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
Virginia Judge Sides With
Breakaway Episcopal Churches
Civil War-era law that lets Virginia churches keep their property when leaving a denomination where a "division" has occurred is constitutional, a county judge ruled on June 27, siding with 11 former Episcopal parishes.
Fairfax County Judge Randy I. Bellows' ruling on the 1867 law stops short of awarding the property to the parishes, but it hands them a major legal win. "It's a resounding victory and very broad," said Steffen Johnson, lead counsel for several of the congregations. "There are just a few loose ends to tie up."
The ruling could encourage the dozens of Episcopal parishes in similar court battles across the U.S., and shake the confidence of mainline Protestant denominations that fear losing churches and people to breakaway groups.
An October trial is scheduled to decide the remaining legal issues, which concern church deeds and property that predate the 1867 law. The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia argued that the law infringes on their First Amendment rights to practice religion without government interference. The diocese signaled that it may appeal the ruling, saying Friday it would "explore fully every option available to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia."
The 1867 law allows churches that are part of a denomination in "division" to keep their property when they decide which side to join. In a 49-page ruling, Bellows wrote, "While it is true that (the law) requires the court to make factual findings involving religious entities, each of those findings are secular in nature."
Bellows ruled in April that a "division of the first magnitude" has arisen in the worldwide Anglican Communion and its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church.
Angered over the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, the breakaway churches--including several large, historic parishes--have joined the more conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria. Episcopal leaders hold that local church property is held in trust for the diocese and the denomination. People may leave, they say, but the steeple stays.
The diocese of Virginia called the ruling "regrettable" and said it "reaches beyond the Episcopal Church to all hierarchical churches in the Commonwealth."
Seven Protestant denominations, some of which are experiencing similar controversies, and several regional church bodies, filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Episcopal Church's interpretation of the law.
Anglican Head Rebuffs Challenge to His Authority
The archbishop of Canterbury said conservatives' plans to usurp his leadership in the Anglican Communion are "problematic in all sorts of ways," saying Anglicans must renew--not dismiss-–their frayed connections.
Archbishop Rowan Williams responded on (Monday) June 30 to a Jerusalem summit of more than 1,000 conservatives who announced plans on Sunday to create a new council of top archbishops to oversee like mined Anglicans. In a direct challenge to both Williams and traditional geographic lines of authority, the conservatives also plan to build a new North American province for Anglicans upset with the liberal sway of their national churches. "It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the communion," Williams said. "If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than improvise solutions."
The head of the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, also criticized the conservative declaration on Monday. "This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism," she said, "merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers."
The conservatives' challenge comes just weeks before the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting in England of some 600 Anglican bishops from around the world. Dozens of bishops, however, are boycotting Lambeth to protest Williams' leadership in divisive debates over homosexuality and biblical authority.
Several conservatives said their proposed council is a direct challenge to Williams. As head of the Church of England, the archbishop of Canterbury is traditionally considered "first among equals" by fellow bishops, and membership in the communion is granted by his recognition. But more than 1,000 conservative Anglicans said Sunday that "we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury."
"Frankly, this is an admission that (Williams') leadership has failed," said Bishop Martyn Minns, a Virginia-based conservative appointed by the Church of Nigeria.
Williams fired back, saying that a self-appointed council of archbishops "will not pass the test of legitimacy in the communion." Moreover, he asked, "by what authority are primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council?"
Rather than wait for Lambeth, many conservative Anglicans instead attended the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem, which concluded Sunday. Organizers said GAFCON drew about 1,000 delegates--including 280 bishops--claiming to 35 million Anglicans in 29 countries.
As the world's third largest Christian body, the Anglican Communion counts about 77 million members.
Bibles to be Available at China Olympics
Despite controversy earlier this year, thousands of Bibles and Gospel booklets will be distributed to athletes and visitors at this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing--with the approval of the Chinese government.
The British-based Bible Society said the organization's 180 affiliated branches around the world are jointly funding the project in a country whose Communist government once confiscated all Bibles during the turbulent Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.
James Catford, the Bible Society's chief executive, said in a statement: "This great sporting event presents a unique opportunity to make the life-changing message of the Bible available to thousands of athletes and visitors from all over China -- and all over the world."
The Bible Society said some 50,000 booklets with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John published in Chinese and English will be available at the Athletes' Village in Beijing and five other Olympic cities.
In addition, some 10,000 complete Bibles and 30,000 copies of the New Testament in Chinese and English also will be printed by the China-based Amity Printing Press for the 16,000 athletes and an estimated 2 million visitors expected for the games that open Aug. 8.
The Bible Society conceded that as late as earlier this year, there was controversy "over whether the Chinese authorities would allow Bibles" but said the project now "has the approval of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee."
Peter Meadows, the Bible Society's director of communications and giving, told journalists that the Chinese government "is quite happy to do things--as long as it's done in the right way. It was about building a good relationship and taking it slowly, so they know we're not about to bring the government down."