America's largest Protestant denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, but more than half of the 15.7 million members carried on the rolls of its congregations are inactive, a study by the SBC Sunday School Board found. The figures show 20.7 percent of church members are listed as "resident actives," which means they stopped attending, and 31.8 percent as "non-resident," which means they have moved away but remain on the local church's rolls. Some of the latter might also be included on the active roles of churches to which they've moved, which means total membership could be somewhat inflated.
Once-secret Roman Catholic documents opened
The Vatican last month opened up part of the archives of the Inquisition, or Holy Office, to scholars. Officials said the files, which date from 1542 to 1902, were a "gold mine" of information for researchers but predicted they would find few juicy secrets. Opened at the same time was the infamous Index of Forbidden Books, which listed books Catholics were forbidden to read or possess at peril of excommunication. Even non-Latin translations of the Bible were on the blacklist and ended up in bonfires with other "heretical" writings. Church leaders believed that allowing the faithful access to Scripture without ecclesiastical guidance could result in more heresy. The Inquisition was established by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 as a special court to help curb the spread of heresy. It escalated as church leaders began relying on civil authorities to fine, imprison, torture, and sometimes even burn heretics. It reached its height in the 16th century to counter the Reformation. Perhaps the Inquisition's most famous case was that of Galileo, the Italian astronomer it condemned in 1633 for claiming Earth was not the center of the universe but revolved around the sun. It accused him of heresy and forced him to renounce his espousal of the Copernican theory. Centuries later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II rehabilitated the astronomer and said the church had been wrong to condemn him, then commenced building his own telescope. The Holy Office exists today as the renamed Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is headed by Bavarian-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog.
Good-Bye, New York
The New York Bible Society is no more. Executives from its parent organization, the Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society (IBS), arrived in Manhattan one morning last month, announced the closure, and RIF'ed the staff of 14 on the spot. They also closed the bookstore operated by NYBS on West 57th Street, despite record sales last year that helped to underwrite the $500,000 NYBS annual budget. "It was not a cost-driven decision, but a matter of reallocating resources," IBS spokesman Steve Johnson told WORLD. Paul-Gordon Chandler, chief executive of IBS's U.S. operations, said the ministry plans to broaden its work, targeting 10 major metropolitan areas, including New York, but to concentrate more narrowly on its primary mission: Scripture distribution (including sales). IBS, which owns the profitable New International Version Bible, started out in New York in 1809 as the New York Bible Society. The name changed in 1983, and in 1988 IBS moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs, maintaining its New York operations under the NYBS name. "They gave us less than an hour's notice," recalled former NYBS executive director Charles Rigby, 61, a seasoned urban evangelist who had held the post since 1989. The sudden shutdown's "effect was to greatly disrupt the ongoing work of thousands of area Christians who had trusted the IBS commitment to the city which gave it birth over 188 years ago," he wrote in a news release. But, he pledged, ministries that had grown up around the NYBS would continue under the auspices of Christian Urban Partnership-New York (CUP-NY), which he heads. Living on severance pay, he and other former NYBS executives are hustling to form a new base from which the ministries can operate. Pending sale of the old NYBS building on Lexington Ave. (which should fetch at least $750,000, sources say), IBS has leased it to Mr. Rigby and CUP-NY for $1.
NAE president to leave in May
Donald Argue, 58, announced he will step down as president of the National Association of Evangelicals in May. His new job will be the presidency of 900-student Northwest College, an Assemblies of God school in suburban Seattle. Mr. Argue came to the Carol Stream, Ill.-based NAE from another AG school only three years ago. But in recent months, he told WORLD, he had come to realize that his role was to be "a bridge of transition" between the man who held the post for 28 years (Billy Melvin, a Free Will Baptist) and a leader of vision who will guide the NAE into the next century. Under Mr. Argue's leadership, religious freedom became a prime NAE agenda item. In 1996, President Clinton appointed him to membership on the State Department's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, where he co-chairs a subcommittee on religious persecution. This month, Mr. Clinton sent him, Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and Catholic archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, N.J., on an 18-day mission to examine the extent of religious freedom in China. The action was at the invitation of Chinese strongman Jiang Zemin during the China-U.S. summit in Washington last fall. The U.S. delegates met with Mr. Jiang Feb. 12 in Beijing. He reportedly encouraged them to seek out the views of ordinary religious believers, not just those of leaders. In all, the Americans were scheduled to confer with officials and religious leaders of several faiths in six cities, including Lhasa in Tibet. Mr. Argue told WORLD he hoped to visit some imprisoned believers, but no visits to house churches were on the itinerary. He said he will deliver a full report at the annual NAE meeting March 2-4 in Orlando, Fla.
Diocesan scandal still unsettled
The Dallas Catholic Diocese announced this month it had settled, for $5 million, sexual abuse lawsuits against two suspended priests who were active in the diocese in the 1980s. The settlement involved five male plaintiffs in four lawsuits. Meanwhile, court-ordered mediation was continuing in a $118 million judgment against the diocese for sexual abuse of 11 plaintiffs when they were minors by a third former Dallas priest, Rudolph Kos. Church officials warned the diocese could be forced into bankruptcy. The diocese sued its two former insurance companies for refusing to cover its liabilities and legal defense, and the judge ordered them to take part in the mediation process.
CWA's new leader takes the reins
Beverly LaHaye, founder, chair, and until this month president of 20-year-old Concerned Women for America, which claims a constituency of 600,000, announced Carmen Pate, 43, is CWA's new president. Mrs. Pate, a former communications executive, was reportedly handpicked by Mrs. LaHaye as her heir-apparent and served as CWA's vice-president of communications for 15 months. Mrs. Pate will run CWA's headquarters office in Washington, D.C. (Mrs. LaHaye lives on the West Coast) and will be co-host with Mrs. LaHaye on CWA's daily nationwide radio show. Mrs. Pate has been active in pro-life causes, crisis-pregnancy counseling, and support work with divorcees and single mothers. That is in contrast to her publicly disclosed life of casual relationships, a divorce, and two abortions before she encountered Christ 13 years ago.
Falwell's Liberty liberated
If Jerry Falwell, 64, seems upbeat in public appearances these days, no wonder. Florida philanthropist Arthur L. Williams paid off the $70 million debt of Mr. Falwell's school, 10,000-student Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. The debt was paid last September, but Mr. Falwell early this month said that only now was he allowed to disclose the source of the gift. Among other reasons, school officials said privately, disclosure was needed to end rumors that Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church had bailed out Liberty. (Moon-funded groups did make six- and seven-figure grants and loans to Liberty over the past several years, according to news accounts and school officials.) Mr. Williams dealt directly with creditors in some cases, including a committee representing nearly 2,000 investors who had bought bonds in the 1980s to finance Liberty's building boom. Liberty lagged behind in repayments (debt stood at $110 million in 1990), and in 1996 they had threatened to foreclose on the school unless it came up with $1.1 million. The bond buyout cost Mr. Williams $27 million, according to news accounts. (The school's $131 million endowment could not be touched to retire the debt.) The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had placed Liberty on probation because of the debt problems but lifted it in December. The school said it plans to hire 35 more professors this spring. Nearly half of Liberty's students are in "external degree" (correspondence) programs. With Mr. Williams as honorary chairman, a $100 million, seven-year capitalization program is underway. One goal is to expand campus housing from 6,000 students to 10,000, and to boost enrollment in external degrees to 15,000. Liberty was founded in 1971 as a Bible college in the church Mr. Falwell still pastors, Thomas Road Baptist Church, which recently affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. It won accreditation in 1980 and now has 28,000 alumni. One alumnus is Mark DeMoss, a former Falwell press aide and a current Liberty trustee whose Atlanta public-relations firm continues to represent Mr. Falwell. His father-in-law is Mr. Williams.
No good news
Lee County, Fla., schools may teach a course based on the Old Testament but it cannot teach one based on the New Testament, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ruled in Ft. Myers. She agreed the aim of the Old Testament course is "to teach history and not religion." But, she said, the court "finds it difficult to conceive how the account of the Resurrection or of miracles could be taught as secular history." The ruling last month came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way. The suit was filed after the county school board voted 3-2 last October to adopt the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools program, developed in North Carolina and promoted by the Christian Coalition and other conservative groups.
Check's in the mail
Officials of the Christian Coalition reached an out-of-court settlement this month with a former trusted ally, Hart Conover Inc. (HCI), a Springfield, Va., direct-mail company. In December, the Coalition filed a federal lawsuit against HCI, which is used by a number of conservative groups, accusing the firm of acquiring and using an unauthorized copy of the Coalition's large list of donors. It alleged HCI's objective was to preempt the Coalition's position as a major force of the Christian right and deprive it of donations of Bible-believing conservatives. Details of the settlement were not disclosed, but an HCI executive acknowledged it included a payment to the Coalition and an agreement not to use the list again. Coalition leaders claim the alleged raid on the religious lobby's contributors was at least partially to blame for a sharp drop in donations. The dip has forced program cutbacks and staff layoffs at the group's Chesapeake, Va., headquarters. Coalition spokesman Arne Owens told reporters the group took in about $17 million last year-a four-year low, down 36 percent from 1996. The group, founded eight years ago by TV broadcaster Pat Robertson, also is under chilling probes by the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission. HCI was the Coalition's principal fundraiser and direct-mail provider for four years. HCI president Benjamin Hart worked out of Coalition offices and was a close friend of Ralph Reed, executive director of the Coalition until he left last year to start a political consulting firm. In 1996, Judy Liebert, then the Coalition's chief financial officer, triggered a grand jury investigation after she went to a U.S. attorney with suspicions that HCI was overbilling for mailings. HCI was accused of inflating invoices in a scheme involving printing and list-rental firms it secretly owned. In an out-of-court settlement, HCI paid the Coalition an undisclosed sum. Miss Liebert was suspended and eventually fired for taking the matter to outside authorities, according to published accounts confirmed by Coalition sources. In a final memo to the Coalition board, Miss Liebert accused Mr. Reed of giving the Coalition's complete donor database-a prized asset containing 1.9 million names and addresses-to his friend Mr. Hart. Mr. Reed denied he had authorized the list's use by Mr. Hart, and the board, still smarting from Miss Liebert's conduct, dropped the matter. Her account was backed by Wayne Welpe, who headed the Coalition's computer systems department until he lost his job in a round of layoffs in December, the Norfolk Virginian Pilot reported. In his own farewell memo, he wrote: "Providing our database to other organizations is a sure way to dilute its effectiveness." Coalition officials confirmed HCI's use of the donor names through a "list-salting" security program, Mr. Owens told WORLD. In a separate court case last month, Miss Liebert's successor was given a suspended six-year sentence and ordered to repay the $40,346.27 she admitted to embezzling between November 1996 and March 1997. Jeanne K. DelliCarpini, 43, told the judge she had no excuse but was under pressure to pay off debt.