August 27, 2009

1524 RNS News

“Adhering to the Biblical teaching that makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships, the Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that sexual intimacy belongs only with the marital relationship of a man and a woman. Adventists also believe that by God's grace and through the encouragement of the community of faith, an individual may live in harmony with the principles of God's Word. Church members endeavor to follow the instruction and example of Jesus, who affirmed the dignity of all human beings and reached out compassionately to persons and families suffering the consequences of sin. As a service to our readers, the Adventist Review periodically includes on this website items generated by Religion News Service that highlight the different approaches to homosexuality and homosexual relationships adopted in some other denominations.” --- Editors

Lutherans Lift Ban on Gay Clergy

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                              ©2009 Religion News Service
capAfter a long and contentious debate, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted August 21 to drop a ban on partnered gay clergy and committed to let people in same-sex relationships serve as leaders of the church.
The ground-breaking decision is a dramatic change for the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, which previously permitted openly gay and lesbian clergy so long as they remained celibate.
Progressives in the denomination hailed the elimination of the ban, while conservatives immediately encouraged members and congregations who disagree with the decisions to direct their money elsewhere.
As soon as the fourth vote in a multi-vote process was taken, Bishop Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the 4.6-million-member denomination, called for unity and continued dialogue, acknowledging that some felt "deeply disappointed" by the actions and others have "experienced reconciliation."
2009 1524 news link"We're all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts," he told delegates gathered in Minneapolis for their biennial Churchwide Assembly after the 667-307 vote overturning the ban.
The action, after decades of debate and eight years of intense study, is another milestone for gay rights among mainline Protestant churches. In July, Episcopalians voted to lift a de facto ban on openly gay bishops, and voted to support the blessing of same-sex relationships. The Lutherans' resolution lifting the ban on gay clergy in "lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" was amended to state that policies of the denomination would recognize the conviction of members who don't agree that people in such relationships should be allowed in ministry positions.
Even before the last vote was taken, a conservative coalition known as Lutheran CORE distanced itself from the denomination. In a statement, the group announced plans to meet in September in Indianapolis with "faithful Lutherans" and ended its recognition as an independent organization related to the ELCA.
"Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians," said the Rev. Paull Spring, chair of Lutheran CORE, in a statement. "The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years."
Hanson, in remarks to reporters after the vote, said the church "will not sever, though we are strained" and appealed for disappointed conservatives to stay in the church. "It would be tragic if we walked away from one another," Hanson said, declining to say whether he personally supported or opposed the measures.
Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, however, praised the move that would free gay ministers to be more open in their church with their partners. "Today I am proud to be a Lutheran," she said. "Supporters and advocates of full inclusion have longed for this day since the inception of the ELCA, and for many of us what seemed like a lifetime.

Churches Step into Health Care Debate

BY KAY CAMPBELL                                                                                         ©2009 Religion News Service
Congress may be on summer recess, but Americans who are motivated by their faith are joining the conversation over changing the way that health care is paid for in the United States.
The Huntsville Chapter of Health Care for Everyone-Alabama, for example, includes many who are motivated by their faith to support ways that Americans can work together to make sure that everyone has access to affordable health care.
It's an urgent need here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where statistics show Alabama has one of the nation's highest rates of infant mortality--in part, experts say, due to mothers' poor health care.
Dr. Pippa Abston, a deacon at United Church of Huntsville, Alabama, and a physician who has helped organize health care for the homeless, said her own concerns are a natural outgrowth of her faith. "From a Christian perspective, it's completely clear that we are to take care of each other and to take care of the sick," Abston said. "Cost-effectiveness just doesn't figure into the biblical formula."
But Abston sees cost-effectiveness as part of the practical results of universal health care, too. She points to how chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, can be fairly inexpensively managed versus the costs of a person whose untreated blood pressure results in a massive stroke that catapults them into disability.
"And, of course, we pay for that," Abston said, referring to Social Security's disability programs. "I think there are a lot of costs to doing it this way (under the current patchwork system) that people aren't considering."
Abston shakes her head at the thought of people needing to band together to raise funds through bake sales and raffles for children who need treatment for catastrophic conditions like cancer or injury. "This (current system) is a very inhumane way of doing things," she said. The current system, says public health nurse Lisa Carter, also perpetuates costs for generations.
Carter collects data on infant deaths from 12 counties in northern Alabama for the state Department of Health. Part of the reason for the state's high infant mortality rate, Carter says, is the number of babies born to mothers who do not have ongoing health care.
"The trend I'm seeing in the numbers is that low birth weights are driven because women are bringing untreated chronic medical problems into their pregnancies--hypertension, diabetes," Carter said. "More than 50 percent of babies are born to mothers on Medicaid."
Carter is on the Church and Society Committee at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville. The national United Methodist Church has been one of the early strong advocators for universal health care.
Methodists, Presbyterians, Reform Jews and the United Church of Christ are among denominational groups that have endorsed Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers' bill to expand Medicare. Interfaith leaders recently met with President Obama and members of Congress to encourage similar changes in health care.
Meanwhile, other Christians have also been vocal in opposing health care in a flurry of e-mails that warn a new system would encourage end-of-life euthanasia and make abortions too easy to obtain.
The Family Research Council, a Washington-based Christian conservative group, recently launched television ads claiming proposed changes would result in "our greatest generation denied care, our future generation denied life."
But most arguments against proposed changes attack how such a plan would be administered, not whether or not access to basic health care is a moral concern.

Lutherans Approve Full Communion Pact with Methodists

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                       ©2009 Religion News Service
The nation's two largest mainline Protestant denominations agreed August 20 to share ministers and resources in a "full communion" accord. The agreement, which was approved at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's biennial assembly in Minneapolis, connects the 4.6 million-member ELCA with the United Methodist Church, which has 11
million members.
Church leaders said the measure is more than just feel-good ecumenism. By sharing ministers, missions and other resources, the accord may toss a lifeline to the two denominations, both of which have steadily lost members for decades.
ELCA delegates voted 958 to 51 in favor of the accord; the United Methodist Church approved the agreement by similarly overwhelming numbers at its General Conference last year. It is the first full communion accord for the UMC, though parts of the denomination overseas have reached similar agreements with other churches. The ELCA has five other full-communion partners.
Thirty years in the making, Thursday's accord was hailed as a step toward an ideal of Christian unity encouraged by Jesus. The agreement means that the two denominations recognize the validity of each others ministers, baptisms and Eucharistic services, and pledge to work closely together.
Leaders of both denominations stress that the agreement is not a merger--both will remain separate and bound by their own rules. Under most full-communion agreements, ministers serve according to the rules of their host church, an important condition at a time when mainline Protestant churches have distinctly different policies on ordaining gay clergy.
Mainline denominations "have been facing major challenges as we continue to age, decline in membership, and retain too high a white profile in a richly pluralistic culture," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

School Officials Face Trial for Breaking Pledge Not to Pray

BY KRISTEN MAY                                                                                       ©2009 Religion News Service
Two Florida school officials will be in court next month to answer charges that they violated a court order when they prayed in public after a school secretary was cleared on similar charges.
The case, which defense attorneys say is an unprecedented display of government intrusion into the right of personal religious expression, pits the American Civil Liberties Union against two Christian school employees.
Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman of Santa Rosa County, in northern Florida, agreed to a settlement last January after the ACLU filed suit on behalf of two students who alleged improper proselytizing. "There were some of the most egregious First Amendment violations you'll see," said Will Matthews, a spokesman for the ACLU.
The lawsuit alleged four separate violations of improper mixing of church and state: prayer at school, staging a religious baccalaureate service, school events held at churches, and general proselytizing and promoting of the teachers' personal religious beliefs at school. As part of the settlement, Lay, Freeman and secretary Michelle Winkler agreed to limit expressions of their private faith in a public school setting. "The order was entered with the consent of all parties involved," said Benjamin Stevenson, a staff attorney from the ACLU of Florida.
But Mathew Staver, the founder of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University's law school, said the three employees received inadequate defense from the county school board, and feels the court settlement is unconstitutional. "I think the case is about the First Amendment right to freedom of speech," Staver said in an interview.
According to the ACLU, just days after the settlement, Lay asked that a blessing be said over a luncheon for the Field House dedication at Pace High School. Lay and Freeman, who offered the prayer, now face contempt of court charges for allegedly violating the settlement.
Both men are expected to appear in court on September 17. Staver, in a statement, said prayer is "neither contemptuous nor criminal" and accused the ACLU of overreacting. "The ACLU needs to take a good dose of the First Amendment and call us in the morning," he said.
Lay and Freeman could face a fine and/or six months in jail for their actions. Matthews does not expect either defendant to face jail time. "We have not advocated that this is something (either man) should be put in jail for," Matthews said.
A federal judge has already cleared Winkler, the secretary, on related charges after a seven-hour court hearing on Friday (Aug. 21). Winkler was accused of arranging for her husband, who is not a school employee, to read a prayer she had written for an Employee of the Year banquet.
Stevenson, from the Florida ACLU, had charged that the settlement not only prohibited employee-led prayer, but also kept employees from "promoting, advancing, aiding, facilitating, endorsing, or causing religious prayers or devotionals during school-sponsored events."
Staver said the banquet event was privately funded, and said the court order infringes on the right to free speech of the school employees and their spouses. "Nobody who has any clue about constitutional law would allow a court order of this magnitude," he concluded.