September 25, 2005

World News

American Baptists Fear Gay Issue May Cause Split

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                          © 2005 Religion News Service

 California-based group of churches has announced plans to begin the process of withdrawing from the American Baptist Churches USA, bringing the denomination closer to a possible split over an ongoing debate about homosexuality.

The divide between American Baptists and local church bodies appears to be growing wider with the action taken Sept. 8 by the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest, which national church leaders said makes them "profoundly saddened."

Two days later, executives of the West Virginia Baptist Convention appointed a special team to consider "facts and options" concerning its future relationship with the Valley Forge, Pa.-based denomination.

More actions related to the denomination's stance on homosexuality are expected at meetings at various levels throughout the fall.

During its biennial meeting this summer, the Rev. A. Roy Medley, the denomination's general secretary, said the divisions over homosexuality could lead to either separation or "shared ministry and mission" in a denomination that includes both conservatives opposed to inclusion of practicing homosexuals and more liberal congregations that officially welcome gays and lesbians.

"The issue of homosexuality has brought us as a denomination to a crossroad in our life together," Medley preached in a July 1 sermon in Denver. The American Baptists claim 1.5 million members. They are generally considered more liberal than the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

The resolution approved by the Pacific Southwest regional board states that "a process to withdraw" should begin because the "deep differences" are considered by the board to be "irreconcilable."

The regional group's board believes the denomination has not enforced a resolution that states "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." In a letter to the pastors and congregations in the Pacific Southwest region, Board President Brian Scrivens said the decision to pursue withdrawal came after meetings with top leaders of the denomination.

The regional group includes some 300 churches in Southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

The denomination's General Board Executive Committee responded to the action during its Sept. 16-17 meeting in Atlanta. The executive committee noted that while the denomination has issued statements and resolutions affirming heterosexual marriage and the "importance of biblical authority," it cannot determine the actions of local congregations.

"The General Board ... does not set policy for local congregations on theological or other issues," it said. "We are not hierarchical or Episcopal because we are a denominational family related by a series of voluntary covenantal relationships among autonomous congregations to partner together in mission."

Muslim Leaders Denounce Governor's Suggestion
to Wiretap Mosques

BY G. JEFFREY MACDONALD                                                                                               © 2005 Religion News Service

Muslim leaders are protesting Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's suggestion that mosques should be wiretapped in the interest of national security.

Romney, who is considering a Republican presidential bid, raised questions Wednesday (Sept. 14) about whether intelligence operatives are doing enough to detect domestic terrorist threats. He made his remarks at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"How about people who are in settings -- mosques, for instance -- that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror?" Romney asked, according to a Boston Globe report. "Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what's going on?"

Muslim leaders quickly denounced Romney's remarks. "Everybody knows that the governor has presidential aspirations and he is playing to the extreme base of the Republican Party," says Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Freedom Foundation, a civil liberties watchdog wing of the Virginia-based Muslim American Society. "But if he thinks he can raise his political fortunes on the backs of the American Muslim community, he is very wrong."

Bray called on Republican activists and religious leaders in various faiths to denounce Romney. He also promised to organize protests at all of the governor's upcoming public events.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations called Romney's comments "irresponsible for a public official" to make.

"Effective law enforcement deals with actual indications of wrongdoing" or reasonable cause for suspicion, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"Just to target an entire religious minority based on nothing more than prejudice and bigotry I think is un-American and unconstitutional," said Hooper in an interview.

Daughter Says Billy Graham is `Depressed'
About Inability to Aid Storm Victims

BY CHARLES HONEY                                                                                                            © 2005 Religion News Service

Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of famed evangelist Billy G Graham, said her father is "a little depressed" that he can't do more to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In a phone interview with The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, Lotz said her 86-year-old father wishes he could do more. He and his wife, Ruth, took in an evacuated family at their guest house, Lotz said.

"Right now he is a little depressed," Lotz said. "Because of his age, he can't do anything about it. He said, `If I was younger and strong, I'd be down there building houses.'"

Lotz, 57, speaks across the country at her "Just Give Me Jesus" seminars. She said the hurricane and its aftermath are "a wake-up call to the church."

"That's God himself just working through the local church to embrace these people and give them hope and a new life. If he were here in a visible presence, he'd be right there in the muck with them, wiping away their tears."

Samaritan's Purse, the relief organization run by her brother, the Rev. Franklin Graham, is pouring resources into the hurricane area. But her father only can watch the devastation from afar.

She described the legendary evangelist as "doing really well," despite ailments that forced him to end his crusades. Lotz said Billy Graham's New York City revival in June was his last, although he cautioned at the time, "Never say never."

"He may preach again, at one of my brother's crusades or some special event. But as far as putting on a Billy Graham crusade with a year and a half preparation, he won't be doing that anymore."

Lotz said she is learning powerful messages about growing older from both her ailing parents, as well as the "Christ-like character" she sees in both of them.

"My daddy's come to the point where he's passing the baton. I want to be one of the thousands that's picking up the baton, then passing it off to the next generation," she said. "But I don't believe there will ever be another Billy Graham."

Archbishop Says Gays Should be Banned from Seminaries

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                                                          © 2005 Religion News Service

The U.S. archbishop who will oversee a Vatican review of all Catholic seminaries says gay men, even if celibate, should be barred from them.

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien told the independent National Catholic Register newspaper that he expects a Vatican policy on gay seminarians to be released soon, according to the Associated Press.

"I think anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary," O'Brien told the newspaper.

O'Brien oversees the church's Washington-based Military Archdiocese. He was recently tapped to oversee a two-year Vatican review of U.S. seminaries that was approved in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Church observers expect the Vatican investigation to focus sharply on how men are prepared to live celibate lives as priests. The review also is expected to look at how they are schooled in moral theology and church teaching on sexuality.

On-site visits will be made to all 229 U.S. seminaries by three- and four-member teams appointed by the Vatican.

In 2004, there were a total of 4,556 seminary students in the U.S., including 1,248 in college-level programs.

Although church teaching officially considers homosexuality "objectively disordered," the church expects all priests -- gay and straight -- to live celibate lives, regardless of sexual orientation.

Gay Catholic groups say they fear that gay priests and seminarians will be treated as scapegoats for the sexual abuse scandal.

A leading umbrella group for abuse survivors said the focus on gay priests is a smokescreen.

"As long as the focus remains ... on priests, the root cause of this crisis -- cowardly, cold-hearted bishops -- will escape accountability," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.