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Religion News Report

Religion News Report - February 20, 2001 (Vol. 5, Issue 327) - 2/3

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» Continued from Part 1

=== Mormonism
12. Church Moves To Adjust Use Of Its Name

=== Paganism / Witchcraft
13. Web site puts face on pagans

=== Hate Groups
14. Germany Creates Police Units

=== Other News
15. Bush's Call to Church Groups Attracts the Untraditional
16. Seized Indianapolis church holds service
17. In the name of the Father

» Part 3 === Alternative Medicine / Healing
18. Report Damning Ancient Indian Medicine Draws Ire
19. Ayurveda not unscientific, aver city experts
20. Data conflicts on acupuncture's effectiveness

=== Noted
21. Ministers get hip to lure young

=== The Tax Scare Around The Corner
22. Tax numbers spark devil of a row in Church

=== Mormonism

12. Church Moves To Adjust Use Of Its Name
The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 20, 2001
http://www.sltrib.com/Off-site Link

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to jettison its best-known nicknames -- the Mormon church and LDS Church -- in favor of one that leaders believe more accurately reflects its spiritual identity.

So they want the longer name used first, then simply The Church of Jesus Christ on second reference.

''We haven't adopted a new name of the church,'' Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles was quoted as saying in Monday's New York Times. ''We have adopted a shorthand reference to the church that we think is more accurate.''

Oaks was out of town and unavailable for comment on Monday, but LDS spokesman Michael Otterson in Salt Lake City said the Times account ''is an accurate reflection of the interview.''

The church will not discourage the use of the term ''Mormon'' to define church members, Oaks told The Times, nor seek to change venerable names such as The Book of Mormon, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Mormon Trail.

The church does want to emphasize the faith's Christian underpinnings, particularly with the thousands of journalists who will cover Utah's 2002 Winter Olympics, and to give its members and missionaries a better label to use with non-Mormons and potential converts, the newspaper reported.

The change also makes sense in terms of the church's ''brand-name marketing,'' said Kenneth Foster, associate vice president of university relations for communication at the University of Utah.

A name, he said, should do three things: tell who you are, be easy to remember and conjure up some kind of emotion or image.

''When you say 'LDS,' a lot of people don't know what that is, and the term 'Mormon' has a lot of myths surrounding it,'' said Foster, a Mormon.

The church has taken great pains to dispel the notion that Mormons are not Christian and to emphasize that the church discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890.

But the name change is ''not simply an attempt to thwart the critics. It is getting back to the core of the church,'' said Jan Shipps, an Indiana historian and expert on the history of Mormonism.

The original name of the church, which Joseph Smith founded in New York in 1830, was the Church of Christ. Over the next eight years, however, the name evolved.
The term ''saints'' came in response to the terms ''Mormonite'' or ''Mormons'' used by Smith's opponents. In 1834, the name changed to The Church of the Latter-day Saints, and by 1838 it had become The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Leaders in the 11-million member church long have worried about the nicknames ''Mormon'' and ''LDS'' because they do not suggest the centrality of Jesus Christ in the church's theology. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, sees Mormonism as ''counterfeit Christianity.'' The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church are more nuanced in their approach, but both have spelled out in careful detail the differences between what they call ''historic Christianity'' and Mormonism.
Theologically, The Mormon Church is a cult of Christianity. It does not represent historical, biblical Christianity in any way. Mormons can therefore not be considered Christians (followers of Christ), and there is no such thing as a ''Mormon Christian.''

Just like attaching a Roll Royce logo to a Volkswagen does not make the latter a Rolls Royce, using the name of Jesus Christ does not make Mormonism ''Christian.'' Suggesting the Mormon Jesus is ''Christian'' is, in fact, as dishonest as selling a counterfeit watch as a ''Rolex.''

=== Paganism / Witchcraft

13. Web site puts face on pagans
St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 20, 2001
http://www.sptimes.com/Off-site Link

DADE CITY -- When Mike Rodgers heard about a Port Richey couple who ran into resistance trying to build a retreat for their ancient pagan religions, he knew just how they felt.

As a lifelong follower of such religions, Rodgers said he knows the isolation someone who follows a lesser-known path can feel in a country dominated by much larger religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

So he helps publish an Internet magazine from Dade City that strives to unite pagans and spread understanding.

Reading last month about the case of New Port Richey residents Dottye Anderson and Jim Blake, who ran into opposition while trying to build a retreat called Dragon Star Grove, Rodgers said he was glad he was doing something to bring together followers of an often misunderstood religion.

Anderson and Blake said their east Pasco project is moving along, now that some confusion with the county's permit office have been cleared up. They both are open about their religion, and Anderson is a published author on the subject. But they both said they applaud the role some Web sites provide for those uncomfortable with going public.

''Most of them seem to offer some good information,'' Anderson said. ''Either information, or a good way for people to get in touch with each other.''

The couple said they have been in touch with Rodgers and discussed doing an online interview with his magazine. They also are supporters of another pagan Web site, Clearwater-based The Witches' Voice (www.witchvox.comOff-site Link ) which boasts 1.6-million ''hits'' this year and includes an extensive collection of person-to-person ads for practitioners looking to meet others with the same beliefs. Four of the ads are for Dade City residents; another two are from Zephyrhills.

The editors of Ancient Heritage Magazine, at www.ancient-heritage-magazine.comOff-site Link, define a broad mission on their opening page.

''Embracing the spirit of Paganism, the e-zine offers various sections such as but not limited to parenting, rituals, poetry, politics, art, and crafts,'' the welcome reads. ''Ancient Heritage Magazine is dedicated to exploring the many paths and aspects of Paganism, including Wicca, Druidism, Strega, Native Spirituality, Celtic Spirituality, Shamanism, and countless others.''

''It's basically a family magazine that is published by pagans,'' Rodgers said.

=== Hate Groups

14. Germany Creates Police Units
AP, Feb. 20, 2001
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link

FORST, Germany (AP) - Plagued by a sharp rise in hate crimes, Germany is forming special federal police units to counter neo-Nazis and is considering a program to turn skinheads into informers.

Germany's top law enforcement official on Monday visited a federal police station in eastern Brandenburg state with one of the new teams. The government is paying $1.9 million to fund 80 additional officers for the eastern border region, the largest of several such units recently put in place across the country.

''We hope to rattle the extreme-right scene in this area,'' Interior Minister Otto Schily said, adding that he's talking with other states to broaden the program.

Earlier this month, Schily said the number of hate attacks rose dramatically to 13,753 crimes between January 2000 and November, an increase of 45 percent from the year before.

The new federal police units won't take over regular patrols handled by state police but will help combat neo-Nazis in their normal area of responsibility - in train stations and at borders. The officers will also be available to help in special cases if local police need it.

Along with the new officers, Schily also said he was in discussions about a ''dropout program'' for neo-Nazis allowing them to leave skinhead gangs and possibly get leniency in exchange for helping authorities.

State authorities reported 553 far-right attacks on foreigners between and January of last year and November, including killings, bodily injury and firebombings - 156 more than during the same period in 1999.

=== Other News

15. Bush's Call to Church Groups Attracts the Untraditional
New York Times, Feb. 20, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/Off-site Link

(...) For almost 20 years, Hare Krishna devotees in Philadelphia have received millions of dollars in government contracts to run a network of services, including a shelter for homeless veterans, transitional homes for recovering addicts and this halfway house for parolees.

The unusual collaboration between government agencies and a religious group that depicts God as a baby-faced boy with blue skin offers a glimpse of the challenges ahead for President Bush's initiative to expand government support for social service programs run by religious organizations.

Mr. Bush's new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives officially opens for business on Feb. 20. The president says religious programs will be judged not on their beliefs but on the results of their work.

''We do not impose any religion,'' Mr. Bush said at a prayer breakfast on Feb. 1. ''We welcome all religion.''

The president's assertion may be questioned in the coming days. While established charitable programs, like those run by Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, are expected to have little trouble winning further government support, it is the smaller programs run by less traditional faiths that are likely to test the president's promise to avoid discriminating on the basis of belief, and the public's acceptance of his approach. Devoting government money to selected religious programs also runs the risk of sparking conflict. Already, one group has tried to prevent another from being allowed to participate.

Mr. Bush signed the executive orders establishing his initiative flanked by a score of Christian ministers, two Jewish leaders and a Muslim imam, and hailed the event as a ''picture of the strength and diversity'' of the country. But if the religious portrait of the nation were a great stained-glass window, those leaders would represent only a few large pieces of glass.

Now, members of a wide variety of religious groups, some once considered far outside the mainstream, are busy preparing proposals for government financing to support the kinds of programs that Mr. Bush has said he will make his focus: literacy, sexual abstinence and substance abuse. The Church of Scientology plans to seek support for its drug rehabilitation and literacy programs. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon's church, now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification U.S.A., plans to promote its abstinence programs in the schools.

''You will see us deeply involved in any area where we can partner in practical projects with government,'' said the Rev. Phillip D. Schanker, the Unification Church's vice president for public affairs, who had on his desk a copy of a magazine he had just subscribed to about government contracting opportunities.

And Krishna leaders, who have centers in 40 American cities, have been phoning David D. Dobson, executive director of the Philadelphia programs for the Hare Krishnas - a Hindu sect often stigmatized in this country but well established in India - to discuss how to follow his example and become government contractors.

Mr. Bush's effort could provoke new questions about what constitutes a legitimate religion. One definition of religion likely to be applied grows out of the Supreme Court's ruling in a 1965 case involving draft exemptions. In that case, the court defined religion as ''a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption.'' By any measure, the definition is broad.

''One of the big issues that people haven't talked about much is that some very controversial religions could get active in this,'' said Philip Jenkins, the author of ''Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History''(Oxford University Press, 2000), and a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University.

''Running a faith-based program raises the question, what faiths are out of bounds?'' Mr. Jenkins said. ''Either you fund all faith groups, even groups you radically don't like, or you fund none. I have nothing against funding everybody, but I think people need to be prepared for the issues that might arise. How do you distinguish between a Methodist and a Moonie? The answer is, you can't.''

There are a few clues so far to how the Bush administration will look on proposals from less traditional religious groups.

In an interview with The New York Times during the campaign, Mr. Bush was asked if, for example, he would approve of government financing for a Church of Scientology antidrug program. He answered: ''I have a problem with the teachings of Scientology being viewed on the same par as Judaism or Christianity. That just happens to be a personal point of view. But I am interested in results. I am not focused on the process.''

For its part, the Church of Scientology, founded as Dianetics in the 1950's by the science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, claims it can document the effectiveness of its literacy programs and its drug and prisoner rehabilitation programs, Narconon and Criminon. In Oklahoma, the church receives state money to treat drug addicts at Narconon Chilocco, a Scientology rehabilitation center, said Kurt Weiland, director of the Church of Scientology International.

The White House Office on Faith- Based and Community Initiatives has already come under pressure from one religious group to deny government contracts to another. In recent weeks, the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish group, has lobbied behind the scenes for assurances that the administration will not enter into partnerships with the Nation of Islam, whose leader, Louis Farrakhan, has a history of anti- Semitic statements.
The U.S. government has a long history of helping cults gain legitimacy - and is known for pressuring foreign governments on behalf of such extremist groups as the Scientology organization.

16. Seized Indianapolis church holds service
Associated Press, Feb. 19, 2001
http://chicagotribune.com/Off-site Link

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Baptist Temple held its first Sunday service since the church's seizure last week by federal marshals.

More than 600 people gathered Sunday morning in the auditorium of nearby Manual High School on the city's south side. The crowd filled about two-thirds of the auditorium.

The service drew many of the out-of-town supporters who participated in the 92-day vigil before Tuesday's seizure.

Rev. Greg J. Dixon, the church's founding pastor, said about 200 to 300 people more than usual attended the service led by his son, the church's current pastor.

17. In the name of the Father
The Independent (England), Feb. 20, 2001
http://www.independent.co.uk/Off-site Link

There's trouble in deepest Essex. The Brentwood and Ongar Tory party is in turmoil. There's talk of a bizarre bishop, a strange sect and an embattled MP. Now Martin Bell is riding in on his white charger, and even Frank Bruno is involved. What on earth is going on?

There's not much chance of slipping in quietly at the back at the Peniel Pentecostal Church. At the door, the little man in a suit giving out leaflets spotted me right away. ''Is this your first time?'' he asked. Within seconds I was in the hands of a smiling chap called Ian, whom I later found from the church's Expect a Miracle video, had once apparently been cured of acid reflux by the church's charismatic leader, Bishop Michael Reid.

''Music and Miracles'' - every Sunday - is the church's motto, though it has to be said the Advertising Standards Authority has taken rather a dim view in the past of its claims of physical healing for which the church could not produce scientific proof. But at least the church has now deleted from its video the references to the cure of a little boy who subsequently died of the leukaemia from which Mr Reid claimed to have healed him.

Ian was all smiles. He kept smiling until his mother-in-law came up and asked where the shopping was. ''She keeps asking the same question over and over. She's got Alzheimer's,'' he explained. Evidently the Bishop is not so good with Alzheimer's.

Ian gave me a welcome pack and a questionnaire to fill in. ''It's just so we can keep in touch and send you details of what's going on here. Don't worry, we won't use it to get money out of you,'' he joshed.

That was a relief. Peniel is the church where the Bishop is also director of several financial services companies that sell insurance policies to the congregation. One of the faithful has finally had enough and issued a High Court writ claiming the church owes her £160,000. She alleges a process of domination, public humiliation, threats, intimidation and the practice of refusing her contact with her parents.

If you think that makes the Peniel a controversial kind of church, then just wait until you get past the First Reading. There is also a writ pending that alleges brutal corporal punishment of children. The church admits it did smack children with a ''paddle'', up until ''the time there was a government directive which made it illegal'', but it strongly disputes the extent to which it was used.

Then there are the libel cases. One against the local paper, the Essex Courier, ended with it having to publish a front-page apology for comparing Peniel to the cults at Waco, whose members died in a shoot-out with the FBI. Another libel suit was settled out of court in London yesterday with a local Tory Councillor, Tony Galbraith, having to issue a similar public acknowledgement that the Peniel leaders were not ''so dangerous and extreme as to represent a real threat to the lives even of innocent members of the public''. Even so, Councillor Galbraith afterwards insisted that he was not withdrawing his claims that Peniel was a bizarre sect whose members infiltrated the local Conservative association and installed themselves in key posts.

Indeed, the third libel action is between the Peniel Tories and the Tory party officials they expelled as soon as they arrived Their disputed claims and counter-claims are at the centre of the move to invite Martin Bell - the sleaze-busting independent MP who ousted the disgraced Tory minister Neil Hamilton at the last election - to turn his attention to the constituency of Brentwood and Ongar, home to the church.

Yet in a place where pastors have been accused of manipulative psychology there is something unsettling about hearing a congregation told they must set aside the logic of their own minds and place themselves in the hands of God - especially when God's word is interpreted by a figure as darkly authoritarian as Michael Reid who preaches that health and wealth will come to those who truly commit themselves to the itinerant pauper who was Christ.

Certainly Mr Reid can point to himself as a striking role model of this gospel of prosperity.

These finance companies, according to Peniel's official spokeswoman Anne Brown, were ''founded years and years ago prior to Bishop Reid becoming a full-time minister''. Moreover, she said, ''he hasn't sold insurance for 20 plus years''. Some members of the congregation did buy policies through his companies but ''there is no duress and the company is never promoted within the realm of the church''.

And yet, at least one of the companies, Baynes Roland, was only incorporated in 1993 and has an ad in the latest issue of the church's Trumpet Call magazine.

Caroline Green claims that she and her husband ended up paying out £2,500 a month just before she quit. (They were high earners; Jesus may have been keen on the poor but Peniel tends to go for the wealthy). Along with their 13 insurance policies and mortgages, they were expected to tithe a tenth of their gross income to the church, and pay fees to the Peniel school, as well as working for the church unpaid. On top of that were ''love offerings'' for special items. When she protested that they could not cope, she says church leaders told her that she was a spendthrift.

Yet the whole business might have remained an internal matter until the day that 119 of Peniel's members joined the local Conservative Party and brought Bishop Reid's extremist views into the public arena. Among these were publicly-expressed positions that gypsies should be exterminated, that the unemployed should be allowed to starve, that homosexuals are ''filthy perverts'', that Muslims are ''vile heathens'', and that the European Union is a papist plot.

» Part 3