News Briefs

Moravian Church Elects First Woman Bishop
October 26, 1998

One of the world's oldest Protestant traditions has elected its first woman bishop. Kay Ward, described her election as bishop a "spiritual act" rather than a "political act," adding: "We need to celebrate and celebrating with us is the long parade of foremothers who have served the church so well." Ward's election as bishop was another step in a process that began in 1975 when the Moravian Church in America first ordained women. Ward is one of two bishops elected in the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in America, one of two US Moravian church provinces. She is one of 16 bishops in her synod. Being a female pioneer was not ultimately the issue, says Ward. She only wanted to do what she looked for in other bishops, which was to be faithful by "living out the faith in an authentic way, with integrity."

Zambia's Churches Condemn Formation of Homosexual Group
 Zambia's churches are protesting the formation of a homosexual rights organization; Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgender Association (LEGATRA). Officials from most of the country's main churches...Roman Catholic, Reformed, Pentecostal and Evangelical...have issued condemnations of LEGATRA and its aims. Homosexual practices are a criminal offence in Zambia. The minimum penalty is 14 years in prison. Led by local human rights activist, Gershom Musonda, homosexuals and lesbians have decided to declare their sexuality "because of public pressure and harassment." The group is preparing to obtain registration of its organization, though high-ranking government officials have indicated that the application for registration will be refused.
Foston Sakala, a Reformed Church cleric and member of Zambia's Permanent Human Rights Commission, has said the "timing for the formation of a group for homosexuals is completely wrong, because at the moment many Zambians are completely intolerant of the practice, and as such, they will face a lot of hostility. Perhaps in 20 or 30 years' time, people here will be more understanding than they are now. But as a clergyman, I condemn homosexuality outrightly. It's an abomination in the sight of God." But LEGATRA's manager told journalists, "If the Registrar of Societies gets cold feet, we will take the matter to the High Court. In a democracy you must be tolerant to views that are repugnant."

Irish Roman Catholic Bishop Ordains Woman Priest
 On September 14, "Bishop" Pat Buckley, a maverick Irish Roman Catholic cleric, ordained a woman, Frances Meigh, to the priesthood. Miegh, a 67-year old former Anglican with an annulled marriage who worked with Mother Teresa's order in India, lives as a hermit in Whitby, England. Roman Catholic officials insisted Patrick Buckley had no authority to minister as a bishop, and that the ordination was unlawful. Of her ordination, Miegh said: "It's the soul being ordained, not the body. Gender is irrelevant." Buckley, who has a long history of dispute with the Catholic authorities in Ireland, also plans to ordain six married men, also normally forbidden in the Roman Catholic Church, although as a matter of rule rather than dogma. He has also blessed homosexual relationships, arguing that if the church can bless farm animals, then gay couples can also be blessed.
Catholic reformist groups have been reluctant to give their backing to Buckley's actions. A spokeswoman for Catholic Women's Ordination said, "We are making no comment and no judgement on Buckley. We work through the official channels." Bishop Buckley replied, "I think many groups believe in pleading from within, but I believe in doing the right thing and the rest will follow. We have done at one fell swoop what others have been arguing about for 30 years."

Clinton's Church Questions Commitment to the Christian Faith
 Harsh criticism of President Clinton's recent admission of infidelity have come from leading members of his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, who question the president's commitment to the Christian faith. "A preponderance of Southern Baptists are embarrassed by his presidency and are quite ashamed of his connection [to the denomination]," said A. William Merrell, senior spokesman for the nation's biggest Protestant denomination. Many Southern Baptists are unhappy with Clinton's stand on abortion and homosexual rights, which have been far more liberal than those held by many in his church. In a statement issued after President Clinton's 17 August admission, Paige Patterson, president of the 16 million-member denomination, described Clinton's troubles as part of the "obvious materialism and moral decadence of America." Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, at a public forum in Washington DC the day after the Clinton admission, criticized the president for not apologizing "to the American people for lying to them." 
Criticism of Clinton has also come from a leader of the United Church if Christ, a Protestant denomination with a more liberal stance on ethical issues. UCC president Paul H. Sherry said Clinton's infidelity and the ensuing investigation had injured the nation and undermined public confidence in the integrity of all leaders. Sherry called for prayers for the Clinton family, but also urged the nation to recommit itself to "the personal discipline and compassionate vision required for effective and faithful leadership." Sherry added, "Both the president's actions and the investigation have distracted our government form its most central concerns: care for the poor, justice for the oppressed, protection of the environment and the promotion of peace."

Latin American ecumenical leader calls for debt forgiveness
 Dr. Walter Altman, president of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), has added his voice to calls for debt forgiveness for the world's poorest countries in the year 2000. Speaking at a gathering in Buenos Aries, Altman pointed out that many church organizations had already given their support to the demand, including the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, and the World Methodist Council. Altman criticized "the dogma of globalization," which aimed to impose a model of the world where the only important elements are "efficiency and what each individual can produce and consume." Instead, Altman proposed churches should "construct an alternative vision, where solidarity is the priority." There was growing concern of a deterioration of human life and ecology as a result of this "dogma of globalization" and that churches could not remain silent any longer, he said.

German church leader condemns broadcast of Clinton testimony
 Manfred Kock, chair of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, strongly condemned the broadcast of the video of President Clinton's grand jury testimony. Speaking just hours before the 21 September airing, Kock appealed to German television not to broadcast the video saying, the only possible reason for broadcasting would be to please sensation-seekers and voyeurs. "There can be no plausible public interest--especially in Germany--in putting the video, or even parts of it, in the public domain, he said." There has been widespread anger in Germany regarding the broadcast. German railway authorities announced that the broadcast could not be viewed over railway television screens, as young people needed to be protected from any sexually explicit content. According to Le Monde newspaper in Paris, Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town, has given his support to an international appeal to support President Clinton. The appeal warns that democracy is put at risk by the "flagrant intrusion into private life, respect for which should be sacred in all civilized societies."

South African churches react to military "invasion" of Lesotho
 Church leaders in South Africa have sharply rebuked their government for its decision to send troops into neighboring Lesotho to secure the ruling party's hold on power. Anti-government protests in Lesotho have been growing since the country's opposition parties rejected the results of May general elections that returned the government to power. In terms of an agreement of understanding between various southern African countries in Southern African Development Community, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili asked South Africa and Botswana to send troops into Lesotho to prevent a coup d'etat. The South African decision to send troops was the first such military action by the post-apartheid government.

In a statement released in Johannesburg hours after South Africa's intervention, the South African Council of Churches expressed dismay. "Such an act cannot contribute towards a peaceful settlement of the deep divisions within the nation," the Council said in a statement. The act denies the independent statehood of Losotho and "constitutes an invasion of that nation on the part of South Africa." In a separate statement on September 22, the synod of bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of South Africa (CPSA), which includes South Africa and Lesotho, said they were appalled at the violence following the arrival of troops from South Africa and Botswana. CPSA has "consistently called on South Africa to reject situations of conflict, and to work at what we do best...mediation, negotiation and reconciliation."
CPSA called to dialogue and negotiation that would lead to a lasting peace and offered to assist in this process.

After centuries, Christians may soon see Christ's tomb
 British scholars have set the stage for Christian leaders to open what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus, hidden from public view for centuries. The group led by Martin Biddle, professor of medieval archaeolgy at the University of Oxford, completed a survey of the tomb and its surroundings that may lead to the eventual restoration of the tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Known as the Church of the Anastasis, it is believed by many to have been built on the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Exposing the tomb would allow modern scholars to test the statements of the fourth century A.D. eyewitness Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, about the consecration of the site under Constantine. Christian leaders at the time appear to have been guided to the spot by a tradition of praying there and the fact that the area was still known as Golgotha, the place recorded in the Bible as the site of the crucifixion.

Attack on four nuns provokes anger and protests across India
 Roman Catholic schools and institutions in the central Indian state of Madya Pradesh closed in protest following the rape of four nuns in the rural district of Jhabua. Five people have already been arrested in relation to the assault. The attack was seen by commentators and organizations as part of rising violence against Christians. The following day close to 30 nuns and novices were terror-stricken in an attack of a northern India convent.
Opposition political parties are pressing for an official investigation into the assault and many political leaders have already expressed deep concern. In a strongly-worded letter to Indian government leaders, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India said the Christian community was feeling "insecure and disturbed at this increasing violence against them in different parts of the country. The all India Catholic Union has claimed these events are part of a conspiracy of coordinated violence.

Christian theologian urges recognition of Mohammed as a prophet
 According to Dr. Jan Slomp, former official with the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, Christian theologians should acknowledge Mohammed as a prophet as he was in many ways comparable to the prophets of the Old Testament. This would boost dialogue and cooperation with the Muslim world, he argued. Slomp suggested some churches and missionary societies still hold negative views of Islam and Mohammed. Its goal stems in part from the fact that Islam is growing in the Netherlands and a belief that Mohammed's teachings on poverty and social problems are significant and instructive.

South African Church recants position
 The general synod of South Africa's predominantly white Dutch Reformed Church (DRC)--a church that once supplied the theological "justification" for apartheid--has denounced apartheid as a "theological heresy." It declared apartheid as wrong and sinful, not simply in its effects and operations, but also in its fundamental nature. The decision means the church has now met all the conditions to be restored to full membership of the main international organization of Reformed churches...the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). WARC's general secretary told the synod before it voted on the resolution, "If we miss the opportunity, we probably will drift further away from each other."
The DRC is the main Christian denomination of Afrikaners, the white descendants of Dutch settlers from the 17th century. Historically, it was a white church, with separate churches created for blacks and people of mixed race. In 1986, it opened its doors to all races, but its congregations are still mainly white. According to Associated Press, there are unconfirmed reports that provincial branches of the DRC have threatened to break away in order to retain segregation. A general synod statement said it recognized that members were frustrated over slow progress towards unity within the family of Dutch Reformed Churches, "We wish to approach every stumbling block in the process with faith, and confirm our intention to move forward with enthusiasm," the statement said.

Church holds top-level meeting to solve Russian crisis
 In a meeting of high-level Russian politicians and religious leaders called and chaired by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II, the Russian Orthodox Church discussed means to solve the nation's political and economic crises. Entitled "Russia: The Path to Salvation," the gathering included military and police chiefs, leading figures from the arts and representatives from other faith denominations.
The Patriarch said that millions of Russians were appealing to the church to help them cope with the economic crisis, which had seen the value of the ruble fall dramatically, causing panic in Russia. The meeting took place two days after tens of millions of Russians across the country went on strike and took part in rallies demanding President Boris Yeltsin's resignation and the payment of their salaries, many have not been paid for a year or more. The Patriarch justified the church's action in calling the meeting by saying the church was fulfilling its mission of peacemaker in a society with deep political divisions.

Surveys find male priests are "tender," women priests "assertive"
 Surveys of more than 1000 Anglican clergy show many Church of England priests share personality traits associated with the opposite sex, with male priests showing above-average levels of tenderness, and women priests showing above-average assertiveness. David Muston, an Anglican priest in Licnolnshire, has recently completed the surveys as part of two separate academic studies. Muston said, "My biggest surprise was how empathetic the male clergy were; deciding matters on feelings rather than hard facts. This is a good quality for people involved in counseling and personal crisis."
He said it was possible that the women showed "masculine" characteristics because those were needed to break into the previously all-male environment (The Church of England ordained its first women priests in 1994). The male study surveyed 441 clergy and showed Church of England priests more intelligent, emotionally stable, outgoing, conscientious, tender-minded, imaginative, apprehensive and tense than the general British male population. A number of striking differences emerged between Anglican clergy in England and American clergy (not specifically Anglican) measured in studies using the same research method. English clergy were more imaginative, sincere, adaptable, genuine and group-dependent, while the American clergy were more outgoing, trusting accommodating, self-assured and relaxed.
The results of Muston's study of male clergy were published in the latest edition of the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences. He expects to announce the detailed findings of the second study of women and men clergy early next year.

New London "superchurch" can hold 4000 worshippers
 At a time when Britain's major church denominations suffer from falling attendance, a black-led church has opened with more seats that the country's biggest, traditional church buildings. Officially opened for worship on August 23, the Kingsway International Christian Centre in Hackney, East London, was a former warehouse and can accommodate 4000 worshippers. Westminster Abbey has seating for 2000, by comparison.
Kingsway, part of the flourishing Evangelical movement, says it needs the space for its booming congregation. Kingsway's senior pastor, Mathew Ashimolowo, from Nigeria, puts its success down to the "family feeling" at the church and to the power of prayer. "One of the problems with church [in the West] is the loss of power and passion in their ministry. They now have a synthetic, not an authentic Gospel. The only was to preach adequately is to go back to prayer, which is the source of power." Peter Brierley, a leading analyst of religion in Britain stated that Evangelicals were the only group of churches to increase their support in the decade to 1989. An English Church Attendance Survey launched this month would confirm whether the trend had continued.

'Faith has nothing to fear from reason,' Roman Catholic Church declares
 In his 13th encyclical, released on the eve of his 20th anniversary as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II has called for the reconciliation of faith and reason, which have been at odds in Western thought since the Enlightenment.
"Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit raises to the contemplation of truth," wrote the Pope in Faith and reason (Fides et Ratio). The document is sharply critical of Western philosophy for spreading a culture of despair and also for railing to address the fundamental questions of life: "Who am I? Where did I come from and where am I going? Why does evil exist? What happens after this life?"
At a press conference on October 15 in Rome to launch the document, the archbishop of Lublin, Jozef Miroslaw Zycinski, said that the encyclical was offering an alternative to New Age thinking. "A flight to facile irrationalism is today being put forward in the name of protest against the great ideas developed by the philosophical systems of the past. Naive faith in UFOs, astrology and New Age is meant to replace the philosophical questions of the past about the meaning of life and value systems. Sympathizers with alternative cultural models suggest that the place that has been occupied until now by a 'rational animal' should be taken by a brainless 'homo ludens' who puts irony and happenings before reflection," he said.
In London, Cardinal Basil Hume, told reporters: "The Pope, far from seeking to suppress or condemn the exercise of reason, is seeking precisely the opposite. Faith has nothing to fear from truth, and everything to gain from the exploration of it. So reason is not the enemy of faith, but its partner."

PB's Fund sends emergency relief
 The Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief has released $83,000 in emergency relief funds to aid victims of raging floods, civil unrest and food shortages. It sent $25,000 to the Diocese of West Texas, hit hard in the wake of tropical storm Charlie. Shelters and medical supplies were needed for those left homeless and who fact the risk of disease. Flood victims in China also received emergency assistance from the Fund through the China Christian Council. More than 240 million people have been affected and more than 2,000 have died from the flooding that has swept the country for more than two months.
Immediate support of $15,000 will assist refugees from Senegal and Guinea-Bissau in the West African Diocese of the Gambia, as more people are forced to take refuge in the face of increased fighting in these regions. The Fund also responded to a food emergency in the Diocese of Alaska. The chum salmon that serve as a food source in the upper Yukon and Tannin have returned this fall in numbers too low to meet the needs of the villagers. The emergency grant of $23,000 will aid in the immediate transportation, freezing and storing of a supply of hatchery fish in Valdez.

Church urged to do more to promote women leadership
 A committee of Roman Catholic bishops stated recently that church authorities ought to do more to promote qualified women to positions of lay leadership in the church. In a statement titled "From Words to Deeds," issued by the bishops' Committee on Women in Society and in the church, the committee stated, "We emphasize the need to appoint women to positions that entail substantive responsibility and influence, so that the church may reap the full benefit of their talents." It also called for collaboration between men and women in the church, but did not discuss the church's restriction of the priesthood to men only.
The statement declared "We assume that all roles in the church are open to women, unless stated otherwise by canon law." The distinction is critical especially since Pope John Paul II has said the issue of admission of women to the priesthood is definitive and closed to discussion. The statement, says Auxiliary Bishop John C. Dunne, chairman of the committee that wrote it, "is saying to the Church, to all of us, 'Let's be open to what women can be.'" The statement, which is advisory to dioceses, was written to follow up a pastoral message on the role of women in the church issued by the bishops' conference in 1994. It also comes at a time when many dioceses are confronted by a growing shortage of priests.

Flooding Devastates Diocese of West Texas
 Even while the west Texas town of Del Rio was digging out from massive flooding in August, huge portions of the Diocese of West Texas were suffering from unprecedented rains that fell over the area since Friday, October 16. Twenty counties of south central Texas was declared a disaster area by President Clinton, part or all of which fall within the Diocese of West Texas. In San Antonio, the see city if the diocese, as much as 20 inches of rain fell in some places. Wide-spread damage to homes was avoided in the city of more than a million because of a recently completed flood-relief tunnel that runs below the downtown area. Towns surrounding San Antonio were even harder hit because the Guadeloupe River crested at nearly 50 feet, well over its 20-foot flood stage. The damage in south central Texas is expected to reach $400 million. The death toll was at 22, with at least four still missing. The Diocese of West Texas has received a grant from the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief and is now in the process of collecting money and goods to help victims.

Washington National Cathedral
 Just over 3,000 acolytes from across the United States, Canada and Mexico gathered at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, October 10, for the annual acolyte festival. Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold preached and the Rt. Rev. Ronald H. Haines, Bishop of Washington, and the Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, Dean of the Cathedral, served as co-celebrants.

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