May 12, 2006

World News

Episcopalians Sidestep Crisis Over Potential Gay Bishop

BY PIET LEVY and KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                              © 2006 Religion News Service 
capThe Episcopal Church sidestepped a potential crisis on May 6 when a married father of two was elected bishop of San Francisco over three openly gay contenders.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Handley Andrus, 49, the suffragan (assistant) bishop of Birmingham, Alabama, won a seven-person race to replace Bishop William Swing of the Diocese of California.

The three gay candidates--the Rev. Michael Barlowe of San Francisco, the Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago and the Very Rev. Robert V. Taylor of Seattle--all trailed in the final voting after Andrus was elected on the third ballot.
Had any of the three gay candidates won, conservatives warned it would have likely led to permanent schism in the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church and with sister churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The U.S. church has been deeply divided over the inclusion of gays and lesbians in front of and behind church pulpits since 2003, when an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, was elected in New Hampshire.

The church's top leader, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, had warned that "definite difficulty" would occur if San Francisco elected the church's second openly gay bishop. In April, a special church panel warned dioceses to proceed with "very considerable caution" when considering gay bishops.

Conservatives, who were grateful that the three gay candidates were
defeated, nonetheless chastized the diocese for presenting them for election, and said the church has not fought its last battle over a gay bishop.

"Moving slowly with caution is not stopping, and (the church) is
practicing a theology contrary to Scripture, Anglican doctrine and 2,000 years of Christian teaching," the American Anglican Council said in a statement.

Most Americans Believe Bible Over 'Da Vinci,' Poll Shows

                                                                                                 © 2006 Baptist Press

While "The Da Vinci Code" has sold more than 40 million books and hits movie theaters worldwide May 19, most Americans are not buying its key theological premises, according to a poll commissioned by the North American Mission Board, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The complex plot of Dan Brown’s fictional suspense-thriller revolves around a central theme alleging not only that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, but also that the couple produced a child. Tom Hanks stars in the movie version.

NAMB commissioned Zogby International, a well-known research firm, to conduct the poll, which involved a sample of 1,200 adults surveyed by telephone in March.

Twenty-three percent of Americans have read the while 43 percent said they had not read the book but were familiar with the content. Among those who had read it, more than 60 percent believed that the Bible is closer to the truth, while 10 percent believed "The Da Vinci Code" is more truthful. Thirty percent of those who had read the book believed neither was truthful or were not sure.

Among the entire sample, 72 percent believed that the Bible was closer to the truth; six percent accepted the novel’s account as the truth; and 22 percent were not sure or believed neither.

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Door-to-Door Soliciting Pays Off for Orthodox Jews

BY JEFF DIAMANT                                                                                          © 2006 Religion News Service 
They are part of the scenery every Sunday in Teaneck, New Jersey's Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods -- Israeli, Russian and Brooklyn Jews going house to house asking for money.

In an uneven stream, poor widows, parents of ill children, men out of work, and emissaries for Israeli schools and charities descend on streets around Teaneck's dozen or so Orthodox synagogues.

The trips are regularly fruitful.
In just weeks of unannounced stops to Orthodox neighborhoods in the New York area, many "collectors," as they are called, can receive several thousands of dollars -- often more than $10,000 -- from other Jews who try to follow their religion's instructions on charity.

This unusual model of giving, unfamiliar to those outside the
neighborhoods -- even to many Conservative and Reform Jews -- is a fact of life in many Orthodox neighborhoods.

In Teaneck, the number of collectors has skyrocketed in the last year, largely because of Israeli government cutbacks in social services and payments to families with children, according to rabbis and community

The most reliable measure of the growth is the number of certificates issued to collectors by a local charity board. Called the
Teaneck-Bergenfield tzedakah committee (tzedakah means charity in Hebrew), it distributed 300 certificates last year, up from 180 in 2004.

On two recent Sundays, down the road from a Teaneck synagogue, hired drivers pulled up near houses where Orthodox residents have known records of generosity, or to other houses identified as Jewish by mezuzahs -- the enclosed parchments that Jews place on door frames.
Appeals Court Says New York Church 
Can Allow Homeless to Sleep on Steps

BY ANNE PESSALA                                                                                                 © 2006 Religion News Service 

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a prominent New York church that sued to allow homeless people to sleep on its steps and sidewalk.
The April 27 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court ruling that allows Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church to continue offering shelter on its steps to New York's homeless population.

In November 2001, the City of New York told the church it could no
longer allow homeless people to sleep on its property as it had for the past two years. City officials said the outdoor site constituted an illegal shelter and argued city shelters were better equipped to aid the homeless.

The following month, police began clearing people from the site at night. The church co-filed a suit with the American Civil Liberties Union, stating the raids constituted trespassing, violated the right to free association and hindered the exercise of the church's religious mission as outlined in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

In March 2002, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a court brief on behalf of the church and several religious organizations, including the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Council of Churches of the City of New York.

A federal judge temporarily barred police from raiding the site during the proceedings, and later ruled that police could not forcibly remove the homeless from the church's steps. The judge, however, upheld the city's right to remove them from church-owned sidewalk.

The church called the judge's initial ruling "a strong defense of
religious freedom" that reflects "an important part of the ancient Christian tradition of offering hospitality to the poor and to strangers."

The church operates a small homeless shelter in its basement. Although the church cannot accommodate all of the people who sleep outside the building, church leaders said they considered them part of their ministry and offered them hot coffee, services and medical attention when needed.