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Issue: "The death of discipline?," June 26, 1999

Serb church: Slobo should go

Appealing to "every sensible person" in Yugoslavia, the Serbian Orthodox Church on June 14 called for President Slobodan Milosovic to step down. "We demand that the current president of the country and his government resign in the interest of the people and their salvation," church leaders said as Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo. Although Kosovo's prewar population of 2.1 million was only 10 percent Serb, the province is the symbolic heartland of Serbia, full of historic sites and some of the Serbian Orthodox Church's holiest buildings. The church does not have the power to force Mr. Milosovic's removal, but since it claims the allegiance of the vast majority of the Serb population, it is the most significant institution to call for his resignation.

Church forced to pay unemployment

The Newport (Ore.) Church of the Nazarene must contribute to the state's unemployment-compensation system after firing a minister, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled this month. The church has been battling the state since 1994, claiming the law violates its religious liberty. That was the year the state employment department awarded unemployment benefits to Gordon R. Hensley. The church fired Mr. Hensley in 1993 following eight months of service as a youth minister. The state agency investigated the reasons for his termination and decided he deserved benefits. (Unlike most states, Oregon includes ministerial employment in its unemployment-compensation system.) In upholding a lower court's finding in favor of the state agency, the appeals court panel acknowledged that churches have a right to control their own ministers, free from state interference. But the court took the position that the state's inquiry by itself did not intrude on that right; it simply was to determine whether Mr. Hensley was entitled to state benefits. The state's interest in providing for the economic security of all Oregonians is stronger than any threat to religious liberty, the court concluded. The church's attorney said the church will appeal the decision.

Loneliness on the job

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Many American ministers and their spouses are surrounded by lots of people, yet are lonely. That is one finding from studies of clergy families in six denominations, reported in the June issue of the Review of Religious Research. Priscilla Blanton, a professor of child-and-family studies at the University of Tennessee, and a colleague, Lane Morris, conducted the research. Frequent responses from the ministers and wives included statements such as:

  • "There are not enough relationships in our lives where we feel we can be ourselves."
  • "I have very few people I can confide in about the really important matters in my life."
  • "There are too few relationships in my life that make me feel emotionally connected." The sense of not having enough social support in their lives "seems to be very influential in terms of their emotional well-being and their physiological well-being," Mrs. Blanton writes. "They are part of a church community, but there is a distance built in. You're a part of it in a different kind of way." The issue of social support appeared to weigh most heavily on the spouses, she noted. Other major stress points include expectations of and time-demands on clergy families, and the amount of financial compensation. The result for many families: resentment and frustration. Denominations need to give more attention to providing clergy-support services, including services specifically for spouses and children, Mrs. Blanton concludes.

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