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Religion News Report

July 15, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 229) - 2/2

arrow Latest: Religion News Blog
Rainbow


« Continued from Part 1

=== Islam
15. Behind The Veil
16. Farrakhan Seeks Million Family March

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
17. Blood is thicker than dogma
18. Terek Cossacks prevent Jehovah Witnesses congress in Russian
southern territory

=== International Churches of Christ
19. Schools warned over cults

=== Jesus Christians
20. Find teenage boy who ran off to join cult, orders judge
21. Fears for youth missing with cult
22. Cult denies 'brainwashing' boy

=== Hate Groups
23. Aryans plan gathering this weekend
24. Police prepare for Aryan Nations trial
25. Accused bombers choose prison over trial
26. Jewish Group Burns Flags
27. Man Given 4 Years Under New Jersey Hate Crimes Law for 1999 Incident

=== Other News
28. Court: Parents in repressed memory case can't sue
29. Farm plays host to a low-profile sect (Two by Twos)

=== Science
30. Medical students reject Darwin
31. Kansas poll evolves into a debate on Darwin
32. One nation, not quite under God

=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Violations
33. Bush, Minister Spar on Death Penalty
34. Bush Defends the Death Penalty to a Religious Audience

=== Books
35. Religion: A Closer Look at Evangelicals


=== Islam

15. Behind The Veil
Dallas Morning News, July 15, 2000
http://195.7.48.75/release/new/dallas/
morning/dallasreligion/p1s1m.htm
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Ummukulthum Almaawiy is 15, a typical teenager with a quick smile and a quicker giggle when with friends. She is a young Muslim who has followed in her mother's footsteps and her mother's mother's footsteps by wearing the Islamic head covering, called hijab.

Maryam Khan is 15, a typical teenager who likes to go to the movies with friends. She is a young Muslim who has followed in her mother's footsteps and her mother's mother's footsteps by not wearing hijab.
(...)

These area teens reflect the two sides of the debate over hijab. ''It is an important issue because it is both a question of religious freedom and identity,'' says Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, an Islamic think tank in Bethesda, Md. ''The question of whether it's religiously mandated or not is hotly debated among Muslims.'' In Arabic, the word hijab means a barrier, a veil, a cover. Rules regarding the attire of women and men are derived from the Qu'ran, Islam's sacred text, and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammed.
(...)

For young women in America who are often surrounded by people who don't understand Islamic teachings, wearing a hijab can be difficult. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports that it handles several hundred discrimination cases a year and most involve hijab.
(...)

Women ''determine and decide what it is they are going to do with the head scarf based on their understanding of the definition of modesty,'' says Aslam Abdullah, editor of Minaret, a magazine based in Los Angeles. ''What Islam is opposed to is adopting a practice that is forced upon people, or coerced into by tradition or culture or religion.''

He says he knows that some Muslim scholars believe that wearing the head scarf is a religious obligation.

''If it were a religious obligation, God would specify it,'' Mr. Abdullah responds. ''The intention is to dress modestly.''

Mr. Ahmad, of the Maryland think tank, says wearing the head scarf is an issue of identity, not religious obligation.

''The question of whether to wear a head scarf or not is not a fundamental issue,'' he says. ''The fundamental issue is to submit to no one but God himself.''

Yasmin Khan, a local physician and mother of Maryam, calls hijab ''a state of mind.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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16. Farrakhan Seeks Million Family March
New York Times/AP, July 14, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/a/AP-Farrakhan-March.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five years after his Million Man March, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said Friday he wants to follow with a march on Washington for the whole family, with all ethnicities and religions invited.

The event, planned for Oct. 16, will respond to the erosion of family values in America, Farrakhan said at a news conference Friday.

Noted at times for racially inflammatory and anti-Semitic comments, Farrakhan focused instead on outreach, inviting members of different religions, including Jews, to ''come under their banner.''
(...)

Farrakhan said the march would support Nation of Islam policies on education, poverty, crime, drugs and African and Caribbean relations. He also hinted that the march would involve a presidential endorsement.

Farrakhan said he plans to remarry a million men to their wives and also marry 10,000 new couples on the day of the march.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Jehovah's Witnesses

17. Blood is thicker than dogma
The Guardian (England), July 15, 2000
http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/
Archive/Article/0,4273,4040618,00.html
Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
James King, a former Jehovah's Witness, writes about religious cults
=

Jehovah's Witnesses are in turmoil following an embarrassing leak from the movement's nerve centre in America. The premature release of sensitive doctrinal changes regarding the sect's infamous ban on blood transfusions has focused attention on how an ageing leadership maintains its hold on power.

Within the movement, an elite group of elderly men and their helpers, advisers, and secretaries, along with a 200-strong ''writing committee'', is collectively identified as the ''faithful and wise servant'' mentioned in St Matthew's gospel (24:45) and appointed by God to ''rule over his household'' (the worldwide organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses) and ''give the meat'' (Watchtower magazine propaganda) ''in due season'' (a new issue every two weeks).

Acceptance of this interpretation is fundamental to the biblical ''understanding'' shared by Witnesses the world over. More importantly, it renders the 12-man governing body unaccountable for its actions and directives.

It was at a secret meeting of this body in New York, presided over by the ''spiritual presence of Jehovah'', that the newly-modernised doctrine on blood transfusions was hatched. Until 1961, blood transfusions were regarded within the sect as a matter of conscience, but after that they were outlawed altogether. In the 1940s and 50s, vaccinations were also prohibited, and, in the 1960s and 70s, organ transplants were banned, as were cornea transplants.

Recently, the Watchtower Society sought legal recognition in Bulgaria, in order to expand the sect's influence in eastern Europe. The Sofia government cited the ''no blood'' policy as grounds for refusal. Lawyers advising the sect suggested a compromise that could be selectively adopted in ''problem'' countries, and a document was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights to facilitate recognition in Bulgaria. Within the movement, such changes are explained away as ''new light'' from Jehovah.

According to the European Commission of Human Rights, representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses made a legal agreement with the government of Bulgaria. It states: ''The applicant undertook, with regard to its stance on blood transfusions, to draft a statement, for inclusion in its statute, providing that members should have free choice in the matter for themselves and their children, without any control or sanction on the part of the association.''

Spokesmen subsequently denied the sect had changed its doctrine, and reiterated that any Witness violating the ban would face ''disfellowshipping''. The authorities in Strasbourg and Bulgaria were led to think otherwise. By the summer of 1998, Witnesses in Scandinavia were unofficially following the Bulgarian lead. Olle Hjarpe, the Watchtower spokesman in Sweden, told the Helsingborgs Dagblad: ''To receive blood is a question of personal conscience. Earlier members were disfellowshipped if they accepted a blood transfusion. This is not the case now.''

In the autumn of 1999, a plan was drawn up to dismantle by stealth the blood doctrine. Last month, a special article appeared in the Watchtower magazine with a detailed and confusing breakdown of blood fractions and therapies, which, ''in the light of current understanding'', may - or may not - be thought acceptable to the faithful. This smokescreen was pre-empted by reliable leaks from New York.

The Watchtower leadership is now bracing its followers by declaring that an attack on Jehovah's earthly organisation is forthcoming, just prior to the outbreak of the ''great tribulation'' of Matthew 24:21. Those in power know that such reasoning will result in confused members clinging on to the Watchtower Society's latest proclamations more stubbornly than ever, in the belief that they are ''drawing closer'' to God.

Other disciplines of the Watchtower also draw the sect into difficulties. Witnesses are not allowed to vote in public elections, and, in some countries, the sect is denied charitable status. The latest available accounts for the organisation in Britain, which has 130,000 adherents, reveal gross income of more than £7.7m. Its present charitable status here facilitated a transfer of more than £6.2m to headquarters in New York, though it supports no recognisable charity work.

Indeed, there are well- documented cases of Witnesses being expelled from the organisation for supporting the Red Cross - which, of course, has no difficulty with blood transfusions.
[...entire item...]


18. Terek Cossacks prevent Jehovah Witnesses congress in Russian southern territory
BBC Monitoring/Text of report by Russian news agency RIA, July 15, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online?
Read this]
Georgiyevsk, 15th July: A congress of Jehovah's Witnesses in the town of Georgiyevsk in Stavropol Territory has failed to take place as the Cossacks of the Terek Cossacks Troops unit blocked all the entrances to the Trud stadium where the sect's meeting was to open today. The first deputy secretary of the Territory's security council, Maj-Gen Vasiliy Belchenko, told RIA that 4,000 believers came to Georgiyevsk from all parts of the Territory without warning the town's authorities about this. Belschenko said that the town mayor's office supported Cossacks chieftain Nikolay Kritskoy initiative to prevent the congress in connection with the aggravation of the situation in Chechnya and an increased danger of acts of terrorism in public places.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== International Churches of Christ

19. Schools warned over cults
BBC (England), July 14, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
[International Churches of Christ]
Schools in Birmingham are being warned to be on the look-out for religious cults trying to target children as young as three or four.

The local education authority has sent out memos to head teachers of all its schools advising them to exercise extreme caution because a cult is believed to be attempting to recruit new members in the area.

The warning follows an incident at a Birmingham hospital where members of a religious group had to be stopped from contacting young patients in a manner which caused concern.

Hospital staff were worried the group was attempting to exercise influence over the children while singing and talking to them.

A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council said the LEA was not aware of any schools being contacted by the group.

But she said child protection was its top priority, and schools had been advised to be on their guard.
(...)

Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, said: ''We take the line that the slightest hint of danger to children, particularly at this time with so many distressing stories in the headlines, must be acted on.

''It is always the right thing to do to err on the side of caution.

''The fact that some perfectly legitimate, indeed excellent groups, have names that are similar to groups giving national and international concern is, of course unfortunate, and we will be the first to make sure that their valuable work gets strong publicity in the future.
(...)

The council had suggested to school that if they have any concerns, they should contact an expert organisation which gives advice on dealing with cults.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Jesus Christians

20. Find teenage boy who ran off to join cult, orders judge
Daily Mail (England), July 14, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A boy of 16 who vanished after joining a religious cult must be found, a judge
ordered yesterday.

Bobby Kelly met a member of The Jesus Christians handing out leaflets in Romford shopping centre, Essex, on June 27.

The same afternoon, he packed some of his belongings and told his family he was 'going with them'. He has not been seen for more than two weeks.
(...)

Mr Justice Sumner made Bobby a ward of court at a private hearing and the Official Solicitor, Laurence Oates, issued a statement in an attempt to find the student.

'He wanted to clear his room and give all his possessions away, but his grandmother would not let him,' it said. 'Since then, he has been with members of the movement. He has telephoned his grandmother on several occasions and she describes him as sounding very strange and most unlike the Bobby she knows.' Bobby lived with Mrs Kelly in Romford and was planning a business studies course at college after completing his GCSEs.
(...)

The Jesus Christians were formed by an Australian, David McKay, and target impressionable teenagers.

Many of those who have lost children to the cult believe they have been brainwashed.
(...)

The cult's literature calls on converts to forsake their jobs, boss, even their family and friends.

'God is now your Boss and he has a new job for you that will not wait,' says a leaflet handed out by members.
[....more...]


21. Fears for youth missing with cult
The Guardian (England), July 15, 2000
http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Concern was growing last night for a 16-year-old boy who was persuaded to leave home within hours of meeting members of a religious cult.

Bobby Kelly's photograph has been circulated to police, and airports and docks were being watched, amid fears that he could be taken out of the country.

The schoolboy met members of the Jesus Christians, a little known cult founded by an Australian, as they handed out leaflets in a shopping centre in Romford, Essex, two weeks ago.
(...)

She has spoken to Bobby on the telephone and describes him as sounding ''very strange''. She and a church youth worker, David Whitehouse, have also seen him face to face - but only in the presence of cult members. Mr Whitehouse said the Jesus Christians group members told him the teenager would be going to Germany on a missionary trip within a fortnight.

He said: ''Bobby seemed scared, as if he was very wary about what the group members would think about what he was saying. I asked where they lived and they said they moved around. They said they had slept in a forest the previous few nights.

''He has been with them for just over a fortnight. They have let him see me and his grandmother but never unsupervised. They said that was out of the question.

''He is a young Christian man with a strong interest in the Bible and that is what this group will have used to get close to him. These people have a veneer of respectability. They come across as if they are keen to follow Jesus but their actions tell a different story.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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22. Cult denies 'brainwashing' boy
BBC, July 15, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The leader of a cult suspected of abducting a missing teenager has denied holding him against his will or ''brainwashing'' him.

But David McKay, the American leader of the Jesus Christian, speaking from Australia where the group is based, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme the group would do nothing to facilitate Bobby Kelly's return to the authorities.
(...)

His grandmother Ruth, his legal guardian, is so concerned about his disappearance she has made him a ward of court, which means he can be taken away from the group when he is found.

A spokesman at the Official Solicitor's office said the judgement also meant any attempt to take him out of the country would be a criminal offence.

But Mr McKay said: ''We believe in his freedom as a 16-year-old to make a decision on where he is going to go.

''The only way they are going to take him is to lock him up, and I don't believe he has done anything to deserve being locked up.''

He added: ''He is a 16-year-old boy who is trying to make something of his life. He comes from a very difficult family background and suddenly there is this nationwide manhunt to capture him against his will.''

The youngster has visited his grandmother once since walking out of her home in Romford but was escorted by a group member.

He told her that he must give everything up, including his family.

David Whitehouse, who has known Bobby for four years through his youth work at St Peter's Church, Harold Wood, Essex, also met Bobby on Thursday in the presence of group members.
(...)

Peter Townrow, headmaster at Redden Court School in Romford, Essex, where Bobby was formerly a pupil, said the teenager had also visited him with a group member.

He asked for his passport to be signed but Mr Townrow refused.

In an internet statement the group described Bobby as its newest member.

It also voiced concerns over the use of words like ''cult'' and ''brainwash'' by the police, church leaders and the media.

''We are not being condemned because of some evidence of evil on our part,'' the statement said.

''We have been condemned because these modern-day inquisitors have arbitrarily and unilaterally labelled us a cult, and then moved from that to talk about sins committed by other groups they have labelled cults.

''We are assumed to be guilty be association, even when there is no association.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* The cult's internet statement:
http://cust.idl.net.au/fold/statement2.htmlOff-site Link

Cult expert Graham Baldwin is president of Catalyst:
http://www.catalyst-uk.freeserve.co.uk/Off-site Link


=== Hate Groups

23. Aryans plan gathering this weekend
Spokane.net, July 13, 2000
http://www.spokane.net/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The Aryan Nations is carrying its racist message into the new millennium with the annual ''Aryan World Congress'' this Friday through Sunday at its compound near Hayden Lake.

No parade is scheduled in downtown Coeur d'Alene this year, but those attending the Aryan gathering could stage an impromptu rally Saturday in the city park.
(...)

Aryan founder Richard Butler hasn't disclosed a lineup of speakers or other plans for this year's gathering. He has scheduled a news conference Friday.
(...)

Vincent Bertollini, one of two Sandpoint men who head the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, is scheduled to be among the speakers, according to one Internet newsletter.

Bertollini, who now calls himself an evangelist, invited California racist Alex Curtis to attend the Aryan gathering in North Idaho.

''There may even be a possibility for you to speak along with Louis, others and myself,'' Bertollini wrote.

That is an apparent reference to Louis Beam, a longtime Butler ally. Beam is a former Texas Ku Klux Klan leader and one-time Aryan Nations ambassador-at-large.

Curtis, who publishes an Internet hate newsletter, declined the invitation.

''We must break away from the mindset of right-wing ideas of organizations and meetings,'' Curtis responded. He advocates the ''lone wolf'' approach to promoting racism.

Those who monitor the Aryan Nations say another parade likely wasn't planned this year because the Aryans are attempting to keep a lower profile as they ready for an Aug. 28 trial in Coeur d'Alene.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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24. Police prepare for Aryan Nations trial
Spokane.net, July 14, 2000
http://www.spokane.net/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Coeur d'Alene _ Kootenai County and police officials are bolstering security for an August trial that will pit the Aryan Nations' leader against an attorney whose goal is to bankrupt the racist organization.

Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason, allege in their civil lawsuit that members of the Aryan Nations fired shots at them while they were outside of the compound in July 1998.

The seven-day trial, expected to garner national attention, is set to begin Aug. 28 at the Kootenai County Courthouse. Police are concerned about how many and what types of people will attend.

''We have heard that both sides are working the Internet and the media about this event,'' said Sheriff Rocky Watson. ''Under that medium, we don't have a clue about how many people are going to show up.''

Increasing the stakes is the attention surrounding the two central figures in this case: Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, who is named in the lawsuit, and Morris Dees, the Southern Poverty Law Center attorney who hopes to bankrupt Butler's group.
(...)

Dees has argued many civil rights cases and has been successful in securing monetary damages from racist organizations. For example, Dees won an historic $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America in 1987.
(...)

Dees, whose life has been threatened, has his own security staff, Watson said.

Police also have concerns about Butler's safety. The 82-year-old white supremacist leader also has received death threats.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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25. Accused bombers choose prison over trial
Reno Gazette-Journal, July 14, 2000
http://www.rgj.com/news2/stories/news/963637810.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Five men have pleaded guilty to November's firebombing of a Temple Emanu-El Synagogue in southwest Reno, and four face up to 40 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney's office said Thursday.

The pleas came Wednesday night on the eve of what was to be the first in a series of trials in which the men described as self-avowed skinheads were charged with acts including committing a hate crime, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said.

The five young men from Nevada and California were accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail Nov. 30 at the Temple Emanu-El Synagogue. Four of the men were in a car from which the firebomb was thrown, according to the federal indictment charging them. A plastic liter bottle filled with cement shattered a window, but the gasoline bomb that followed fell to the ground and burned only the sidewalk.

Sentences for the five may vary with their degree of involvement in the crime, Bogden said. The agreement for the men to plead guilty was worked out earlier Wednesday. But because five were involved, it took until evening for legal papers to be drafted and the men to appear in court. Sentencing is scheduled Oct. 30 before U.S. District Judge David Hagen.
(...)

Several members of the Jewish Defense League, some from California, plan to burn a Nazi battle flag and a flag of the Confederate States of America today in front of the federal courthouse on South Virginia Street to call attention to what they call the ''cancer of racial hatred.''

Rabbi Avraham Keller of Temple Emanu-El said the guilty pleas bring closure to the incident and that he disagrees with the tactic of burning flags to call attention to racial hatred in the nation.

''This is not a way to convey a message,'' he said.
''I don't believe that you will find many members of this Jewish community participating in any of this,'' Keller said. ''All of this is the Jewish Defense League and they don't represent the Jewish Community or members of the Jewish community who live here.''

The Reno-Sparks Metro Ministry also issued a statement opposing the flag burning.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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26. Jewish Group Burns Flags
New York Times/AP, July 14, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/a/AP-Nazi-Flag-Burning.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Militant Jews burned Nazi and Confederate flags in front of the federal courthouse Friday to rally against racism a day after five skinheads pleaded guilty to attempting to firebomb a synagogue.

The protest organized by the Jewish Defense League attracted about a dozen people and prompted a counterdemonstration by six men who said they were white supremacists and friends of the five neo-Nazis who pleaded guilty.

The young white men unfolded Confederate and Nazi flags and raised their arms in Nazi salutes.

The two sides exchanged obscenities across the street, but there was no violence or arrests.
(...)

Some Jewish leaders here criticized the JDL's protest.

''This does not represent the Jewish community here,'' said Rabbi Avraham Keller of the Temple Emanu-El, the synagogue that was targeted.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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27. Man Given 4 Years Under New Jersey Hate Crimes Law for 1999 Incident
New York Times/AP, July 14, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ELIZABETH, N.J., July 14 -- In a ruling that reassured anti-discrimination groups concerned that a recent Supreme Court decision would weaken New Jersey's hate crimes law, a state Superior Court judge today imposed a strict sentence on a man who had pleaded guilty to an anti-Semitic rock-throwing spree in a heavily Jewish section of the city.

This was the first bias crime case to reach a state court since the Supreme Court last month limited judges' sentencing discretion in such cases.

The defendant, Michael Melchione, was given four years in prison, with no chance of parole until two years had been served.

The sentence, according to prosecutors, hinged on an admission by Mr. Melchione, 35, of Kenilworth, of anti-Semitic bias in the October 1999 incident.

Mr. Melchione had thrown large rocks at several businesses in Elizabeth's Elmora section whose signs indicated that they were owned by or principally served Jews, and had assaulted a Jewish woman.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

28. Court: Parents in repressed memory case can't sue
CNN/AP, July 14, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/2000/LAW/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) -- A couple who claims their adult daughter falsely accused them of abuse based on repressed memories can't sue her psychologists for malpractice, a court has ruled.

The 4th District Court of Appeals decided Thursday that Charlotte Johnson's parents had no standing to sue because their daughter had not joined the lawsuit or waived the confidentiality of her medical records.

The court said a patient's right to keep medical records confidential was paramount, and that without them, neither the Johnsons nor the therapists would have a fair chance to prove their cases.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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29. Farm plays host to a low-profile sect
Times-Union, July 14, 2000
http://www.timesunion.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Guilderland -- Code violations draw notice to gathering of little-known Christian group ''Two by Twos''

They don't smoke, drink or watch television. And though their numbers rival groups like the Moonies or Rajneeshees, this conservative Christian sect has managed to remain virtually unknown.

Outsiders call them ''Two by Twos'' because ministers travel in pairs to convert new members. But to those who follow the austere lifestyle prescribed by the sect, which rejects churches and other institutions, the religion does not have a name and is referred to simply as ''The Way'' or ''The Truth.''

Since 1921, three generations of the Knaggs family have hosted a large, somber, spiritual retreat called a ''convention'' at their dairy farm. Each summer, an estimated 800 people, mostly from the Northeast, descend on the farm for a four-day religious event.

Despite the large number, most neighbors and town officials knew little about the group's existence until last month. That's when the town got a tip that four buildings on the 165-acre farm near the Watervliet Reservoir violated health and safety codes. The owners had represented the buildings as farm sheds, but when the town's building inspector visited the site, he found men's and women's dormitories, washrooms and cooking facilities inside the buildings.
(...)

A Scottish evangelist, William Irvine, founded the group at the turn of the century in Ireland as a reaction to organized religion. For a time, the sect was highly visible, and it spread quickly to other English-speaking countries. But then the group's charismatic leader began to deviate from the sect's principal ideas, arguing that the end of the world was approaching and that ministers should stop converting new members. Irvine was banished in 1914, said Benton Johnson, a sociologist who has studied the sect, and the group developed an aura of secrecy and anonymity that has endured.

The most fascinating aspect about the group, and the key to its survival, said Johnson, has been its refusal to be named or identified. When a reporter asked a local minister, Charles Steffen, what his group is called, he responded enigmatically: ''The greatest name there is, is our father's name.''

Members dress conservatively, but not in a manner that draws attention. They don't observe special eating rituals. They have no churches, literature or pamphlets, other than the King James version of the Bible. They are not incorporated as a tax-exempt religious group. They send their children to public schools. Without a name, the group has managed to avert some of the publicity and problems that smaller sects and cults have attracted.

''It's a very clever strategy,'' said Johnson, a retired sociology professor at the University of Oregon.

Because there are no churches, Two by Twos hold Sunday meetings in their homes. They believe the only path to salvation is by earning it, through simple living and the teachings of a minister (you can't be saved on your own). Ministers survive on the donations of members and are called by their first name. The sect traces its roots to the birth of Jesus, not the worldly Irvine, and places its emphasis on Matthew's gospel.

''We tell people to get back to the simple life of the scripture,'' said Steffen. ''It's more of a fellowship or a family than an organization.''

Though the group shares some of the characteristics of a cult, its members take a largely passive view of the world and are not violent, scholars say. Guilderland police have directed traffic at the close of the gatherings but otherwise have had no reason to visit the farm, said Chief James Murley.
(...)

But the group, particularly its ministers, has also attracted criticism from ex-members. A West Texan, Gene DeVoll, blew the whistle on Knaggs Farm last month. DeVoll, who left the group after he got divorced in 1996, said he reported the violations because he is troubled by the leadership's secrecy and lack of accountability. He has never visited the Guilderland farm but got his information from a local member.

''These men are very controlling,'' he said. ''They hide their money. They wear $600 suits and have $20,000 credit card bills. And yet they stand up and preach 'I have nothing to my name.' ''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Science

30. Medical students reject Darwin
The Guardian (England), July 15, 2000
http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
More than 10% of medical students at a university last year rejected the theory of evolution, according to a study by scientists published yesterday.

Almost as astonishingly, this view was shared by between 4% and 11% of first-year biology students in every intake at Glasgow University for eight separate years, the research has found.

A ''significant minority'' of both groups of students shared the Biblical belief of American anti-evolutionists - often previously dismissed in Britain as naive- that God created life out of a void.

The students were nearly all Christians or Islamic. But researchers believe the findings are probably applicable to other universities across Britain.
(...)

The research paper is to be published in the Journal of Biological Education. It studied between 160 and 518 students during each of the years in the expanding biology department and 225 medical students.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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31. Kansas poll evolves into a debate on Darwin
Telegraph (England), July 14, 2000
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
With strained good manners in the cloistered atmosphere of St Michael's Episcopal church, Kenneth Miller, a biology professor, is defending evolution against the arguments of a casually-dressed young man wearing a sticker that identifies him only as ''Mark''.

The audience watches the interplay like a Wimbledon crowd, for the two men are disputing an issue that divides Kansas - the Earth's age. Mark cites the evidence of creation scientists to show that the planet can only be about 10,000 years old, debunking Darwin and his apes; Prof Miller replies with slides and a century of scientific measurement at his back.

Politics in America sometimes avoids fundamental issues, but not in Kansas. As election season looms, very basic questions are being batted back and forth: who are we, where did we come from and what role, if any, was played by God? From the central prairies of the state they call the Heart of America, where a constant hot wind riffles wheat fields, to the clipped-lawn affluence of Shawnee Mission on the outskirts of Kansas City, normally staid political contests have been imbued with the fervour of the pulpit.
(...)

''I wonder,'' mused Timmy Taylor, a retired farmer who had travelled 40 miles to St Michael's from his home near the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, ''whether there has ever been an election with so many quotations from scripture and so many slide shows?''
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32. One nation, not quite under God
Telegraph (England), July 5, 2000
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Charles Darwin has taken a bit of a pasting in the past few months in Kansas, but the bearded warrior is now fighting back.

I spent much of this week in debate with Kansans about the pros and cons of teaching evolution in their schools. The level of discussion was considerably higher than journalists normally encounter when talking politics in Washington DC, where there are some sharp brains that are seldom troubled by the more fundamental considerations of philosophy.

The consolations of philosophy must be sizeable in the Midwest, where, to be frank, there is not a whole lot else to do than talk about God and his mysteries.
(...)

Perhaps it is this sense of isolation from the coasts that gives Kansas its flavour as a cerebral sort of place. One of the contestants in a Republican primary there is campaigning on the basis that the decision by the state's overall education authority effectively to discourage the teaching of Darwinian evolution (and a whole mess of other scientific topics, including the Big Bang, black holes and most geological orthodoxy) was making the people look stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world.

I didn't find them stupid at all. Far from it. You are more likely to encounter people who think deeply here about hefty moral matters than anywhere else I have travelled in America. It is hard to imagine Floridians or Oklahomans giving the time of day to consideration of the Earth's magnetic field and whether the measurable decay in its power is evidence that the planet is only 10-12,000 years old. I had that conversation twice this week.
(...)

In a different way, however, Kansans - and all other Americans - are a bit dim, and by that I mean the extent to which they get upset about the teaching of religion in schools while a perfectly simple solution is available to them. It all goes back to the founders of the United States, many of them third and fourth generation descendants of people who fled Britain and France to escape religious persecution, or at least feel free to worship in the way they wanted.

After their experiences with a pretty unpleasant established religious orthodoxy, they made it clear in the First Amendment to the Constitution that they didn't fancy an established religion in their new Eden. All the odd little sects of dissenters were to be free to do more or less what they pleased. Nowadays, this has been interpreted to mean that no branch of government, and state schools fall into this category, can be seen even to favour one type of religion over another. You cannot teach religion in an American state school and you certainly cannot say prayers at morning assembly.

Britain must be an object lesson in the futility of this kind of strictness. I mean, look at the appalling religious strife caused by morning prayers at schools in England, Wales and Scotland (I think you'll understand why I stopped the list there). The fact is that schoolmasters are so adept at making religion tedious that only the most pious of souls can survive the ordeal.
(...)

Surely, I put it to the protagonists in the great Kansas creation debate, this is the answer to your problems. Teach Darwin and evolution in science class and Adam & Eve and the so-called ''intelligent design'' theory in RE. ''But we don't have RE,'' they cried, aghast.''How could we? Even if the law allowed us too, there would be so much trouble in choosing what we would put in the curriculum.''

No wonder they are all in such a pickle.
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=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Violations

33. Bush, Minister Spar on Death Penalty
New York Times/AP, July 14, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/p/AP-Bush-Death-Penalty.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) -- A religious leader forcefully challenged George W. Bush on Friday for allowing an execution in Texas, saying the governor ''missed an opportunity to show some of this compassion'' he talks about in his presidential campaign.

Doubts about Gary Graham's guilt ''gave you a way to show some compassion and love in a way that had not been shown before,'' the Rev. Joseph Garlic told the presumptive GOP presidential nominee as the two men sat at close quarters during a discussion at a community center in an inner-city neighborhood.

''You and I must differ on the death penalty,'' Bush quickly replied. Fairly enforced, he said, it saves lives. ''My job is to uphold the laws of my state and that's what I did.''

''This isn't a political decision for me,'' Bush added.

But Garlic persisted, ''While you may say to me it was not a political decision, it was not a moral decision.''

The exchange was polite but pointed as the community leader pressed Bush to explain why he had permitted the execution of a black man whose conviction largely hinged on the testimony of a single eyewitness.
(...)

A few protesters interrupted Bush's remarks by standing and shouting, ''Stop the racist death penalty. Stop the racist executions.''

Texas has put more people to death than any other state, and opponents argue that flaws in its justice system allow innocent people to be executed.

Bush has said he feels certain no innocent Texas inmates have been executed during his governorship.
[...more...}

* The publisher of Religion News Report is a member of Amnesty
International
Off-site Link.
He considers the death penalty to be barbaric. The willful killing of
another human being is murder - even if done in the name of "justice." This
is especially true in countries like the United States of America, where the
legal system is racist (blacks are consistently punished more often and more
severely than whites), discriminatory (e.g. the rich can afford better
lawyers and more "justice"), and faulty (in recent years numerous people have
been released from death row after research, new evidence, and/or the
confessions of crooked police officers and prosecutors proved their
innocence).


34. Bush Defends the Death Penalty to a Religious Audience
New York Times, July 15, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/071500wh-bush.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
One of George W. Bush's campaign events unexpectedly turned into a debate over the death penalty yesterday when a black minister raised questions about the governor's compassion and told him that a recent execution in Texas was ''not a moral decision.''
(...)

Mr. Graham, who had been convicted for the 1981 murder of a man outside a Houston supermarket, was executed in Texas last month, with Mr. Bush proclaiming that ''justice is being done.''

Pointing to the questions that swirled around the case, including the competency of Mr. Graham's lawyer and the fact that only one witness testified against him, Mr. Garlic said the case had given Mr. Bush ''an opportunity to show some compassion and love in a way that had not been shown before.''

''I think that when you chose protocol and not setting a precedent over a decision about a man's life,'' Mr. Garlic said, ''you missed an opportunity to show some of this compassion, and to show some of this new Republican spirit that you talk about.''

''You and I must differ on the death penalty,'' a surprised Mr. Bush replied, speaking softly. ''I support it because I think it saves lives when it's administered fairly and justly and surely.''
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* The argument that the death penalty saves lives is a lie.

Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition
has harmful effects. In Canada, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell
from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death
penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has remained
relatively stable. In 1993, 17 years after abolition, the homicide rate was
2.19 per 100,000 population, 27 per cent lower than in 1975. The total number
of homicides reported in the country fell in 1993 for the second straight
year.
- http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/dp/dpfacts.htmOff-site Link


=== Books

35. Religion: A Closer Look at Evangelicals
New York Times, July 15, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/00/07/15/news/national/religion-column.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Count on it: The Religious Right will be back. In about two weeks, the Republican National Convention will anoint George W. Bush's choice of a running mate, and depending on that choice, conservative religious leaders will be featured in the news, either voicing praise and support or expressing disappointment and opposition.

But how closely do those leaders' views, often partisan and sometimes downright inflammatory, correspond to the outlook of the nation's conservative Christians? A considerable body of critical opinion, no less inflammatory itself, has assumed that the correspondence is close. As Pat Robertson or James Dobson goes, so go the evangelicals.

Military metaphors abound in commentary on the Religious Right. Not just the prominent leaders and their organized cadres but the mass of conservative believers are often portrayed as an angry army on the march, legions of intolerant zealots eager to use governmental power to impose their favored moral order on the nation.

Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, is blunt about such sweeping portraits. ''Most of those who disparage evangelicals in general terms really don't know what they are talking about,'' he writes in his latest book, ''Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want''Off-site Link (University of California, 2000).

Few critics, Smith says, ''have significant personal relationships with enough ordinary evangelicals to inform their views.'' Typically the critics' views spring from characterizations in news articles and popular entertainment, from hoary mythology of the Elmer Gantry sort, from the newsletters and fund-raising appeals of organizations engaged in today's cultural wars, or from the impressions of people just like themselves.

In Smith's previous book, ''American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving''Off-site Link (University of Chicago, 1998), his extensive polling and interviews challenged the widespread stereotype that evangelicalism only flourished in intellectual and economic backwaters, isolated enclaves guarded from what Walter Lippmann famously called the ''acids of modernity.''

Instead, Smith found that by most standards, measuring contact with this elusive thing called modernity -- years of higher education, employment patterns, income levels, urban versus rural residence, age or sex -- people who identify themselves as evangelical Christians scarcely differed from other Americans.

His new book is based on a three-year national study involving over 200 extended interviews as well as polling data. He quickly identifies four fallacies that have distorted many descriptions of evangelicals: that their views can be equated with those of a supposedly united evangelical political elite; that their views are accurately represented by the formulations used in public opinion polling; that their views are ideologically consistent, and that they form a monolithic religious bloc rather than a conglomeration of often bickering subgroups.
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