Apologetics Index
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Religion News Report

January 6, 2001 (Vol. 5, Issue 306)

See Religion News Blog for the Latest news about cults,
religious sects, world religions, and related issues
Rainbow


=== Buddhism
1. Buddhist sects vie to guide community

=== Hinduism
2. Christians reconverted to Hinduism

=== Catholicism
3. California Technology Company sues Religious Cult
4. Philip Kronzer and his fight against Medjugorje: A Brief Summary
5. Obituary of The Rev Slavko Barbaric : Champion of controversial seers who reported apparitions at Medjugorje
6. Seeking a Promotion for the Virgin Mary
7. Apparitions of the Madonna at Oliveto Citra

=== Mormonism
8. MediaNews Replaces Tribune Officers
9. Utah questions Census numbers

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
10. Marshall elder resigns over policy; church disagrees with claim

=== Other News
11. Art Bell to return to radio show
12. China Planning Own Internet

=== Noted
13. Elderly suicides: the religious divide
14. Falling Far Short of a Tithe
15. Pastor's Lesson Inspires Good Deeds
16. Seeing a Liturgical Loophole, Minister Defies a Ban on Same-Sex Unions

=== Books
17. Digging for the Historical Truths of the Bible


=== Buddhism

1. Buddhist sects vie to guide community
The Cincinnati Post, Jan. 6, 2001
http://www.cincypost.com/Off-site Link

An American-style Buddhism is budding in Cincinnati, but not without some growing pains.

Two groups of Tibetan Buddhist monks are currently active in Cincinnati, sparking a controversy over which is the legitimate representative of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

Five monks affiliated with the Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery in Minneapolis are here at the invitation of Buddhist Cincinnati.

The monks, who once toured with the Grateful Dead, participated in the New Year's Eve ceremony at the World Peace Bell in Newport.
(...)

Carol Tyler, founder of Buddhist Cincinnati, said she invited the Minneapolis monks here to pave the way for a possible future visit by the Dalai Lama. The same monks are sponsoring a visit by the Dalai Lama to Minneapolis in May.
(...)

A similar group of monks from Bloomington, Ind., came here last May, also at Ms. Tyler's invitation, to lead a meditation at Ault Park. The meditation was attended by some 250 people, but Ms. Tyler said she will no longer work with the Bloomington monks.

''I can't support them,'' she said. ''They are not in sync with His Holiness' wishes.''

Ms. Tyler said the Bloomington monks revere a certain Buddhist deity, Dorje Shugden, whose veneration has been discouraged by the Dalai Lama.

''Affiliation with this wrathful deity has caused divisiveness within the Gelugpa tradition worldwide and displeases His Holiness,'' she said.

Both the Minneapolis and Bloomington monks belong to the ''Yellow Hat'' Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism, with which the Dalai Lama is affiliated. Gelugpa monks are known for their strict adherence to monastic discipline.
(...)

Of the 3 million Buddhists in the United States, about 3,000 live in Greater Cincinnati. Most of them are Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants who are working to establish their own monasteries and temples in Cincinnati.
[...more...]


=== Hinduism

2. Christians reconverted to Hinduism
The Times of India (India), Jan. 6, 2001
http://www.timesofindia.com/Off-site Link

GORAKHPUR: The 80 families of Charpurwa village near Fatima hospital under Shapur police station of the district, who were reportedly converted to Christianity, re-embraced Hinduism with full Vedic rituals in the presence of BJP MP Yogi Adiyanath, representatives of the Hindu Jagaran Manch and Arya Samaj men here on Friday.
(...)

He told The Times of India News Service that he had asked the district administration to lodge a complaint against the principal and management of Opac Mission School, Basaratpur, who were instrumental in religious conversion. He alleged that poor Hindus were converted a few months back to Christianity, ''some by force and others by temptation''.
[...more...]


=== Catholicism

3. California Technology Company sues Religious Cult
Autodisc Incorporated, Jan. 5, 2001 (Company Press Release)
http://www.autodiscinc.comOff-site Link

A California Based technology firm Autodisc Inc. has filed a lawsuit in the California Superior Court in Santa Clara County against the Medjugorje MIR Center, a religious cult whose followers believe in the appearance of an apparition of the Virgin Mary allegedly witnessed by six teenagers in Bosnia in 1981.

The suit alleges that Marcia Smith, a cult leader, and other associates from the Medjugorje MIR Center enticed and wrongfully influenced employees of Autodisc Inc. after the company refused to make large donations.

The suit alleges the group forged documents and worked to turn employees and relatives against Autodisc Inc. President, Philip Kronzer, resulting in serious financial and personal losses.

Kronzer has since dedicated himself to exposing the fraudulent and criminal activities associated with this group after suffering economically and losing his wife of 39 years to the cult.

''My mission is to let the world know about this group and it's damaging effects, so that others will not have to suffer the losses I have incurred,'' said Kronzer.

Attorneys for Autodisc Inc. have indicated that this suit is the first of many that will expose the corruption associated with Medjugorje worldwide.

''This is the biggest religious fraud since Jim and Tammy Faye Baker'' said Jon Levy, attorney for Autodisc. ''The tentacles of Medjugorje reach into money laundering, gun running and support of Croatian Neo-Nazis.''

For more on the Autodisc lawsuit visit http://www.autodiscinc.comOff-site Link

[...entire item...]


4. Philip Kronzer and his fight against Medjugorje: A Brief Summary
Autodisck Incorporated, Jan. 5, 2001 (Company Press Release)
http://www.autodiscinc.com/jan5-2.htmlOff-site Link

Philip Kronzer, a successful California businessman and devout Catholic, has dedicated himself to de-bunking the religious cult that has destroyed his business and personal life.

Kronzer has spent over 4 years and more than $500,000 investigating the authenticity of Medjugorje, a city of religious phenomenon in Bosnia which he asserts destroyed his business and 39 year marriage. He is confident his ex-wife and other family members continue to be manipulated by the cult primarily due to their wealth.

Through his efforts, Kronzer continues to uncover a trail of lies, deceit, and sensationalism that Medjugorje supporters use to perpetuate this hoax for personal profit and leaving countless victims behind.

What is Medjugorje?

Medjugorje is located in eastern Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and was an economically depressed farming community until June 24, 1981 when six Catholic children claimed to have seen and spoken to an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a hillside.

As a result of this sighting, Medjugorje is now a thriving tourist attraction known as ''Miracle City'' and draws hundreds of thousands of people from around the world each year. A town once with a population of 500, now boasts more than 15,000 hotel beds, restaurants providing international and domestic specialties, souvenir shops, travel and traffic agencies, and professional guides speaking all international languages.

A number of the original children, now adults, have become wealthy due to their alleged encounter with the Virgin Mary. To date, over 30,000 messages have supposedly been given to these six seers on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

In addition, there are now an estimated 3000 Medjugorje centers throughout the United States which promote and facilitate pilgrimages.

The Message

Medjugorje is now the most controversial Catholic shrine in the world today. The Vatican has never endorsed it and many Bishops, including the local Bishop in Mostar, Bosnia have condemned the phenomenon.

Kronzer as well as many others have fallen victim to the repercussions of groups affiliated with Medjugorje. Critics conclude these groups have a pattern of deceitfully recruiting members, in effect brainwashig them and draining their financial resources.

''I have spoken with a number of good people who have experienced loss due to Medjugorje and now I have made it my mission to let the world know about this group and it's damaging effects, so that others will not have to suffer the losses I have incurred,'' said Kronzer.

Kronzer has filed a lawsuit against the Medjugorje MIR Center of which his ex-wife is a member and is working to establish a victims network to provide resources to others who have incurred undue suffering as the result of the religious cults of Medjugorje.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Philip Kronzer, email pr@autodiscinc.com.
[...entire item...]


5. Obituary of The Rev Slavko Barbaric : Champion of controversial seers who reported apparitions at Medjugorje
The Daily Telegraph (England), Dec. 29, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

The Reverend Slavko Barbaric, who has died aged 54, acted as spiritual director to six young people who said that they had seen visions of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje in Bosnia.

The events at the town of Medjugorje have attracted controversy for more than 20 years. The six visionaries claim to have seen hundreds of apparitions of Mary since June 1981. For three of the visionaries these apparitions continue every day; the other three now see apparitions less often. Wherever they are in the world, they talk with Mary and receive a ''message of peace''.
(...)

Barbaric, a Franciscan, became involved in the events at Medjugorje in 1983, when Bishop Zanic of Mostar, the local diocese, wanted to discover if the visions were authentic. He asked Barbaric, a trained psychotherapist, to investigate. After many interviews with the visionaries and lengthy investigations, Barbaric came to believe in the visions himself. Although he said he could not be certain of their authenticity, he stressed that there were many positive signs of faith in Medjugorje.
(...)

Once he had become convinced of the value of the message of Medjugorje, Barbaric travelled widely to spread it. He visited Britain frequently, in particular the pilgrim centres of Aylesford in Kent and Walsingham in Norfolk. When not travelling, he wrote a series of spiritual books, mostly on the value of praying with the heart as well as the head. They sold millions of copies. He also wrote regular commentaries on the Medjugorje website.
(...)

Support for the visionaries of Medjugorje and the activity of pilgrims were opposed by successive bishops of the diocese of Mostar. Both Bishop Zanic, who died this year, and the current bishop, the Rt Rev Ratko Peric, identified Barbaric as the priest responsible for spreading the Medjugorje message.

For Barbaric this was a dilemma that caused him much anguish: he wished to obey the bishop, but felt a duty to spread messages that he believed came from the Virgin Mary.
(...)

On the last day of his life Barbaric led about 70 parishioners up the rough stone path of the Hill of the Cross. On his return from the top he prayed aloud, asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary for a happy death. He turned and blessed the crowd with him, and a few seconds later, stumbled and lay down on the rock. He was found to be dead.
[...more...]


6. Seeking a Promotion for the Virgin Mary
New York Times, Dec. 23, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/Off-site Link

The world of today is in desperate need of a mother,'' whispered Prof. Mark Miravalle as he sat behind his desk at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, carefully fingering a string of rosary beads.

Half a world away, inside the Vatican, yet another enormous box arrived filled with petitions asking Pope John Paul II to exercise his absolute power to proclaim a new and highly debated dogma: that the Virgin Mary is a co-redeemer with Jesus and cooperates fully with her son in the redemption of mankind.

Mr. Miravalle, 41, began the petition drive four years ago from his obscure position as a professor of Mariology - the study of Mary - at one of the most conservative Catholic universities in the nation. Since then the pope has received more than six million signatures from 148 countries on petitions asking him to give the Virgin Mary the ultimate promotion.

In addition to ordinary Catholics, Mr. Miravalle has received support from 550 bishops and 42 cardinals, including Cardinal John O'Connor and Mother Teresa before their deaths. Along the way his movement has laid bare a deep-seated conflict between wildly popular devotion to the Virgin Mary and the efforts of the established church to keep that devotion in check.

If Mr. Miravalle's campaign succeeds and John Paul II proclaims the Virgin Mary as a co-redeemer, she would be a vastly more powerful figure, something close to a fourth member of the Holy Trinity and the primary female face through which Christians experience the divine. Specifically, Roman Catholics would be required to accept three new spiritual truths: that Mary is co-redemptrix, as the pope terms it, and participates in people's redemption; that Mary is mediatrix and has the power to grant all graces; and that Mary is ''the advocate for the people of God,'' in Mr. Miravalle's words, and has the authority to influence God's judgments. For the millions of Virgin Mary devotees who have signed Mr. Miravalle's petitions, these beliefs are already woven into their daily spiritual lives. They represent what theologians call popular piety, practices that are widely accepted by ordinary religious people over the learned objections of the establishment. Indeed, the idea has been present in Catholicism at least as far back as the 14th century. There is also historic precedent for petition campaigns like Mr. Miravalle's. Two other Marian dogmas - the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, which declared that Mary was taken up, body and soul, to heaven after her death, and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of 1854, which established that Mary was preserved from original sin - were both preceded by floods of petitions. Yet within the Vatican, the dogma that Mr. Miravalle advocates has touched off a private battle.

Although it has the support of at least 12 cardinals in Rome, others fear that its acceptance would cause a major schism among Catholics and set back efforts at ecumenism. Because the dogma would be an infallible proclamation by the pope, it would also provoke renewed debate over the role of the pope's power in modern society.

''It seems to put her on an equal footing with Christ,'' said Father John Roten, director of the International Marian Library in Dayton, giving the primary argument for opposition. ''That just won't do.'' The Rev. René Laurentin, a French monk and a top Mary scholar, agrees. Father Laurentin said that the proposed dogma would be the equivalent of launching ''bombs'' at the Protestants and would widen the breach between the Vatican and the Eastern Orthodox church. ''Mary is the model of our faith, but she is not divine,'' he wrote in a faxed statement. ''There is no mediation or co-redemption except in Christ. He alone is God.''

Pope John Paul II has made no secret of his devotion to Mary. ''Totus tuus'' (which in Latin means ''totally yours'') is his motto, in which he dedicates his papacy to her.
(...)

Responding by e-mail in Italian, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, spokesman for the Vatican, said, ''There is no proclamation of a new dogma on the Madonna under study either by the Holy Father or by the International Theological Commission.'' His statement repeated one issued by the Vatican in 1997.
(...)

In 1997 23 of the world's leading Mary scholars, Catholic and Protestant, met in Poland and voted unanimously against the proposed change in dogma. An underlying reason, again, was concern that it would be construed as making Mary equal to Jesus.
(...)

Leaders of other denominations oppose it for other reasons as well. It gives the Virgin Mary far more power than most of them are willing to grant, and it is a reminder that to Catholics the pope is all-powerful.
(...)

Some liberal Protestants have long argued that the Catholic Church has used the symbol of Mary to restrict opportunities for women and as a way of instilling women's obedience to the teachings of the church.
(...)

Mr. Miravalle said he was unfazed by such objections. In some ways, the idea of the mother as hero and savior has been the defining theme of his life.
(...)

The two married in 1981, and Mr. Miravalle continued his theological studies in Rome. In 1984, shortly after the birth of their first son, they went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a small mountain village populated by Croats in Bosnia that is revered by many Catholics as a site where the Virgin Mary appears each evening to a small group of visionaries.

Mr. Miravalle's visit was the beginning of his emergence as a leader in the popular Marian movement. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the messages that the Virgin Mary is said to have given the Bosnian children who first saw her. Devotees of the site recount that she told the children that she opposed abortion, birth control, the ordination of women and Communism. To Mr. Miravalle, the cornerstones of her messages are prayer, penance and fasting.
(...)

Since 1984 Mr. Miravalle has published five books on Mary. Inserted at the back of each are postcards that readers can detach and send to the pope to relay their support for the proposed dogma. He also puts out an international monthly news bulletin, sponsors conferences on the subject and regularly appears on Mother Angelica's television program, which reaches more than 55 million homes.
[...more...]


7. Apparitions of the Madonna at Oliveto Citra: Local Visions and Cosmic Drama
Church History, Dec. 1, 2000 (Book Review)
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

Apparitions of the Madonna at Oliveto Citra: Local Visions and Cosmic Drama. By Paolo Apolito. Translated by William A. Christian Jr. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. xii + 267 pp. $49.50 cloth.

The iconography of Marian apparitions is familiar: a girl or a group of children kneel before a woman who floats above the ground. The children's identity as the seers is signaled by their upturned faces, the woman's as that which is seen by her place in the vector of their gaze. Contemporary scholarship on Marian apparitions revises this image. To render the Madonna's appearances at Oliveto Citra, a village two hours south of Naples, as Paolo Apolito understands them, there would be hundreds of people standing together in the piazza, shouting and gesturing at the sky, arguing about what they are seeing and weeping and teasing each other; others are telephoning the parish priest to check the Madonna's schedule. Meanwhile, the Madonna herself is constantly shifting shape-sometimes appearing as a woman, other times as a scent or a shadow in the clouds; in some horrific visions, the woman has animal feet or a tail, identifying her as demonic. The old diptych-seers/ seen-dissolves into multiplicity.

Apolito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Salerno, began his field work in Oliveto Citra soon after the first apparitions in May 1985.
(...)

Religion scholars once ignored Marian apparitions as a subject for serious research, but no more. Apolito's study belongs to an established tradition of scholarship that includes the work of Sandra Zimdars-Swartz (Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991]); historians William A. Christian Jr. (Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981] and Visionaries: The Spanish Republic and the Reign of Christ [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996]), David Blackbourn (Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Germany [New York: Knopf, 1993]), and Ruth Harris (Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age [New York: Viking, 1999]); and sociologist Michael P Carroll (The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986]) and many others. Most share a concern with the social fields on which Marian apparitions arise, although Carroll's psychoanalytic approach sets him apart from the others. Apolito's contribution is the close attention he pays to the practices of presence, the media by which the Madonna becomes-and stays-really there.

Apolito shows that central to making the Madonna present was the shift among local people from asking whether the boys had really seen anything to trying to figure out what they had seen. Crucial to this latter process was the installation of the Queen of the Castle Committee, the official voice of ecclesiastical authority in the locality, because its efforts authoritatively to monitor visionary material sanctioned the reality that something was being seen. This, in turn, released people's imaginations: once whether became what, Oliveto Citra became a space of intense imaginative activity and ''each individual testimony contributed to the phenomenology of the presence'' (102).
[...more...]


=== Mormonism

8. MediaNews Replaces Tribune Officers
The Associated Press, Jan. 3, 2001
http://www.localbusiness.com/Off-site Link

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Two top managers of The Salt Lake Tribune who serve on the board that oversees the paper's joint operating agreement have been replaced by officials with MediaNews Group Inc., which bought the paper for $200 million.

MediaNews chief executive officer W. Dean Singleton and chief financial officer Jody Lodovic will immediately replace Tribune publisher Dominic Welch and chief operating officer Randy Frisch on the board, Lodovic said Wednesday. MediaNews completed the purchase of the Tribune from AT&T on Tuesday.

The Newspaper Agency Corp. board runs the shared facilities of the Tribune and the rival Deseret News under a joint operating agreement. The two papers have combined printing, advertising and circulation departments but maintain separate newsrooms.
(...)

Management of the NAC has long been a point of contention between the 135,000-circulation Tribune and officials at the afternoon Deseret News, who claim Welch and Frisch have blocked them from moving to morning publication.

Singleton has said he would let the News go mornings. The 65,000-circulation paper, which is owned by the Mormon church, is expected to make the switch by September.
[...more...]


9. Utah questions Census numbers
UPI, Jan. 4, 2001
http://www.vny.com/Off-site Link

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Officials in Utah are exploring ways to alter how the Census Bureau counts Americans residing overseas after the release of the figures from Census 2000, according to a report in Utah's Deseret News. The reason: Not counting Mormon missionaries overseas may have cost the state an additional seat in Congress.
(...)

The News reports that ''if Utah's 14,000 residents serving (Mormon) missions abroad had been counted, Utah would easily have gained a fourth seat.''
(...)

According to a Census Bureau spokesman, religious workers are considered expatriate Americans, overseas by choice. For Census purposes, they are considered equivalent to Americans working for oil companies in the Middle East or banking firms in Asia. They were not sent there by the U.S. government and therefore have no government administrative records to show that they are indeed there.

The policy of not counting religious missionaries overseas in the Census may impact Utah most significantly, but other states are also affected. Those include states where Southern Baptist Convention churches -- which also post a large number of religious missionaries overseas -- are a significant presence.
[...more...]


=== Jehovah's Witnesses

10. Marshall elder resigns over policy; church disagrees with claim
Paducah Sun, Jan. 5, 2001
http://www.paducahsun.com/Off-site Link
[Note: the full text of this article is available to subscribers of the Paducah Sun only. Unauthorized copies of the full article have been posted to several newsgroups and web sites, but in keeping with copyright laws, RNR/Apologetics Index will only provide this fair use quote]

DRAFFENVILLE, Ky. --An elder in a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation at Draffenville has resigned his leadership position because of a policy he claims ''has harmed thousands, is leaving many unprotected, and provides refuge to outright criminals.''

The elder, William Bowen, resigned last week from his position as an elder and presiding overseer, the rough equivalent to a pastor in other Protestant denominations. In doing so he cited the church's policy regarding the reporting of suspected child abusers to law enforcement authorities. Bowen said the policy, which requires accusers to report alleged abuse to church elders rather than to legal authorities, lets ''literally thousands'' of pedophiles go unpunished.
(...)

A spokesman at the church's headquarters in New York said there is no prohibition or discouragement in going to legal authorities in the event of child abuse.
[...more...]
[Note: the full text of this article is available to subscribers of the Paducah Sun only. Unauthorized copies of the full article have been posted to several newsgroups and web sites, but in keeping with copyright laws, RNR/Apologetics Index will only provide this fair use quote]


=== Other News

11. Art Bell to return to radio show
The Associated Press, Jan. 5, 2001
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link

(Las Vegas-AP) -- The radio talk show host made famous for his conversations about all things unexplained says he will return to radio.

Art Bell announced today he will again host ``Coast to Coast A-M'' beginning February fifth.
(...)

Bell resigned last April from the show he created in 1993.

He said then he left because of ongoing torment his family has suffered since his son was kidnapped and raped in 1997 by a substitute teacher. He also said he left because he was falsely accused of being a child molester.

Bell says his family and legal issues have been resolved.
[...more...]


12. China Planning Own Internet
Los Angeles Times, Jan. 6, 2001
http://www.latimes.com/wires/20010106/tCB00V0550.htmlOff-site Link

BEIJING--China is moving ahead with plans to build its ''very own information superhighway,'' a second-generation Internet-like network designed for China's government and industry, the government's Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.
(...)

''In the new century, the Chinese people will build our very own information superhighway,'' the Xinhua report declared. ''The current one by itself has too many faults and is incapable of satisfying the needs of the Chinese government and companies as they enter the digital age.''
(...)

The report didn't say if foreigners would be allowed to use the new system. It also didn't say how compatible C-Net will be with the existing Internet or future international systems.

Analysts have warned that China may try to build a ''Great Fire Wall'' in cyberspace, cutting itself off from the rest of the world to shield its citizens from information deemed subversive.
[...more...]


=== Noted

13 Elderly suicides: the religious divide
The Guardian (England), Jan. 4, 2001
http://www.societyguardian.co.uk/Off-site Link

[...More trends...]
Elderly people in Catholic and Orthodox countries are more likely to commit suicide than those in secular and Protestant countries, according to new research.

The findings completely overturn popular images of happy, long-lived Italians and isolated, lonely British pensioners.

The unexpected results are a tribute to UK health and social services, said Colin Pritchard, of Southampton University, who argues that suicide among the over-75s is a sign of neglect and isolation.

He suggested the extended family still does provide a support system in Latin countries. ''But if you don't have children or you are unmarried then you are worse off than in Britain,'' he added.

Despite a strong prohibition of suicide by the Catholic church, elderly suicide rates are higher in Italy, Spain and Portugal than in the UK or Scandinavia. An exception is Ireland, which has a very low rate but where researchers believe suicides are under-reported to spare relatives shame. But Orthodox Greece also has a lower rate than England and Wales.

The study by Professor Pritchard and Dr David Baldwin, published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, shows the five highest elderly male suicide rates per million were Hungary at 1785, Slovenia at 1225, Austria at 1168, Bulgaria at 1125 and the Russian Federation at 1093. The countries with the lowest elderly male rates were New Zealand at 250, England and Wales at 163, Greece at 143, Ireland at 139, and Scotland at 135.

Prof Pritchard said: ''Our findings were completely unexpected. Suicide amongst elderly people is usually associated with ill health, social isolation and exclusion. With elderly people in Catholic and Orthodox countries tending to hold more traditional views on the family and religion, we might have assumed that this would be reflected in lower suicide rates, not higher.
[...more...]


14. Falling Far Short of a Tithe
Los Angeles Times, Jan. 6, 2001
http://www.latimes.com/Off-site Link

[...More trends...]
When the offering plate is passed, America's churches are collecting more dollars than ever, but a new study has found a disturbing trend.

While real-dollar growth over the past 30 years has been impressive, churchgoers are tightening their purse strings.

Measured as a percentage of disposable income, both mainline Protestants and evangelicals gave less in 1998 than they did in 1968. The picture was even grimmer for 10 mainline Protestant denominations and the Southern Baptist Convention, which were examined in more detail. Their percentage of giving in 1998 was lower than it had been even in 1933 during the darkest days of the Depression.

Equally disturbing, most of the money churches are raising is being spent on salaries, in-house programs and building maintenance. The percentage left over for programs for those on the outside--such as soup kitchens, evangelism and missions--is shrinking by the year.

''Leadership in the church is committed to institutional maintenance and is abandoning church members to an agenda of a consumer lifestyle. Leaders are not helping members integrate their faith with their money,'' according to Sylvia Ronsvalle, who co-wrote the study with her husband, John L. Ronsvalle. ''As a consequence, the church is being perceived increasingly as irrelevant,'' she said.

The report warned that if the trend continues, congregations will be spending ''little to nothing on others by the middle of this century.''
[...more...]


15. Pastor's Lesson Inspires Good Deeds
The Associated Press, Jan. 1, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/Off-site Link

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. (AP) - By any measure, Lisa Panzica was struggling.

After fleeing an abusive relationship and a home-invasion robbery, she lived day to day to make ends meet - to pay rent, provide food for her children, attend college night classes.

Across town, Terry Zwick had few worries, living in a comfortable, spacious home in one of Orange County's most affluent communities.

Their lives intersected after Zwick was given money by her pastor and told to do a good deed.
(...)

Zwick was one of 100 people selected from the Coast Hills Community Church by the Rev. Denny Bellesi to participate in a living biblical lesson.

``I wanted to teach this principle of stewardship,'' Bellesi said. ``I wanted to leave an impression they would never forget.''

In November, the pastor gave out $100 bills - a total of $10,000 from his church's general funds - with the instruction that recipients go forward and do good. He was partly inspired by the recent movie ``Pay It Forward,'' about a child's efforts to change the world with good deeds.

``I told them it had to be invested outside the church. It had to be glorifying to God and it had to be benefiting to others,'' he said.

What began with 100 people has since involved hundreds of people. Their actions include small acts of kindness - such as helping a family get on their feet - to the large - funding construction of a church in Asia.
[...more...]


16. Seeing a Liturgical Loophole, Minister Defies a Ban on Same-Sex Unions
The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/Off-site Link

CHICAGO, Jan. 1 - A United Methodist minister who was suspended in 1999 for blessing the union of two gay men has returned to his North Side church and is once again celebrating same-sex unions.

This time, though, he has found a way for his Broadway United Methodist Church community to hold the service without breaking the laws of the parent church.

The minister, the Rev. Greg Dell, had his church homecoming in July after a yearlong suspension, the first under a 1996 church law that forbids pastors to officiate at same-sex unions and bans the ceremony from occurring on church grounds. Now, Mr. Dell says, he has found a loophole in the rule.

Mr. Dell's new church policy on same-sex unions slips through the ''order and discipline'' law by changing the who and where of the ceremony. What his church has done, Mr. Dell said, is simple.

''We hold the ceremony away from church grounds, and I don't preside over the union,'' he said. ''That's all it is.''
(...)

The new policy, introduced by the Broadway church in September, is the latest in a series of alternative actions taken by Mr. Dell and other ministers across the country in an effort to allow same-sex unions within the confines of the United Methodist Church, the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination after the Southern Baptist Convention.

The United Methodist Church has 8.5 million members and maintains a wide spectrum of ideologies. There has recently been a surge in the number of Methodist congregations opposing the ban on same-sex unions.

This opposition is part of a movement by religious organizations across the country to recognize and administer faith services to gay and lesbian parishioners.
(...)

In Mr. Dell's view, the union is a covenant blessed by God, not by the minister. Following this interpretation, vows are shared between the couple and God, and the minister and the community are mere observers and celebrants of the union.
(...)

Although no formal complaints have been brought against his church, Mr. Dell admits that the policy may be challenged in the future - that future being the next General Conference in 2004.
[...more...]


=== Books

17. Digging for the Historical Truths of the Bible
http://www.latimes.com/Off-site Link

THE BIBLE UNEARTHEDOff-site Link: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts; By Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman; The Free Press; $26, 386 pages
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A brutally honest assessment of what archeology can and cannot tell us about the historical accuracy of the Bible is presented with both authority and panache in ''The Bible Unearthed'' by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. Deftly summarizing several thousand years of history, and drawing on the very latest findings of archeologists at work in the Near East, they cast the Bible in a sharp new light.

''By the end of the 20th century, archeology had shown that there were simply too many material correspondences between the finds . . . and the world described in the Bible to suggest that the Bible was late and fanciful priestly literature,'' argue Finkelstein and Silberman. ''But at the same time, there were too many contradictions between archeological finds and biblical narratives to suggest that the Bible provided a precise description of what actually occurred.''

In fact, the authors go considerably further than the measured words quoted here might suggest. Based on the findings of modern archeology, they say, ''the most famous stories of the Bible did not happen.'' The biblical narratives about the Patriarchs, Joseph, Moses and the events of the Exodus are ''powerful literary achievements,'' but they are not history. Archeology proved decisively that the battle of Jericho as reported in the Bible ''was, to put it simply, a romantic mirage.'' Indeed, the core of the Hebrew Bible was first composed only in the 7th century BC, they insist, and thus ''is a product of the hopes, fears and ambitions of the kingdom of Judah.''
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''The Bible Unearthed'' does not ignore the spiritual dimension of the Bible. Indeed, the authors acknowledge that the Bible has always served ''as the main source of identity and spiritual anchor for the people of Israel as they faced the many disasters, religious challenges and political twists of fate that lay ahead.'' But Finkelstein and Silberman embrace, above all, the spirit of modern archeology, which insists on approaching the Bible as an artifact to be studied and evaluated rather than a work of divine inspiration that must be embraced as a matter of true belief.
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» For a different viewpoint on Biblical archeology, see this siteOff-site Link

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