Religion Notes


Issue: "Life of a warrior," June 12, 1999

Divinity dean sacked for smut

When Harvard Divinity School dean Ronald F. Thiemann, a Lutheran theologian, suddenly stepped down from his post last November, he said it was for "personal and professional reasons." Last month, the Boston Globe filled in the blanks. It said he had been forced to resign after technicians at the school told Harvard officials they had found thousands of pornographic images on his university-owned home computer. Mr. Thiemann had summoned the workers to install a larger hard disk and to transfer the contents of the old disk to it. The newspaper quoted an unnamed source who described the porn as "mainstream" and not illegal material, such as child pornography. A Harvard spokesman confirmed that Mr. Thiemann, 52, who had been dean for nearly 13 years, was asked to resign after information "bearing on his continued capacity to serve" was brought to President Neil L. Rudenstine. He declined to add further details. The divinity school's rules specifically forbid the use of its computers for material that is "inappropriate, obscene, bigoted, or abusive." Mr. Thiemann's attorney said the ex-dean would have no immediate comment, but he cautioned that constitutional issues are raised when an employer intrudes on an employee's privacy. Mr. Thiemann, also a tenured faculty member, took a year's paid sabbatical leave after resigning. He said at the time he intended to return to teaching in 2000.

Religious construction on the rise

A religious building boom is underway across the country. Last year, $6.4 billion was spent on new churches and other religious buildings, including additions to existing structures, according to data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. The figure represents a 64 percent increase between 1994 and 1998, and the boom appears to be continuing in 1999. Leadership Network, a Dallas-based research group, credits three main factors: growth and expansion of existing churches, especially in the South, Midwest, and West Coast; a renewed interest in church planting, which results in new church buildings; and the rise of more nontraditional religious groups seeking to secure their own facilities.

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Workers at Feed the Children's warehouse in Nashville, Tenn., one of two operated by the Oklahoma City-based charity, watched as Executive Director Steve Highfill and five other employees helped themselves to new brand-name clothing, shoes, videos, blankets, food, and other items that had been donated for Kosovar refugees, Oklahoma City tornado victims, and other needy people. The workers said they complained to headquarters, but nothing happened. They then blabbed to Nashville TV station WTVF, which mounted a four-month investigation, complete with hidden-camera surveillance. The station broke the story last month. Viewers saw executives and their assistants and relatives wheeling boxes from the warehouse to their cars. Mr. Highfill told WTVF he saw nothing wrong with allowing administrative staff to take donated items. Tipped off by the station, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents raided the charity's Nashville office and the homes of six administrative employees. They carted off many boxes as part of their investigation. Evangelist Larry Jones, who heads the 20-year-old relief organization, said his staff also is investigating. At a news conference in Nashville, he suggested that some administrators took items to deliver them to needy families locally. Meanwhile, he appointed colleague Don Richardson to replace Mr. Highfill, who resigned.


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