September 28, 2007

1527 Religion News

The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors

Episcopal Bishops Say No to Gay Blessings
BY PEGGY POLK and DANIEL BURKE                                                                         ©2007 Religion News Service
capExpressing their "passionate desire" to remain a full partner in the worldwide Anglican Communion, U.S. Episcopal bishops on September 25 said they remain committed to not allowing more gay bishops and pledged not to authorize public blessings of same-sex unions.
The bishops, faced with a September 30 deadline from angry sister Anglican churches, said they had answered the demands made of them, but conservatives remain skeptical that the bishops' statement has much staying-power.
The bishops condemned a move by African bishops to provide outside leadership for parishes that no longer accept the U.S. hierarchy. They endorsed a plan to appoint "Episcopal visitors" from within the church instead. "We call for an immediate end to diocesan incursions by uninvited bishops," the bishops said. "Such incursions imperil common prayer and long-established ecclesial principles of our Communion."
The bishops, by promising not to endorse gay bishops or same-sex blessings as a group, appeared to leave themselves significant wiggle room on how their policies would be implemented on the local level. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori acknowledged that the statement was mainly a "clarification" of the bishops' previous positions, but said it was a full response to what was asked of them.
"We treasure our membership in the Anglican Communion," she said, adding that the measures to pull back on the church's gay-rights positions were "sacrificial."
The statement was approved by a voice vote, with only one resounding no, following five days of meeting that included three sessions with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and a delegation of other Anglican prelates last week. The bishops, the statement said, "expressed our passionate desire to remain in communion. It is our conviction that the Episcopal Church needs the Anglican Communion, and we heard from our guests that the Anglican Communion needs the Episcopal Church."
In addressing the question of gay bishops, the prelates reiterated a resolution passed at the church's 2006 convention calling on church officials "to exercise restraint by not consenting" to bishops whose "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." In a footnote, the bishops specifically said that includes "non-celibate gay and lesbian persons."
In making a "pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions" at this time, they noted that the church has never adopted any rite for such blessings.
Whether the bishops' response will satisfy either the Anglican primates or dissident Episcopalians remains in question. "It's a great example of apostolic leaders acting like lawyers," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative theologian from the Diocese of South Carolina. "They're hiding behind language that's parsed and insulting."
The bishops' "reluctant bargaining effort to keep their foot in the door," of the Anglican Communion, will just lead to increased chaos in the U.S. and abroad, Harmon said.
But the statement's seemingly overwhelming support from conservative and liberal bishops proves that it strikes a balance on a divisive issue, said Jim Naughton, a spokesman for the Diocese of Washington. "Much of the church would like to move forward on issues of full inclusion," he said. "We would like to authorize blessings for gay relationships, we would like to say that all orders of ministry in our church are open to our gay and lesbian members. We're not happy with the statue quo. But tactically this seemed by far the wisest thing to do."

N.J. Revokes Tax-Exempt Status for Methodist Group

BY JUDY PEET                                                                                                        ©2007 Religion News Service
State officials have revoked the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-run seaside pavilion that church officials have said is off-limits to gay and lesbian civil union services.
Lisa P. Jackson, who heads the state's Department of Environmental Protection, withdrew the Green Acres program tax exempt status because "... it is clear that the Pavilion is not open to all persons on an equal basis."
"Simply put, the Pavilion needs to be available equally to all persons to retain its tax exempt eligibility under this particular statute," Jackson said in a letter to the Methodist Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
Several lesbian couples were denied when they asked to hold civil union ceremonies in the boardwalk gazebo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The Methodists call the open-sided structure a chapel, and say civil unions conflict with Methodist doctrine.
The lesbian couples filed a complaint with the state civil rights agency, claiming discrimination. The Camp Meeting Association, in turn, filed a federal lawsuit, claiming its constitutional rights would be violated if it were required to allow civil unions.
Gay activists called Jackson's decision "a significant victory" for local residents. "It's time for the Camp Meeting Association to see the handwriting on the pavilion, and end its discriminatory ban now," said Steve Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality.
Jackson said the association can continue to claim a tax exemption "for the remainder of the Association's property" on the parcel, but Neptune Township Tax Assessor Bernard Haney insisted a single block and lot number cannot be separated into parts.
"It's all or nothing," Haney said.

GOP Wants Answers About Religious Texts in Prisons

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                         ©2007 Religion News Service     
A group of conservative House Republicans has sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons seeking information about its effort to ban religious texts from prison libraries.
"No matter how well-intentioned, a government project to limit books and other material deemed religious raises serious issues with respect to the religious liberties of Americans," reads the September 18 letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons director Harley G. Lappin from three members of the Republican Study Committee.
The letter writers--Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, and Donald Manzullo of Illinois--were responding to a recent report in The New York Times that said chaplains were directed to remove from prison shelves any books and other materials that were not on a list of approved resources. The lawmakers want details about the Standardized Chapel Library Project, including the list of approved materials and an explanation of the process that disqualified other materials.
The newspaper reported that the bureau had said the project would bar materials that could "discriminate, disparage, advocate violence, or radicalize." The move was a response to a Justice Department report that recommended prisons should work to reduce the growth of militant Islamic and other religious groups.
Some leaders of religious organizations have also expressed concern about the bureau's reported actions. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote Lappin on September 11 asking that the bureau publish the standards used in the project and the names of its religious consultants.
Prison Fellowship, a Christian prison ministry, also has contacted the bureau in hopes of reversing some of the decisions about permissible prison materials.

Televangelist Rex Humbard Dies at 88

                                                                                    ©2007 Religion News Service  
The Reverend Rex Humbard, a pioneer Southern gospel minister who launched what would become a worldwide empire of broadcast evangelism from Akron, Ohio, in the 1950s, died on September 21 at age 88.
From his earliest years, Humbard knew he would be a minister. He once said he was proclaiming biblical Scriptures by the time he was 2 years old.
By the 1960s, his voice and image as a preacher had spread over the globe, and he was influencing a generation of future charismatic ministers to employ broadcasting as the most powerful medium of religious communication.
Born to traveling evangelist parents, Humbard developed a folksy, storytelling revival style that drew millions of listeners and viewers to the radio and television sermons he became so adept at conducting.
U.S. News & World Report in 1999 called Humbard one of the 25 Shapers of the Modern Era for his influence in redirecting Christian evangelism into television and incorporating entertainment features into the broadcast of sermons.
For 24 years, until his departure from Ohio in 1982, Humbard oversaw television and radio broadcasts of a then-unprecedented scope from the sprawling, domed Cathedral of Tomorrow he built in Cuyahoga Falls in 1958; the building was sold to another evangelist in 1994. At the height of Humbard's popularity and influence, in the 1960s and early '70s, his down-home messages of faith and redemption were syndicated on more than 600 television stations and, he claimed, to almost 20 million viewers worldwide.
One of Humbard's loyal viewers was Elvis Presley, who regularly gathered his backup singers, the Imperials, in his hotel room on Sunday mornings to watch "his preacher," according to a news release Friday from the Humbard family. Upon the singer's death, Presley's father asked Humbard to officiate at the funeral service.