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Issue: "John Kerry: On a roll," Feb. 14, 2004

Tar heels dug in

For years, liberals in the 2.4 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have chafed at scrutiny by The Layman, the conservative newspaper and online publication of the Lenoir, N.C.-based Presbyterian Lay Committee. The PLC has long been the most influential renewal group in the PCUSA, exposing liberals' foibles and marshaling opposition to their agendas. After repeated fruitless attempts to censure, discredit, or silence The Layman-which reaches 450,000 homes-and its long-time editor, Rev. Parker Williamson, the PCUSA establishment at last can boast a measure of success. For now.

Delegates to the Western North Carolina Presbytery, Rev. Williamson's home presbytery, voted 150-106 late last month to rule that his work as PLC editor and CEO no longer is "validated," or recognized, "as a ministry consonant with the mission of the presbytery in light of the character and conduct of the work" of the PLC. The action could jeopardize Rev. Williamson's continued status as an active ordained PCUSA pastor. As an "oily" compromise he said he didn't want, the delegates also designated him as a "member-at-large." Rev. Williamson, 62, vowed to fight the invalidation action in church courts.

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Things came to a head last November when the PLC issued a "Declaration of Conscience." It said a "spiritual schism" exists in the denomination: "It is unconscionable to remain passive while some [PCUSA] groups train their followers to subvert the constitution, and denominational officials undermine it by their refusal to require compliance." It went on to urge church members to consider prayerfully redirecting their giving to ministries "at home and abroad that are demonstrably faithful to the gospel."

Alarmed liberals saw red, and the local presbytery's committee on ministry recommended the action against the PLC and Rev. Williamson. Rev. Cynthia Williams, a committee member opposed to the PLC, told delegates they needed to judge whether The Layman publishes "hard words that we need to hear, or hostile words."

Ranch row

Teen Ranch in Michigan has been around for 37 years, providing state-subsidized foster-care services to help teens recover from abuse, abandonment, and delinquency. It does its work well: Recidivism rates are remarkably low. Trouble is, it's a Christian-run charity. It includes religious teachings in its rehab approach, and the ranch is up-front about it in the placement process. However, teens are allowed to opt out, if they choose. Few do.

Citing somewhat vague complaints about teens allegedly being exposed to unwanted religious instruction, the Michigan Family Independence Agency last November stopped referring kids to Teen Ranch. The number of residents nose-dived, and the ranch had to lay off three dozen employees. Now the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious-rights law firm, has warned the agency it will sue in federal court if it doesn't reverse its unconstitutional discriminatory policy.

Bulletin board

The French cabinet approved a controversial bill that prohibits "the wearing of signs or clothes which conspicuously display a pupil's religious affiliation" in schools. The measure, expected to sail through parliament without a hitch, bans Islamic headscarves, Jewish skull-caps, and "large" Christian crosses. Muslims have mounted fierce opposition to the law, and some politicians warn it will fuel Islamic extremism and damage France's relations with Muslim countries.

A Pakistani court sentenced three Islamic terrorists to death after finding them guilty of killing four women in a grenade attack as they prayed at a church near Islamabad last August. The women were all nurses at a Presbyterian hospital adjacent to the church. A fourth assailant died in the assault. Three others were released for lack of evidence.

Fidel Castro, whose communist Cuba was officially atheist until a decade ago, in a colorful ceremony held up the key for a new cathedral his government financed in Havana. Then he handed it to visiting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians. But not before the patriarch first spoke out against the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba: "The blockade of peoples and countries is a historic error."

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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