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“Adhering to the Biblical teaching that makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships, the Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that sexual intimacy belongs only with the marital relationship of a man and a woman. Adventists also believe that by God's grace and through the encouragement of the community of faith, an individual may live in harmony with the principles of God's Word. Church members endeavor to follow the instruction and example of Jesus, who affirmed the dignity of all human beings and reached out compassionately to persons and families suffering the consequences of sin. As a service to our readers, the Adventist Review periodically includes on this website items generated by Religion News Service that highlight the different approaches to homosexuality and homosexual relationships adopted in some other denominations.” --- Editors

Dissident Lutherans Seek a New Reformation?

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                                ©2009 Religion News Service

he dilemma for conservatives in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America could be summed up in the familiar refrain from The Clash's punk-rock tune: "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The answer seems to be: Yes--and no.
 
Many conservatives are deeply unhappy that the ELCA, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, voted in August to lift its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy. The 4.8 million-member church also voted to allow congregations to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships."
 
Conservatives say the ELCA's confessions--or statements of faith-- clearly call for fidelity to Scripture, which clearly condemns homosexuality.
 
So, a conservative network of clergy and lay Lutherans are making plans to "reconfigure" Lutheranism in North America.
 
The leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) are not encouraging fellow believers to bolt from the ELCA for a more conservative denomination, but neither do they want to remain part of one that has "fallen into heresy," they say.
 
Thus, on September 25, 26, CORE members were to lay plans for a "free-standing synod" that would include current members of the ELCA along with others that have exited, or plan to exit, from the denomination. "There are lots of congregations that are going to leave, lots of traditionalist congregations that are going to stay, and lots that have already left," said Ryan Schwarz of Washington, a member of CORE's steering committee. "We want to create a churchly structure that gathers all those categories."
 
About 1,200 people have registered for CORE's summit in Indianapolis, according to organizers. The guest list grew so large, in fact, that the venue was changed from a Lutheran church to a bigger Roman Catholic parish nearby.
 
"It is wonderfully ironic that Lutherans who started 500 years ago as a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church would now return to a Catholic church to re-form themselves," said CORE's director, the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pennsylvania.
 
Summit participants were expected to draft bylaws for their new organization, develop fiscal plans and begin reaching out to other "compatible" denominations.
 
The free-standing synod, should the idea be accepted, would hire and train its own clergy, redirect donations from ELCA headquarters to CORE, plant churches and support missionaries, Chavez said. Some members will disassociate from their local (geographic) synods and stop participating in the ELCA's biennial assemblies. But others who are part of conservative synods that are not expected to hire gay and lesbian clergy may choose to remain part of the ELCA, he added.
 
Chavez compared the proposed free-standing synod to a Venn diagram in which two circles intersect and partly overlap. In this case, the two circles are CORE and the ELCA, with plenty of Lutherans in the overlap who are members of both.
 

Huntsville Pastor to Lead National Baptists

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                      ©2009 Religion News Service
 
An Alabama pastor was elected president of the National Baptist Convention, USA on September 10, overwhelmingly defeating the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, the denomination's former leader who was sent to prison for fraud. The Rev. Julius R. Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, won the presidency during the denomination's annual meeting in Memphis, Tennessee.
 
Lyons, who now leads a church in Florida, received just 924 of the more than 5,000 votes cast.
 
Scruggs has led the Huntsville church for more than 32 years, and has served as the vice president-at-large of the predominantly Black denomination. He succeeds the Rev. William J. Shaw, who served two five-year terms.
 
Lyons resigned from the denomination’s presidency in 1999 after being convicted of swindling millions from corporations wanting to market products to church members. He was released from prison in 2003.
 
The Rev. Riggins Earl, an ethics professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said the overwhelming vote demonstrated that members wanted to put the Lyons' controversy behind them. "It means that the leadership of the churches of this convention as well as the members, lay members of the convention, are ...unequivocally clear that they want leadership of integrity," said Earl, who attended the meeting in Memphis and voted for Scruggs. "They have spoken loudly that they want that."
 
The Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of African-American studies at Colby College in Maine and an assistant pastor of a Massachusetts church with ties to the NBCUSA, said the vote indicates a desire for leaders who don't prompt questions. "It looks like people are ready for new leadership and an opportunity to move forward and to really, I hope, build on what Dr. Shaw has done," said Gilkes, who did not attend the meeting. "At this time, I think it's really important that our leadership in our religious life be forward-looking and be ready to basically be in a position that's unassailable."
 
The Rev. Joseph Wright, a Florida pastor who supported Lyons, said he considered the outcome to be a "divine right" and was not disappointed with the outcome. "I'm hoping that now that this is over, we'll start mending some bridges and start establishing a new direction for the convention and begin a healing process," said Wright, pastor of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida.
 
In the days before the election, Lyons sought a temporary restraining order to halt the process because he thought it was unfair. But a federal court denied that request and the election was held as scheduled.
 
 
S.C. Supreme Court Rules for Breakaway Episcopal Parish

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                    ©2009 Religion News Service
 
A South Carolina parish that split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 can keep its church property, the state's Supreme Court has ruled, handing a rare legal victory to conservative dissidents.
 
A majority of members of All Saints Church at Pawley's Island voted to secede from the Episcopal Church five years ago, after an openly gay man was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire.
 
The Episcopal Church maintains that congregations hold their property in trust for the denomination; if they decide to leave, the property stays with the diocese and the national church, Episcopal leaders argue.
 
Applying "neutral principles," South Carolina's Supreme Court ruled on Friday (Sept. 18) that All Saints, which dates to the early 18th century, had secured ownership to the property in 1902, well before the Episcopal Church instituted its trust rules in 1979.
 
In 2004, a majority of All Saints members voted to remove references to the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina and explicitly "severed any legal relationship with those organizations," wrote the state's Supreme Court. The parish is now part of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church of Rwanda.
 
"It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another," the court said in its ruling. The diocese did not have any legal interest in the congregation's property at the time legal documents were filed with civil authorities, the court decided.
 
Other state courts, including those in New York, California and Colorado, have sided with the Episcopal Church in recent decisions over property rights.
 
Still, courts seem to be moving away from a deferential approach to church property disputes, meaning they do not always defer to internal church rules, said Robert Tuttle, a church-state expert at the George Washington University Law School.
 
"At the macro level, that's the shift," he said. "Because courts just don't like the idea of having to ignore the specific claims of the parties, and saying `if you're part of this church, that's the story."'
 

Coalition Seeks Repeal on Federal Grant Rules

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                ©2009 Religion News Service

Dozens of legal and religious groups have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to rescind a Bush-era memorandum they believe wrongly permitted a religious charity to receive federal grant money despite its policy of hiring only Christians.
 
Organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Anti-Defamation League told Holder in a September 17 letter that the 2007 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) misinterpreted the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
 
At issue is whether religious groups that receive federal grants are exempt from federal nondiscrimination employment law, or whether groups that make hiring decisions on faith should be eligible to receive federal funding at all.
 
"The OLC wrongly asserts that RFRA is `reasonably construed' to require that a federal agency categorically exempt a religious organization from an explicit federal nondiscrimination provision tied to a grant program," reads the letter signed by 58 organizations.
 
The memo specifically referred to a $1.5 million grant for a gang reduction program of the Christian relief organization World Vision.
 
In their letter, the organizations said the "overly-broad and questionable interpretation of RFRA has been cited by other federal agencies and extended to other programs and grants."
 
The groups asked for a review by the Obama administration and a withdrawal of the memo. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
"The Bush administration twisted federal law to buttress its misguided policies and allow religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded 'faith-based' programs," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It's time for the Obama administration to correct this error."
  
 



 
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