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c. 2007 Religion News Service

Christian College Settles Case With Transgender Professor

SPRING ARBOR, Mich. (RNS) Spring Arbor University and fired transgender professor Julie Nemecek reached a financial settlement Monday (March 12) in her discrimination suit.

“It was a difficult thing for me and for the university, but I think we both walked away happy,” Nemecek said Tuesday.

As part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mediation agreement, the amount of the settlement was not disclosed.

Officials at the Christian university fired the 55-year-old adult-studies professor Feb. 26, less than a month after her story went public in the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot. It has since been printed, broadcast and blogged worldwide.

“I’m smiling ear to ear,” Nemecek said regarding the settlement, reached after 13 hours of mediation last week and Monday in Detroit.

Jeff Lambert, a spokesman for the college, said university leaders planned to issue a statement.

Nemecek, an ordained Baptist minister, was a professor at SAU for 16 years as a man. After Nemecek was diagnosed with gender identity disorder and began the transformation to the female gender, university officials amended her contract.

But Nemecek soon was scolded for appearing feminine on or near campus. She was notified in late December her contract would not be renewed at the end of May.

University officials have said little publicly, except that staff are expected to present themselves as Christians. The university is connected to the Free Methodist Church.

“I appreciate the work that Spring Arbor University does, but in this one area, they were wrong,” Nemecek said.

Nemecek and her wife, Joanne, have been married 35 years. They have three grown sons and have pledged to remain together. Julie Nemecek said she does not plan to undergo sex-change surgery.

_ Steven Hepker

Professor Who Claims Gender Derailed Tenure Files Suit

(RNS) Sheri Klouda, a former Hebrew professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who claims she was denied tenure because of her gender, has filed a federal lawsuit against the seminary and its president, Paige Patterson.

Klouda was hired by the seminary’s board of trustees shortly before Patterson became president in 2003. Klouda alleges that Patterson first assured her that her gender would not be an issue in her employment but later told her it was the reason she was being denied tenure.

Klouda has since obtained a tenure-track position at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

Her attorney, Gary Richardson of Tulsa, Okla., filed the suit in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 8. The suit alleges breach of contract, fraud and defamation, and seeks damages and declaratory relief.

Nothing about gender discrimination is mentioned in the lawsuit, Richardson said, because that was “a matter of interpretation.”

“The thrust of the suit is breach of contract and defamation,” Richardson said, “but you have the president of a seminary who hires Dr. Klouda and then another comes along, allegedly of the same faith, and terminates her for a religious interpretation. He has every right to his own interpretation of Scripture, but the board hired her and approved her.”

Klouda told the Chronicle for Higher Education that she “is saddened that it became necessary to file this suit, and disappointed that we were not able to resolve this matter fairly and privately.”

John Zellers, a spokesman for the seminary, said that because the matter dealt with pending litigation, neither the seminary nor Patterson would comment.

_ Greg Horton

Priest Latest Victim of British `Knife Culture’

LONDON (RNS) A popular Church of England vicar has been stabbed to death on the grounds of his church in a village in Wales, an apparent victim of the so-called “knife culture” that has swept Britain in recent months.

Police said the Rev. Paul Bennett sustained several knife wounds in the attack Wednesday (March 14) outside the 18th century St. Fagan’s Church in the south Wales village of Trecynon, near Aberdare. He died as his wife, Georgina, desperately tried to stop his bleeding.

Police on Thursday questioned a 23-year-old local man, identified as Geraint Evans, who was described as “a bit of a loner,” on suspicion of murder and suggested the attacker could have been trying rob the vicar of money to buy drugs. He was later charged with murder.

Law enforcement authorities said the stabbing appeared to be the latest in a series of knife slayings that have erupted across the country. Police believe several of the killings were rooted in the illicit drugs trade that has become big business in Britain.

Most of the drug trafficking is concentrated in major cities, but in recent months police have found evidence it is spreading into smaller towns and even villages.

The Evening Standard newspaper in London quoted residents as saying there had been increasing problems with drugs in the Trecynon area, particularly cocaine and heroin.

Police said Evans lived in a small block of apartments near St. Fagan’s Church and that they were examining the premises for forensic evidence. They also said they had recovered a knife at the scene of the slaying.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the death of the 59-year-old vicar and grandfather “has come as an appalling shock” and described it as “a terrible tragedy.”

_ Al Webb

Update: Episcopalians Void Election of South Carolina Bishop

(RNS) Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has thrown out the election of a conservative bishop-elect in South Carolina, declaring that he did not receive the proper approval of a majority of Episcopal dioceses.

Although South Carolina announced that its candidate had been approved by a majority of Episcopal dioceses, Jefferts Schori said some of the “consents” were sent in electronically, which violates church rules.

On the eve of a crucial meeting of Episcopal bishops in Texas, the rejection may exacerbate tensions between church liberals and conservatives, who are already bitterly divided over homosexuality and the interpretation of the Bible.

After a diocese elects a bishop, he or she must be approved by both a majority of active bishops and a majority of lay and clergy leaders in the Episcopal Church’s 110 dioceses. The Episcopal Church has not rejected a candidate for bishop since the 1930s, according to several people who have studied the matter.

The Rev. Mark Lawrence, 56, who was elected by South Carolina last September, was approved by a majority of bishops and 57 dioceses, according to the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of South Carolina’s standing committee.

However, some dioceses “thought that electronic permission was sufficient as had been their past accepted practice,” McCormick said in a statement.

Jefferts Schori saw it differently, according to Episcopal News Service.

“In the past, when consents to Episcopal elections have been so closely contested, the diocese has been diligent in seeking to have canonically adequate ballots submitted,” Jefferts Schori told ENS.

Lawrence is a priest in the conservative diocese of San Joaquin, which has taken preliminary steps to leave the Episcopal Church. A number of Episcopal dioceses said they feared South Carolina would do the same under Lawrence.

The diocese must now hold another election.

“I hope that this tragic outcome will be a wake up call to both clergy and lay people throughout (the Episcopal Church) as to the conditions in our church,” McCormick said.

_ Daniel Burke

New York City Muslims Ask for School Closings on Holidays

NEW YORK (RNS) A coalition of Muslim groups and community members on Thursday (March 15) called for the public schools to observe two of the holiest Muslim holidays with days off.

The action was spurred by testing last January that fell on the holiday Eid al-Adha _ the Feast of the Sacrifice, which marks the end of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca _ which critics said forced nearly 100,000 students to choose between turning their backs on their religion or their education.

“Students experience a hard time with administrators because of the general post-9/11 political climate,” said Zahida Pirani, project director of the New York Civic Participation Project, one of several organization that contributed to a recent report on perceived inequities faced by Muslims in public schools. “They’re facing a lot of discrimination and a lack of awareness around their religion.”

City Councilman Robert Jackson, a Manhattan Democrat who is Muslim, said his children were among the many who were given the uncomfortable choice of school versus religion.

He said if the Department of Education failed to move forward on the issue, he would introduce legislation into the City Council for the recognition of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, an early-fall holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Education officials countered that no action was necessary because students are already given excused absences for religious observation, and that any missed tests can be rescheduled.

_ Yoav Gonen

Jewish Groups Approve Divestment in Sudan

NEW YORK (RNS) Two national Jewish bodies have called for divestment from Sudan, joining a growing number of states and universities that have agreed to pull funds from companies that do business with the troubled African country.

The Union for Reform Judaism, which represents 1.5 million U.S. Jews, approved its divestment resolution this week. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy body representing many streams of American Judaism, passed its resolution at a forum in late February.

An estimated 400,000 people have died in Darfur, a war-torn western province of Sudan, where the Khartoum government is accused of supporting Arab “Janjaweed” militias against black Africans. The U.S. government has called the conflict “genocide” since 2004.

Having survived the Holocaust, Jews in particular must be committed to preventing and ending genocides, URJ and JCPA members agreed.

“The situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate and international pressure is not having the impact we all hoped,” said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism and board member of the Save Darfur Coalition. “Divestment is the correct strategic and ethical step at this juncture.”

In recent years, Jewish groups were outraged over a national Presbyterian Church (USA) proposal for divestment from Israel, which the church reversed in 2006. The controversy came up during the JCPA’s discussion, members said, but the majority agreed that divestment from Sudan would serve a clear, legitimate purpose.

Divestment was used to help end apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Since 1997, U.S. sanctions have blocked U.S.-owned companies from doing business in Sudan, but they do not prevent companies, mutual funds and individuals from investing in multinational companies that operate there.

Of about 500 multinational corporations that do business in Sudan, the Sudan Divestment Task Force has identified about two dozen _ predominantly oil companies _ as candidates for divestment.

At least eight states _ California, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont _ have voted to divest their public pension funds from such companies. Several others are now considering similar action, including New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

_ Nicole Neroulias

Christians Worship, March in Protest of Iraq War

WASHINGTON (RNS) About 3,000 Christians gathered at the Washington National Cathedral Friday (March 16) before marching to the White House to protest the war in Iraq.

“This kind of a Christian witness was long overdue,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, one of three dozen groups represented in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.

“Just going to secular demonstrations wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to express their faith on the Iraq war.”

At the cathedral, attendees heard remarks from Wallis, the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, a U.S. representative of the World Council of Churches, and Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphia United Methodist whose son, a National Guardsman, was killed in Baghdad in 2004.

Most in attendance then took to the streets, as snow and wind subsided, and marched to the White House while holding electric candles.

March organizers said 222 people were arrested and fined $100 each, charged with leaving their planned protest site at Lafayette Park and stepping across Pennsylvania Avenue directly in front of the White House.

Wallis said an additional 600 people watched a simulcast of the cathedral worship service at a Presbyterian church near the White House and later joined the march.

Rick Ufford-Chase, executive director of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, another partner in the march, said he felt the event marked a turning point in Christian opposition to the war.

“There was clear, strong resolve and consensus that Christians will not rest until this war comes to an end,” said Ufford-Chase, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

He said representatives of the various partner organizations involved in the march plan to meet to determine their next steps. “I expect that something more will grow out of this,” he said.

Close to 180 related Christian protests were planned across the country over the weekend, organizers said.

President Bush spoke from the White House Monday, on the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, reiterating his commitment to the war.

“It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home,” Bush said, after several marches occurred in Washington over the weekend.

“That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating. … Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won.”

_ Adelle M. Banks

Jews Ask Why Neo-Nazis Were Assigned to Guard Jewish Leader

BERLIN (RNS) German politicians and religious leaders are trying to figure out how three bodyguards with alleged Nazi sympathies ended up as bodyguards for the former head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews.

Opposition parties in the German state of Hessen are demanding a parliamentary investigation into how the three men managed to become state policemen despite their neo-Nazi leanings.

The story first broke in the Bild newspaper, one of Germany’s major tabloids, and was soon picked up by other publications. According to a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the three state police officers assigned as bodyguards to Michel Friedman were initially investigated for suspicion of falsifying overtime statements.

During the course of that investigation, several incriminating items were discovered, including a photo of one of the men in a Nazi-era uniform, a home-made certificate in the name of the “Fuehrer” and right-wing songs stored on one of the men’s computer.

Since then, one of the men has been removed entirely from the police force. The other two have been relieved of active duty. According to the original Bild report, one of the three policemen stated that the state police force employs many people who are secretly right wing extremists.

Given the training and testing required to become a bodyguard, many people have questioned how the trio’s leanings weren’t discovered beforehand.

Charlotte Knobloch, the current head of the Jewish council, said the affair will make people question the professionalism of Germany’s security forces and whether such political leanings are overlooked as meaningless.

“If these incidents are treated cavalierly, then the politicians, police and the legal system are going to lose the trust of this country’s democratic citizens.”

Friedman said he never noticed any untoward behavior by the men.

_ Niels Sorrells

Methodist Churches Say Merger Not an Option

(RNS) Bishops from six U.S. Methodist denominations pledged to work together on common social justice goals but said a merger or union among them is not likely to happen any time soon.

Representing the United Methodist Church and the historically black African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches, the bishops gathered in Atlanta March 11-13 for their quadrennial meeting.

Two new members also joined the meeting: the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Union Methodist Protestant Church.

Noting that the gathering’s goals do not include a “union” of the churches, the bishops agreed to change its name from “Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Unity” to “Pan-Methodist Commission,” according to United Methodist News Service.

Bishop William Oden, the ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said there are several obstacles blocking a merger, including pension structures, how bishops are elected and concerns that the smaller denominations would be “swallowed up” by the 8-million-member United Methodist Church.

Still, Oden said that “we have more in common than we do differences. … We have the same services of ordination, Communion and baptism.”

The Methodist denominations have been working towards greater cooperation recently, with representatives from African-American churches serving on boards in the United Methodist Church, according to the UMC.

The bishops also appointed a committee to draft a statement calling for an end to the Iraq war; agreed to write letters in support of groups working on wage, health care and HIV/AIDS issues; and asked for research on AIDS in the U.S.

_ Daniel Burke

Quote of the Week: Minister and Singer CeCe Winans

(RNS) “Just because my name is on a CD or I just got a Grammy, that don’t matter. ‘Cause when I stand before the Lord, God is not going to say, `Cece, how many Grammys do you have?’ That’s not the requirement. But when I stand before him, he’s going to be looking for a reflection of himself.”

_ Minister CeCe Winans, speaking at the recent Praise & Worship Conference sponsored by Gospel Heritage Foundation in Washington.


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