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In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

Sidewalk sanctuary

New York City officials asked a federal appeals court late last month to lift a ban on using police to shut down a "homeless encampment" outside Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The church operates a shelter for 10 people inside its facility, but for two years also has allowed some 20 to 30 homeless people to spend the night on its steps and property adjacent to the sidewalks. After police began rousting the homeless campers last December, the church won an injunction, claiming the homeless outreach was an integral part of its ministry. At the latest hearing, a city lawyer argued that the church steps constitute an illegal homeless shelter, where dangerous and unsanitary conditions create a nuisance to the city and are a danger to the homeless campers themselves. A statement released by the city said: "The current situation provides no access to toilet facilities, no security protection, and no protection from the elements-a situation that we view as unacceptable." But church attorney Carter G. Phillips contended the church steps are not a shelter, but rather "a place of sanctuary" for homeless people that, as part of the church's ministry, is protected under the First Amendment. Many of the homeless feared the city's shelter system, he said. He vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. - Edward E. Plowman

PCUSA: proof of chastity

Despite its fidelity-in-marriage and chastity-in-singleness standard for ordained clergy and elders, some open homosexuals and their supporters in the 2.5-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continue to flout church law. And in some cases, church courts have found-or woven-loopholes and technicalities that aid the rebels. It happened again last month. The case involved Katie Morrison, a lesbian ordained last year in northern California. She is a "field organizer" for More Light Presbyterians-a gay advocacy network. During her pre-ordination exam, she said she would abide by the chastity standards. Some church members complained that presbytery officials should have asked more specifically her definition of "chaste." But a regional church court dismissed the complaint. It said the complaint failed the new, narrower requirements: Accusers must present evidence and "specific" details of "how, when, where, and under what circumstances the person was self-acknowledging a practice which the [church] Confessions call a sin." Short of planting a video camera in a self-avowed homosexual's bedroom, it means plaintiffs now will be hard pressed to make leaders enforce the chastity standards. Indeed, dozens of pastors and church boards and even some presbyteries have announced they are in defiance of the fidelity-chastity standards. Curiously, the PCUSA high court in 2000 said church governing bodies do not have the right to defy the ordination standard, and a "response" is required by church authorities. Yet, so far, no rebellious groups have been disciplined-an issue sure to be raised at this summer's PCUSA general assembly. - Edward E. Plowman

Survey says...

Among the findings of various surveys and studies released last month:

  • Median pastoral salaries have increased 25 percent over the last decade to $40,077, 31 percent of the average Protestant church's operating budget (Barna Research Group).
  • A spiritual awakening is underway in Canada; evangelical Protestants have more than doubled since 1950, from 1.1 million in 1950 to 2.5 million in 2000 (leading religion pollster Reginald Bibby).
  • Although the number of American adults who expressed no religious preference doubled, from 7 percent to 14 percent, during the 1990s, most still classified themselves as believers; they dropped out of churches, they contended, not the faith (Berkeley sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer).
  • Denominations mean less to more; nondenominational church growth went from 1 percent in 1992 to 6 percent last year (Gallup).
  • At least 16 Catholic priests accused of sexually molesting minors, including 12 priests in the United States, have committed suicide since 1986 (Cleveland Plain Dealer). - Edward E. Plowman

On their honor

Is cheating an epidemic in American schools? Georgia Tech officials said on May 30 that 136 students accepted punishment for cheating on a computer science assignment last fall. Critics worry that the scandal is just one symptom of an enormous problem that often goes undetected. Recent research hints at the breadth of the cheating problem. Rutgers University professor Don McCabe found in a study that 70 percent of 4,500 high-school seniors reported "seriously cheating" at least once on schoolwork. A similar study by Princeton University found that almost three in four high-school students plagiarized during the prior year. Some of the cheating involves athletes. Two former Louisiana State teachers allege academic wrongdoing involving LSU football players. The charges include plagiarism, improper use of note takers, tutors and academic center employees providing too much help, athletes taking unsupervised tests, and superiors pressuring instructors to let improprieties continue. Meanwhile, some schools are trying new ways to cope with a seemingly unstoppable problem. The University of Maryland, for example, is bolstering its honor code. A new policy asks students to sign an oath on papers and tests swearing that they did not cheat. The pledge says, "I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination." Yet the school does not penalize students for not signing it. - Chris Stamper


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