greg Thomas

Quote of the Day: Jared N. Leland, legal counsel for the Becket Fund

(RNS) “There is a national movement to quash the continued growth or the concept of the megachurch. The word `megachurch’ has negative connotations in this country. It frightens people.”

_ Jared N. Leland, spokesman and legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based organization that fights religious discrimination. He was quoted by World magazine about civic opposition to the growing number of megachurches in the nation’s neighborhoods.


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