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Religion News Report

November 29, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 290) - 2/2

arrow Latest: Religion News Blog
Rainbow

» Continued from Part 1

=== Faith Healing
21. Court Rejects Faith Healers' Defense
22. Parents convicted in death of diabetic daughter
23. Faith healing experiences local revival
24. Spokane has been home to popular faith healer before

=== Other News
25. Praise the Lord and pass the cane
26. Atttorney David Waters appears in court to face charges (O'Hair)
27. Dutch legalise euthanasia
28. Dutch Criteria for Legal Euthanasia
29. Russian interior minister demands ban on extremist sects
30. Kyrgyz people fight their own war against religious sects
31. Vicar returns to work after sex change
32. Britons claim to see host of angels
33. Ministry building headquarters (Benny Hinn)

=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance
34. Religious Freedom on the Decline in Turkmenistan
35. Fenton High limits religious songs after criticism

=== Science
36. Proposed rules boost teaching of creationism
37. Patent allows creation of man-animal hybrid
38. France to Allow Human Embryo Research

=== Noted
39. UK is 'losing' its religion
40. Exorcists and Exorcisms Proliferate Across U.S.

=== Books
41. Scholar Has New Theory on Old Testament


=== Faith Healing

21. Court Rejects Faith Healers' Defense
AP, Nov. 28, 2000
http://www.washingtonpost.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
PITTSBURGH -- A 16-year-old girl with diabetes who died as her family prayed for her wasn't mature enough to reject doctors on her own, the state Supreme Court ruled. It upheld the convictions of her parents.

Shannon Nixon died at her Altoona home on June 27, 1996, of complications from diabetes, including severe dehydration. Her blood sugar level was 18 times the normal level at her death.

In the 7-0 ruling made public Tuesday, Justice Stephen Zappala rejected the defenses that Shannon was a ''mature minor'' and that taking her to a doctor would have violated her privacy.

Her parents, Dennis and Lorie Nixon, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 1997. They were each sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison but have been free during their appeals.

They belong to a Blair County branch of the Faith Tabernacle Church, which advocates faith healing over modern medicine. It also has branches in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

The Nixons based the defense in part on a Tennessee case in which courts ruled authorities could consider factors beyond a child's age, including experience, education and maturity, in deciding when a child could forgo medical treatment.

But Zappala said Pennsylvania lawmakers spelled out situations in which a child can direct his or her care, for example by making exceptions for treatment for pregnancy, drug abuse and venereal disease.

Nixon's attorneys said forcing Shannon to see a doctor would have violated her constitutional guarantee of privacy. But Zappala said the question is irrelevant because of the state's ''compelling interest'' in protecting a child's life.

Justice Ralph Cappy filed a separate opinion saying the ''mature minor'' defense might work in other cases, when a child understood his or her ailment and the possible outcomes of treatment.

The couple has 11 other children. Another child, 8-year-old Clayton, died in 1991 of what authorities said was a treatable ear infection.

Robert Stewart, an attorney for the Nixons, said he and attorney Steven Passarello will consider taking their case to the U.S. Supreme court.
(...)

Authorities have said at least nine Pennsylvania children of Faith Tabernacle churchgoers have died of treatable illnesses since 1983. Last year, a judge in Philadelphia sentenced a couple to 17 years of probation for letting their 22-month-old son, a hemophiliac, bleed to death in 1997. The judge also ordered them to find a doctor for their other children.
____

On the Net:

State Supreme Court rulings at: http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/index/SupremeOpindex.cfmOff-site Link
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22. Parents convicted in death of diabetic daughter
Post-Gazette, Nov. 29, 2000
http://www.post-gazette.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. -- For whatever else it might do, prayer and anointing couldn't control the runaway diabetes that killed Altoona teen-ager Shannon Nixon four years ago, three days shy of her 17th birthday.

It was her parents' responsibility to get her medical help even if they shunned it themselves in favor of faith healing, the state Supreme Court said in a decision released yesterday.

Because they didn't, the court decided, a Blair County jury's 1997 verdict stands. Dennis and Lorie Nixon -- who had already lost another of their 13 children to a condition that medicine could have cured -- are guilty of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.

With that comes 2 1/2 to five years in a state prison, a sentence that has remained on hold during three years of appeals and likely will remain so during an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

''I know Dennis Nixon. ... He's not a Charlie Manson,'' William Haberstroh, the former Blair County district attorney who prosecuted the case, said yesterday. ''But Shannon Nixon is dead, and Shannon Nixon should not be dead. These two people have to learn, somebody has to convince them that [their church] isn't the last word. The last word is the law.''

Defense lawyer Robert Stewart of Pittsburgh said that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, probably after the first of the year, was almost assured, although he conceded it was unlikely the justices would agree to hear the case. ''We're not optimistic,'' Stewart said yesterday. ''Its a very uphill battle.''

But the Nixons also could relaunch the case at the federal district court level, District Attorney David Gorman said.
(...)

The Nixons are part of the 140-member Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Altoona, a low-profile, 50-year-old church of which Dennis Nixon's father is the pastor. Its children are educated in the church school, where they are taught to place their complete trust in God's will and embrace faith healing over medicine.

In 1991, the Nixons' son, Clayton, 8, died of an ear infection that could have been cured by antibiotics, doctors said. Dennis and Lorie Nixon pleaded no contest to endangering the welfare of a child and were sentenced to 125 hours of community service.

Shannon Nixon died of diabetes acidosis -- a treatable condition that sent her blood sugar levels rocketing to more than 12 times normal levels. She opted for prayer, at one point, telling her parents, ''I feel I had my victory'' -- but later lapsed into a coma.

The first medical professional to see her was the county coroner, who had been summoned by the funeral director the Nixons called after their daughter died.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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23. Faith healing experiences local revival
The Spokesman-Review, Nov. 26, 2000
http://www.spokesmanreview.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
(...) For more than a year, modern religious pilgrims like Mason have come from all over the country to the Healing Rooms in downtown Spokane in search of a powerful spiritual experience.

The phenomenon is a model of Pentecostal revivals that have waxed and waned throughout the United States for 100 years. Participants often laugh, cry and fall to the floor as they experience the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The founder and director of the Healing Rooms, Cal Pierce, teaches that miracles are available to those who believe.

''What Jesus did, we can do, too,'' Pierce said. ''We can heal people and we can show others how to heal people, by plugging into the Holy Spirit.''

In addition to physical healings, Pierce said up to half of the people who come to him are seeking refuge from emotional demons like depression or addiction.

While critics dismiss faith healings as mass hysteria or emotional manipulation, the Healing Rooms are gaining popularity.
(...)

People from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Florida and Minnesota had come to attend a conference sponsored by the Healing Rooms. And everyone wanted prayer from the team that claims to have healed everything from brain tumors to strained ankles.

Supporters come mainly from the ranks of evangelical Christians, but Catholics and mainline Protestants also donate time and money.

In the first six months of this year, donors gave more than $100,000, according to reports released by Pierce. Almost $50,000 of that will be used to set up other ministries.

Twice a month, Pierce and several of his paid and volunteer staff travel to distant cities, where they offer instructions on setting up Healing Rooms. They are booked through October 2001 in cities as small as Cody, Wyo., and as big as London.

Pierce, 56, and his wife, Michelle, draw their salaries from donations offered during speaking engagements. This year he estimates they will make just over $40,000.

At his second annual Spiritual Hunger Conference in September, 1,800 people packed into the Ag Trade Center to learn how they could obtain and impart emotional and physical healing.

The last time anything like this happened in Spokane, it was 1914, when itinerant faith healer John G. Lake set up headquarters here. Within five years, newspapers reported, Lake claimed to have healed 100,000 people.

Pierce's ministry is designed to be a modern version of Lake's work. It's typical of Pentecostal efforts across the country, said Edith Blumhofer, a history professor and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
(...)

Pierce said he had a mystical experience while listening to a young preacher.

''Wave after wave of the Holy Spirit slammed me to the floor,'' he said.

When he came to, he was obsessed with Lake's life and writings. Although he had heard of Lake before his religious experience, he had never studied Lake's work.

Pierce came to Spokane in 1998 to visit Lake's grave, the land where his church stood and the site of the original Healing Rooms. Standing there, on the third floor of the Rookery Building, Pierce said he knew God wanted him to resurrect Lake's ministry in the very same spot.

It didn't matter that the building itself had been torn down and rebuilt, and is once again scheduled for destruction.

Pierce started a Web page that proclaims, ''The Healing Rooms Have Re-Opened.'' He began to circulate among Pentecostal and evangelical crowds in Spokane. Gradually he assembled an army -- some paid, but most volunteers.
(...)

Pierce encourages people to continue medical treatment and follow doctor's orders. But he also warns them that not many medical practitioners believe in miraculous healings.
(...)

Because so many evangelists are suspect in the financial arena, Pierce said he makes his books available to anyone who asks.
(...)

Pentecostal beliefs are controversial for other reasons as well. Some Christians say Pentecostal theology is on shaky ground, with its heavy emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit. Fundamentalists claim Pentecostal worship and prayer go beyond the foundations of the New Testament. Other Christians criticize the movement's tendency to blame a person's spiritual condition for his physical illness.

''The whole movement is fraught with dangers,'' Blumhofer said. ''It's very unbalanced in a theological sense, because of what it projects about health and wealth and happiness. There is no room for suffering.''

David Harrell, author of several biographies of well-known Pentecostal preachers including Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson, said there are holes in Pentecostal logic.

''It's a positive-thinking movement where you don't tolerate negative thoughts,'' said Harrell, a history professor at Auburn University in Alabama. ''You have to believe that healing is happening. If you start looking back and say, `Was that person really healed?' Well, that's like renouncing your faith.''

Pierce agrees that unquestioning belief is crucial. All illness has spiritual roots, he said.

''The only reason this kind of healing isn't more widespread is because people don't believe in it anymore,'' Pierce said. ''People who believe will experience healing.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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24. Spokane has been home to popular faith healer before
The Spokesman-Review, Nov. 26, 2000
http://www.spokesmanreview.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Spokane _ John G. Lake is a heavy hitter in the history of American Pentecostals.

He founded an entire Christian denomination in Africa. He claimed to have healed hundreds of thousands. To this day, followers read his prolific writings and call him a prophet.

For most of two decades, he called Spokane his home.
(...)

''He was right out of the heat of the revival early in the 20th century,'' said Edith Blumhofer, a professor of history and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
(...)

As a young adult, Lake became an associate of Alexander Dowie, the eccentric minister who founded Zion City, Ill., in the wake of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

At its height, Zion claimed 10,000 residents who considered Dowie their spiritual leader. That number diminished as Dowie's revelations became increasingly odd, said Blumhofer. Dowie proclaimed himself to be the reincarnations of Elijah and the first apostle of Christ.

Dowie died in 1907, and Lake traveled to South Africa. There, he founded the Christian Catholic Church, which still claims about 700,000 members.

He came to Spokane in 1914, where he built a church, known as The Tabernacle at Sharp and Lincoln, where the Harvest Christian Fellowship now stands.

He also rented office space at 14 N. Howard, where he prayed for individuals who came in search of healing. He called those offices The Healing Rooms.

He frequently traveled on preaching missions throughout the Northwest, founding a church in Portland as well.

Newspaper articles of the late 1920s and early 1930s document the throngs of people who attended his worship services and claimed to have been healed of the plague, tuberculosis, rheumatism and dozens of other maladies.

In 1931, Lake advertised a special speaker at his church -- Abdul Ben Shinandar, an associate of Lawrence of Arabia and ''a great Arab preacher and Bible story teller.''

Later a newspaper reporter exposed the foreigner as Lake himself, dressed up in robes, a turban and wearing a fake beard.

Lake explained that during his international travels he had registered with the Society of Arab Story Tellers under the name Abdul Ben Shinandar.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

25. Praise the Lord and pass the cane
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), Nov. 28, 2000
http://dailytelegraph.com.au/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Torn between the will of God and the will of the NSW Education Department, two Christian schools have decided to stick with the Almighty and carry on beating the children.

Sutherland Shire Christian School and Nambucca Valley Christian Community School face deregistration at the end of the year because they refuse to follow a 1995 State Government edict banning corporal punishment.

Both schools claim biblical backing for their policy of administering the strap, cane or a lightweight wooden paddle to wayward pupils.

Yesterday they took out newspaper advertisements challenging Education Minister John Aquilina to come up with a better way of disciplining children.

''Mr Aquilina, in which government manual are we to look for appropriate advice which supersedes biblical counsel on matters of discipline and nurture,'' the letter reads. Yesterday, parents supported moves to keep the paddle as a form of discipline at the Sutherland school.

Engadine mother Lisa North said she took her five children out of the public school system because of the tougher discipline offered at the school.

''If there is a reason for the school to use corporal punishment on one of my children, I would not have a problem with it at all,'' Mrs North said. ''It's part of being brought up as a Christian.''

Proverbs 22: verse 15 in the Bible says: ''Folly is bound in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.''
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26. Atttorney David Waters appears in court to face charges
San Antonio Express-News/AP, Nov. 28, 2000
http://www.express-news.net/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
AUSTIN (AP) - A lawyer was chosen Tuesday to represent the former office manager of missing atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

Austin attorney Bill Gates was assigned to represent David Waters, 53, who faces charges that he conspired to kidnap and rob her and her family in a plot that investigators believe ended in their slaying. Gates declined comment.

Waters was indicted in September and faces up the life in prison if convicted.

He did not enter a plea of innocence or guilt in his hearing before U.S. Magistrate Andrew Austin. Under federal speedy trial rules, his case could go to trial early next year.

Waters is already serving 60 years in state prison for parole violations related to a conviction of stealing more than $50,000 from O'Hair's office. He also is serving time in federal prison on weapons charges.

Waters is the second suspect to face charges in the atheist family's 1995 disappearance.

O'Hair, her son Jon Garth Murray and her granddaughter and adopted daughter Robin Murray O'Hair, disappeared from San Antonio along with $500,000 in gold coins.

Their bodies have not been found although federal investigators believe they were killed and dismembered before being dumped in the Texas Hill Country.

In August, a federal judge sentenced Gary Paul Karr, 52, who once served time with Waters in Illinois, to life in prison for extorting money from the O'Hair family.

Although Karr was alleged to have taken part in an elaborate kidnapping and extortion scheme, he was acquitted of the kidnapping charge. He was convicted of extorting more than $600,000 from the family.

Another suspect, Danny Fry, was found beheaded in 1995 shortly after they disappeared.
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27. Dutch legalise euthanasia
CNN, Nov. 28, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Euthanasia, which has been tolerated in the Netherlands for decades and carried out thousands of times each year, was legalised by the Dutch parliament on Tuesday in an historic move.

By passing legislation allowing mercy killings, the Netherlands becomes the first country in the world to allow the practice.

The bill passed by a vote of 104-40. It still needs the approval of the Senate, which is considered a formality, and is expected to come into force next year.

Advocates say it puts the Dutch in the vanguard of patients' rights, and opponents say it will replace caring with killing.
(...)

Doctors operate under strict guidelines requiring them to seek a second opinion before granting a euthanasia request.

The decision is reviewed by a commission that includes a medical expert and a lawyer.

Unlike current practice, however, the prosecutor's office will no longer review euthanasia cases unless misconduct is suspected.
(...)

In 1993, the Dutch adopted euthanasia guidelines, by which it was understood doctors would not be prosecuted even though assisted suicide technically remained a crime punishable by a maximum 12-year prison sentence.

The guidelines state that a patient must be undergoing irremediable and unbearable suffering, be aware of all other medical options and have sought a second professional opinion.

The request must be made voluntarily, persistently and independently while the patient is of sound mind. Doctors are not supposed to suggest it as an option.

Under the new law, a patient will be able to make a written request for euthanasia, giving doctors the right to use their own discretion when patients become too physically or mentally ill to decide for themselves.
(...)

Doctors honour about a third of assisted suicide requests in the Netherlands each year, according to government estimates.

In 1999, 2,216 cases were recorded, but there also were believed to be a larger number of unregistered cases.

Similar tolerance to euthanasia is shown in Switzerland, Colombia and Belgium.

A law legalising voluntary euthanasia went into effect in Australia's Northern Territory in 1996 but was overturned soon after, following pressure from the federal government.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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28. Dutch Criteria for Legal Euthanasia
Associated Press, Nov. 28, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A bill passed by the lower house of the Dutch parliament set the following guidelines for carrying out euthanasia or assisted suicide:

-- The physician must be convinced the patient's request is voluntary and well-considered.

-- He must be convinced the patient is facing unremitting and unbearable suffering. The patient does not have to be terminally ill.

-- The patient must have a correct and clear understanding of his situation and prognosis.

-- The physician must reach the conclusion, together with the patient, that there is no reasonable alternative that is acceptable to the patient. The decision to die must be the patient's own.

-- The physician must consult at least one other independent doctor who has examined the patient.

-- He must carry out the termination of life in a medically appropriate manner.
[...entire item...]


29. Russian interior minister demands ban on extremist sects
BBC Monitoring/Itar-Tass, Nov. 28, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Text of report in English by Russian news agency ITAR-TASS
Novosibirsk, Western Siberia, 28th November: Interior Minister Vladimir Rushaylo pointed to the need to neutralize sects, preaching religious extremism in Russia. The minister expressed this idea on Tuesday [28th November] at a meeting with representatives from religious confessions in Novosibirsk.

According to the minister, ''it was religious teaching like Wahhabism that led to the start of combat operations in Dagestan in August 1999''.
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30. Kyrgyz people fight their own war against religious sects
BBC Monitoring/Kyrgyz-Press, Nov. 28, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Text of report by Kyrgyz-Press International News Agency on 27th November
Bishkek, 27th November. Citizens of Kyrgyzstan have started fighting religious sects on their own. Albert Bogdanov [reports] from Bishkek:

It started from troubles. Residents of the village of Chon-Tash, situated not far from the capital, did not let in preachers from the Jehovah's Witnesses sect, and when the guests tried to put up resistance they beat the preachers up and shoved them into the bus on which they arrived. The court of elders decided to dismiss a worker of the Culture House who had been inveigling young people into the sect for many years.

Under the influence of religious propaganda, dozens of residents in a neighbouring village refused to turn out for the presidential elections [on 29th October].

The District authorities have decided to take the situation under control on their own and to set up a coordination council for religious matters. For starters, they refused to grant a plot of land for building a Jesus Christ church.

Other districts have started setting up a propaganda network, the task of which is to counter missionaries, above all, those from the underground Islamic party Hezb-e Tahrir.
(...)

In a word, people are not being indifferent to the appearance in the republic of religious sects of non-traditional trends and are trying to counter them on their own.
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31. Vicar returns to work after sex change
Ananova, Nov. 28, 2000
http://www.ananova.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A Church of England vicar is set to return to parish duties at the weekend after a sex change operation.

Parishioners at St Philips Church in Upper Stratton, Swindon, will attend a service led by the Rev Carol Stone on Sunday after four years of her teachings as the Rev Peter Stone.

Speaking at a press conference, Ms Stone, 46, spoke of her relief at having the operation. Dressed in a smart blue skirt suit with black high heels, a white top and a patterned silk scarf, she said: ''I only have two vocations in my whole life. They are to be a priest and to be a woman.''
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32. Britons claim to see host of angels
The Telegraph (England), Nov. 26, 2000
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Most people regard them as little more than Christmas card adornments, but at least 800 Britons claim to have had encounters with angels, the first academic research into the subject has found.

Not only Christians have had these experiences; atheists, agnostics, Muslims and Jews have also claimed similar visitations, according to Emma Heathcote, a Birmingham University researcher who has studied the phenomenon for two years.

Miss Heathcote, whose findings are the subject of the Everyman programme on BBC 1 on December 12, said she appealed for reports of experiences from Britons to include in a doctorate on the subject and was astonished by the level of interest.

According to her findings, angels tend to ''appear'' either to impart a message or to provide comfort or reassurance. They have also ''intervened'' to save people from fatal accidents. Almost a third of those who contacted Miss Heathcote reported seeing a traditional angel with a white gown and wings. Another 21 per cent saw angels in human form. Others felt a force or presence and some detected a distinctive scent or were engulfed in light.

One of the most striking reports came from a woman doctor who was doing her training at Guy's Hospital, London, when a three-year-old girl was brought in after falling under the wheels of a juggernaut. She wrote: ''When they whipped her clothes off, there wasn't a mark on her. The girl came round and immediately asked, 'Where is the man in white?' A male doctor stepped forward and said, 'I'm here', but the girl said, 'No, the man in the shiny white suit who picked me up when the lorry went over me'.''
(...)

More than half a church congregation said it saw an angel during a baptism. Miss Heathcote said: ''I interviewed the vicar, the curate, the organist and a large number of the congregation and they all came up with the same story. They were embarrassed and asked me not to disclose their names.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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33. Ministry building headquarters
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Nov. 25, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
GRAPEVINE - Television faith healer Benny Hinn, known for his claims of helping the afflicted with the touch of his hand, is building his ministry's international headquarters in Grapevine.

The building, which is being constructed on William D. Tate Avenue near Western Oaks Drive, will house offices for about 200 employees of Benny Hinn Ministries and the World Healing Center Church, ministry spokesman David Brokaw said.
(...)

The 53,625-square-foot building will include an assembly area for ministry staff, Brokaw said. It will not offer retail shops or marketing to the public, he said.

Brokaw declined to reveal the cost of the building.

Hinn has gathered support from believers worldwide who see him as a Pentecostal crusader able to heal the suffering.

His television show, This Is Your Day, can be seen in 190 nations. In Fort Worth-Dallas his show is seen on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which has studios in Irving and Southern California.

He has crusades scheduled in December for Argentina and Chile.

Hinn receives about $60 million annually in donations, Brokaw has said.

Detractors are skeptical of Hinn's healing claims and criticize him for his affluent lifestyle.

Last year, Hinn announced that he was moving his ministry headquarters to the Metroplex from Orlando, Fla. During a crusade in October 1999 at Reunion Arena in Dallas, he captivated crowds with a computer generated tour of a possible version of a world healing center, a spiritual theme park of sorts dedicated to faith healing.

Plans for such a center, which might include a library, prayer tower and an outdoor amphitheater, are in the works and ''locations in several states are being pursued and considered,'' according to Brokaw's written statement.

Grapevine was chosen for the headquarters because it is a central location for the ministry, he said.

But the 6.9-acre office complex on William D. Tate Avenue is not expected to be home to the healing center, Brokaw said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance

34. Religious Freedom on the Decline in Turkmenistan
Russia Today/AFP, Nov. 29, 2000
http://www.russiatoday.com/news.php3?id=225122Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ASHKHABAD, Nov 29, 2000 -- (Agence France Presse) Pastor Pavel Fedotov was inside Ashkhabad's Seventh Day Adventist church when the bulldozers rammed into the building on official orders to raze it to the ground.

''It was Saturday and there were around 10 of us in the church. We were not even warned that they were going to demolish the building,'' said Fedotov.

The Turkmen authorities said the Seventh Day Adventist church was to be destroyed to make way for a new highway but a year after its demolition there is no sign of the new road.

They later claimed the building was in a dangerous condition although the church, built with the aid of donations, took almost a week to knock down, Fedotov said.

Turkmenistan has become one of the most authoritarian of the Central Asian states which gained their independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

A US State Department report on religious freedoms, published in September, noted ''a decline in the Turkmen government's overall respect for and tolerance of religious minorities.''

While the Seventh Day Adventists and other churches were legally registered during the Soviet era under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Turkmenistan has reversed even this progress.

''Turkmenistan is probably the most repressive government in the region in terms of religious activity,'' said Felix Corley, of Keston News Service, which monitors religious liberty in former Soviet countries.

The Keston Institute has numerous reports of religious intolerance, including the arrest of Baptists, deportation of foreign believers and the refusal of renewal of visas for foreigners accused of being missionaries.

The crackdown on religious groups was viewed by some observers as the authorities' fear of religious fundamentalism in the volatile Central Asian region.
(...)

Turkmenistan's heavy-handed policy towards Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious groups may reveal President Saparmurat Niyazov's fear of movements he is unable to control, some observers say.

''The authorities fear that these people are a danger because they think they will not give their due allegiance to the state as citizens should,'' said one Western diplomat.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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35. Fenton High limits religious songs after criticism
Chicago Daily Herald, Nov. 22, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
After a Fenton High School senior sparked a debate last year over religion in school, religious songs are being limited in this year's holiday assembly.

Sabina Navsariwala, who is Muslim, objected to the program of mostly Christmas carols and religious music, saying it violated the separation of church and state.

Fenton officials, after consulting with attorneys this year, said the school's tradition of performing songs such as ''Infant Holy, Infant Lowly'' and ''Away in the Manger'' during the in-school concert will have to change.

''Our holiday assembly cannot be predominately religious and it cannot advance any particular religion. We have to be sensitive to our diverse student population,'' Superintendent Alf Logan told members of the board of education Monday.

Students who want to be excused from the program can go to a study hall.

Holiday decorations, which were hung all over school last year, will be limited this year. Secular and religious music was played in the halls during passing periods last year. Now students will be surveyed to see what type of music they want to hear.
(...)

School board president Rosalyn Parisi was upset that Fenton would have to change a program the school has had for years.

''We have to be sensitive to everyone, including those in the Christian community,'' Parisi said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Science

36. Proposed rules boost teaching of creationism
Post-Gazette, Nov. 29, 2000
http://www.post-gazette.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A draft of new standards for teaching science and technology in Pennsylvania schools includes some subtle, little-noticed changes that seem to open the door to the controversial idea of teaching creation theory alongside the theory of evolution.

Standard evolutionary theory says that humans developed from lower species of animals over millions of years.

Strict creationists, on the other hand, use scientific arguments to support the Biblical story of creation, arguing that humans were created separately from other life forms, and that Earth and all its life came into being in six days, in accordance with the Genesis story.

The latest state standards say teachers can present theories ''that do or do not support the theory of evolution.''

They also include a phrase saying that schools may ''analyze the impact of new scientific facts on the theory of evolution.''
(...)

If the standards are approved, Langan said, they would allow the teaching of creation theory alongside evolution in public school science classes.
(...)

The new language has caused a national expert to downgrade Pennsylvania's science standards from an ''A'' to a ''B.''

Lawrence Lerner, an emeritus professor from California State University at Long Beach, has graded all 50 states' science standards for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in terms of how the states deal with teaching evolution.
(...)

Pennsylvania is far from alone in potentially allowing creationism to be taught in its schools.

Lerner's Fordham Foundation report says that many states have yielded to pressures from the Christian right and, to varying extents, have watered down their standards on teaching evolution.
(...)

Unlike many other areas of science, evolution affects many people's core religious beliefs.

While many scientists and other people have no problem reconciling evolution with a belief in God and the Bible, others do.

The notion that humans evolved from lower forms of life cuts against the central belief of Christian fundamentalists that God created humans separately from animals. And the assertion in evolutionary science that this process took millions of years clashes with some fundamentalists' belief that the earth was created in six days.

For fundamentalists, evolution carries moral implications as well. If humans evolved from animals, they say, humankind is provided with a ready excuse for ''bad behavior,'' such as homosexuality, crime and abortion.

But so far, the creationists have fought an uphill legal battle in the courts.

Twice in the past 40 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that teaching creationism is equivalent to teaching religion and, as such, is unconstitutional.
(...)

While that may be the law of the land, it apparently does not sit well with the majority of Americans. A 1999 Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Americans favor teaching both creationism and evolution in the public schools. Among that majority are some in the Pittsburgh area.
(...)

Many advocates for creationism resent what they call the media's spin on the subject. They insist that providing alternatives to evolution does not amount to teaching religion.
(...)

Evolutionists, on the other hand, say science teaching should not be dictated by what a majority of residents want. While they have no problem with creationism being taught in such classes as civics or comparative religion, they insist there's no room for it in science classes.

''Science is not democracy,'' Lerner said. ''These calls for fairness in science may sound appealing, but they are bad science.''

While some creationists resent being labeled in terms of their religion, many clearly belong to Christian groups.

Among them is Sobek, who operates a Web site, www.getequipped.orgOff-site Link, which says it is an outreach of the Pittsburgh-North chapter of the Citizens for Excellence in Education, a Christian-based organization that ''equips parents with the information and resources they need to protect the minds of their children in an environment that is often hostile to a Christian world view.''

The parent organization, Citizens for Excellence in Education, is based in Costa Mesa, Calif. and headed by Robert Simonds, a well-known Christian critic of the public schools.

The parent organization's Web site contends that in most public schools, ''evolution and the origins of man and the universe are taught as scientific fact. The world exists by chance. Life has no known purpose. Sin is a delusion. Faith in God is openly derided in most science classes.''

Others in the creationist camp, however, have tried to distance themselves from the Christian right, instead calling their anti-evolution theory Intelligent Design.

Among them is Michael Behe, professor of biology at Lehigh University and author of ''Darwin's Black Box.'' After studying evolution on a molecular level, he said that much of what he sees cannot be explained by natural selection, the idea that random genetic mutations that give creatures a survival advantage are then passed on to their offspring.

''Intelligent Design is a theory that says that biological structures we see appear to have been purposely designed by an intelligent agent,'' he said.

He also attacks evolution because, unlike most scientific theories, it cannot be verified in a laboratory.

Lerner dismisses Behe as ''a screwball.'' He likens scientists who embrace creationism or Intelligent Design to physicians who turn from traditional medicine to ''practicing voodoo.''

''There are a few people in Intelligent Design who have biological training,'' Lerner said. ''These are all smart guys. But they're a cult. No one in the scientific community takes them seriously.''

But creationists turn the mirror on evolutionists, accusing them of being ''dogmatic'' and ''cultist,'' inflicting their own brand of ''religion'' on the public and remaining closed to alternative theories.

''The very persons who insist on keeping religion and science separate are eager to use their science as a basis for pronouncements about religion,'' said creationist author Phillip E. Johnson.
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37. Patent allows creation of man-animal hybrid
The Oberver (England), Nov. 26, 2000
http://www.observer.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
A biotech company has taken out a Europe-wide patent on a process which campaigners claim would allow 'chimeric' animals to be developed with body parts originating from humans.

An Australian company, Amrad, was granted the patent last year, which covers embryos containing cells both from humans and from 'mice, sheep, pigs, cattle, goats or fish'.

Church groups have already reacted with outrage, denouncing the patent as 'morally offensive'.

Details in the patent do not make it clear what use these mixed-species embryos would be put to, but experts are in no doubt that the potential is there to create a hybrid creature.
(...)

Last month the European Patent Office claimed it would never grant a patent on mixed-species embryos as they are considered against 'public order and morality'. But this patent, discovered by a researcher in Greenpeace's German office, was taken out in January 1999 and has since been sold to US company Chemicon International.
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38. France to Allow Human Embryo Research
Reuters, Nov. 28, 2000
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
PARIS (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said Tuesday his government was drawing up legislation to allow research on human embryos to help correct genetic birth defects and fight diseases.

Jospin told a bioethics conference the bill would permit the taking of stem cells--master cells that can generate most of the 200 cell types in the human body--from embryos and their transfer to patients suffering from incurable illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes or coronary disease.

The procedure would be authorized only on embryos between seven and 12 days old that were no longer destined for in-vitro reproduction.

''Thanks to these cells, diseases that are incurable today may have a treatment tomorrow. Crippled children will finally be able to walk, broken men and women will at last be able to stand,'' Jospin told the conference in Paris.

Some people had ethical objections, he said, but there were huge potential benefits from embryo research and strict clauses in the law would prevent it from being used for eugenic purposes.
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=== Noted

39. UK is 'losing' its religion
BBC, Nov. 28, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
[...Trends...]
Almost half of all adults in the UK say they have no religious affiliation, according to a new survey.

The decline in religious belief is most apparent in the Church of England which now claims the loyalties of just over a quarter of the population.

The number of people who say they are members of the state religion has dropped by 40% since 1983, according to a poll by the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR).

The British Social Attitudes poll of more than 3,000 people showed 44% said they had no religious affiliation, down from 31% in 1983.

That figure rises to two-thirds of 18-24 year-olds in the UK who say they have no religious affiliation, compared with a quarter of pensioners.

The report found that 48% of people in the UK claim to belong to a religion, compared with 86% of people in the US and 92% of Italians.
(...)

Earlier this year, Peter Brierley, the leading expert on church attendance in Britain, suggested that Christian life will be all but dead in 40 years with less than 0.5% of the population attending a church service.

In his book, Steps to the Future, published by the Scripture Union, he said the decline in church attendance will also be marked by a general decline in the basic beliefs of Christianity.
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40. Exorcists and Exorcisms Proliferate Across U.S.
New York Times, Nov. 28, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/Off-site Link
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CHICAGO, Nov. 24 - There are demons here, some people say, the kind that torment and manifest themselves with spit-spewing and violent convulsions through the people they possess, evil spirits that can trap people inside themselves and utter foreign languages.

That belief was at the root of a decision by the archdiocese of Chicago to appoint a full-time exorcist last year for the first time in its 160- year history. It is the same reason that the Rev. Bob Larson, an evangelical preacher and author who runs an exorcism ministry in Denver will hold one of his ''Spiritual Freedom'' conferences in the ballroom of a suburban Chicago hotel in January.

Mr. Larson, who said he had 40 ''exorcism teams'' across the country, hopes to assemble a similar team here in Chicago to perform the ancient ritual for those believed to be possessed by the Devil.

''Our goal is that no one should ever be more than a day's drive from a city where you can find an exorcist,'' said Mr. Larson, who says Christians have the authority by Jesus Christ to drive Satan out of the possessed. ''Why should that freak us out?'' he said. ''It's in the Bible. Christ taught it.''

The number of exorcists and exorcisms has increased across the country in the last 10 years, experts said. While Chicago's archdiocese has one official exorcist, New York City's diocese has four, including the Rev. James J. LeBar, its chief exorcist. The Chicago archdiocese has not disclosed the identity of its exorcist, largely to maintain the privacy of those seeking his services, church officials said.

Over all, the number of full-time exorcists in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has risen to 10 from only one a decade ago, said Michael W. Cuneo, a Fordham University sociologist whose book ''American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty'' is to be published next year. Mr. Cuneo writes of an ''underground network'' of exorcists numbering in the hundreds, and a ''bewildering variety of exorcisms being performed.''

From 1989 to 1995, the archdiocese of New York examined more than 300 potential exorcism cases, although exorcisms were performed in only 10 percent of the cases, Father LeBar said. Since 1995, the New York diocese has investigated about 40 cases a year.

In addition to Roman Catholic exorcisms, an unknown number of spiritual-cleansing ceremonies are being performed by priests outside the sanctioning of the church, and by evangelical ministers and Episcopal charismatics, Mr. Cuneo said. Mr. Cuneo spent two years studying the subject and said he had witnessed more than 50 of the rituals.

Two factors are spurring the growth in exorcisms, experts said. One is popular culture; the other is a belief by some that there is more evil in the world.
(...)

''Dealing with the Devil is ugly work,'' Mr. Larson said. ''The Devil is ugly. Evil is ugly. When you get to what I call pure extreme evil, it's not going to be pretty.''
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=== Books

41. Scholar Has New Theory on Old Testament
AP, Nov. 27, 2000
http://wire.ap.org/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
How was the Old Testament put together?

Scholars expend much sweat and ink pulling the books to pieces, looking for this strand or that source of material. Now comes David Noel Freedman, professor at the University of California, San Diego, urging us to ponder the bigger picture.

Beware when any author claims to have found an important pattern in the Bible ``that has gone undetected for more than 2,000 years.'' But Freedman is a fellow worth listening to; he's been a chief editor since 1956 for Doubleday's monumental Anchor Bible series. The Presbyterian scholar presents his new theory in ``The Nine CommandmentsOff-site Link'' (Doubleday, $24.95).
(...)

As for Freedman's own Old Testament theory, he focuses on the first nine historical books, which constitute nearly half the Hebrew Bible. He spurns the current faction that says much of the Old Testament is fiction that was created simply to boost Israeli nationalism, and long after the time of the supposed events.

He thinks the final editing on our Old Testament occurred just after the cataclysmic fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 B.C. But the editor or editors ``were not given to wholesale invention. Rather, they worked with the sources available to them, making only minor editorial changes for their own literary and theological purposes.'' They were ``certainly not at liberty to alter the general sequence of major events.''

He thinks the final ``master plan'' of Scripture was devised by an individual or a ``very small committee,'' producing the first full-scale history of a nation a century before Herodotus, the ``Father of History.''

So just what did the editors do with the Old Testament material? Freedman says they purposely shaped each of the first nine books around one of the Ten Commandments, in order. (The two books of Samuel and of Kings count as single books, which they were originally.)
(...)

The theory on structure faces a seemingly fatal problem: His theory on the biblical books lists three commandments in the order theft-murder-adultery, but the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 appear as murder-adultery-theft. Freedman argues that the order was not frozen because different listings were used in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, and by Jesus and Paul in their New Testament paraphrases.

The only place Freedman's exact order appears is in Jeremiah 7:9, the prophet's courtyard sermon. Freedman considers that a possible clue that the editor who put the finishing touches on the Old Testament was Jeremiah's secretary, Baruch.

The whole theory may seem far-fetched, or at least stretched, but along the way one learns a lot about the commandments and biblical history.
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