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
Church of England Inches
Toward Women Bishops
espite considerable opposition, the Church of England on February 11 voted to begin the long process of introducing legislation to allow women bishops.
The legislation, approved by the church's General Synod, includes complicated provisions to ensure that opponents of female bishops do not find themselves under a woman's jurisdiction. The protections would be included in a code of practice drafted by the church's House of Bishops.
The vote to move toward women bishops was 281 to 114, with 13 abstentions. The strength of the opposition suggests that when the legislation comes back for final approval sometime after 2010, it may fail to obtain the two-thirds majorities needed among bishops, clergy and laity.
Opposition came not only from those on the Church's Catholic and evangelical wings but also from supporters of women bishops like Bishop Stephen Venner of Dover, who felt the provisions to accommodate opponents would be cumbersome and unworkable. Bishop Graham James of Norwich said the legislation would lead to a damaged and fractured episcopate and voted against the proposal in hopes that "God will show us a better way."
However, the head of the church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, was surprised that the church had been able to move so far "toward something that just might command a common mind."
Williams said the only remaining question was whether the divisions represent "a narrow but very, very deep gulf" or "a gap between, as it were, two hands stretching to meet ..."
In other business, the Synod voted overwhelmingly to prohibit clergy from belonging to the far-right British National Party....the ban, which also applies to seminarians and church spokesmen, passed easily 322 to 13, with 20 abstentions.
Last year, a list of 12,000 names of BNP members, including five clergy, appeared on the Internet. None of the five clergy was an active Anglican priest. In reaction to the vote, BNP leader Nick Griffin accused the church of being led by clerical Marxists and bishops born in Uganda (Archbishop John Sentamu of York) and Pakistan (Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester).
Assemblies of God Official Steps Down, Citing Misconduct
The general secretary of the Assemblies of God has resigned after admitting to ethical misconduct, the denomination announced on February 13.The resignation of John M. Palmer, who served in the position since November 2007, was immediate.
General Superintendent George O. Wood, the denomination's chief executive officer, said Palmer "confessed to a one-time incident that involved ethical misconduct and an inappropriate interaction with a woman that did not involve any physical intimacy," reported the church's News and Information Service.
The general secretary maintains information about the denomination's ministers and churches, oversees the chartering of churches and credentialing of ministers and keeps official statistics about the Pentecostal religious organization based in Springfield, Missouri.
In a statement, Wood said he was "deeply saddened" about "this failure" and asked for prayers for Palmer and his family.
"John has had a sterling record in the Assemblies of God as a church planter, pastor, and national leader," said Wood. "This failure on his part is an aberration from a lifetime of faithful service to the Lord, his family and our fellowship."
Wood expressed hopes that, after a "period of rehabilitation yet to be determined," Palmer would be able to return to ministry. The executive presbyters, who serve as the board of directors for the denomination, are expected to appoint an interim replacement for Palmer to serve until the General Council, the major biennial meeting of the Assemblies of God, in August.
Prison Ministry Sues For Access to Inmates
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections' refusal to allow a Christian ministry access to send Bibles, books about Jesus Christ and other religious materials to inmates has sparked a federal lawsuit.
Wingspread Christian Ministries, based in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and operated by Illinois-based Evangelists for Christ Inc., filed the lawsuit February 11 in U.S. District Court in Muskogee. Prison restrictions on prisoners' correspondence violate the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma's Religious Freedom Act, the 12-page lawsuit petition claims.
"Restricting Wingspread's freedom of speech and religion is not only harmful to our constitutional rights, it is also very harmful to those within prison walls in need of spiritual sustenance," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based civil liberties organization, which represents the plaintiffs.
Neville Massie, executive assistant to Oklahoma Corrections Director Justin Jones, said the department would not comment on pending litigation.
Wingspread sends similar religious materials to prisoners in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, New York, and Texas but "has not encountered restrictions upon and impediments to its ministry similar to those encountered in Oklahoma," the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, Oklahoma prison regulations mandate that "all orders for publications will be made directly to the publisher of the material or to a legitimate bookstore."
The regulation does not allow a ministry to send Bibles or other religious materials; only a publisher, bookstore or book dealer may do so, according to the plaintiffs. Wingspread said it also has tried to send money orders worth $15 to $20 to indigent or mentally ill prisoners during the Christmas season, only to have them returned by prison officials. The ministry said it also was informed that while individuals could write letters to inmates, ministries could not.
"Because Wingspread's ministry involves personal communication with prisoners and building a personal relationship with the prisoner, correspondence through the mail is crucial to the pursuit and success of this ministry," plaintiffs' attorney Joseph Clark wrote in the petition.
Pope Condemns Holocaust Denial as `Unacceptable'
In his first meeting with Jewish leaders since his controversial readmission of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Pope Benedict XVI on February 12 condemned the "denial or minimization" of the Holocaust as "intolerable and altogether unacceptable."
Benedict also told U.S. Jewish leaders that the Catholic Church "is profoundly and irrevocably committed" to good relations with Jews, and he confirmed for the first time that he is planning a visit to Israel. The long-scheduled Vatican meeting took place more than three weeks after Benedict lifted the 1988 excommunications of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), in an effort to reconcile with the schismatic group.
Jewish organizations were outraged after one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, recently told Swedish television that no more than 300,000 Jews "perished in Nazi concentration camps ... not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber."
In an apparent response to the controversy, Benedict on January 28 condemned the Nazi genocide of "millions of Jews" and called for the Holocaust to be a "warning against forgetfulness, denial or reductionism."
But the pope went further, stating that "it is beyond question that any denial or minimization of this terrible crime is intolerable and altogether unacceptable."
Benedict also repeated the words of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who on a visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall in 2000 asked "forgiveness" for injustices done to the Jewish people in history. "I now make (John Paul's) prayer my own," Benedict said.
At a press conference after Thursday's meeting, Jewish leader voiced satisfaction with the pope's remarks. "We came a long way," said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who hosted Benedict at New York's Park East Synagogue during the pope's U.S. tour last April. "We traveled to share our pain, to share our disbelief, but we are leaving with renewed hope of stronger bonds between Catholics and Jews."