June 18, 2008

1517 World 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

Canada Apologizes For Abuse
at Church-run Schools

BY RON CSILLIG                                                                                        ©2008 Religion News Service

capF 1or the second time in a decade, the Canadian government has apologized to the country's aboriginal peoples for its role in abuse at church-run residential schools.

In a 10-minute address to Parliament on Wednesday (June 11), Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an historic apology for the mistreatment of native children in schools that were run jointly by the government and four Christian churches.

"The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language," Harper said to an audience that included a select group of 12 native leaders. "The government sincerely apologizes and asks for forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly."

Begun in the 1870s, the schools forcibly removed aboriginal children from their homes in an attempt to assimilate them into the dominant white, Christian culture. Not only were students prohibited from speaking their native languages and engaging in cultural or spiritual practices, many were physically, emotionally and sexually abused.
About 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Metis (mixed-race) children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the residential schools, which began operating in the late 19th century. The last one closed in 1996.

Harper made only passing reference to the fact that the 132 federally supported schools were run jointly with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches.

In 1986, the United Church was the first of the four to apologize for its role in the schools. It was followed by the Anglican Church in 1993 and the Presbyterians in 1994. The Catholic Church has not issued
an apology.

World's Oldest Church Believed Found in Jordan

BY MICHELE CHABIN                                                                              ©2008 Religion News Service

Archaeologists excavating in Jordan believe they may have uncovered the world's oldest church in an underground cave.

Discovered beneath the altar of the ancient St. Georgeous Church in the northern Jordanian town of Rihab, the underground space -- believed to be a chapel -- dates to the period AD 33-70, just a few decades after Christ was crucified in Jerusalem, according to the archaeologists.

If the dates are confirmed to be correct, the chapel would be the oldest known place of Christian worship. St. Georgeous Church dates back to 230 AD. "The discovery was amazing. We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians: the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ," archaeologist Abdul Qader Hussan, head of the Rihab Centre for
Archaeological Studies, told the Jordan Times.

Archaeologists say the mosaic inscription "70 beloved by God and Divine" discovered long ago on the floor of St. Georgeous refers to Christians who fled Roman-ruled Jerusalem.
"We believe that they did not leave the cave and lived until the Christian religion was embraced by Roman rulers. It was then when St. Georgeous was built," Hussan told the paper.
Presbyterians to Tackle Gay Clergy Debate--Again

BY KIMBERLY WINSTON                                                                           ©2008 Religion News Service

The nation's largest Presbyterian denomination will tackle the question of gay and lesbian clergy at its biennial General Assembly June 20-28 in San Jose, California.

After more than 30 years of back-and-forth debate, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will try once again to settle a perennial fight over whether non-celibate gays and lesbians should be ordained to church pulpits. 

Most recently, the fight has centered on rules adopted in 1996 that mandate "fidelity within the covenant of marriage" or "chastity in singleness" for all clergy. Two years ago, after spending four years studying the issue, the church approved a delicate compromise that kept that language on the books but essentially said gays and lesbians could be ordained after they registered a conscientious objection to the policy.

That compromise fell apart in February when the church's highest court said the compromise was unconstitutional. Jack Haberer, the editor of the independent Presbyterian Outlook magazine, summed up the court's decision this way: "You can disagree in principle, but you can't disobey in practice."

When the 2.3 million-member church convenes in San Jose, delegates, called commissioners, will face 22 overtures, or resolutions, on gay clergy--11 supporting the current law, and 11 attempting to override the court's February decision.

Some pro-gay groups are pushing to gut the "fidelity and chastity" language from the constitution, but moderate groups are resisting that move because two previous attempts to rescind failed badly.
The assembly's location in California -- where gay and lesbian couples flooded county clerks' offices to obtain marriage licenses June 17--may well color the tone of the debate, and has not gone unnoticed.

One of the proposed overtures, known as the New Hope Overture, seeks to reword the church's definition of marriage from a union between a man and a woman to one between two committed adults.   Another would allow regional bodies--called presbyteries—to ordain pastors regardless of their sexual orientation or sexual activity. "We look forward to the day when the church no longer has that restriction on its clergy," said the Rev. John Walton, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York, New York, and a leader in the moderate to progressive Covenant Network.

Conservatives, however, remain resistant to any changes in current policy. Terry Schlossberger, a leader of the evangelical Presbyterian Coalition, said the church's rules on gay and lesbian clergy are "consistent with Scriptures and the history of this denomination."

"Our group would like to see the commissioners affirm the existing ordination standards," she said. "... And lift up a hope-filled response to those who are living in sexual sin and the good gift of marriage between a man and a woman as God's plan for humankind."

Another resolution calls for a revision to the church's Heidelberg Cathechism, a statement of faith published in 1563 that speaks of "homosexual perversion."

U.S. Muslims Launch Nationwide Census

BY OMAR SACIRBEY                                                                                      ©2008 Religion News Service

A team of Islamic advocacy groups and statistical organizations will start a nationwide census of American mosques this summer that organizers hope will paint a more accurate picture of the size and ethnic composition of U.S. Muslims.

One of the challenges will be finding all the venues where Muslims pray. Many Islamic communities do not have mosques but still meet for congregational prayers in private homes, businesses, university buildings and even some churches that have opened their buildings for Muslim prayers.

"This is very tough," said Ihsan Bagby, an Islamic Studies professor at the University of Kentucky who is directing the study. "We will engage interviewers so they can diligently hunt for these less obvious mosques."

The study is planned for release in early 2009. Estimates on the number of U.S. Muslims vary wildly. The Council on American Islamic Relations released a similar study in May 2001 that counted 1,209 U.S. mosques and about 2 million Muslims associated with them. From that, the CAIR study extrapolated that there were between 6 million and 7 million Muslims in America.

But according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which was released last February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life,

Muslims comprise approximately 0.6 percent of the U.S. population -- or about 1.82 million. Bagby said he believed the Pew figure was an "undercount," attributed in part to a higher rate of refusal among Muslims to answer survey questions.