Presbyterians Face Defection
to Evangelical Denomination
network of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations has one foot out the door after voting en masse to build a new bridge with the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The New Wineskins Association of Churches says it's tired of battling the PCUSA over theology and policy and has found a better fit in the EPC, a small denomination founded in 1981.
"It's huge," said the Rev. Gerrit Dawson, a co-moderator of New Wineskins. "For years, conservative churches in the PCUSA have talked about what we should be doing ... and at last a concrete step has been offered." It's still unclear how many Presbyterians will be taking that step.
At a New Wineskins convention February 9 in Orlando, Flordia, 130 churches voted unanimously to set up a "transitional" presbytery, or governing body, with the EPC, Dawson said. But only a third of New Wineskins' 150-odd "endorsing" churches is ready to leave the PCUSA immediately, said the Rev. Dean Weaver, the other co-moderator of New Wineskins.
The "curtain opening" on the new presbytery could come as soon as October 29, Weaver said.
Founded in 1981, the EPC is based outside Detroit in Livonia, Michigan, and has about 180 congregations and 75,000 members. The Louisville, Kentucky-based PCUSA has 2.3 million members in 11,000 churches. Because the two denominations are in communion with each other, it may be easier for PCUSA congregations to switch to the EPC and avoid costly battles over who owns the property.
At the Orlando meeting, about 500 New Wineskins Presbyterians gathered to discuss two "faithful options." One is to remain in the PCUSA and swim against the church's progressive tide. The other is to join a yet-to-be-created presbytery within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Under that plan, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church will vote at its assembly in June to create a non-geographic presbytery to house New Wineskins churches for five years. New Wineskins parishes will be self-governing -- allowed to ordain and dismiss pastors and retain ownership of their property. They would have five years to join the EPC or go their own way.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church's stated clerk, the Rev. Jeff Jeremiah, was not available for comment. But Weaver said he's certain the EPC supports the move.
Commission Denies Press Reports
of Moving Anglicans Under the Pope
An Anglican-Catholic commission has warned that doctrinal disputes within the Anglican Communion are an obstacle to unity between the two churches.
An upcoming report by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission lays out areas of doctrinal agreement and disagreement between the two churches and outlines ways to continue ecumenical dialogue.
But, contrary to reports in the British press, officials said the report does not lay out a plan for Anglicans to unite under the pope. The commission said "talk of plans to reunite the two communions is, sadly, much exaggerated."
The commission chairmen--a Catholic archbishop from Australia and an Anglican bishop from South Africa, rejected press speculation that Catholic leaders might view disputes within the Anglican Church as an opportunity to draw conservative Anglicans closer to Rome.
The document, "Growing Together in Unity and Mission," was leaked to the Times of London on February 19. Final copies of the report are expected in April, and early versions were distributed to Anglican leaders meeting in Tanzania to discuss ongoing divisions over human sexuality.
The report acknowledges disagreement among Anglicans over those issues and the ordination of women priests. It says the "present context" of dispute would make it premature to issue a formal Anglican-Catholic statement of shared beliefs, which was the goal set by Anglican and Catholic bishops who launched the commission in 2000.
In their rebuttal to the Times report, the commission's co-chairmen said the Vatican's ecumenical office "has consistently spoken of the value of the Anglican Communion remaining a Communion."
U.S. Attorney General unveils 'First Freedom Project'
at SBC Executive Committee meeting
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales met with Southern Baptist leaders February 20 to unveil a new Department of Justice initiative aimed at educating Americans about their religious liberties and to ask for the Southern Baptist Convention’s help in identifying and reporting abuses of those liberties.
Gonzales, in an address to SBC Executive Committee members during their Tuesday afternoon session, noted that he is charged by the president with “protecting and preserving not only the safety and security of all Americans, but also their rights, liberties, and freedoms.”
“One of our most cherished freedoms, one we’ve sacrificed greatly to defend, is our religious liberty,” the attorney general said at the SBC Building in Nashville, Tennessee. “Nothing defines us more as a nation and differentiates us more from the extremists who are our enemies than our respect for religious freedom. Our great country was founded on these principles, and many of us today believe it continues to thrive because of, not despite, them.”
The Department of Justice released February 20 a “Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001-2006,” which describes the importance of religious freedom historically in America and the role assigned to the justice department. The report also summarizes the department’s accomplishments during the Bush administration to protect religious liberty through the enforcement of civil rights laws.
Among the cases included in the report is one defending the right of senior adults to pray, sing religious songs, and hold Bible studies at a community senior center. Other areas of enforcement results include education, employment, housing and lending discrimination, public accommodations and public facilities, land use, rights of institutionalized persons, crimes against persons and property based on religion, and religious liberty in the courts of appeals.
“We’ve launched scores of investigations involving religious discrimination in education and housing, a sharp and marked increase in the justice department’s enforcement of these important federal protections,” Gonzales said. “We have fought to maintain and make clear the crucial distinction between improper government speech endorsing religion and constitutionally protected private speech endorsing religion."
Study Finds U.S. Jewish Population Higher Than Expected
American Jewish population is 20 percent higher than previously reported, according to a new study released by the Brandeis University Steinhardt Social Research Institute.
The institute estimated there are 6 million to 6.4 million Jews living in the United States, along with another million people with Jewish ancestry, by analyzing survey data collected by a range of government, academic and private foundations.
This report disputes the 2000-'01 National Jewish Population Study, which reported only 5.2 million American Jews. The telephone-based survey had underestimated non-Orthodox Jews and those under age 55, the new study concludes.
A larger American Jewish population means that a lower percentage currently attends religious schools or participates in cultural activities like birthright Israel, which offers free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26. The survey can encourage such programs to reach out to a more diverse population, said Michael Steinhardt, a philanthropist who endowed SSRI and funds other Jewish programs.
"The good news, however, is that we can use this new information to reinvigorate our efforts towards causing a renaissance in Jewish life," he said. "Speaking for myself, I've heard the clarion call, and I'm excited to get to it."