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Religion Notes

"Religion Notes" Continued...

Issue: "Walk the Talk," Nov. 15, 1997

Lending a hand

Churches have come to the aid of public schools in Prince William County, Virginia. School Superintendent Edward L. Kelly told The Washington Post he saw a host of problems when he looked at his schools. Parents seemed less involved than a generation ago. Student expulsions and suspensions were on the rise. More kids were turning to gangs and drugs. More families were abandoning public education in favor of homeschooling or private schools. The schools needed help, and they needed it quickly. Mr. Kelly laid out a plan for his principals: Each school should forge a partnership with nearby churches. (Such alliances, common in black communities, are relatively new in predominantly white communities and almost always attract close scrutiny from church-state separation extremists.) So far, about two-thirds of Prince William's 66 schools have found one or more church partners; some have 10 or more. The help comes in different forms. Some churches are sending volunteer tutors into the schools. Others are donating supplies or letting students use church computers after school or helping with fundraising projects. Ministerial staffers drop by school cafeterias to chat with students. Church activities for youth can be publicized on campus. The volunteers are under orders by Mr. Kelly and his principals not to promote their religious beliefs on school property. That's okay, says youth pastor Frank Jenkins of First Baptist Church of Woodbridge, which fields dozens of volunteers for several schools. Going to a school translates to students as, "I care about you. Tell me about your day." He said students talk about classes, problems, teachers, relationships. "We would like every teen-ager to have a relationship with Jesus. That's our ultimate goal. But I don't preach that at the schools." He told WORLD that as a result of contacts at school, some non-churched students are showing up at church meetings and events "to find out what we're about." Mr. Kelly, a member of a Catholic parish with strong evangelical leanings, says he understands the concerns of critics. (A local rabbi complains of misgivings about having unsupervised adults conversing with students.) But, Mr. Kelly adds, church help is essential to ease the strain on teachers and to compensate for lack of parental involvement. Michael Farris, president of Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, says the partnership between churches and schools can be a "good thing." Churches should take the opportunity to minister to anybody they can, he says, because "Christian adults need to be penetrating every segment of public life, including public schools." However, he adds, the churches need to be careful "not to give a signal that such an arrangement is a substitute for Christian education." (Mr. Farris estimates 1.25 million children across the nation are being schooled at home, many of them because parents see little hope of their getting a proper education in public schools.)

China bound

As part of the U.S.-China summit , Beijing agreed to host discussions with three American religious leaders. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that communist government officials had agreed to a meeting in Beijing with Donald Argue, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Catholic archbishop Thomas McCarrick of Newark; and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. No details were available regarding the purpose and agenda of the Beijing talks, to take place sometime this winter, but Ms. Albright said the discussions would include religious-freedom issues. Mr. Argue was the only religious leader at the White House state dinner honoring Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin. Following a meeting in the oval office in early 1996, where Mr. Argue discussed persecution of believers, Mr. Clinton appointed him to the State department's Advisory Committee on Religious Liberty. Billy Graham's wife Ruth and son Ned, who heads a ministry to China, were guests at a State Department luncheon for Mr. Jiang hosted by Vice President and Mrs. Gore on Oct.29. Toward the end of Mr. Jiang's U.S. visit, Billy Graham met privately with him in Los Angeles. A curiously worded press release from the Graham organization said that details of the half-hour Graham-Jiang meeting were "not disclosed." The release also said the evangelist "acknowledged" the two had "discussed the issue of human rights in China, and especially religious freedom."

Church: "Your spiritual home"

More than 200 self-identified male and female homosexuals attended the first Mass for homosexuals in the Richmond (Va.) diocese. "You know you belong here. It's about time somebody says that to you.... This is your spiritual home," Bishop Walter F. Sullivan said during the sermon at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is immoral, as is any extramarital or premarital sex. But in recent years some Catholic leaders have been emphasizing that homosexual orientation itself is not sinful because, they believe, it is not freely chosen. As a result, critics contend, many of the outreach ministries to homosexuals in some 30 Catholic dioceses across the country are virtually silent on the immorality issue.

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