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Flashes of Episcopal Schism Heating Up
 
BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                            © 2006 Religion News Service
 
ith multiple dioceses and churches laying the groundwork to break away from the Episcopal Church, flashes of a full-blown schism within the 2.2 million-member church are heating up.
 
Just this week, three U.S. dioceses that are disappointed with the church's newly elected presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, separately asked to be put under the oversight of a foreign primate.
 
The three dioceses -- Pittsburgh, South Carolina and San Joaquin, Calif.--join the Diocese of Fort Worth, which made the same request on June 19, the morning after Jefferts Schori's election as presiding bishop.
 
San Joaquin and Fort Worth are two of three dioceses in the Episcopal Church that do not allow the ordination of women. The third diocese is Quincy, Ill.
 
All five dioceses are part of the conservative Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network, a group of 10 dioceses and about 800 parishes formed after the consecration of an openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire in 2003.
 
Robinson's consecration angered conservatives in the 77-million member worldwide Anglican Communion and in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism. Many "orthodox" Anglicans and Episcopalians in the communion's 38 geographic provinces consider homosexuality sinful.
 
In addition, three large Episcopal parishes -- The Falls Church and Truro Church in Virginia, and Christ Church in Plano, Texas--have indicated that they may soon leave the Episcopal Church.
 
The Washington Times reported on June 29 that the two Virginia parishes have left the denomination. Both churches later said those reports were premature, but said they will soon begin deliberations on their future in the Episcopal Church.
 
"We think an extended period of study, prayer and deliberation about how we are to respond to the serious rift in our denomination is wise, and we are hoping to engage in such a time this fall," the Falls Church said in a statement.
 
Together, Sunday attendance at the three parishes surpasses the entire membership of the Diocese of Nevada, where Jefferts Schori has been a bishop since 2001.
 
Meanwhile, in an unusual move, a conservative American priest, the Rev. Martyn Minns, was named a bishop on June 28 by the Anglican province of Nigeria. Minns--pastor of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia--will oversee the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which includes about 20 churches with many Nigerian immigrants.
 
Minns has been a close ally of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has likened Robinson's consecration to a "Satanic attack upon God's church." Minns said he was "truly humbled" and said a search committee would look for his successor. In a statement, Minns said "no decision has been made about our future plans" and the church has not completed its "discernment process."
 
All of this comes amid a proposal from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader to the world's Anglicans, for a two-tiered membership policy for the Anglican Communion. Those national churches that sign a covenant affirming Anglicanism's traditional stance on homosexuality could be full members of the Communion, while other churches would be relegated to "associate" status, Williams suggested on June 27.
 
 
NCC, Rights Group Hail Supreme Court Ruling
on
Guantanamo Detainees
 
BY DAVID E. ANDERSON                                                                            © 2006 Religion News Service

The National Council of Churches says the June 29 Supreme Court ruling barring the use of military commissions to try detainees held at Guantanamo Bay is "a reasoned affirmation of what people of faith have been trying to communicate to the White House for years."
 
"Any effort to deny the rule of law to accused individuals, no matter how grievous the charges, is a denial of the most fundamental expression of American democratic ideals," the ecumenical agency said in a statement issued after the court's ruling.
 
The court, on a 5-3 vote, repudiated the Bush administration's plan to put 10 of the approximately 450 detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility on trial before military commission.
 
Justices said such commissions--which would have sharply reduced rights available to the defendants, including the right to be present at his trial and to know all the evidence against him--were unauthorized by federal statute and also violated international law.
 
In addition to the NCC, the Council on American-Islamic Relations also hailed the ruling.
 
Corey Saylor, government affairs director for the Washington-based group, called the ruling "a victory for the rule of law that will help to improve our nation's deteriorating image worldwide."
 
In its statement, the NCC--which has been in the forefront of those arguing for closing the much-criticized facility and treating those captured within the bounds of international law--noted that other presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt had ignored democratic ideals in order to do what they believed would protect the country. "Neither action has been upheld by the verdict of history or by the U.S. Constitution, and neither will the Bush  administration's unconstitutional decisions in Guantanamo," the NCC statement said.
 
"Now that the highest court in the land has ruled, we call on the Bush administration to take prompt action to restore the rule of law to Guantanamo and everywhere else it has been undermined in the often dubious justification of fighting terrorism."
 
The ruling, which barred the Bush administration from using military commissions to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a driver for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, was called a major setback for the administration's expansive view that the president has virtually unlimited powers in fighting the war on terrorism.
 
President Bush, however, said he will work with Congress in an effort to devise legislation that would allow the revamped commission to try the suspects and still withstand constitutional muster.
 
 
Up in the Heavens, Astronauts Get Prayers From Below
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                         © 2006 Religion News Service
 
When the Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on Independence Day, some of its astronauts had already been lifted in prayer by their congregations. In fact, one Houston-area church simultaneously has two members in space.
 
"It's unreal," said Pastor John Kieschnick of his Lutheran church that includes a Discovery flight crew member and an astronaut on the International Space Station. "We were just taken aback by that."
 
Meanwhile, an African Methodist Episcopal Church recently recruited local clergy for a special service to pray for its astronaut member, praying for specific space-related issues, from foam to favorable weather.
 
As astronauts literally reach for the stars, their clergy report that they continue to hang onto their faith. The space travelers are sent off with special ceremonies from the worshippers they leave behind. And while their churchgoing activities may be limited during training and time in orbit, sometimes they can keep in touch using e-mail and even cell phones.
 
Kieschnick, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Nassau Bay, Texas, received a recent call just before a wedding ceremony from Jeff Williams, who is currently on a six-month mission at the space station with a Russian cosmonaut. "It was five minutes before the service began and Jeff called me on my cell phone," Kieschnick said. "He sent prayers from the International Space station for the couple."
 
Kieschnick has also kept in touch with his far-flung parishioner via e-mail, and the church has sent Communion wafers and wine up to Williams aboard a Russian resupply spacecraft. "There's special little Communion kits that can be sent," the pastor said. "We set that aside when we celebrate here so it's an extension of the altar of our congregation."
 
NASA public affairs officer Doug Peterson said astronauts who spend a long time in space often times will "practice their religion in space just as they would on Earth."
 
 
Survey Finds Deep Divide in Western-Muslim Perceptions
 
BY J. EDWARD MENDEZ                                                               © 2006 Religion News Service
 
Westerners associate fanaticism with Muslims, Muslims associate selfishness with Westerners, and both groups associate violence and arrogance with the other, according to the latest report of The Pew Global Attitudes Project.
 
The report, entitled "The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims view each other," surveyed 14,000 people in 13 Western and Muslim countries face-to-face and over the phone.
 
"This was a bad year for Muslim and Western relations," said project director Andrew Kohut, referring to riots over cartoon portrayals of Muhammad, a major terrorist attack in London, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
The report said the rift between the West and Muslims peaked earlier this year when a cartoon depicting Muhammad was published in a Danish newspaper and then across Europe. More than 60 percent of the Americans, French and Germans surveyed said Muslim intolerance is to blame for the controversy of cartoons, while more than 80 percent of the Jordanians, Egyptians, Indonesians and Turks surveyed said Western disrespect is to blame.
 
There is also a chasm between how both view the other's treatment of women. More than 59 percent of non-Muslims surveyed in Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany and Spain said Muslims are not respectful of women. More than half of Muslims surveyed in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Pakistan said the same thing about Westerners. Muslims surveyed in Western countries generally held that Westerners are respectful of women.
 
The study drew criticism from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, vice president of CLAL, a Jewish think tank in New York and a veteran of Muslim-Jewish relations. "This kind of study may actually perpetuate the problem by focusing the attentions of each community on the other, and reinforcing their already growing sense of us vs. them," he said. "It perpetuates the capacity to examine others in the absence of any self-reflection."
 


 
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