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Religion Notes

Religion

Issue: "Pensacola," Dec. 20, 1997

Canadian rift

Bitter debate is raging in Canada's largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada, over remarks by its moderator, Bill Phipps, one of the UCC's pastors. He said in an October newspaper interview that he did not believe Jesus Christ was God, was bodily resurrected, or was the only way to God. Last month, the UCC's 70-member general council of lay and clergy members voiced unanimous support of him and said his comments fall "well within the spectrum of the United Church." The council also suggested Mr. Phipps's freedom of expression should be "tempered" in accordance with UCC policy. Church sources said hundreds of letters and calls have been pouring into UCC headquarters. Some said they were appalled that someone who questions such basic tenets of the Christian faith can call himself a Christian, much less lead a national Christian church. Mr. Phipps apologized for any pain his comments may have caused members, but reiterated his beliefs. (The UCC was formed in 1925 by the union of Methodist, Congregational, and most of the country's Presbyterian churches. A rift occurred a decade ago when the church approved ordination of homosexuals.)

Distorted copy

The Washington National Cathedral and a prominent sculptor have sued Warner Bros. They claim a sexually graphic image in the Al Pacino movie Devil's Advocate is a distorted and unauthorized copy of a sculpture that graces the cathedral's main entrance. The sculpture, Ex Nihilo, depicts the creation of mankind, with male and female nudes emerging from a roiled background. The movie portrays a similar sculpture, with the characters appearing to come to life and engage in a variety of sexual acts, the suit alleges. Moviegoers could mistakenly think the cathedral allowed the use of its artwork, produced by Christian sculptor Frederick Hart in 1983, it says. The suit seeks an end to further distribution of the movie, posters, and other promotional material that depicts the sculpture. (A copy of the church art appears on Warner Bros.' Web site promoting the movie.) It also asks for unspecified damages and a share of the movie's profits. Warner Bros. had no immediate comment on the suit but acknowledged producers had seen a photo of the church sculpture during preparation of the movie. However, the sculpture in the movie is a different one, a spokesman said.

Only on Sunday

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Pastor David Worth of Malibu (Calif.) Presbyterian Church had only 10 minutes' notice that President Clinton would be attending the 9:30 a.m. service one Sunday in November. There wasn't time to draft a customized sermon for the occasion, Mr. Worth told reporters later, so he went ahead and preached the one he had prepared on religious persecution. Mr. Clinton was ushered to a pew near the front shortly after the service started, while a four-piece contemporary-music band was leading a song, "As High as the Heavens." Many of the 360 worshippers were unaware the president was among them until after the singing ended and the pastor welcomed him, the Los Angeles Times reported. Late-comer Frances Forbes climbed over a startled Secret Service agent in the pew behind the president. "Excuse me, there's an empty seat there," she said. Only later, when Mr. Clinton turned sideways, did she recognize him, she told a Times reporter. Back home in Washington, the pastor was prepared for Mr. Clinton's December visit. The president joined congregants singing "Joy to the World" as he walked down the aisle and took a seat at the District of Columbia's largest black church. He was there to deliver 10 minutes of remarks about race and faith. He got an earful in return, according to media reports. Pastor H. Beecher Hicks Jr. of Metropolitan Baptist Church urged the president and other leaders not to forget their roots. "Some folks, when they get to the pinnacle of power, they forget how they got there," the minister said. "It is not because you are so smart. Mr. Clinton didn't do it. God did it." Amid loud applause and "amens," he added that black voters also helped him get there, and they deserve better in return. He called for full D.C. voting representation in Congress and for home rule for the district. Under the direction of Congress, Mr. Clinton in 1995 appointed a financial control board to run the city government, which was and continues to be bogged down in debt, inefficiency, and charges of corruption. Mr. Clinton told the congregation he hoped for greater independence and better conditions for the city's 530,000 residents in the days ahead.

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