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In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Damascus," Sept. 21, 2002

Part of the problem is that junk mail increasingly includes sound files and graphics that eat up disk space. Sometimes friendly mail can unwittingly carry viruses that can take down a computer network. Many companies have policies explicitly discouraging non-work use of their networks, but those can be hard to enforce.

Prince and the revolution

Tausha Prince is a junior in college now, and her high-school Bible group, called the World Changers, has dissolved. But last week, it changed the world a little.

A federal appeals court last week ruled that the Bethel School District in Washington State violated Miss Prince's rights in 1997 by refusing her group the same status granted to other groups.

Miss Prince was in the 10th grade when the controversy started. School officials said her club could not have access to funds given to other clubs. They barred the group from making announcements over the school's PA system and restricted its fliers to one bulletin board. The district argued that recognizing the club would "destroy the careful balance between the free speech and establishment clauses of the First Amendment."

But Miss Prince's attorneys argued that her own First Amendment rights were violated, and that if the school accepts one sort of "noncurriculum" club, it must accept others. Originally, U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess dismissed the complaint on summary judgment. But two members of a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Miss Prince's favor, with one judge partially dissenting.

WCC: World Council in Crisis

We are in a crisis," intoned Catholicos Aram I, moderator of the World Council of Churches' Central Committee, in the final hours this month of the governing body's 10-day meeting in Geneva. WCC financial officers had reported a shortfall of nearly $4 million in income in 2001, and the WCC had exhausted all its reserves. To cope, the committee agreed to cut programs and staff quickly, approve a $3.5 million contingency mortgage against the WCC's property, and slash the 2003 budget of $32 million by at least $5 million.

The committee also addressed another thorny issue: how to keep its remaining 20 or so Orthodox bodies in the fold. The Orthodox have long chafed at domination of the WCC's theology, worship styles, social-action agenda, and decision-making processes by mostly liberal Protestants. The Orthodox communions in Bulgaria and the Republic of Georgia bolted earlier, and others have been threatening to walk.

Responding to a special commission's recommendations, the committee agreed to replace the WCC's parliamentary voting procedure in decision making with a consensus method. Fewer controversial actions and pronouncements should be one of the results. Also, the committee agreed to drop "ecumenical worship" from its terminology (the Orthodox complained it suggested an accord in doctrine and liturgy that doesn't exist).

Not all committee members were happy with the changes. And some women clergy saw the revised approach to common worship as partly an unnecessary accommodation of Orthodox opposition to women's ordination. Lutheran bishop Margot Kaessmann, a Central Committee member from Germany since 1983, went home in a huff and resigned from the committee. (The German churches account for one-third of the WCC's income.)

Cleaning house

Philadelphia pastor William Shaw was elected three years ago to the presidency of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., reputedly America's largest predominantly black denomination, on a reform ticket. (The NBCUSA had been tarnished by sexual and financial scandals of its previous president, Florida pastor Henry Lyons. He is serving a five-year term in a Florida prison following his 1999 conviction on charges of embezzlement and theft.)

At this year's convention, which brought an estimated 30,000 churchgoers to Philadelphia, Rev. Shaw showcased some of his reforms so far. Among them: an overhaul of the constitution that reduces the power of the president and increases his accountability; payoff of the mortgage on the NBCUSA's lavish but under-used headquarters building in Nashville-it stood at $3 million in 1999 and in danger of foreclosure despite numerous unaudited funding drives; tighter financial controls; a clergy retirement and benefits plan; research to determine total NBCUSA membership more accurately (preliminary "extrapolation" of figures suggests about 7.5 million-still an inflated figure by some accounts).

Rev. Shaw said much of his work so far has just been "rubbish clearing ... so that we can get to the main task: centering ourselves in Christ."

Man knows not his time

Steven Snyder, president of Washington-based International Christian Concern, who gained prominence from Indonesia to Pakistan and Sudan for his forays into religious conflict and for provocative lobbying on behalf of the persecuted, died in a Baltimore hospital of a bacterial blood infection on Aug. 27. He was 53.

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