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American Baptists to Put Headquarters
Building on the Market
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                    ©2006 Religious News Service
 
eaders of the American Baptist Churches USA have decided to put their headquarters building in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on the market, the denomination announced.

The Mission Center property, built in 1962, currently houses Baptist offices in less than half of its space. "Much energy and resources go into keeping the building leased and lessees satisfied," the Rev. A. Roy Medley, the denomination's general secretary, told the General Board. "We are not in the rental business, but the business of mission."

The board voted November 14 nearly unanimously--72 in favor and one abstaining--on the action. It would be dependent on a buyer permitting American Baptist officials and their tenants to have three to five years to find new office space.

The three-story circular building has unique architecture that earned it the nickname "Baptist bagel" within the 1.5 million-member denomination.

The General Board Executive Committee had recommended placing the building on the market after extensive study. Board President Arlee Griffin Jr. noted that the vote marks a step solely to market the headquarters, with further action needed to actually sell it.

"In this time of transition for all denominations in our culture, to let go of this symbol is a dramatic sign of our opening ourselves to the new thing God is doing in our midst," Medley said.

 
New Christian Coalition Head Quits Before Starting Job
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                 ©2006 Religion News Service
 
The Rev. Joel Hunter, an Orlando, Fla., megachurch pastor, has resigned from his pending presidency of the Christian Coalition of America, citing differences in how to broaden the group's agenda.

The organization, which was a political force for conservative Christians across the country in the 1990s, has diminished in prominence in recent years. Hunter had hoped to expand its agenda beyond traditional stances against abortion and gay marriage.

"When it came right down to it, when we were ready for the transition, we had a meeting to make sure we were on the same page and we weren't," Hunter, 58, said in an interview Monday (Nov. 27). Hunter's presidency was announced by the coalition Oct. 1, but he said they came to a "mutually respectful separation" during a conference call Nov. 21.

"I wanted to expand the agenda from only the moral issues, the pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, that kind of thing, to the compassion issues of Christ -- poverty and justice, creation care," he said. "Because if we are going to care for the vulnerable, we ought to care as much about the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb."

Roberta Combs, chairman of the Christian Coalition of America, said the board and Hunter came to "an amicable agreement." She said board members had considered broadening their agenda before Hunter was chosen but didn't agree with him on approach.

"We care about the needy and we care about the environment ... but it's just a way that you go about it with our organization," said Combs, whose organization has offices in Washington and Charleston, S.C. "We come from a political background and we would want to survey our supporters and, you know, see how they feel on these issues before you just go out there."

Hunter has been a spokesman for the Evangelical Climate Initiative, an effort launched last February that urges greater attention to reducing global warming. His role with that organization concerned some coalition board members.

Hunter, who is senior pastor of the nondenominational Northland Church in the Orlando suburb of Longwood, said he feels "we missed a chance" for a conservative activist organization to speak on a broader agenda. "There are millions of Christians that really don't have a home," he said of people who care about "moral" and "compassion" issues.

Asked about that comment, Combs responded: "I just think that's his opinion. We care about millions of Christians that are interested in these issues."


Chesney Says Accused Priests Need Work

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                                                
©2006 Religion News Service
 
Priests accused of sexual abuse should be given meaningful work while the outcome of their case is decided, according to the U.S. Catholic bishops' former head of child safety.

Kathleen McChesney, the FBI's former No. 3 official before serving as executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, said church and civil trials can take months or years to resolve.

While removing priests accused of sexual abuse "is prudent and necessary, it is also essential to provide them with  meaningful and time-consuming work," McChesney wrote in the Jesuit magazine America. Dioceses should also ensure accused clergy have adequate means to support themselves and can afford any legal and psychological help they may need, she wrote.

More than 500 U.S. priests have been accused of sexual abuse and temporarily or permanently removed from ministry since 2002, according to McChesney, who now works on security matters for the Walt Disney Company.

She noted that false reporting of sexual abuse by children is very rare, with one study indicating that only 1.5 percent of all investigated cases were found to be false accusations. Still, "It is possible, though difficult, to assign" men accused of abuse "to work that contributes to the church's mission ... without placing the offender in a position of unsupervised contact with minors or vulnerable adults," McChesney wrote.

Without work, "offenders have the time to seek out new victims, making the possibility of future offenses greater," McChesney wrote. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called McChesney's suggestions "the latest variation on an old, failed scheme."

"The crux of the problem is that often you have compromised clergy allegedly monitoring criminal clergy," Clohessy said. "If that doesn't change it doesn't matter whether the priest is working in the basement stuffing envelopes or in the sacristy saying prayers. It remains a very risky situation."

 
Swedes Rate IKEA More Trustworthy Than Church
 
BY NIELS SORRELLS                                                                                                          ©2006 Religion News Service  
 
IKEA has long provided the world with shelving units, home decor and Swedish meatballs. Apparently, it also provides Swedes with a greater feeling of trustworthiness than their religious institutions do.

According to a recent survey, 80 percent of Swedes surveyed said they place much or very much trust in the Swedish furniture chain. That compares with only 46 percent of respondents who said they placed similar amounts of trust in churches.

Indeed, the study showed that Swedes place more trust in Volvo (69 percent), Ericsson (59 percent) and Saab (57 percent) than they do in religions, which only ranked 14th on the list of institutions, behind public television, universities and the central bank, but ahead of the post office (38 percent) and the nation's Social Democratic Party (32 percent).

According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Spiegel Online, both of which ran the survey results, 80 percent of Sweden's 9 million citizens are registered as members of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden. The survey was originally published in Sweden's Dagens Indstri, a Stockholm-based business newspaper.

The survey was conducted by TNS Gallup between Oct. 17 and 26. Telephone interviews were conducted with 778 respondents.


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