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She seemed normal

National | The puzzling, sad case of Andrea Yates; NAE bids farewell to its president; and other religion news

Issue: "Schundler's bliss," July 7, 2001

Incredible mental demons
Mary, Luke, Paul, John, Noah. In the faith that Andrea Yates reportedly professed, her little children, ranging in age from 6 months to 7 years, are safe in the company of their biblical namesakes. That thought is the only comforting one in the murderous tragedy in suburban Houston last month that horrified the country, says bookstore co-owner Terry Arnold. She sold homeschool supplies to the Yates family and doted over the children. But like everybody else, she is wondering what caused Mrs. Yates allegedly to drown her children in a bathtub June 20. How could she have done such a terrible thing? Why? She says the mother seemed "normal" during her recent visits to the store; she didn't say or do anything to raise questions about her stability. Her children were "beautiful and well-behaved," she was upbeat and gentle with them, and "when she mentioned her husband it was with great affection," she added. This much we know about Andrea Yates, who has just turned 37 and is under suicide watch in a Harris County jail: She was raised a Catholic, she was valedictorian of her high-school class and a star member of the school swim team, and she was a respected nurse for eight years at the famed M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. She quit the job in 1994 to be a stay-at-home mom, having married NASA research scientist Russell Yates a year earlier. Relatives and some of her friends say something happened to her following the birth of Luke in 1999. "She became a different person," her husband said. She attempted suicide by overdosing on her father's Alzheimer's medicine. Doctors prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs, which seemed to help her. She continued a program of homeschooling for her children; she drew her curriculum from the mainstream A Beka material. She and her husband dreamed of living in an RV on the road some day, and they didn't want to be tied down by public-school requirements. The family attended a few meetings of a homeschool support group at nearby Sagemont Church, a 13,000-member Southern Baptist congregation. But records indicate the Yateses didn't attend worship services or Sunday school, and Mrs. Arnold said the family had "home church" on Sundays. Mrs. Yates included in her grueling schedule care of her ailing father. He died in March. Severe symptoms again overtook her following the birth of Mary six months ago. More hospitalizations, more drugs. She seemed to regain control of herself. Then on the morning of June 20, she summoned police and her husband from work. Police described their grisly find to reporters and said Mrs. Yates told them she had been thinking about killing the children for several months. They didn't disclose whether she explained why. (A court has issued a gag order aimed at preventing further leaks.) Mrs. Yates faces murder charges. Her attorney, George Parham, said he likely will plead her not guilty by reason of insanity. Meanwhile, like Mrs. Arnold, many of her friends insist that the person who committed the unspeakable crime is not the kind, gentle, and loving Andrea Yates they know. "She must have had incredible mental demons," Mrs. Arnold said. Vacancy at the NAE
After just two years on the job, Kevin Mannoia is out as president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He resigned under pressure during an NAE executive board meeting in Washington, D.C., last month. NAE leaders generally gave him an "A" for vision and innovation but a "D" or "F" for management and fundraising. NAE total income dropped from $1.5 million in 1999 to $1.1 million last year, including a dip of $320,000 in contributions. Expenses last year exceeded income, requiring staff layoffs. During his short tenure, Rev. Mannoia, 45, attempted to introduce new directions and priorities and expand the NAE base. He relocated NAE headquarters to Southern California as part of the change, helped organize an annual meeting of independent megachurch pastors, and forged cooperative ties with other church groups, including the Catholic Bishops and, briefly, the National Council of Churches. NAE board chairman Edward Foggs praised him for many of his accomplishments. Not all leaders of NAE member organizations signed onto his agenda, however, and some withheld funds. Rev. Mannoia, a former bishop in the Free Methodist Church, acknowledged in a statement to the NAE board that he had come to a point "where I cannot be effective in moving the NAE forward in the ways necessary to assimilate or coalesce [the changes] into the broad and corporate mind of the NAE." The NAE counts among its members 51 denominations and about 250 ministries; it claims a constituency of nearly 45,000 congregations and 30 million people. Truly Catholic?
Under prodding from the Vatican, U.S. Catholic bishops last month approved policies aimed at keeping church-affiliated colleges and hospitals in sync with church teachings. The education policy, years in the making, affects teachers at the country's 235 Roman Catholic universities and colleges. Some objected, saying the policy violates academic freedom. The policy requires professors to apply by next June for a special certification from their local bishop. The document commits its holder "to teach authentic Catholic doctrine" and avoid presenting as Catholic teaching "anything contrary to" official tenets. Some teachers have served notice they will not apply. The hospital policy involves moral directives to 1,140 Catholic medical facilities that treat 85 million patients annually. These include 620, or 11 percent, of all hospitals in the country. Under the directives, Catholic institutions may not cooperate directly or indirectly (through partnerships and mergers-150 to date) with "intrinsically immoral" practices such as abortion, sterilization as a birth-control measure, and euthanasia. Equal lack of access
To avoid having to recognize a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club at a high school, the Saddleback Unified School District in Southern California last month announced it will ban all social and service clubs from meeting during the school day. The new policy, a response to a California appeals court ruling in March that mandated equal access to all groups, affects four south Orange County high schools and 29 student organizations. Groups can still meet on campus, but not during school hours, and they can't post announcements in the school bulletin or solicit members using posters anymore. Also, the schools likely will charge them a rental fee. Superintendent William Manahan said officials didn't like the idea of permitting extracurricular clubs of "any" kind, thus "regretfully" decided to bar all of them. Education experts predict such bans will be common in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month mandating equal access to school facilities. Methodist madness
It was coming-out time at last month's annual meeting of the United Methodist Church's Pacific Northwest regional conference. With some 600 representatives from 280 churches present, Pastor Mark Edwards Williams of Woodland Park United Methodist Church announced he is "proudly ... a practicing gay man." Many in the audience stood and applauded after he explained his action. A female minister on disability leave, Rev. Katie Ladd, likewise announced she is a homosexual. And still another self-proclaimed homosexual, Rev. Karen Dammann-Rev. Williams's predecessor at Woodland Park, lobbied hard at the conference to win appointment to another church. (Bishops appoint UMC ministers to churches for one year at a time.) At Rev. Dammann's prompting, the clergy at a closed-door session voted to ask the UMC's version of the Supreme Court to resolve an apparent conflict between church laws. One rule guarantees a pastor "in good standing" an appointment, but another law bans practicing homosexuals from the pulpit. The court's next session is in October. On the final day of the conference, Bishop Elias Galvan announced he was bound by church law and could not appoint the three to churches. Pending the church court's verdict, church officials would seek a way to employ Rev. Williams and Rev. Dammann elsewhere within the church, and Rev. Ladd would remain on disability leave, he said. In a show of solidarity and support for the trio, most of the clergy who received appointments removed their stoles and placed them on a cross, a release from Bishop Galvan's office said. Novel idea
Some Christian book publishers for years have relied heavily on nonfiction books by celebrity authors to keep the cash flowing. Of late, fiction has taken off, and it can be an even bigger cash cow (as Tyndale has learned from its best-selling Left Behind series). Since few novels carry celebrity by-lines, moves are now afoot to fill that void. Broadman & Holman, the Southern Baptist Convention-related book publisher, recently inked a fiction deal with conservative radio talk-show host Oliver North. The contract calls for Mr. North, a former Marine who worked in the Reagan White House and was implicated in the Iran-Contra weapons-sale scandal, to write a series of three action thrillers, with an option for three more if the first series is successful. Neither Mr. North nor Broadman president Kenneth Stephens will discuss financial details. Mr. Stephens says although his firm will provide editorial assistance, the work will be Mr. North's; he will not use a ghostwriter. The first novel is due out in the fall of 2002. Mr. North says the books' central character is a Marine who is a presidential troubleshooter attached to the National Security Council. They are not religious books as such, he says, but they tell the story of a man who has a very deep and abiding faith based on Judeo-Christian precepts. Bible boom
Americans are buying Bibles in record numbers, according to market surveys. This is especially good news for Grand Rapids-based Zondervan, reputedly the world's largest Bible publisher. Although the overall Bible market has grown about 7 percent over the past year, Bible sales at Zondervan surged more than 23 percent, Zondervan officials report. The surveys show that the typical Bible buyer already owns nine Bibles in various editions and is willing to buy more. Part of the boom may be because publishers and stores have changed their in-store sales strategy. A decade ago, stores generally kept Bibles in shrink-wrap, often behind glass. They came in many editions and sizes. Without a basis for choice, many prospective buyers walked out empty-handed. But shoppers nowadays often find illustrated publishers' aids and sample Bibles they can inspect and compare with other editions. Making it a federal case
As expected, acting bishop Jane Holmes Dixon of the Episcopal diocese of Washington, D.C., filed suit in federal court June 26 to evict a conservative pastor from a suburban parish. He is priest Samuel Edwards of Christ Church in Accokeek, Md. (see WORLD, June 16). The suit, which also targets the church's governing board, asks the court to declare the board's contract with the priest invalid and to affirm her right to preside at services. Bishop Dixon contends she is not bound by a church law that gives bishops a 30-day period for vetoing a church's call of a rector, a deadline she missed by more than a month. Church lawyers say it is the first time the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church has gone to court to contest a rector's call. Evangelical's hour
Board members of The Protestant Hour, an Atlanta-based mainstream denominational radio ministry in its 56th year and heard on about 200 stations, appointed an evangelical as president and executive producer to inject new life into the weekly broadcast. He is Episcopalian Peter M. Wallace, a Dallas Seminary graduate with a background in newspaper journalism and advertising. An author of several books and contributor to many Christian publications, he also spent 14 years as editorial director for Bruce Wilkinson's Walk Through the Bible Ministries. Meanwhile Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a half-hour TV newsmagazine that airs on public television, received enough funding to allow it to begin its fifth season this fall. Thirteen/WNET New York announced grants of $6.6 million from Lilly Endowment, $300,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and $464,000 from Pew Charitable Trusts for production and distribution of versions of some stories for commercial TV use. Veteran network correspondent Robert Abernathy anchors the weekly show, the only news program on national television dedicated to religion coverage.

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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