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Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

Ask but don't tell

United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest have come up with a novel way to flout their denomination's law that bars "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from serving as pastors: Hear and see no evil. It all began at an annual church conference last summer when the Rev. Mark Williams of Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle declared for the record that he was "proudly" a "practicing gay man." He was living with a partner. Pressed by conservative pastors to enforce the law, Bishop Elias Galvan months later filed formal charges against Rev. Williams. But not until this spring did the bishop's nine-member investigating committee start its inquiry. The committee confronted Rev. Williams with the obligatory question that he declined to answer. With that, the committee dismissed the charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a trial. The decision could not be appealed. Rev. Williams remains a pastor in good standing. The episode left many United Methodists wondering whether church law can ever be enforced anywhere its opponents are in charge. -Edward E. Plowman

Theology matters

Sources in the Church of England last month leaked to The Times of London and other media that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be a liberal, Rowan Williams, 52, Archbishop of Wales. He would replace the retiring George Carey, a keep-the-peace conservative. (Britain's monarch selects the titular leader of worldwide Anglicanism, based on strong recommendations from church leaders.) The report generated a barrage of protests by conservatives from across the far-flung 70-million-member Anglican Communion. Archbishop Williams is known for his support of the homosexual agenda, and he has ordained at least one priest he knew had a homosexual partner, according to a prominent evangelical in the church, Rev. David Holloway. He warned the selection of Archbishop Williams would split the church and the Anglican Communion. The vast majority of Anglicans in the global South, where the church has its greatest strength, are moral conservatives. Some observers said the protests have shocked government officials so much that the Williams name may be withdrawn in favor of someone less controversial. c -E.P.

Growing pains in the PCA

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Formed in 1973 in a split from mainstream Presbyterianism, the conservative 308,000-member Presbyterian Church in America is still growing (with about 50 new church startups each year). Delegates at the PCA general assembly in Birmingham last month took steps the majority hoped would promote continued growth. Pastors and other leaders of larger PCA churches in recent years have complained that some PCAers are theological nit-pickers. The majority voted in effect to allow ordination candidates greater latitude in belief, as long as any differences aren't out of accord with "fundamental" doctrinal standards. And, to prevent a "small minority" from exercising "inordinate influence," they voted to increase to 10 percent the number of presbyteries needed to request denominational discipline of a minister. In other action, the assembly condemned the use of women as military combatants and inclusion of women as conscripts. Delegates also cautioned churches and members against use of the TNIV Bible, and called on the International Bible Society to refrain from further gender-neutral translations. -E.P.

No other way, unless ...

Faced with increasing unrest among conservatives over theological uncertainty in the 2.5-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), delegates to the denomination's annual general assembly last month voted overwhelmingly to approve an eight-page defining statement on the lordship of Christ. It describes Him as "the only Savior and Lord" and says "no one is saved apart from God's gracious redemption in Jesus Christ." But it left wiggle room for universalists and other liberals who believe God may provide other ways to salvation: "We neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith." -E.P.

Addressing abuse

The 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention last month took note of the homosexual-abuse scandal wreaking havoc in the Catholic Church, but they cast no stones. They recognized in a resolution "our own fallenness and the need to prevent such appalling sins from happening within our own ranks." The measure called on spiritual leaders to hold each other accountable, seminaries to emphasize integrity in ministerial training, churches to cooperate with civil authorities in the prosecution of abuse cases, and authorities to punish abuse by clergy and counselors "to the fullest extent of the law." Frank Ruff, Catholic bishops' liaison to the SBC, expressed appreciation for the "sensitive" wording and tone of the resolution. It wasn't a condemnatory "putdown," he said. In another resolution, the messengers lowered the boom on the new gender-revised TNIV Bible. Rejecting it as an unreliable translation, they urged the SBC-operated Lifeway bookstores not to sell it. c -Edward E. Plowman Closing down President Musharraf of Pakistan announced new laws to ban the teaching of militancy and extremism in the country's 8,000 Islamic religious schools, or madrassas. Clerics who violate the laws will go to prison for two years. Many senior leaders of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime graduated from madrassas in Pakistan. Eritrea, formerly part of Ethiopia, recently ordered the closure of all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran denominations. Muslims and the Orthodox make up 50 percent and 40 percent of the population, respectively. Some observers blame the move on pressure from these groups aimed at halting evangelical growth. -E.P.

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