National | Religion

Issue: "Ugly truth of partial-birth," April 17, 2004

None of our business

There's turmoil in the United Methodist Church. Disregarding church law, a clergy jury in the UMC's Pacific Northwest regional unit voted to retain the ministerial credentials of Karen Dammann, a self-avowed lesbian who recently &quotmarried" her partner (&quotNorthwest ordinance," April 3).

Church members looking to their bishops for a decisive response in defense of church discipline didn't get one. In a wobbly statement, the 15-member executive committee of the UMC Council of Bishops in effect said that the bishops are committed to upholding the church's laws but what regional conferences do is their own business. The bishops also called for more dialogue-even though the homosexuality issue has been debated for years, and two-thirds of delegates to the last two quadrennial general conferences have voted to preserve the ban on ministerial credentials for practicing homosexuals.

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The issue is bound to be thrashed out again at the next quadrennial conference, which opens in Pittsburgh on April 27.

Verdict of insanity

The Palm Sunday service at First Assembly of God in Tyler, Texas, was a difficult one for many of the members, and for Pastor Gary Bell. The capital murder trial was over for one of their own, Deanna Laney, 39.

Last Mother's Day weekend she had used rocks in the middle of the night to bash to death her two sons she had homeschooled, Joshua, 8, and Luke, 6, in the front yard. She left their brother Aaron, then 14 months, in his crib, maimed for the rest of his life. She told police God had told her to do it. Prosecutors contended she knew what she was doing. But five psychiatrists-two for the defense, two for the prosecution, and one for the judge-testified she was suffering from delusions and was legally insane under Texas law. The jury on April 3 found her not guilty by reason of insanity. She will be committed indefinitely to a state hospital.

Mrs. Laney and her husband, Keith, 47, are members of First Assembly, along with many family members on both sides. The boys were Pastor Bell's nephews. The minister reminded his congregation that God gives comfort and strength from the terrors of night and &quotbeauty from ashes."

Some members suggested Mrs. Laney was under spiritual delusion by the devil when she committed the crime. Nevertheless, former deacon Joe Jackson told a reporter, she will have to &quotpay for the things that she'd done."

Bulletin board

Army chaplain James Yee's attorney wants the military to restore the Muslim clergyman to duty and grant him a formal apology. Capt. Yee, 35, spent 76 days in custody after Army investigators accused him of espionage, failing to obey an order, and mishandling classified documents at the prison camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay naval station in Cuba. But as the investigation and time wore on, the military dropped the most serious charges for lack of evidence. Instead of a court martial, officials summoned him to an administrative proceeding and last month found him guilty of adultery and downloading pornography onto an Army computer-minor infractions rarely prosecuted by the Army.

&quotUnder God" in the Pledge of Allegiance isn't the only thing Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow wants removed. He filed suit to rid Congress of its two taxpayer-funded chaplains, on the grounds that they represent government-sponsored religion. Federal judge Henry Kennedy sent him packing. He cited as precedent a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision approving the Nebraska legislature's practice of beginning each session with prayer by a chaplain paid by the state.

The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg became the first of 16 states in that country to ban teachers from wearing Islamic headscarves. Five others are in the process of adopting similar bans. One government official argued that headscarves have no place in schools because they are &quotopen to interpretation," including a possible espousal of &quotIslamic political views." In Berlin, the regional government agreed to outlaw all religious symbols for civil servants.

Planned Parenthood has created the position of chaplain to communicate &quotthe theological justification for choice, sexuality, and contraception." It named Pastor Ignacio Castuera of St. John's United Methodist Church in Los Angeles to fill the post. Rev. Castuera, a member of PP's clergy advisory board, wrote an article last year saying the Bible shows that Jesus &quotwould indeed support a woman's right to choose."

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman


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