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c. 2006 Religion News Service

Chaplain Says Porn Forced Him Out of the British Navy

LONDON (RNS) A trainee chaplain has told an employment tribunal that he was driven out of Britain’s Royal Navy by pornography being shown at all hours aboard warships on which he was serving.

The Rev. Mark Sharpe said he quit his Navy job within weeks after being told to turn a blind eye to porn aboard the assault ship HMS Albion and later the destroyer HMS Manchester. He added that he was advised not to raise the issue if he valued his naval career.

Sharpe, an Anglican priest married for 20 years and now based ashore in Worcestershire, England, said he was invited to join a sex club and smacked on his rear, and found sexually explicit photographs of women plastered on his bunk.

At one point, he said, he witnessed shipmates watching hard-core DVDs at 7 a.m. “I expected people to have pictures of girls,” the priest told the tribunal, but he was “not aware this level of hard-core pornography would be a routine part of life.”

Sharpe, a former policeman, said that “I was in the obscene publications squad in the police, but this pornography was stuff I had not seen before.” When he raised the issue with others, “they said it was harmless fun.”

The Royal Navy also denied that pornography was condoned aboard its ships and said it was not the real reason Sharpe left the service. Rather, the officials said, the cleric missed his wife and began complaining only after he had decided to leave the service.

The hearing was still under way Wednesday (Sept. 13).

_ Al Webb

Democrats Unveil Bill to Reduce Abortions

WASHINGTON (RNS) Led by two Catholic lawmakers, Democrats on opposing sides of the abortion debate have come together to introduce legislation aimed at reducing the number of abortions in the U.S.

The Reducing Abortion and Supporting Pregnant Women Act, which was introduced by Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., would increase government funding for contraceptives and family planning, expand the adoption tax credit and restore Medicaid coverage to Family Planning Services.

Ryan and DeLauro are both members of the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes abortion and the use of contraceptives.

“Despite so much rancor and divisiveness in our society and in our politics … surrounding abortion today, this bill reflects common ground on the goal of reducing the number of abortions in America while still protecting the privacy of women and families,” DeLauro said.

Introduced eight weeks before the fall elections, the legislation was seen by some as a Democratic attempt to reach out to anti-abortion voters and people of faith.

Ryan, who is anti-abortion, said the Democrats conferred with anti-abortion advocacy groups but failed to gain their support because the bill would increase funding for contraceptives.

“That was the major hurdle,” Ryan said.

Because of the contraception funding, one such group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, supported the bill’s intentions but not all of its means, according to Executive Director Alexia Kelley.

_ Daniel Burke

Germany Ordains First Rabbis Since World War II

BERLIN (RNS) For the first time since the end of World War II, rabbis have been ordained in Germany.

The three graduates of Potsdam’s Abraham Geiger College were officially ordained in Dresden’s New Synagogue on Thursday (Sept. 14) under heavy security and with an audience of about 200, including dignitaries such as German President Horst Koehler and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The new rabbis are set to start work soon. Newly ordained Rabbi David Alter of Germany, 47, will work in Oldenburg; Czech Rabbi Tomas Kucera, 35, will be assigned to a congregation in Munich; and Rabbi Malcolm Mattitani, 35, will head to Cape Town in his native South Africa.

The ceremony was emotional for the country that was home to the Holocaust. Many dignitaries gave speeches highlighting how this event marked a historic change. The graduates were from the first rabbinical school to open in Germany after the Holocaust, and the Dresden synagogue was the first to open in eastern Germany after the fall of communism.

German Jews said they were thrilled by the ceremony. High Rabbi Walter Jacob of Munich, who performed the ordination ceremony, called it “a wonderful day.”

_ Niels Sorrells

Presbyterian Pastor Charged in Same-Sex Wedding Case

(RNS) A Presbyterian minister has been charged with violating a ban against same-sex weddings when she presided over the marriage of two women in June 2005.

Rev. Janet Edwards, an ordained minister for 29 years, could face a range of penalties if found guilty, from rebuke to defrocking.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) allows the blessing of same-sex unions as long as they are not equated with heterosexual marriage. Ministers may not use marriage rites in blessing same-sex ceremonies.

“For me, Scripture teaches me that the heart of marriage is the love and commitment of the partners,” Edwards said in an interview. “And my experience in life has shown me that love and commitment can be easily displayed over a lifetime by a gay couple.”

Edwards presided at the wedding of Presbyterian Nancy McConn and Buddhist Brenda Cole at an event hall in Pittsburgh. Several days later during their honeymoon, the couple had a state-sanctioned marriage in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The case has been turned over to a court in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, the local governing body for the church. Edwards said the court has not yet decided whether Edwards will be tried.

Edwards is the great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Jonathan Edwards, the famous Puritan preacher who delivered the scathing “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon in 1741.

_ Kat Glass

Widow Wins Fight to Have Wiccan Symbol for Fallen Soldier

(RNS) A memorial plaque for an American soldier will be displayed with a symbol for his Wiccan faith, despite the federal government’s refusal to display the marker.

Sgt. Patrick Stewart, the posthumous recipient of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, was killed in Afghanistan in September 2005. Stewart’s spot on the memorial wall at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nev., has stayed empty, because his widow, Roberta Stewart, was not allowed to include a Wiccan symbol on the plaque.

The Wiccan faith _ which involves nature worship and belief in magical powers _ is not on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of 38 approved religions.

But the Nevada attorney general informed the state Office of Veterans Services that the state has the authority to put up the marker in the state cemetery.

The Nevada agency will pay for the bronze plaque and put it on the memorial wall. The plaque will feature the Wiccan symbolic pentacle: a five-pointed star contained in a circle, representing earth, wind, fire, water and spirit.

_ Kat Glass

State Department Softens Language on Saudi Religious Freedom

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. State Department on Friday (Sept. 15) released its annual list of nations where religious freedom is threatened and immediately drew fire for changing its description of Saudi Arabia.

Despite being a key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia has been listed as a “country of particular concern” regarding religious freedom since 2004. The Middle Eastern country, which provides the U.S. with about 15 percent of its crude oil imports, has objected to its inclusion in the report in past years.

This year, however, the State Department omitted the statement: “Religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia,” which had been included in the previous eight years’ reports, said Dwight Bashir, a senior policy analyst for the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“It sends the message that there is some form of religious freedom,” in Saudi Arabia, Bashir said, “but things have have not really changed.”

Israel, another U.S. ally, was chastised in the report for constructing a wall that “limited access to sacred sites and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations that provide humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians.” Israel was not listed as a “country of particular concern.”

_ Daniel Burke

IRS Revokes Tax-Exempt Status of Anti-Abortion Group

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Internal Revenue Service has revoked the tax exemption of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue West, which two years ago said it wanted to sink Sen. John Kerry’s bid for the White House.

While the IRS does not provide information on its reasons for revoking a tax exemption, the group Catholics For a Free Choice filed a complaint against Operation Rescue West in 2004, accusing the anti-abortion group of electioneering.

During the Democratic Party’s convention in 2004, Operation Rescue West placed an ad in The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic weekly, that asked readers to offer tax deductible donations to help “defeat (John Kerry) in November and enable President Bush to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court Justice.”

Nonprofit organizations, such as Operation Rescue West, which was also known as Youth Ministries Inc., are tax-exempt as long as they do not advocate for the election of particular political candidates.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics For a Free Choice, said she hopes “the revocation of Operation West’s tax-exempt status will sends a clear message to tax-exempt groups that think they are above the law.”

_ Daniel Burke

Forbes to Leave New York’s Riverside Church

NEW YORK (RNS) The Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., one of the stalwarts of American religious liberalism, has announced his retirement as senior minister of Manhattan’s historic Riverside Church.

In an announcement Sunday (Sept. 17) to his interdenominational and multi-racial congregation, Forbes, 71, said it was time after nearly 18 years in Riverside’s pulpit to focus on new challenges.

Forbes said he plans to take a six-month sabbatical beginning in January to determine the next forum for his work, which is likely to involve ministry focused on “the nation’s spiritual revitalization.”

The possibility that Forbes, Riverside’s first African-American senior minister, may try to increase his profile nationally is hardly a surprise. In recent years, Forbes has been outspoken on a host of issues _ including war and peace concerns as well as support of same-sex marriage _ and has hosted a radio program on the liberal Air America Radio.

Such activism is part of a long tradition for the church, built with funds provided by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Among Forbes’ predecessors were Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prominent critic of American fundamentalism during the 1930s, and the late William Sloan Coffin, Forbes’ immediate predecessor and well-known peace activist who took up the cause of nuclear disarmament when he commanded the Riverside pulpit during the 1980s.

_ Chris Herlinger

Breakaway Episcopal Church Pays $1.2 Million for Property

(RNS) One of the Episcopal Church’s largest parishes will pay $1.2 million to the Diocese of Dallas in order to retain its property as it breaks from the denomination.

“I came to the conclusion over time that there were irreconcilable differences between Christ Church and the Episcopal ChurchâÂ?¦” said Dallas Bishop James Stanton.

Christ Church and its rector, the Rev. David Roseberry, have been at odds with the national church over the authority of Scripture and the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire.

Soon after the Episcopal Church elected Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as its next presiding bishop last June, Roseberry said Christ Church was headed out the door. Jefferts Schori voted to approve Robinson’s consecration.

Stanton, a conservative ally of Roseberry’s, also objects to Jefferts Schori’s leadership and has asked to be put under the guidance of another prelate instead.

With 2,200 Sunday worshippers, Christ Church was one of the 2.1-million denomination’s largest U.S. parishes. Under the agreement with Stanton, Christ Church will assume the parish’s $6.8 million debt and make a lump sum payment of $1.2 million to the diocese. Stanton has asked the bishop of Peru to oversee Christ Church.

_ Daniel Burke

Nevada Senator Seeks Anti-Polygamy Task Force

WASHINGTON (RNS) Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has asked U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to crack down on polygamy.

Reid, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), urged the Justice Department in a letter to create a task force to investigate interstate polygamist activity.

He also called on the department to aid Utah and Arizona officials in prosecuting alleged polygamist Warren Jeffs, who is charged with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice for arranging a marriage between an underage girl and an older man.

The Justice Department has received the letter and is “currently in the process of reviewing it,” spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

Before being arrested in late August, Jeffs had been wanted for 11/2 years for arranging similar marriages. He is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter group of mainstream Mormonism.

Mainstream Mormonism has disavowed Jeffs’ sect, and Latter-day Saints officially renounced the practice of polygamy in 1890.

_ Kat Glass

IRS Requests Documents Related to Anti-War Sermon at California Church

(RNS) Officials at All Saints Church, a liberal Episcopal church in Pasadena, Calif., said Sunday (Sept. 17) they are considering whether to comply with a pair of summonses issued Friday by the Internal Revenue Service.

The church came under IRS scrutiny after the Rev. George Regas, the church’s former rector, delivered a guest sermon on Oct. 31, 2004, called “If Jesus Debated Sen. Kerry and President Bush,” in which he depicted Jesus addressing Bush.

Regas suggested Jesus would have said, “Mr. President, your doctrine of a pre-emptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster.”

Coming just two days before the 2004 presidential election, the sermon prompted an IRS investigation even though it did not endorse a particular candidate. IRS regulations prohibit nonprofits, including churches, from participating in any political campaign on behalf of one candidate.

In June 2005, the IRS sent a letter to All Saints stating that “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be a tax-exempt church.”

One of the new IRS summonses demanded the church produce all electronic and oral communication materials with political references created between Jan. 1, 2004 and Nov. 2, 2004. The other demanded that the church’s pastor, the Rev. Ed Bacon, appear at an IRS hearing in October.

_ Chansin Bird

Muslims Say Attacks, Harrassment Up 29 Percent Last Year

(RNS) A woman in Freeport, Ill., hits a Muslim woman for wearing a head scarf; a Texas man firebombs a mosque in El Paso, and a Quran is stuffed in university library toilet in Stockton, Calif.

Those were just three of the 1,972 acts of violence, harassment and discrimination committed against Muslims in America in 2005, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which on Monday (Sep. 18) released “The Struggle for Equality,” a report examining Muslim civil rights in America.

The 2005 figure represents a 29.6 percent jump over 2004, when 1,522 cases were reported. The report also found that anti-Muslim “hate crimes” (physical assault) in 2005 rose 8.6 percent from the previous year, increasing to 153 last year from 141 in 2004.

“We believe the biggest factor contributing to anti-Muslim feeling and the resulting acts of bias is the growth in Islamophobic rhetoric that has flooded the Internet and talk radio in the post-9/11 era,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR’s legal director and author of the report.

Iftikhar added that the rise in reported incidents can also be attributed to more Muslim Americans stepping forward to report such crimes.

Overall, nine states and the District of Columbia accounted for almost 79 percent of all civil rights complaints to CAIR in 2005, including California (19 percent); Illinois (13 percent); New York (9 percent); Texas (8 percent); Virginia (7 percent); Florida (6 percent); District of Columbia (5 percent); Maryland (4 percent); Ohio (4 percent); and New Jersey (4 percent).

_ Omar Sacirbey

Calvin Seminary’s First Female Professor Charges Sex Bias

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) Six years after making history, the first full-time female professor at Calvin Theological Seminary has resigned, alleging sex discrimination at the Christian Reformed Church school for ministers.

Ruth Tucker did not return when classes began this month, charging she was “excluded and sidelined” by seminary administrators.

“I was being held to a different standard than my male colleagues,” Tucker, 61, said. “I do not believe that, had I been an insider and a man, that this ever would have happened to me.”

In a lengthy, hard-hitting account on her Web site, Tucker, who taught missions and church history, calls her experience a “nightmare” and accuses administrators of covering up her appeals of a demotion three years ago.

“I hope that by telling my story no one else will ever have to endure such a painful ordeal as I have and that positive changes will come to the school,” Tucker writes at http://www.ruthtucker.net.

Though unwilling to go into details, seminary officials deny Tucker was discriminated against at the seminary.

“I believe that Professor Tucker as our first woman faculty member was really important to Calvin Theological Seminary, and we continue to be intent on using the gifts of women,” said the Rev. Cornelius Plantinga Jr., president of the 300-student seminary.

_ Charles Honey

Quote of the Week: Jack Kenny, Creator of Canceled “Book of Daniel”

(RNS) “You might get “7th Heaven.” You might get “Touched By An Angel.” But you won’t get any real people dealing with real problems.”

_ Jack Kenny, creator of the canceled NBC show “Book of Daniel,” which sparked controversy for its depiction of an Episcopal priest and his dysfunctional family and was harshly criticized by the American Family Association. Speaking at the annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association in Salt Lake City, Kenny predicted a show like his wouldn’t be on television for a decade.

KRE/JL END RNS

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