November 20, 2009

1531 RNS 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

U.S. Senate Probes Finances
of Evangelical TV Ministries

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                           ©2007 Religion News Service
capA prominent U.S. senator is seeking financial information from some of the biggest names among evangelical TV ministries following "complaints from the public" and news reports of possible money mismanagement.
Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, gave the six ministries 30 days to turn over the records, according to letters sent November 5.
"I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Grassley said in a statement. "The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls Royces."
The letters were sent to Randy and Paula White of Tampa, Florida; Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Texas; Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Montana; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia; Creflo Dollar Ministries in College Park, Georgia; and Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas.
"I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more," Grassley said. "People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."
Ken Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, called the request "quite unusual" and  "almost unprecedented." He said none of the six ministries targeted are members of his Winchester, Virginia, organization, but he expects it will prompt others to get their houses in order.
"I think it's a wake-up call for everybody that financial accountability, transparency, proper accounting processes are important," said Behr.
The letters follow investigations of the Whites by The Tampa Tribune and a 2003 St. Louis Post-Dispatch series that questioned Meyer's financial practices. The Whites, who recently divorced, acknowledged in a statement that they had received the letter. "We find it unusual, since the IRS has separate powers to investigate religious organizations if they think it's necessary," they said. "So we find it odd that the IRS did not initiate this investigation."
Meyer's ministry posted a statement on its Web site, saying that "Joyce Meyer Ministries is committed to financial transparency. We are diligently working on the presented requests and will continue to take the necessary steps to maintain our financial integrity."
Long's ministry also issued a statement saying he intends to "fully comply" with the request. "New Birth has several safeguards put in place to insure all transactions are in compliance with laws applicable to churches."
Responses from other ministries could not be immediately obtained. At this point, Grassley is not seeking Senate hearings, said Jill Gerber, his committee press secretary. The six ministries were asked to respond by December 6.

Pittsburgh Diocese Takes First Step
Toward Leaving Episcopal Church

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                                      ©2007 Religion News Service

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has taken a big step out the door of the Episcopal Church, declaring itself at odds with the denomination's more liberal view of Scripture and homosexuality and paving the way to join a more conservative Anglican branch.
By a tally of 227 to 82, lay and ordained delegates to Pittsburgh's annual convention on November 2 voted to change their diocese's constitution, removing language that requires "accession" to the national church.
"As a diocese we have come to a fork in the road," Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan told delegates on Friday. "Indeed, it has become clear that our understandings are not only different, but mutually exclusive, even destructive to one another."
Pittsburgh is the third U.S. diocese to take that step, following San Joaquin, California, and Quincy, Illinois. Constitutional changes require the approval of two consecutive diocesan conventions. San Joaquin is scheduled to hold its second vote on the constitutional change in December.
Duncan said Pittsburgh's action "announces an intention without actually making a change. ... Of course, in another sense, adoption signifies an intention, gives warning, opens a possibility."
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori publicly warned Duncan before the convention not to lead his diocese from the church.
Duncan, who leads an effort to realign U.S. Anglicans upset with the liberal drift of the national church, responded defiantly to Jefferts Schori. "Here I stand, I can do no other," the bishop said, quoting Martin Luther's famous declaration. "I will neither compromise the faith once delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them."
Court Says Methodist Transgender Pastor Can Stay
BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                                       ©2007 Religion News Service
A transgender man can remain pastor of his Baltimore church, the United Methodist Church's high court announced on October 30, but the court sidestepped larger questions about whether gender change is acceptable in the church.
No law in the church's Book of Discipline prohibits transgender clergy, the nine-member Judicial Council said, so the Rev. Drew Phoenix, 48, cannot be removed from ministry without "administrative or judicial" action. The ruling affirms Baltimore-Washington Bishop John R. Schol's decision to reappoint Phoenix, formerly the Rev. Ann Gordon, after five years of service at St. John's of Baltimore City.
The decision was immediately hailed by liberals as a historic achievement for transgenderism and for the 8 million-member United Methodist Church. "The adjective placed in front of the noun `clergyperson' does not matter," the council ruled during its semi-annual session October 24-27 in San Francisco. "What matters is that clergypersons, once ordained and admitted to membership in full connection, cannot have that standing changed without being accorded fair process."
The council acknowledged that it was not addressing "the question of whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the (churchwide) General Conference."
Schol's decision to reappoint Phoenix had been challenged by several ministers in the conference who said the church needs to have a discussion about the theological implications of transgenderism. Phoenix transitioned from female to male with surgery and hormone treatments about 16 months ago after a lifetime he described as feeling he was in the wrong body. He said he was "happily surprised" by the ruling and called it "a great relief."
"My hope is that this is the first step in all of us coming to the table to have an open, respectful discussion about inclusion in the church," Phoenix said.
Conservatives, however, pledged to push for a ban on transgender clergy at next year's General Conference in Texas
Bush Names Glendon as Vatican Ambassador
BY DANIEL BURKE AND FRANCIS X. ROCCA                                                      ©2007 Religion News Service
President Bush has nominated Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and prominent conservative commentator, as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Glendon, 69, is a longtime opponent of abortion and gay marriage and has written widely on culture and ethics in books and scholarly journals. Her appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II named Glendon to the then-new Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a Vatican advisory panel. She headed a Vatican delegation to the United Nations' Women's Conference in Beijing the next year.
The Massachusetts native has also served on the President's Council on Bioethics and, until her nomination on November 5, was an adviser to the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "While I may have lost her trusted counsel to our campaign, our country has gained an extremely gifted ambassador," Romney said in a statement.
Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Rome office for the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Acton Institute, said Glendon's Vatican experience makes her appointment unprecedented.  "She knows the strengths and weaknesses of the Roman Curia," he said. "She has no learning curve when it comes to Vatican City."