The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Methodist Commission Moves Toward
joint commission representing the predominantly White United Methodist Church and several smaller Black Methodist churches has voted to seek an official declaration of "full communion."
The Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation & Union adopted a resolution at its November 15-17 meeting in Chicago that will be presented at the major meetings of their member denominations over the next few years. The commission also wants a shorter name: "Pan-Methodist Commission."
"I think it is a significant step," said the Rev. Daryll H. Coleman, a representative of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church who has served on the commission for almost 12 years. "It allows us to make a visible witness of the cooperation that we even now already practice and express."
Coleman's denomination and two other historically Black denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, have been longtime members of the commission, along with the United Methodist Church.
Two other predominantly Black religious bodies, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, have recently begun participating in the commission meetings.
Coleman said "full communion" includes recognition of the ordination of ministers in each other's denominations and sharing of sacraments such as baptism and the Eucharist.
"I think that each of the African-American denominations are very intentional in terms of us desiring to work towards cooperative unity," Coleman said. "We're not looking at organic union."
Court Rejects Iowa Faith-based Prison Program
An Iowa prisoner rehabilitation program run by evangelicals over steps church-state boundaries and should not receive government funds, a federal appeals court decided on December 3.
InnerChange Freedom Initiative runs a program "dominated by Bible
study, Christian classes, religious revivals, and church services," ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
"The direct aid to InnerChange violated the Establishment clauses of the United States and Iowa constitutions," the court decided.
The prison program, which is affiliated with prominent evangelical Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministry, received state funds from Iowa beginning in 2000. Part of that money should be returned to the state, the court ruled. The appeals' court ruling partially upholds a lower court decision from last June. The two courts differed on how much money should be returned.
While participation in the program was voluntary, those who signed up got better cells, were allowed more visits from family members, and had greater access to computers than other inmates, the court found.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which brought the suit against the prison program, said "government officials have no business paying for religious indoctrination and awarding special treatment and benefits to those willing to embrace one religious perspective."
Lutherans Issue Election Guidelines for Churches
North America’s largest Lutheran denomination has issued election-year guidelines for congregations and outlined seven issues, from hunger to health care, that reflect the church's emphasis on social justice
The guide, "Called to be a Public Church," from the 5 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), suggests ways for churches to participate in the political process without endangering their tax-exempt status.
But unlike the "Faithful Citizenship" guidelines recently issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Lutheran guidelines generally refrain from addressing specific issues such as abortion. Instead, the document highlights broad topics churches and parishioners could consider.
"This church understands government as a means through which God can work to preserve creation and build a more peaceful and just social order in a sinful world," Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson writes in introducing the 76-page document.
Hanson said the guidelines are meant to help steer--but not dictate--discussions in local churches. The document is careful to note that "all of the suggested activities ... are nonpartisan and do not encourage the promotion of any one party or candidate for public office."
After reviewing basic Internal Revenue Service guidelines for tax-exempt churches, the guide suggests churches participate in poll monitoring or candidate forums. It says direct contributions, endorsements or get-out-the-vote efforts with particular candidates or parties are prohibited.
The guide also offers background materials from the ELCA's Washington office on domestic hunger, housing, healthcare, global poverty and hunger, global warming, immigration, and peace.
Slim Plurality of Anglicans Say Episcopalians Met Demands
A slim plurality of national churches in the Anglican Communion has given the Episcopal Church passing marks for pledging in September to stop ordaining gay bishops and authorizing rites for same-sex unions.
Ten of the 38 Anglican provinces, however, say they are not assured that the American church has halted its support for homosexuality, which they condemn as unbiblical.
The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the global Anglican Communion, has been under intense pressure from Anglican archbishops in the so-called Global South to roll back its pro-gay policies or face a reduced role in the communion.
Episcopal bishops in September clarified an earlier pledge and stated explicitly that they will "exercise restraint" before
consecrating another gay bishop; they also pledged not to authorize rites for same-sex blessings, though some acknowledged such blessings occur in their dioceses.
A joint standing committee appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in October that Episcopalians had "clarified all outstanding questions" on the matter and given the needed assurances. Williams then solicited the opinions of the 38 provinces, or national churches.
Twelve Anglican provinces agreed with the joint standing committee, according to a report issued by Williams last week. Ten provinces disagreed; 12 provinces did not reply; three offered a mixed response and one province said it would reply after further consultation.