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Issue: "Reaping the whirlwind," July 20, 2002

Bronx cheer

New York City schools cannot bar religious groups from renting space to hold worship services, a federal judge ruled last month. Judge Loretta A. Preska said the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2001 decision in the Good News club case, which barred discrimination against users of public-school space on the basis of speech content, had "changed the law." She reversed an earlier ruling and opened the way for the Bronx Household of Faith to rent space for services at a middle school near Yankee Stadium. The Bronx church has been meeting in homes for 30 years and has sought unsuccessfully since 1994 to rent school space. The school board routinely rents space to many community groups but bans religious groups and religious meetings. School officials said they may appeal. -Edward Plowman

Whatever happened to...

Here are updates on stories WORLD reported recently about some religion newsmakers: Suspended: Brooklyn pastor David Benke, from his duties as president of the New York?area district of the 2.6-million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Some 20 congregations and clergy formally charged him with compromising the gospel for taking part in a post-9/11 city-sponsored rally at Yankee Stadium led by Oprah Winfrey. To avoid appearances of universalism and syncretism, LCMS rules forbid its clergy from taking part in nearly all ecumenical and interfaith events. Rev. Benke's supporters say LCMS national president Gerald Kieschnick gave him permission to participate (he recused himself from proceedings against Rev. Benke). Rev. Benke has appealed the suspension; most observers expect him to win handily. Resigned: conservative priest Samuel Edwards, from the Episcopal Church. He has joined a "continuing" Anglican church movement. He will help plant a new church not far from the Episcopal parish in Accokeek, Md., from which he was ousted last year under federal court order. The case involved an internationally aired dispute over doctrine and due process between the Accokeek church and liberal bishop Jane Dixon, who has since retired. The judge ruled the bishop had absolute power in such disputes. In a parting shot, Rev. Edwards said the denomination "has become a cartel of ecclesiastical despots." Took a hike: transgendered Methodist minister Rebecca Ann Steen, 47, who was Rev. Richard Zamostny (and a grandfather) until a sex-change operation in 1999. Rather than face a review panel to determine ministerial status, "she" chose to leave the United Methodist Church and seek a friendlier climate elsewhere, possibly the United Church of Christ. Ransomed: Circleville (N.Y.) Presbyterian Church, from the 2.5-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The 200-member congregation paid $112,500 to take its property with it into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It paid the money, a tithe of the property's value, to the regional PCUSA presbytery, one of the most liberal. Circleville's pastor and elders said leaving was a matter of survival. Approval of same-sex unions and defiance of moral standards for ordination by many of the presbytery's churches and leaders had made a bad name for all PCUSA churches, and Circleville had difficulty growing. -Edward Plowman

Marriage lite

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The latest reason traditionalists in the Episcopal Church are shaking their heads in disbelief: Bishop William Smalley of Kansas announced he will now permit the liturgical "blessing" of unmarried couples-whether heterosexual or homosexual. For some heterosexual couples, he explained, marriage could create a financial hardship. He cited as an example older people who would lose a pension or disability benefit from a deceased spouse if they marry. He said the new policy is in line with a resolution the denomination adopted in 2000. It "acknowledged" that some church members were living in life-long committed relationships outside of marriage. He said the rite is not to be a substitute for Holy Matrimony, and must not resemble it (though the homosexual press routinely refers to such blessings as marriage ceremonies). -Edward Plowman

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