The Monthly Update

November 2004 Update

November 2004

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Thank you for your continuing support of Concerned Methodists’ ministry. We appreciate so much both the prayers and financial help making possible the work we do in "contending for the faith" as God has called us to do.

This Monthly Update contains more data of what is happening in the Episcopal Church, the National Council of Churches, Christian persecution, and our own United Methodist Church to include our bishops.

For several months now I have been holding a letter sent to us from a dear Christian lady about her husband The Reverend Ira Dent. It is time to share it with you:

Dear Allen

Just wanted you to know that Ira passed away February 22, 2004, from a heart attack. He had been in failing health for some time and the Lord took him to be with Him about 3:30 on Sunday afternoon.

I had asked Ira if he was going to church with me that morning and he said, "No, the Lord and I have a little project we are working on this morning."

…The celebration of his death was Wednesday, February 25th (the day before his birthday). Joel Dent, his brother, gave the Eulogy and several other Ministers either had a scripture or a prayer. I had asked all his Minister friends that were there to sing his favorite song "Victory in Jesus." It was beautiful – all male voices.

I am grateful that he did not have to suffer. I know where he is and know that he is having a glorious time talking with Jesus face-to-face.

Please keep me in your prayers as I am going to continue to be doing the work that the Lord has for me to do.

In Christ’s love,


What Bessie has said about Ira really speaks to me. Having known him for many years he has been an inspiration in his faithful walk for the Lord. He typifies what I call the "old-time" Methodist pastor who was a Spirit-filled servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. With these pastors, you could feel their love for the Lord in what they did and said, and when they preached and prayed. And Bessie’s love for our Master is obvious too; anyone who knows her would agree that there is a "sweet, sweet Spirit" in this lady.

Bessie, all of us who knew Ira will miss him. You are in our prayers.

May we ask that you continue to pray for our United Methodist Church as we ask you to continue to remember us in your prayers? And, once again, we thank you for your support.

In His service,



Allen O. Morris,

Executive Director

November 2004 Update

Bits and Pieces from across the United Methodist Church

Most people talk cream and live skim milk. – D.L. Moody

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Of Interest.

+ Over One-Third of Criticisms Aimed at Israel; None at China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia

Washington, DC: At a September 27 press conference, the Institute on Religion and Democracy…released an extensive report critical of human rights advocacy by mainline U.S. Protestant churches and related ecumenical bodies. The report examines resolutions passed by the highest governing bodies of four denominations—the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—between 2000 and 2003. It also covers resolutions, press releases, and articles during that same period from the U.S. National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. The IRD report scrutinizes the churches’ choice of the nations at which they aim their human rights criticisms. It uses as a yardstick the assessments of civil and political freedoms around the world compiled by the human rights group Freedom House.

The results showed that over one-third of all church criticisms of human rights abuses were aimed at a single small nation: Israel. Slightly less than one-third were aimed at the United States, and the rest were distributed among twenty other nations. Only 19 percent of the church criticisms were aimed at nations deemed "not free" in the 2004 Freedom House assessments. Many of the countries rated lowest by Freedom House—such as China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia—were not criticized even once. Of the fifteen worst human rights abusers listed by Freedom House, only five received any criticism during the four years studied.

"Israel is certainly responsible for some human rights abuses, as are all nations," said IRD President Diane Knippers. "But an extreme focus on Israel, while ignoring major human rights violators, seriously distorts the churches’ message on universal human rights. We cannot find a rational explanation for the imbalance. We are forced to ask: Is there an anti-Jewish animus, conscious or unconscious, that drives this drumbeat of criticism against the world’s only Jewish state?"

"Explicit criticism of Israel was completely out of proportion, in volume and in severity of tone, with church criticism of more notable human rights abusers," said IRD Research Assistant Erik Nelson, the primary researcher for the report. "That excessive criticism, paired with the fact that none of the churches or groups that we studied criticized human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority or other neighboring governments, certainly raises concerns about a prejudiced double standard. Mainline churches need to face frankly the possibility of anti-Semitism among ‘our kind of people.’"

Harsh mainline criticisms of Israel have already raised alarms in the Jewish community. A September 28 meeting in New York between top officials of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and leaders in the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements will address these issues, among others. IRD Vice President Alan Wisdom, co-author with Nelson of the report, commented: "I hope that leaders in my denomination [the PCUSA] will see this situation as more than a public relations problem with an external group [the Jewish community] that needs to be mollified. I hope that they will take this opportunity for some serious introspection, asking whether we Presbyterians have been faithful to our own Christian commitment to value equally the human rights of all peoples."

Knippers expressed her concern for the future of human rights advocacy in the mainline: "After the Cold War, some church leaders apologized for ignoring human rights abuses behind the Iron Curtain. Today the churches seem to be ignoring human rights abuses in other parts of the world, most notably the Arab world. Did these churches really learn anything from their failures during the Cold War? We need an entirely different approach for the 21st century."

[Note: This has been our experience – that the objectivity of our United Methodist leaders and other denominational employees is highly imbalanced and cannot be trusted, either for balance or truthfulness.]

- Erik Nelson; "IRD to Release Report Documenting Imbalance in Mainline Church Human Rights Advocacy"; September 23, 2004. URL: 

+ Report Details Hostility to Religious Expression in America

U.S. Senator: Purging Campaign 'Pervasive, National, Well Organized'

Thanks to the efforts of a Texas-based legal group, the nine members of one Senate subcommittee now have in their hands a document that outlines literally hundreds of examples of violations of individuals' religious freedoms -- in the United States. In September, the U.S. State Department reported in its sixth Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom that eight national governments are designated as being of particular concern as violators of internationally acknowledged religious freedom rights. Those eight countries are North Korea, China, Burma, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea. (See Related Story)

Now comes a report from the Liberty Legal Institute (LLI) in Plano, Texas, that reveals what the group describes as "widespread religious hostility" across the U.S. That report, titled "Examples of Hostility to Religious Expression in the Public Square" [PDF], documents acts of hostility towards, and discrimination against, expressions of faith by students, faculty, government employees, churches, religious organizations, and ordinary citizens.

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal, says the report's contents should get people's attention. "It is amazing that a

document like this has never been assembled before," the attorney says. "When you look at what is actually happening around the nation, it's truly scary."

ACLU, Others Tagged

The LLI report was presented on Wednesday (October 20) to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property, chaired by Republican John Cornyn of Texas. During a subcommittee hearing in early June, it was suggested by some of those testifying that religious freedom was not an issue in America. Cornyn was not convinced by those detractors. The LLI document backs him up. "The campaign to purge expressions of faith from the public square is pervasive, national, and well organized," the senator states in a press release. "The report not only contains page after page and example after example of hostility to religious expression, it also notes how this effort to cleanse the public square of all religious expressions is carefully orchestrated and organized by some of the nation's leading liberal special interest groups."

The 51-page document identifies three organizations that LLI contends have led a nationwide campaign to remove religious expression from the public square: the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and People for the American Way. Cornyn's press release accuses all three of those organizations of actively litigating against such things as equal access for religious groups in public schools, school choice programs that would permit needy children to attend parochial and nonsectarian schools alike, and voluntary, student-led religious expression. The senator says he was not surprised during his subcommittee's hearings to hear from those groups that there was not a problem with religious expression in the United States. "[N]o one will actually admit to being hostile to religious expression," he says. "They know full well that they are far more likely to advance their extreme ideology through the courts, rather than through the democratic process."

Concrete Examples:

Following are some samples of hostility to religious expression, as provided in the Liberty Legal Institute report:

- A 12-year-old elementary school student was reprimanded by a public school in St. Louis, Missouri, for quietly saying a prayer before lunch in the school cafeteria, according to a federal lawsuit.

- Public high school students in Massachusetts started a Bible club and tried to hand out candy canes with a biblical passage attached. The school suspended the students for distributing the candy canes.

- A public school sixth grader in Boulder, Colorado, tried to complete her book report assignment by presenting the Bible, but was forbidden from doing so by her teacher. She was also forbidden from bringing the Bible to school.

- A Texas school district refused to hire a public school teacher for the position of assistant principal, because her children attended a private Christian school, in violation of the district's policy that the children of all principals and administrators attend public school.

- A Vietnam veteran and member of an honor guard at a New Jersey veterans' cemetery was fired for saying "God bless you and this family" to the family of a deceased veteran, even though the family had consented to the blessing beforehand.

- Jody Brown; AgapePress, October 21, 2004.

+ In a bit of irony, the University of California system -- which was at the center of the free-speech movement on college

campuses four decades ago -- is now refusing to recognize a Christian student group's right to choose to associate with those who share their beliefs. The University of California-Hastings College of Law says the campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society must open its membership to all students "irrespective of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation" -- and that to not do so violates the school's Policy on Nondiscrimination. Last month, the CLS chapter had asked to be exempt from the religion and sexual orientation portions of that policy, but the school denied that request and stripped the group of its yearly funding. On Friday, the Hastings chapter of the CLS filed a federal lawsuit against school officials, alleging that the refusal of exemption from those portions of the policy violates the rights of expressive association, free speech, and free exercise of religion. According to attorney Steven Aden with the Center for Law & Religious Freedom, the University of California is "only the latest in a string of colleges across the country to face litigation because they value political correctness over religious liberty." - AgapePress, October 25, 2004.

Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia & Other Life Issues.

...The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer is condemning the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear a false advertising lawsuit against the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Three plaintiffs in the case charged that Planned Parenthood has made misleading representations about the safety of abortion and the evidence linking the procedure with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. A state court dismissed the case based on California's Anti-SLAPP statute (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), incorrectly arguing that the plaintiffs had insufficient scientific evidence and no "reasonable probability of success." Coalition president Karen Malec feels the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case and to address the merits of the science is nothing less than a miscarriage of justice. "Women have the right to know the truth," Malec says. "The abortion and the cancer fundraising industries value abortion and making money more than our lives." The women's health advocate contends these industries have kept women in the dark about research supporting the abortion-breast cancer link for 50 years. - AgapePress, October 21, 2004.

(UM) Bishops. The UM Council of Bishops last month opened its first permanent offices, staffed by Bishop Roy I. Sano (retired) as the council's executive secretary. The office is located in the UM Building in Washington, D.C. Council president Bishop Peter D. Weaver (Boston Area) said, "As a council, we believe we are better positioned and better equipped to provide effective leadership and communications by being located in one of the world’s most important centers of communication." [Note: Location does not make for effective leadership. Effective leadership makes for effective leadership. Our bishops have been singularly lacking in this area.] - Newscope, October 15, 2004.

The Good Stuff.

+ A Safe Internet Alternative for Your Family: Two Internet filter options.

- Millions of pornographic websites are open to everyone ... 80% of e-mail is spam or worse! Are you paying for Internet service that helps sponsor destructive and immoral behavior? You are if you use AOL, MSN, or Earthlink! For information on an ISP designed to protect the entire family, go to  -- it's not too late to switch!

- The American Family Filter, a product of Bsafe Online, can protect your family, home, school, or business from trash on the Internet, including chat rooms and pornography. Internet sites are filtered on our servers, freeing you from the hassle of installing and updating screening software on your computer. Get this protection for only $40 a year -- that's about 10 cents per day. More details: - AgapePress, October 25, 2004.


+ Bishop Beverly J. Shamana (San Francisco Area) has dismissed a complaint for performing a same-sex wedding in a UM church against Karen Oliveto, a UM pastor who is now academic dean for the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. The February 15 ceremony was performed in Bethany UMC, San Francisco, after the mayor permitted a marriage license. The state Supreme Court later invalidated the license. At the time, the UM Book of Discipline made no specific reference to same-sex marriage, though it did prohibit "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions." On May 4, General Conference voted 455-445 to make "performing same-sex wedding ceremonies" a chargeable offense.

- Newscope, October 15, 2004.

+ ...The Canadian Council of Churches is not taking any position on legalization of same-sex marriage, as the nation's Supreme Court holds hearings on the issue. The council's president says that "given the wide spectrum of positions and theologies across the member churches, there is at present no possibility of consensus." The council includes 19 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations. The United Church of Canada told the Supreme Court that it supports legalization of same-sex marriage. But lawyers representing the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Muslim congregations testified that legalization could cause legal jeopardy for religions that teach against homosexual practices. Courts in half of Canada's provinces with most of the nation's population already allow same-sex marriage. [Isn’t it sad that Mormons and Muslims know that homosexual marriage is not good and are active in opposing it, yet the Canadian Council of Churches, a supposedly "Christian" ecumenical organization does not? This parallels the activism from the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.] - AgapePress, October 21, 2004.

The World Methodist Council. Habitat founder to receive World Methodist Peace Award

Millard Fuller, president and founder of Habitat for Humanity International, will receive the 2004 World Methodist Peace Award. The award, given annually since 1977 by the World Methodist Council, will be presented to Fuller Dec. 8, at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta. "In bringing together persons regardless of their religious preference or background to work side-by-side to eliminate poverty housing, Habitat for Humanity International promotes peace, reconciliation and justice," said the Rev. George Freeman, top executive of the World Methodist Council. His Eminence Sunday Mbang, chairperson of the World Methodist Council and Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, will present the award. Habitat for Humanity began 27 years ago when Fuller, a successful attorney in Americus, Georgia, and his wife Linda, left their millionaire lifestyle and rededicated their lives to serving God. Habitat for Humanity operates in 100 countries around the world. In 2005 the 200,000th Habitat house will be completed. At that time more than 1,000,000 people will live in housing made possible by volunteers dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness worldwide.

- Kathy Gilbert; United Methodist News Service (UMNS); Nashville {04478}; Oct. 14, 2004.

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Never grow a wishbone where your backbone ought to be. – Clementine Paddleford

Global Outlook

Life is change.
Growth is optional.
Choose wisely.

Karen Kaiser

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The Episcopal Church.

+ Statement on The Windsor Report expresses more Christian hope than Christian realism. Those who expected dramatic and definitive action from the Lambeth Commission will be disappointed. Those of us who did not have high expectations will continue to look to the Primates of the Communion for leadership.

Tone and scope of the report. Regarding its tone, we see here classic British understatement. Formal Anglicanism generally uses understated language that inadequately communicates to American ears the depth of the concern – and even the radical nature of what is being proposed.

Nature of the crisis. The report is clear that ECUSA’s proceeding with the consecration of a bishop living in a same-sex partnership and bishops authorizing same-sex marriages are threatening the Communion.

Realistic conclusion: The report does conclude with a sober, realistic warning: "There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together." It suggests a process that could end with some parts of the Communion in observer status or "as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership." Those of us who live within the American church, and have a realistic understanding of its obstinacy, will recognize how likely it is that the report’s hope will be disappointed and that division will be the tragic outcome.

- Statement by IRD President Diane Knippers on the Windsor Report [the Anglican Communion's examination of the crisis within the Episcopal Church (USA)], Diane Knippers; October 18, 2004. The Institute on Religion and Democracy, 1110 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 1180, Washington, DC 20005. Phone: 202-969-8430 URL: 

+ From Nigeria's Primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola: Statement on Windsor Report

I welcome the sincerity and hard work of those who have prepared The Windsor Report 2004. After an initial reading it is clear to me that the report falls far short of the prescription needed for this current crisis. It fails to confront the reality that a small, economically privileged group of people has sought to subvert the Christian faith and impose their new and false doctrine on the wider community of faithful believers. We have watched in sadness as sisters and brothers who have sought to maintain their allegiance to the 'faith once delivered to the saints' have been marginalized and persecuted for their faith. We have been filled with grief as we have witnessed the decline of the North American Church that was once filled with missionary zeal and yet now seems determined to bury itself in a deadly embrace with the spirit of the age. Instead of a clear call for repentance we have been offered warm words of sentimentality for those who have shown no godly sorrow for their actions and harsh words of condemnation for those who have reached out a helping hand to friends in need of pastoral and spiritual care.

Why, throughout the document, is there such a marked contrast between the language used against those who are subverting the faith and that used against those of us, from the Global South, who are trying to bring the church back to the Bible? Where are the expressions of deep concern for the men and women whose witness is jeopardized and whose lives are at risk because of the actions of ECUSA? Where are the words of 'deep regret' for the impact of ECUSA's actions upon the Global South and our missionary efforts?

Where is the language of rebuke for those who are promoting sexual sins as holy and acceptable behaviour?

The imbalance is bewildering. It is wrong to use equal language for unequal actions.

The report correctly notes that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster have pushed the Anglican Communion to the breaking point. It rightly states that they did not listen to the clear voices of the Communion and rejected the counsel of all four Instruments of Unity. Therefore it is surprising that the primary recommendation of the report is ‘greater sensitivity’ instead of heartfelt repentance.

Already the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA has stated that he sees no need to halt welcoming practising homosexuals into all orders of ministry! In addition, the bishop of New Westminster has indicated that same sex blessing will continue. Thus they are hell bent on destroying the fabric of our common life and we are told to sit and wait.

We have been asked to express regret for our actions and "affirm our desire to remain in the Communion". How patronizing! We will not be intimidated. In the absence of any signs of repentance and reform from those who have torn the fabric of our Communion, and while there is continuing oppression of those who uphold the Faith, we cannot forsake our duty to provide care and protection for those who cry out for our help.

The Bible says that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed. The report rightly observes that if the 'call to halt' is ignored 'then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart". The Episcopal Church and Diocese of New Westminster are already walking alone on this and if they do not repent and return to the fold, they will find that they are all alone. They will have broken the Anglican Communion.

I am disappointed that an important report that was requested by the Primates who gathered at Lambeth Palace last October was not submitted to us for prayerful consideration. Instead it has been released to the entire world as if it were the final word on this troubling matter. However, before the next meeting of the Primates in February, I will now take it to the All Africa Bishops Conference that will gather in Lagos from October 26th-31st and we will have further opportunity to speak of the crisis created by the North American Church.

We commend the future of our Communion to the hands of almighty God and the prayers of all.

Peter Akinola

The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman of the Council of Anglican, Provinces in Africa.

- Statement on Windsor Report by Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria; October 20, 2004.


+ ...Conservative Episcopalians October 20, 2004 in New England have split from the Episcopal Church USA, forming four new congregations in response to last year's consecration of a homosexual bishop. Nearly 250 lay people and 27 clergy from nearly 40 churches met in Providence, Rhode Island, over the weekend to launch parishes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They also commissioned "home missionaries" to set up fellowships that may become Anglican parishes. The new congregations, which plan to align themselves with a foreign bishop, will meet in private homes for now. The New England group is a branch of the ten-month-old Anglican Communion Network, which brings together dioceses, parishes, and individuals who oppose Episcopal Church leadership and call themselves "orthodox Anglicans."

- AgapePress, October 18, 2004.

The National Council of Churches. IRD Responds to NCC Criticism of Human Rights Report

On September 27, the National Council of Churches (NCC) issued a response to the IRD report analyzing human rights advocacy by the mainline Protestant churches, the NCC, and the World Council of Churches. Here is our response to that statement by NCC General Secretary Robert Edgar: The NCC calls into question the objectivity of our report by claiming that we are conservative, and that Freedom House, whose human rights assessments we used as a benchmark, is also conservative. That, however, is not an argument. We prefer to have a discussion about the detailed evidence of biased human rights advocacy that IRD presents in the report.

The NCC’s only response to all that evidence is to claim that our methodology is "fatally flawed" because it "assumes that all that the National Council of Churches USA does or says about human rights gets reported out in resolutions and news releases." We have no doubt that there may be some NCC human rights activities that never find their way into a resolution or news release. But when we were looking for a manageable, completely accessible data set representing the NCC’s human rights priorities in recent years, the resolutions and news releases from 2000 to 2003 seemed like a reasonable sample. These documents, all posted on the NCC website, are the principal means by which NCC policy is communicated—not only to U.S. Christians, but also to Christians around the world, and Jews as well.

The NCC charges that the IRD report "ignores the NCC’s sound, comprehensive policy base on human rights," going back to policy statements from 1963 and 1995. Actually, the IRD is quite aware of those two documents. We mounted a strong campaign to influence the 1995 statement. We pushed for it to emphasize more strongly the universality of human rights, as had the earlier document. That commitment to universal human rights is the standard against which we measure the NCC’s performance in human rights advocacy. The NCC’s selective and slanted criticisms of specific governments fail to measure up to its own standard.

The NCC insists that it "seeks justice for all people in the Middle East." Our report shows that, during 2000-2003, the council’s resolutions and news releases criticized Israel 20 times, while not once criticizing the Palestinian Authority or any of Israel’s immediate neighbors. The NCC may indeed "grieve all loss of life, including Palestinians and Israelis"; however, Israel’s was the only government that it specifically faulted for that loss of life.

The NCC denounces IRD’s "apparent attempt to hurt Jewish-Christian relations by quite blatantly planting seeds of suspicion that the mainline churches are anti-Semitic." But it is the mainline churches’ own statements that raise suspicion. That suspicion was voiced in the Jewish community well before the IRD report was released. For example, a July 26 editorial in the Jerusalem Post warned against a "slide toward outright anti-Semitism" in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other denominations.

The IRD report is more cautious in its language. After all kinds of caveats about the complexity of motives, we simply ask: "Given the excessive focus on Israel in these mainline human rights statements, the question must be faced: Could anti-Semitism of some sort be a factor?" We urge "a more searching self-examination," noting that "it is naïve to think that there could not be anti-Semitism among ‘our kind of people’ in mainline churches."

The NCC’s Edgar charges that "the IRD wrongly and dangerously equates any criticism of the government of Israel and its policies with anti-Semitism." Apparently, he has not read our report carefully. On page 25, we state: "We do not assert that it is inherently anti-Semitic to criticize actions or policies of the state of Israel." On page 30, we state: "Church leaders insist that criticism of the policies of the state of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic. While this point is true, it is not the criticism of Israel that raises the question of anti-Semitism. It is the excessive criticism of Israel…that raises the question." This latest IRD human rights report undertakes a simpler task: It provides an overview of where the mainline Protestant churches, as well as the NCC and WCC, placed their human rights emphasis over a period of four years. If the NCC is not happy with the results, it should not blame IRD, but should carefully examine its own advocacy.

The NCC condemns the IRD for "play[ing] partisan, secular politics with important matters of Christian faith and ministry." This is a strange complaint to come from an organization that does not abstain from partisan politics, including the recent anti-Republican protests in New York. It is also difficult to understand how a balanced advocacy of human rights worldwide could be described as a "partisan" issue, rather than an imperative of Christian faith and ministry. The NCC’s work for peace and justice, in the Middle East and elsewhere, would be more effective if it did not seem to be so slanted.

In avoiding judgments about the merits of NCC human rights criticisms, the IRD report was endeavoring to steer clear of partisanship. The point of the report is simple—even if one completely agrees with all the criticisms of Israel offered by the NCC and the other bodies that we studied, it is still difficult to justify aiming over one-third of all church human rights criticisms at one small nation, while ignoring the worst human rights violators in many parts of the world. We still await the NCC’s explanation of this striking disproportion in human rights criticisms.

- Special IRD Report; Erik Nelson and Alan Wisdom; September 30, 2004.

South Africa.

...The Agathos Foundation has created a groundbreaking refuge for widows and orphans of the AIDS crisis in South Africa. Named by Zulu tribesmen in Loskop, South Africa, the "Cottages at Injasuti" is seen as a project of hope and care in an area that is among the hardest hit by the AIDS virus, with 35 to 50 percent of the adult population of the region testing HIV-positive. The Agathos Foundation has been working on the project for the last year, developing relationships and cooperating with local tribal leaders, government officials, and the general populace to design and implement the self-sustaining village. Robert Smith, founder and president of Agathos, says the self-sustaining village model requires one-sixth the expense of traditional aid over the lifetime of an orphan. The long-term goal of the organization is to purchase profitable businesses and use the profits to fund more orphan villages like the Cottages at Injasuti throughout sub-Saharan Africa -- villages that, after initial setup costs, will require no further foreign aid. [Note: It is still important to notice that prevention is better than picking up the pieces of this devastating illness – abstaining from those behaviors that lead to infection with AIDS.] - AgapePress, October 18, 2004.

The United Church of Christ.

+ The United Church of Christ's Connecticut Conference has backed marriage for same-sex couples, but local churches will now decide whether to follow the policy. The resolution was approved by a nearly three-to-one margin, but opponents warned that their congregations may now break away. In June, the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Connecticut, left over disagreements with the church's theological stance. - AgapePress, October 18, 2004.

Vietnam. Ministry Urges Prayer for Vietnam's House Churches

(AgapePress) - A new law set to take effect next month in Vietnam is expected to add to the persecution already suffered by Christians in that Communist nation. While one article of the new law purportedly guarantees religious freedom, most of the remaining 40 articles detail a long series of oppressive policies and hindrances to Church activities. Jerry Dykstra is with Open Doors USA, a ministry that serves the persecuted Church worldwide. He explains that specific prayer is needed for believers in Vietnam and says, "The Christians there, especially house church Christians, request prayers that this law will not be put into effect, that the government will rescind that law." That is the number-one request that Christians under that oppressive regime have right now, Dykstra says. Also, he adds, quoting one Vietnamese pastor's words directly, their prayer is "not that the persecution will stop, but that the Lord will give us power to continue to be faithful and continue to evangelize." Dykstra believes the Vietnamese government attempts to project a façade of religious liberty. If anyone were to go into Ho Chi Minh City, he says, the government officials "would have you believe that everything is all right and Christians can worship in their houses of worship." However, the U.S. ministry representative says, "the truth of the matter is that many Christians are being persecuted, especially in the [Central] Highlands sections, especially the Montagnard Christians, who are a minority.

Vietnam's new law on religion is due to take effect November 15, the Open Doors spokesman notes, pointing out that this is one day after the ministry's designated "International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church." He says the law will create many problems and disadvantages for followers of Christ in this Communist nation, which is noted in the U.S. State Department's 2004 Report on International Religious Freedom as one of the "countries of particular concern."

- Allie Martin; AgapePress, October 25, 2004.

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Flowers grow out of dark moments. – Corita Kent