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Issue: "Sex, lies, & audiotape," July 27, 2002

Enlarged territory

For an unprecedented second year in a row, Bruce Wilkinson's Prayer of Jabez won the "Book of the Year" award in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's annual Gold Medallion competition. The thin book, on the New York Times bestseller list for months, has sold over 5.5 million copies so far and spawned other products and titles. Mr. Wilkinson, 55, earlier this year stepped down from the Atlanta-based Walk Thru the Bible ministry he founded 25 years ago to produce films and videos. Following an extensive ministry trip to Africa in May, he scrapped plans to move to Hollywood. Instead, he said, he and his family will move to South Africa next month and stay for several years to help the hungry and AIDS victims, including orphans. A film company he started, Ovation Productions, already has a team of 65 people in South Africa filming a story based on a young boy who loses his parents to AIDS. -Edward E. Plowman

Woe Canada

A three-judge panel in Toronto ruled unanimously on July 12 that the Ontario provincial government must recognize homosexual marriages. The court found that Canada's official definition of marriage, limiting it to a pact between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. It cited the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which bans discrimination. The court gives the federal government two years to redefine marriage; otherwise the ruling will apply only to the province. The ruling came in response to a suit filed by two homosexual couples against the Ontario government after it refused to register the marriage following their joint wedding ceremony at a Toronto church in January 2001. The couples asked the court to compel the province to recognize the ceremonies as legally binding. Canada's Supreme Court will be asked to settle the core issue eventually. The British Columbia high court in a similar case last October declined to broaden the definition of marriage. It also said Parliament cannot redefine marriage in the absence of a constitutional amendment. That decision is under appeal, and another similar case is being thrashed out in Quebec. The Ontario decision sent shockwaves through many Canadian churches. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada decried the court's failure to grant any right of religious or conscientious objection. If marriage is redefined contrary to the way God ordained it, a spokesman warned, the evangelical community may be forced to "rethink its participation in state-recognized marriage." -Edward E. Plowman

Brownsville burned

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Preachers at the long-running Brownsville revival in Pensacola, Fla., in the late 1990s often cried "Fire! Fire!" as they summoned God's Spirit to fall upon congregants gathered at the altar. This month, fire of the damaging type enveloped Brownsville Assembly of God. Lightning struck the roof of the 2,200-seat church on July 4 and set it on fire. The blaze caused an estimated $1 million in damage. Insurance will pay for repairs, to be completed by Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, church services are being held in the church's 2,500-seat Family Life Center next door. -Edward E. Plowman

Faith works

President Bush's promotion of charitable choice-welfare legislation that permits faith-based social-service programs to receive government funding-seeks only to "regularize and expand what [already] is an existing public-policy practice," university researchers found in a recent study of welfare-to-work initiatives. The study examined 500 such programs in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Among its findings: Faith-based programs accounted for about a quarter of those studied, and nearly half of them integrate religious elements into the services they provide. About half receive government funding, including more than four in 10 that integrate faith in their programs. Few of those that receive government grants reduce their religious emphasis afterward. Also: One in five faith-based programs that applied for government funding were turned down, compared to only 7 percent of similar applications by secular nonprofits. And faith-based programs use far more volunteers in a typical month than do the secular nonprofits. The details are in a report of the study, "Working Faith: How Religious Organizations Provide Welfare-to-Work Services," by Stephen V. Monsma, a political science professor at Pepperdine University. The Center for Research on Religion and Urban Society at the University of Pennsylvania carried out the study. -Edward E. Plowman

Brownsville burned

Preachers at the long-running Brownsville revival in Pensacola, Fla., in the late 1990s often cried "Fire! Fire!" as they summoned God's Spirit to fall upon congregants gathered at the altar. This month, fire of the damaging type enveloped Brownsville Assembly of God. Lightning struck the roof of the 2,200-seat church on July 4 and set it on fire. The blaze caused an estimated $1 million in damage. Insurance will pay for repairs, to be completed by Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, church services are being held in the church's 2,500-seat Family Life Center next door. -Edward E. Plowman

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