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Graham's last crusade?

National | Organizers point to Amsterdam evangelism conference as a fitting capstone to a half-century of ministry-plus, other news from the world of religion

Issue: "UNbelievable," June 17, 2000

At 91, George Beverly Shea is still singing, "How Great Thou Art," Billy Graham at 81 is still preaching and inviting sinners to repent and come to Jesus, and 77-year-old Cliff Barrows is still leading the music. Together since the mid-1940s, they were together again in a Nashville stadium June 1-4, with crowds ranging up to nearly 72,000. And as always, at the evangelist's invitation, respondents-about 8,000-walked the aisles and onto the field at the end of the service. For many, the event had a sense of history about it. Visitor Beth Hoffman said she and her 82-year-old mother had driven down from Columbus, Ohio, to see and hear Mr. Graham "one last time." Slowed by Parkinson's Disease, Mr. Graham has suggested this might be his last year of stadium crusades (the next one is Nov. 2-5 in Jacksonville, Fla.), though he vows to keep preaching as long as he can. His final overseas event is a week-long conference on evangelism for 10,000 invited evangelists and church leaders from around the world that begins July 29 in Amsterdam. Organizers believe it will be a fitting capstone to a ministry that has spanned more than 50 years and allowed him to preach in person to an estimated 210 million people in 200 countries plus many more on radio and television. "See you in Chicago": Liberal group's Evangelism-As-Violence statement unites evangelicals behind Baptist summer outreach
Members of a Chicago interfaith coalition that last fall pressed Southern Baptists to call off an evangelistic outreach scheduled for this summer may end up wishing they never had. As in, best to let sleeping dogs alone. After months of work and collaboration, a who's who of evangelicaldom on June 2 issued a united response to all who contend that public witness "undermines a peaceful, pluralistic society, and may lead to intolerance, bigotry, and even violence." "Freedom to share one's deeply held religious beliefs is a basic liberty," the signers assert in their two-page document, "The Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom." The paper covers four main points: the foundations of religious liberty; the meaning and mandate of the Great Commission for followers of Christ; a pledge to "respect the value, dignity, and human rights of all with whom we speak"; and a promise to "defend the rights of others to hold their own religious convictions, to challenge our beliefs, and to attract converts to their religious faiths." Theologian Phil Roberts and religious-liberty specialist Richard Land, the two Southern Baptist executives who pulled together the pan-evangelical drafting committee of scholars and church leaders, warned of a growing intolerance toward expressions of faith in public places. For Mr. Land, the "last straw" was when the interfaith coalition in Chicago suggested the upcoming Baptist campaign could result in violence against Jews, Hindus, and Muslims. Hanging an image of hate crimes over Christians, he said, made the declaration necessary. Baptist leaders told coalition members: "We'll see you in Chicago." Walk in the park: Palau preaches in China
From the 88th floor of a Shanghai skyscraper, evangelist Luis Palau looked down last month on a vast park along the Huangpu River. He later told congregations at three churches in the city of 14 million that he had long dreamed of preaching in the 100,000-seat stadium, but "now I'm thinking we should go to the park." The congregations applauded. Mr. Palau preached evangelistic sermons to Sunday crowds at two churches and to internationals at an afternoon service. China's government-sanctioned Protestant alliance, the China Christian Council, restricted Mr. Palau's speech in only one way: He could not ask people to leave their seats during the invitation. (The Chinese congregations were packed, and given Asian culture, everyone might surge forward, observers explained.) During briefings, CCC officials estimated that Shanghai has 150,000 Christians and about 130 churches and meeting points. But only 47 pastors have theological training, they said. (All churches and seminaries were closed during the Cultural Revolution.) His four-day trip also took him to speak to a seminary student body and to faculty and students in the American Studies department of Fudan University, reputedly the Harvard of China. With the door left open for a return visit to Shanghai, Mr. Palau says he still has that big park on his mind. DeLay: Worldview clash
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) commutes home most weekends to Houston, where he often teaches a class at First Baptist Church. But after reading Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey's How Now Shall We Live? he started thinking about classes that needed to be taught on Capitol Hill. One result: six sessions this spring that Mr. Colson helped to organize, with visiting Christian thinkers expanding on the book's theme to a small group of members of Congress on Tuesday nights in Mr. DeLay's office, and doing the same on Wednesday mornings for 50-75 staffers in a House caucus room. Mr. DeLay then went public with a May 4 luncheon speech on cultural concerns and renewal at the National Press Club. He observed that an Ohio judge's recent citation of the state's motto-"With God, all things are possible"-as unconstitutional showed the conflict of two worldviews. He argued that one worldview, based on faith in God, is held by most Americans, but the other, favoring "publicly funded religious symbols as long as they are covered in excrement," is held by a cultural elite that dominates media, universities, tax-exempt foundations, the legal profession, and the arts. Mr. DeLay lambasted the "fashionable elite" for teaching that flag burning and nude dancing are protected speech, but prayer before a football game is not, and for voicing a commitment to tolerance while policing the speech of those who disagree with them: "In the name of tolerance, they are profoundly intolerant." He argued that the effort to have schools teach the virtues of democracy and resist a growing hostility to religion in schools is vital: "Our culture is determined first and foremost by the education of our children." Specifically, Mr. DeLay proposed to put politics to work to help renew American culture. He argued for codifying in federal law a historically accurate understanding of the Establishment Clause. He favors attaching a provision to federal education spending that prohibits denying any American such benefits on the basis of religious expression, belief, or identity; states and school districts that accept federal funding would not be able to discriminate against religious expression by prohibiting private, voluntary prayer and religious activity. More than bread alone: Research finds Americans desire spiritual growth
A recent Gallup Poll on American religious attitudes uncovered a trend that surprised researchers: 82 percent of those questioned say they feel the need for spiritual growth-up 24 points in just four years. And 69 percent say they're searching for greater meaning in their lives-an increase of 11 percent since 1985. The "outstanding trend" in the findings is that more and more people want "to deepen their relationship with God," said pollster George Gallup Jr., a conservative Episcopalian who lives in Princeton, N.J. LEGAL BRIEFS
Preaching to the choir
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said no to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's efforts to intervene in church hiring and firing decisions when they involve positions "integral to the spiritual and pastoral mission" of a church. In the process, it reaffirmed that the "ministerial exception" in the 1964 Civil Rights Act extends beyond clergy. Its May 22 ruling, which upheld a lower-court opinion, said the case in question involved ecclesiastical decisions the First Amendment places "beyond the ken of civil courts." It all began when the EEOC in 1998 filed suit against the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, N.C. At issue: a complaint by Joyce Austin, former part-time director of music ministry at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, and a part-time music teacher at the church's elementary school. She contended she had been dismissed on the basis of her sex, though her only evidence was that the church replaced her with a man. A federal judge last year dismissed the suit, citing the ministerial exception. In its appeal, the EEOC argued that Ms. Austin's duties were primarily secular. The court disagreed, saying music ministry and music teaching functions are "integral" to the church's mission. Congregants were upset with the quality of music, explained the woman who formerly headed the church's ruling council. So, she said, members eliminated the part-time position and made it full-time, thinking that might help. They invited Ms. Austin to apply along with others for the new position. In tryouts, one of the candidates pulled together an impromptu group of people, including one off the street, and soon had them singing spiritedly. He got the job. Divorce spending better than marriage spending?
A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled unconstitutional the state's Community Marriage Policy Project. The legislature set up the program and allocated $210,000 to it last year. Its purpose was to strengthen marriages by helping clergy to coordinate and develop community-wide standards (such as requiring premarital counseling) for couples who request clergy-solemnized ceremonies. Since the subsidy benefits only a religious class of recipients and conveys a message that religiously solemnized marriages are preferable to secular ones, Judge John Shabaz argued in his May 25 ruling, it violates the Establishment Clause. Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen vowed to craft a new proposal next session: "Clearly, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the fallout of divorce. We ought to experiment with modest efforts to try to strengthen marriage in the first place." Anti-Clinton church ads: Federal Appeals court affirms Pierce Creek ruling
A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., last month upheld the first-ever ruling by the Internal Revenue Service that stripped a church of its tax-exempt status for partisan political activity. The IRS took action in 1995 against the Church at Pierce Creek near Binghamton, N.Y. It was based on full-page ads the church placed in USA Today and The Washington Times in 1992. The ads said then-Gov. Bill Clinton supported abortion on demand, the homosexual lifestyle, and giving condoms to teens in public schools-"policies that are in rebellion to God's laws." After citing Scripture, the ads asked: "How then can we vote for Bill Clinton?" Churches are free to set up a separate 501 c (4) group and then form a political action committee to do politicking, the three-judge panel suggested. Did teach trash students bibles'? Dispute over facts to be resolved courtroom
Houston-area Willis school district officials denied that any of their teachers confiscated and threw away Bibles, ordered students to remove religious book covers, or told students to leave their Bibles at home. The district has no policy that prohibits the reading of Bibles during free-reading time, and no policy calling for seizure of Bibles from students, the officials told the Houston Chronicle last month. A lawsuit against the district alleges that middle-school teacher Sara Flottman in 1999 marched Angela Harbison, 15, and her sister Amber, 13, to the principal's office for bringing Bibles to school. It asserts the teacher seized the Bibles and threw them in the principal's waste can, calling them "trash." It also claims the principal told the girls' mother that Bibles indeed were not welcome on school property. Also, the suit alleges, another teacher ordered a student to remove a book cover the girls had given him; it had the Ten Commandments printed on it. School officials said they investigated the charges but found no truth in them. The alleged incident occurred during a Saturday session for students with unexcused absences. Both girls have since withdrawn from the school and are being home-schooled. INTERNATIONAL BRIEFS
South African Ex-churchman reports to jail for stealing needy children's relief funds
Former anti-apartheid activist and church leader Alan Boesak, 54, reported to a Cape Town jail last month to begin a sentence for theft and fraud. An appeals court upheld his conviction in 1999 for stealing several hundred thousand dollars in charitable donations, much of it intended for needy children. The court threw out one charge involving Swedish relief money and cut his six-year sentence in half. He could be free within the next year or two. Scandinavian relief officials had alleged more than $1 million was missing from a foundation Mr. Boesak administered. Mr. Boesak resigned in 1990 as head of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches (160 member denominations in more than 80 countries) after a widely publicized adulterous relationship with a TV producer. He also gave up his ministerial credentials in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa and later became a provincial leader in Nelson Mandela's ruling African National Congress. Mr. Mandela and other ANC leaders stood resolutely behind Mr. Boesak throughout the investigation and trial. The law on the prophet: Pakistan's ruler backs off pledge to lighten up on Islamic blasphemy law
Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervex Musharraf, has reneged on his pledge to amend a controversial law on blasphemy against Islam. The law calls for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam and its prophet, Mohammed. Currently it is sufficient to accuse someone of blasphemy for authorities to bring a charge. For years, Christians and other religious minorities have suffered under the law's misuse. Church leaders fault the general for bowing to pressure from Islamist groups. Sins of the fathers: Canadian Anglicans can't cover debts
Bankruptcy appears all but certain for the Anglican Church of Canada, that country's third largest denomination (1,800 churches; 750,000 constituents). The troubles stem from the church's partnership with the government from 1820 to 1969 in running up to 28 of 130 residential schools for Indian children. The government closed the last such schools in 1983. In the 1990s, allegations of cultural deprivation, neglect, malnutrition, physical abuse, and sexual abuse began circulating throughout Indian communities. Thousands of survivors of the schools sued the government, naming the ACC General Synod and some dioceses as co-defendants. (The Catholic Church and two other denominations also are targets.) The synod so far is facing more than $1.3 billion in claims but has less than $10 million in assets. Members are leaving and giving is down. Archbishop Michael Peers on May 28 said about 100 of more than 1,600 pending cases involve proven abuse of children. The perpetrators are in prison, but the litigation and settlement costs of these 100 cases alone are enough to exhaust all the assets of the synod and dioceses involved. Parish assets are not in peril.

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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