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Religion Notes

"Religion Notes" Continued...

Issue: "Pensacola," Dec. 20, 1997

Mormons grow to 10 million; Carter says they are not cultists

Mormon officials announced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has grown to 10 million members, nearly 4.9 million of them in the United States. The group, founded in 1830, reported one million members 50 years ago. Last month, Jimmy Carter reportedly told a conference of religion news writers that Mormons should be considered part of the Christian community. A Southern Baptist, Mr. Carter said leaders of his denomination were wrong to imply the church is a non-Christian cult, the Deseret News reported.

Atheist holy war

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear arguments in a San Diego case involving Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the Austin, Texas-based atheist who led the 1963 court battle to ban school prayer. Ms. O'Hair has been missing for several years, and some published accounts suggest she may have died. Meanwhile, her followers have been feuding. At issue in the San Diego case was control of The Truth Seeker magazine, a once prominent atheist publication that has fallen on hard economic times. Lower court rulings left the O'Hair forces in control.

...nor the time of Jesus' return

Two-thirds of American adults believe that Jesus someday will return to Earth, according to a new survey published this month by U.S. News and World Report. Also, 67 percent believe the world will come to an end or be destroyed. The survey showed that fully 60 percent of the most educated and 58 percent of all senior citizens are likely to believe the world will come to an end. USN&WR also observed that belief in a second coming has risen 5 percent since the last such poll three years ago. However, most who believe in the apocalypse placed it well beyond their lifetime, with 33.8 percent saying it will happen more than "a few hundred years" from now.

Bad karma

A federal judge shortened the prison sentence of Swami Bhaktipada from 20 years to 12 years. He said he did so because the former Hare Krishna leader is in failing health. Mr. Bhaktipada was sentenced in 1996 after pleading guilty to a racketeering charge that accused him of amassing millions through fund-raising scams and conspiring to murder two followers in 1983 and 1986. The followers allegedly threatened to cause his downfall with rumors that he was a homosexual and a child molester. Despite his plea, he denied involvement in the slayings. At one time, his hilltop community of about 700 devotees in northwestern West Virginia, replete with a Palace of Gold, was the nation's largest Krishna community. It was expelled from the International Society of Krishna Consciousness in 1987.

METHODIST REBELS

Homosexuals and their supporters in the 8.5 million member United Methodist Church (UMC) continue to score points, despite the denomination's official reaffirmations of church teachings on sexuality and marriage. Many Methodists are calling for tougher measures to counter the tide. It is now time to "move beyond statements of moral principles and begin the process of disciplining church leaders who disregard essential church teachings," declared chairman Helen Rhea Stumbo of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group promoting renewal in the mainline denominations. A UMC lay leader in Georgia, she warned that failure to do so could not only threaten the church's "traditional understanding of holiness and grace," but also splinter the denomination. She cited several recent developments: Trustees of UMC-affiliated Emory University in Atlanta recently ruled that same-sex weddings can occur in campus chapels if they involve clergy, faculty, and students from denominations that approve. Emory chaplain Susan Henry-Crowe told reporters that of the two dozen faith groups represented on campus, only the United Church of Christ and the Reform Jewish synagogue now perform such ceremonies. Eight UMC bishops are trustees, and the school's charter places it under the jurisdiction of the denomination. Pastor Jimmy Creech of 1,900-member First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb., was placed on 60 days' suspension with full pay and benefits last month by Nebraska Area Bishop Joel Martinez and a regional ministerial board. Mr. Creech had conducted a lesbian wedding at the church earlier, prompting an outcry among many members and official complaints to the bishop. The United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits clergy from holding services of union for homosexual couples. Bishop Martinez said he hoped First Church's congregation "will use this time for continuing prayer, thoughtful reflection, and respectful dialogue about its current and future mission in Omaha." At Princeton University, UMC chaplain Sue Ann Morrow conducted a wedding ceremony at a campus chapel for two homosexuals who are professing atheists. Her bishop, Pittsburgh-based George Bashore, has spoken with her but has taken no administrative action against her. Ms. Morrow has said publicly that she plans to conduct future same-sex ceremonies. A new caucus group, "Covenant Relationships Network (CORNET)," has formed to lobby for same-sex marriage in the UMC. It has called on churches to open their facilities to same-sex couples and called on clergy to officiate at same-sex ceremonies as an "essential form of pastoral support."

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