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c. 1998 Religion News Service


Sen. Glenn says view from space strengthens his faith

(RNS) Sen. John Glenn told reporters in a space-to-Earth news conference Sunday (Nov. 1) that his second opportunity to view Earth from space strengthens his belief in God.”I pray every day,”the 77-year-old astronaut said in response to a question about whether his flight had fortified his faith.”Looking at the Earth from this vantage point, looking at this kind of creation and to not believe in God, to me, is impossible,”Glenn said.”To see (Earth) laid out like that only strengthens my beliefs,”he said.

Glenn, a Presbyterian, went on to say that it is”a real thrill and emotional”to view Earth out the window of the shuttle Discovery, which departed Thursday (Oct. 29) and is scheduled to return Nov. 7.”I know `awesome’ is an overused word, but if anything is really awesome, it’s looking out and seeing that,”he said.

Glenn, who is an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is traveling with the prayers of his fellow Presbyterians.

Prior to liftoff, Glenn was sent a letter from church officials addressed to”our brother in Christ.””We send our prayers and gratitude on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as you continue your public service through research in space,”they wrote.”May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you and your colleagues on this flight. Prayers from those of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will certainly be there.” The letter was signed by the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the denomination’s stated clerk; John J. Detterick, executive director of the General Assembly Council; and the Rev. Douglas W. Oldenburg, moderator of the General Assembly.

Methodist court: conferences may not use ideological labels

(RNS) The United Methodist Church’s top court has ruled that the denomination’s annual conferences _ regional geographic jurisdictions _ may not use, identify themselves with, or take on the label of an unofficial body or movement.”Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the official bodies of the church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrine of the United Methodist Church,”the denomination’s Judicial Council said in one of more than 20 rulings it issued at the end of its Oct. 28-30 session.

The ruling bars the regional bodies from adopting such labels as”reconciling conference”or”transforming conference”_ labels identified with two opposing sides on the volatile gay issue.

The case before the Judicial Council arose when the Northwest Texas Annual Conference voted to become a”confessing conference,”the name of a theologically conservative movement within the nation’s second largest Protestant denomination.

In its analysis and rationale, the council noted that the church’s Articles of Religion, Confession of Faith and the General Rules are protected from change, paraphrase or summary and noted an earlier ruling that said conferences do not have the authority to change the Discipline _ lawbook _ of the church.

It said that the Northwest Texas Conference had approved doctrinal statements in its resolution on becoming a”confessing conference”and in doing so violated the church’s constitution.

The decision marked a 180-degree turnabout in the council’s thinking and caused it to reverse an earlier decision in which it allowed the Wisconsin Annual Conference to become identified as a”reconciling”_ pro-gay _ conference, and one that authorized the denomination’s churchwide Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to become a”reconciling commission.” The Reconciling movement counts 148 congregations, 23 campus ministries, six conferences and other groups who publicly welcome all persons regardless of their sexual orientation.

The Transforming Congregations movement affirms that homosexual practice is a sin and that the Holy Spirit is available to transform the life of the homosexual.

The Confessing movement wants the denomination to”retrieve its classical doctrinal identity.” In a separate but related ruling, the council said a statement in the church’s Social Principles barring same-sex unions is constitutional. It earlier had ruled that the ban had the force of church law even though it is contained in the Social Principles.

Two conferences had challenged the constitutionality of the ban.


World Council: Pinochet should be tried for `crimes against humanity’

(RNS) A top official of the World Council of Churches says Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean military dictator, should be put on trial for”crimes against humanity.” Pinochet, who seized power in 1973 following a bloody coup that included the assassination of the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende, was arrested by British police Oct. 17 while a patient at a London hospital. The arrest followed a request by Spanish judges investigating the deaths of Spanish citizens in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship.”For the first time a breach has opened in the wall of impunity against one of the most symbolic representatives of the dictatorships in Latin America,”said Genevieve Jacques, an executive secretary of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.”For those in the churches in Chile who have been struggling against impunity and calling for justice for the victims and truth to be revealed, it is a historic action,”Jacques said, according to Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news service.

Last week, the London High Court overruled the arrest, saying that Pinochet had immunity from prosecution because the alleged crimes were committed while he was a head of state but it said he must stay in Great Britain pending an appeal.

The court ruling has set off a furor among human rights activists in Latin America, Europe and the United States.

Isabel Allende, daughter of the assassinated president, said in London on Monday (Nov. 2), that Pinochet should not be granted immunity because he”bombed his way into power and murdered to remain there.”Pinochet held power for 17 years.


Spielberg’s”Saving Private Ryan”honored by Catholics in Media

(RNS) Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s”Saving Private Ryan”has been honored with the Catholics in Media 1998 motion picture award.”What’s important for all of us who make films is to respect our audience with taste and integrity, and with ideas and ideals,”Spielberg told the 500 people at the Beverly Hilton Hotel event Sunday (Nov. 1).

It is the second time the Jewish Spielberg has won the motion picture award from the Catholic group. His”Schindler’s List”won the same CIMA award in 1994. He said Sunday that receiving the second honor”leaves me very humbled.” Singer Rosemary Clooney received the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award,

and accepted it by singing”Our Love Is Here To Say,”accompanied by Tony Bennett’s pianist, Ralph Sharon.

This year’s CIMA television award went not to ABC’s law drama,”The Practice.” Spielberg arrived after the three-and-a-half-hour event’s All Souls Day Mass, in which actors Gregory Peck and Carmen Zapata read the biblical lessons. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony introduced the filmmaker, lauding the World War II epic as an,”anti-war film.””We constantly need to remind ourselves that we cannot take personal blessings and achievements for granted, and we have to continue to earn them. In our professional life it’s our responsibility to earn your continued support for films with meaning, and films that uplift the spirit,”Spielberg said.

The Bible, in comic strip form, debuts in Great Britain

(RNS) The Bible, which has been published in a host of various versions and forms, is getting yet another makeover in Great Britain _ as a comic strip.

The Lion Graphic Bible, a 256-page volume, debuted this month (October) to positive reviews from church officials and publishers.

Pete Ward, the youth ministry adviser for the Archbishop of Canterbury, said he views the comic-strip Bible as a way to get Holy Writ into the hands of youngsters, reported Ecumenical News Service, the Geneva-based religious news agency.”The Bible crammed into speech bubbles?”Ward said.”It’s a crazy idea and it really works. This is a quality job. Kids who might never read a book are going to enjoy it and get lots out of it.” Lion, the publisher, expects the graphic Bible will be read by children as young as 10 years old as well as readers in their teens and 20s.

Scriptwriter Mike Maddox, who has been employed by New York-based DC Comics, said he examined”pretty well every version”of the Bible in English before preparing the comic-book text.”It’s a big responsibility,”he said.”You can give the wrong message about God if you leave out something!” Phil Henderson, Lion’s marketing manager, calls the Bible version”full-blooded,”but acknowledges the volume”could have lingered more”on sex and violence.

This version depicts the Israelites’ slaughter of the Canaanites”with no entrails”and leaves out the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the Crucifixion is included.

Other English-speaking countries are likely to see editions of the Bible on bookshelves before year’s end and the Nashville, Tenn.-based Broadman & Holman Publishers is scheduled to publish it in early 1999.

Australian churchman: ban rocker Marilyn Manson

(RNS) Fred Nile, a prominent conservative Christian leader in Australia, is calling on the Australian government to bar shock rocker Marilyn Manson from entering the country.

Marilyn Manson _ the name of both the lead singer and the band _ is best known for his flamboyant personal appearance in which the cross-dressing singer bends gender identity to androgyny in a more extreme version of such rock acts of the 1970s and 1980s as David Bowie and Alice Cooper.”The whole thing is absolutely sick and evil,”Niles said Oct. 22 of the planned Marilyn Manson visit,”and is far more dangerous to Australians than that Irving bloke.” The last was a reference to British right-wing historian David Irving, a revisionist historian who claims the Holocaust did not take place. He has been barred from entering Australia.

The band is due to perform in Australia and New Zealand in January, Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency reported.

Israel court rules in favor of Reform, Conservative Jews

(RNS) Israel’s High Court of Justice, further opening the door to non-Orthodox Judaism in the Jewish state, has ordered the appointment of Reform and Conservative representatives to local religious councils in three cities.

The decision was hailed by Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Israel’s Movement for Progressive Judaism, who called it an important step forward for religious pluralism in Israel.

Currently, Orthodox Judaism maintains tight control over Jewish religious expression in Israel and has fought in the courts and in the political arena not to cede any ground to non-Orthodox movements.

The court ruling applied directly to Tel Aviv, Haifa and Arad. However, the court also ordered a government committee to resolve similar cases regarding religious councils in Jerusalem and Kiryat Tivon, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service reported Tuesday (Nov. 3).

In its ruling, the court’s 13 justices said support of religion and not affiliation should be the primary criterion for membership in local religious councils. The councils, affiliated with the government’s Religious Affairs Ministry, have exclusive jurisdiction over weddings, burials and other Jewish lifecycle events. They also certify that local restaurants, hotels and other food-serving establishments follow Jewish dietary laws.

Regev called the ruling an”important stepping stone”toward full religious pluralism in Israel. He said the ruling builds on a similar court decision last year that ordered the religious council in Netanya to seat a Reform representative.

However, Rabbi Sha’ar Yishuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa, told Israel Radio he doubted Orthodox and non-Orthodox council members would be able to work together because of their varying standards of religious observance.

Reform and Conservative Judaism, the main movements in the United States, have relatively few adherents in Israel, where Orthodoxy is dominant among the nation’s religious Jews.


Clinton greets Sikhs on anniversary of founder’s birth

(RNS) President Clinton has sent a letter of greeting to Sikhs across the country to mark their celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism.”We are grateful for the teachings of Guru Nanak, which celebrate equality of all in the eyes of God _ a message that strengthens our efforts to build one America,”Clinton said in his statement, issued Nov. 3.”Religious pluralism in our nation is bringing us together in new and powerful ways,”the president continued.”I hope that, as the teachings of Guru Nanak become better known _ particularly his compassion for the poor and recognition of the equality of all women and men _ all Americans will more fully appreciate the contributions of Sikhs to our national life.” Dr. Rajwant Singh, of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in Rockville, Md., said it was the second year in a row that Clinton had sent out greetings to mark the anniversary. He views it as a sign of American acceptance of Sikhs.”Finally, we believe that we have arrived in the U.S.,”said Singh.”We have been here for over 90 years and finally our presence is being acknowledged by the political leadership of this land.” Singh said the celebration of the 529th birth-anniversary of Guru Nanak begins today (Nov. 4), the actual birthdate, but will continue through Nov. 15. Festivities include sharing historical passages, singing hymns from Sikh scriptures and sharing a community meal.

Sikhism has about 21 million adherents worldwide, with about 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States. The largest population of Sikhs _ about 14 million _ live in the Indian state of Punjab.

Deploring moral decline, South African leaders sign code of conduct

(RNS) South African religious and political leaders gathered Oct. 22 in an attempt to fight the corruption and moral decline that has permeated and paralyzed South Africa’s society.

President Nelson Mandela was among the leading religious and political leaders at a”Moral Summit,”in Johannesburg committing themselves to a code of conduct emphasizing integrity and justice.

The summit grew out of a meeting last year between Mandela and religious leaders in which the president called upon the religious community to lend its influence toward reconstructing the nation.

Mandela said he did not know what the result would be, adding,”We only knew that the social transformation of our country could not be separated from its spiritual transformation.” The necessity of such a move is apparent to many South Africans who suffer under widespread crime and corruption. According to a recent survey, South Africa’s violent crimes are five times higher than the international crime rate index’s.

Rape and corruption rates are among the country’s most disturbing _ yet prevalent _ crimes. In South Africa, a rape occurs every 25 seconds, more than three times the U.S rate, according to a South African non-governmental Organizations Coalition spokesperson. And a report released yesterday by reetired Archbishop Desmond Tutu implicated the Christian churches in widespread corruption.

Mandela acknowledged that, saying there were many in the religious community engaged in crime or the abuse of women and children. He called it a measure”of how far this rot has spread.” But the president expressed optimism at the summit, calling it”a great achievement.””It gives us much encouragement for the future. It brings together the two spheres of life most intimately and essentially involved in the generation, sustenance and observance of the values by which we relate to one another,”said Mandela.

Religious leaders also issued a national call for everyone in a position of authority to sign the code of conduct which pledges integrity, incorruptibility, good faith, impartiality, openness, accountability, justice, respect, generosity and leadership.


Quote of the week: The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, Clinton supporter

(RNS)”President Clinton has confessed that what he did was wrong … He has met every requirement for forgiveness. He has done all the Torah requires of Jews, the Bible requires of Christians and all the Koran requires of Muslims.” The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, former D.C. delegate to Congress, at an Oct. 31 news conference denouncing independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton.



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