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News for Sociology of Religion--Wed Mar 12 06:43:35 EST 1997

  • GOVERNMENT LIGHTENS ITS WELFARE LOAD AT CHURCHES' EXPENSE
    AUSTIN, Texas—Charles Merrill is angry. As pastor of University United Methodist Church, home to some of Austin's movers and shakers, he could spend his days on issues  (*)

  • EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR RELIGIOUS TRAINING IN PUGET SOUND
    SEATTLE—No one's proclaiming the Seattle area as the promised land for aspiring pastors and lay ministers. But opportunities for graduate-level education and training for

  • IT'S LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT IN VILNIUS
    VILNIUS, Lithuania—It was impossible not to fall in love with Vilnius. Even if Lithuanian Airlines had not upgraded us for the  (*)

  • HASIDIC VILLAGE SETTLES DISPUTE WITH DISSIDENTS
    NEW YORK—Hours before its revered chief rabbi was to testify in federal court in Manhattan, the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County agreed to settle its dispute with a group of (New York Times) (*)

  • No headline.
    God certainly is not dead, but the wave of spirituality sweeping America has to be looked at critically. At least that's the view of Carl F.H. Henry, a gentlemanly  (*)

  • MY CHANCE OF WINNING? IMPOSSIBLE
    You might as well toss your entry into the trash, as well. It's not that the $11 million top prize isn't enticing. Who couldn't use a mansion and a Jaguar?



    GOVERNMENT LIGHTENS ITS WELFARE LOAD AT CHURCHES' EXPENSE

    By JUAN R. PALOMO=

    c. 1997 Cox News Service

    AUSTIN, Texas—Charles Merrill is angry.

    As pastor of University United Methodist Church, home to some ofAustin's movers and shakers, he could spend his days on issuesother than how political leaders and their corporate allies treatthe poor.

    Instead, the issue has made him an angry man.

    ``It's not the responsibility of the church to clean up excessesof Rambo capitalism,'' he said in a recent interview.

    At the recent annual meeting of Austin Metropolitan Ministries,Merrill denounced what he said is an attempt by politicians to laywhat he called the country's corporate irresponsibility at the feetof the church.

    ``I'm angry that you and I have taken it,'' he told his fellowreligious leaders.

    Although not all people of faith share Merrill's anger, manyshare his belief that state and local governments won't have theability to take responsibilities once held by the federalgovernment—or will refuse to.

    Some cringe when they hear politicians saying, ``Let thechurches do it—it's their responsibility.'' They say they knowit's something they're going to hear more and more often, so theyare bracing for the challenge—a challenge, Merrill said, churcheshaven't faced since the civil rights movement.

    The argument by church leaders is not that they can't do more,but that there's a limit to how much they can help alleviate aproblem that's been years in the making.

    If the country's 350,000 churches were to make up for the cutsin gov-ern- ment spending, the average church would need toincrease spending by $25,000 each year for the next six years,estimated David Beckmann of the national organization, Bread forthe World.

    Patrick Flood, executive director of Austin MetropolitanMinistries, said resentment among clergy members is growing``beyond anger, to a kind of cold anger that there is anabandonment of the poor and a widening of the gap between the havesand have-nots.''

    There is increasing awareness among religious leaders that theywill have to educate their own people on the new reality, he said,``because the rubber is hitting the road.''

    Austin Metropolitan Ministries has set up a task force to helpits members deal with that new reality and to influence the stateLegislature as it rewrites Texas welfare law to conform with thenational legislation.

    Already churches have fielded more calls from people needinghelp. Teresa Nira, director of parish social ministries at St.Louis Catholic Church in North Austin, said calls to her officefrom poor people seeking help average about 500 a week, downconsiderably from about 1,000 a week last year when word began tofilter out that welfare programs would be cut.

    But that figure is considerably higher than the 100 or so a weekwho used to call before the changes.

    ``I sensed a panic in people's voices,'' Nira said. ``It wasvery real, almost a sense of fright. I wanted to know if it was myimagination, so I asked others, and they said they, too, sensedit.''

    Francisco Lopez, development director of El Buen SamaritanoEpiscopal Center, also has seen that panic, especially amongimmigrants who fear they will lose government benefits if theyaren't citizens. His English classes are overflowing with peopledesperate to learn the language well enough to take theircitizenship exams.

    ``These are people who've been here for years and paid taxes _the disabled or elderly—and now the federal government says theyare not part of society,'' he said.

    Nationally, eight hunger-relief organizations—religious andsecular—recently voiced concern that churches and othercharitable groups can't replace government programs for the poor.

    They noted that nearly 30 million Americans don't have enough toeat—almost half of them children. About 1.1 million children and2.6 million people overall will fall into poverty as a result ofthe new welfare law, they contended.

    The law limits food stamps for able-bodied citizens between 18and 50 with no dependent children to three months during a 36-monthperiod. Many legal immigrants won't qualify for stamps.

    Some church leaders don't like the politicians' implication.

    ``This whole attitude of the federal government preaching tochurches that they have to take care of these people,'' said Lopez.``What do they think we've been doing for years?''

    ``We are doing a great deal, and we have always done a greatdeal,'' said Roman Catholic Bishop John McCarthy of the AustinDiocese.

    Even Lucy Todd, chosen by state Comptroller John Sharp to headFamily Pathfinders, a program designed to get churches and othergroups to help get families off welfare, said the notion thatchurches aren't doing enough is ludicrous. . .

    <

    ``The fact is that the religious community already does atremendous amount, and we don't intend to in any way underminewhat's going on,'' she said.

    Many churches and their members reached their limits long ago.

    Nira said St. Louis parish members already are generous.

    ``They donate food and time to the food pantry, they give moneyfor emergency assistance, they do home visits, week after week—ontheir own time after work,'' she said. ``You simply can't ask themto do any more.''

    The fact that many churches already are doing a lot might be onereason Sharp's program has met with minimal success since itstarted last September. Only about 90 churches statewide havesigned up to sponsor one or more families on welfare, Todd said.

    St. Louis can't afford a professional social services staff todeal with people's needs, Nira said.

    ``We are not a social service agency,'' she said. ``That's theway it is for many churches.''

    McCarthy and others point out that government is the entitydesigned to care for problems its members can't handle, and it hasthe capability to raise money to perform such functions, whetherit's national defense, road building or caring for the poor.

    McCarthy said churches can do many things better thangovernment, such as providing emergency shelter, food and clothing.

    ``But the church can't feed your family for the next threemonths,'' he said. ``Unless a governmental entity comes in with thetax-based resources and sustains your family over a longer periodof time, it's not going to work.''

    Sam Williams, pastor of University Presbyterian Church, saidwhile reform is needed, helping people ``will take everyone workingtogether—I don't think government can simply get out of it. Itjust doesn't work that way.''

    Calls by President Clinton for businesses to hire people off thewelfare rolls don't appear to impress church leaders, who contendthat such efforts won't do much good unless those are well-paying,permanent jobs with full benefits.

    ``Welfare reform is based on the premise that there is acommitment to provide people with jobs with sustainable wages,''said Flood. ``The question is, who's going to do it, and who'sgoing to provide the training they need?''

    Not every church leader is upset about the changes. LindaPendergrass, pastor of Unity Church of Austin, thinks welfarereform might force churches to go back to the grass roots and helppeople learn how to live ``masterful lives''—independent liveswithout being a burden on others.

    ``The church was originally organized to strengthen theself-determination of the believer, but it's failed,'' she said.``Instead, it has handicapped and limited people. It has resortedto do-gooder acts because it has relegated the masses to spiritualpoverty.''

    Churches such as Unity—which make heavy use of programs thatteach people how to get out of debt and manage their money—havecaught a lot of flak because they talk about money and happiness,she said.

    ``Now our time has come,'' Pendergrass said.

    Others are not so sure.

    Helping people live masterful lives might work in middle-classor affluent neighborhoods, McCarthy said, but not in churches facedwith trying to help unskilled workers survive.

    Williams said teaching money management to people who can't earnmoney—the unemployable, people who are mentally ill, children,single mothers and other people who can't work—does little good.<.

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    EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR RELIGIOUS TRAINING IN PUGET SOUND

    By JOHN IWASAKI

    c.1997 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    SEATTLE—No one's proclaiming the Seattle area as the promisedland for aspiring pastors and lay ministers.

    But opportunities for graduate-level education and training formembers of different Christian denominations are expanding in aregion generally found to be the most unchurched in the nation.

    The revamped theological school at Seattle University—aCatholic institution run by the Jesuit order—will open a newinstitute in July that will feature participation from Protestantdenominations.

    Another local, interdenominational program combining highereducation and grassroots ministry recently completed a merger,while a new extension program will begin in late summer.

    Three of the largest programs that train pastors and layministers, which were non-existent or fledgling a decade ago, nowhave about 800 students.

    ``I think people are looking for some soul; some spirituality,''said Laurie Wheeler, who is working toward her master of divinitydegree at Fuller Theological Seminary's extension program inSeattle. ``People are looking for something of substance to helplife make sense.''

    Seattle U announced last year that it would start the Institutefor Ecumenical Theological Studies, a collaboration of eightmainline Protestant denominations, the Unitarians and thereorganized Mormons. The program will join the existing Institutefor Catholic Theological Studies to form the university's School ofTheology and Ministry.

    The new institute was created by the participating denominationsto prepare not only those seeking ordination, but also those``wanting to deepen their own spiritual journey,'' said WilliamMalcomson, a retired American Baptist minister who was recentlynamed acting director of the ecumenical institute.

    By having a diverse, ecumenical program, ``we might get pastsome of the divisions and stereotypes and myths'' that divide theChristian church, said Loretta Jancoski, dean of Seattle U's Schoolof Theology and Ministry.

    Malcomson noted that Protestants are hardly rare at theuniversity, comprising 66 of the 241 students in the Institute forCatholic Theological Studies.

    One of them is Kitty Walker, a sixth-grade teacher at BrigadoonElementary School in the Federal Way School District, south ofSeattle. Walker once ``toyed with the idea of ordination'' in theEpiscopal church, but now sees her graduate study, particularlypastoral courses dealing with interpersonal relationships, ashelping her as a teacher.

    ``Teaching is a pastoral skill if you teach grade school orjunior high,'' said Walker, who is working on her second master'sdegree. ``You don't preach at them. But in counseling, conflictresolution, organizing (thoughts), there's a fair amount ofapplicability.''

    Another SU student, Jacque Lindstrand, said she began hergraduate studies in theology because she wants to help womenexperiencing emotional and spiritual pain to find ``some kind ofmeaning in this life.''

    ``God will work through them. I'm not giving them the answer,''said Lindstrand, whose background is in the United Methodistchurch.

    Participating denominations in the new institute are theEpiscopal Church, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ,American Baptists, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America,Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodists, Church of theBrethren, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saintsand Unitarian Universalists.

    Students in both SU's ecumenical and Catholic institutes willtake most of their basic required courses together. Protestantstudents pursuing ordination also will have specific courses taughtby adjunct faculty from their respective denominations.

    In another development, the Seattle Association of TheologicalEducation, a partnership among 40 churches and three institutions,recently merged with the Pacific Evangelical TheologicalAssociation, a group of 20 churches in South King and Piercecounties.

    The entity is now known as ACTS Northwest and continues toarrange graduate theological education through an agreement withFuller Seminary of Pasadena, Calif., Regent College of Vancouver,B.C., and Seattle Pacific University.

    The 60 participating churches include more than 10 Protestantdenominations, running the gamut from liberal to conservative, saidWheeler, the Fuller student in Seattle.

    ``We've not had huge conflicts, but (having them) might be evenhealthier,'' she said, recalling a spirited classroom discussion afew weeks ago about whether people who have never heard the Gospelwould go to heaven or hell.

    ``We're raising questions that are pivotal to Christian identityin the context of these relationships'' between denominations, saidWheeler, a Presbyterian who has served in youth ministry for theChurch of Scotland and wants to work in adult ministry.

    About 200 students are enrolled in programs leading to master'sdegrees in divinity and in Christian studies offered by Fuller andRegent. Courses are taught by Fuller, Regent and SPU professors inlocal churches and students are mentored by pastors.

    ACTS Northwest aims to ``integrate the pastoral life of thechurch with the academic life of the seminary,'' said Bruce Baker,interim executive director of ACTS Northwest.

    Baker, SU's Malcomson and Marc Mueller, academic dean of theNorthwest Graduate School of the Ministry, a growing pastoraltraining program in Kirkland, say their organizations each have aniche in the local market for theological education.

    Northwest Graduate School of the Ministry targets conservativeevangelicals, Mueller said.

    The school, which is a partnership with nondenominationalOverlake Christian Church in Kirkland, offers doctoral and masterdegrees in ministry. About 350 students from various denominationsare enrolled, with 43 percent from outside Washington.

    ``Our purpose is to provide graduate training to men and womenwho are already in the ministry,'' Mueller said. ``We're veryconcerned that a lot of people in the ministry . . . have academicskills but are very weak in the practical skill sense, so we focuson pastoral leadership.''

    In a related development, a master's degree in ministry programwill be offered locally starting in late August by PepperdineUniversity, a private school in Malibu, Calif. Courses will betaught by Pepperdine faculty at Puget Sound Christian College inEdmonds, north of Seattle. Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churchof Christ.

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    IT'S LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT IN VILNIUS

    By MICHAEL KENNEY

    c.1997 The Boston Globe

    <

    VILNIUS, Lithuania—It was impossible not to fall in love withVilnius.

    Even if Lithuanian Airlines had not upgraded us for the50-minute flight from Warsaw—apparently, we had to conclude,because we were the only Americans on the seriously underbookedflight.

    But it had done so, and we did fall in love, during a weeklongstay in a city that reminded us—as it had manyturn-of-the-century emigrants—so much of Boston.

    The convoluted, cobblestoned streets of the Old City wind pastdozens of exuberantly Baroque churches. Narrow archways open into18th- and 19th-century courtyard houses. And in the closing days ofsummer, the stroller was never far from a sidewalk cafe.

    In an odd way, the fact that we kept coming upon places andspaces from different angles—something that always happens inBoston but rarely in cities built on an east-west/north-south grid_ made them, and the city, more familiar.

    My wife's maternal grandparents had come from Lithuania duringthe great wave of immigration during the late 19th century. Whileall contact with family members still in Lithuania was lost duringthe war, Sara delighted in telling people we met in Vilnius that,according to her research, one-third of Lithuania's population wasliving in North America in the early 1900s.

    So with those dimly-remembered family ties, Lithuania had alwaysbeen on our ``should-go-someday'' list.

    <----------=<

    There are no direct flights from Boston to Vilnius, butLithuanian Airlines, created when newly-independent Lithuaniagained control of some 20 former Aeroflot planes, flies to mostEuropean cities, and we connected in Warsaw.

    We arrived after dark, but had made arrangements throughLitinterp—another remarkable product of Lithuania's five years ofindependence—for a bed-and-breakfast in the Old City.

    That turned out to be a spacious room on the top floor of ahandsomely restored courtyard house owned by Stanys Patkauskas, anEnglish-speaking archeologist on the staff of the state archeologyinstitute, and his wife.

    Breakfasts—which we shared with three other guests, Americansin training for World Teach assignments in other Lithuanian cities_ were heavy on the eastern European meat and cheese model, but afilling start for a day of exploring.

    And all this for just $25 a day at the exchange rate of roughly4 Litas to the dollar.

    The glory of Vilnius is its Baroque churches.

    Christianity came very late to Lithuania, and its people werepracticing a form of nature worship well into the early 16thcentury. ``We were the original tree-huggers,'' as someone put it,and there is a looming sculpture of Perkunas, the thunder god, inthe park behind the cathedral.

    What all this means is that by the time Lithuanians beganbuilding churches, they had missed out on the great churcharchitectural styles of western Europe, the Romanesque and theGothic, and were just in time to connect with the Baroque—and theresult was a Baroque wilder and more individualistic than found inwestern Europe.

    The apartment where we were staying was just across a narrowcobblestone street from the early 17th-century Church of AllSaints, and we decided to attend Mass there on Sunday morning.

    By then, after visiting several other churches, we were gettingused to the Technicolored fantasy of putti, draped and undraped,and saints swept up in swirls of clouds. But as I looked around, Iwas startled by the unfamiliar figure over the main altar, much toobeardy for a Catholic saint.

    ``Who's that?'' I whispered. ``Elijah,'' Sara replied shakingher head in amazement. ``Don't you see his wheel of fire?''

    And over the next few days we found other such surprises. Fourdoctors of the church, Augustus and Gregory, Anselm and JohnChrysostom, appropriately flanked the main altar in the Church ofSt. John, which leads into the galleried courtyard of VilniusUniversity, but had been captured in what can only be described asinappropriate moments of levity: heads tilted, knees lifted, elbowsakimbo.

    Elsewhere there was Mary Magdalene—and a coiled snake—at thefoot of the cross, a Christ crucified on a living tree whoseclusters of fruit contained saints' reliquaries, and a Kelly greenand lime green color scheme surrounding a main altar.

    One of the greatest of Vilnius' Baroque treasures, the Church ofSts. Francis and Bernadine, was plundered during the Sovietoccupation but is being restored. We were able to wander in, oneafternoon, and watch the work in progress—the carving of replicasof the destroyed altar and choir stalls and the uncovering oflong-hidden, 15th-century frescoes.

    But the exuberant glory of Vilnius' churches could notcompletely blot out that grim feeling that always comes over me ineastern Europe—the feeling born of the realization that it was inthis corner of the world that the greatest horrors of our time hadoccurred.

    I mentioned this one day to our host Stanys Patkauskas when Ibumped into him on the street. He nodded agreement, then said thata uncle had been executed—he mimed the statement by pointing afinger to his temple. And under Soviet occupation, he said,``Members of my family were sent to Siberia.''

    <------------=<

    For visitors from Boston, the absence of Jews was the strongestreminder of the city's tragic past.

    Boston's historic connection with Vilnius is commemorated in theVilna Shul, the Beacon Hill synagogue built in 1919 for Jews fromVilnius and other eastern European communities who lived in the oldWest End.

    Before World War II, Vilnius was very much of a Jewish city,known as ``the Jerusalem of the North'' for its rich cultural andintellectual life. Jews made up half the city's pre-war population,and there were no fewer than 96 synagogues in the city.

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    HASIDIC VILLAGE SETTLES DISPUTE WITH DISSIDENTS

    By JOSEPH BERGER<

    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    NEW YORK—Hours before its revered chief rabbi was to testifyin federal court in Manhattan, the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joelin Orange County agreed to settle its dispute with a group ofdissidents who had accused village officials of a sometimes violentcampaign of religious persecution.

    The settlement late Monday, hammered out by a neutral grandrabbi from a tiny Hasidic sect, was largely a victory for thedissidents who filed the suit and will get a payment of $300,000.

    The long and bitter quarrel at Kiryas Joel, which opened anunusual window into the normally insular Satmar Hasidic sect, was astrange mix of the sacred and the mundane, with battles overeverything from the choice of a successor for a grand rabbi to theenforcement of local building codes.

    The dissident faction had charged that the village, about 50miles northwest of Manhattan, was run like a theocracy that blurredthe constitutional separation between church and state.

    In making concessions, the village was under pressure fromHasidic leaders around the world to avoid an embarrassing spell onthe witness stand by Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, the spiritual leader ofKiryas Joel and the son of the grand rabbi of the Satmar Hasidim,America's largest Hasidic group, with 50,000 adherents, most ofthem in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

    Grand rabbis and their successors are held in a particularreverence that brooks no challenges from their followers. ManyHasidim would recoil at the idea of hostile interrogation of arabbi of the stature of Aron Teitelbaum, a likely successor to theSatmar throne, just as many Roman Catholics might chafe at the ideaof a cardinal or even the pope being placed in such a position.

    In this case, the questioning might have concerned astone-throwing demonstration in 1995 by hundreds of students of themain yeshiva in Kiryas Joel, who were angered that a Satmardissident was speaking in the village. The rabbi might also havebeen asked about a contempt of court citation he received forfailing to readmit six children of a dissident leader to the mainvillage yeshiva in April 1990.

    Dissidents have also charged that their leaders were beaten,their cars and buildings burned, their tires slashed and theirwindows broken.

    The settlement assures that the dissidents will be able to opena central synagogue that had been closed by the village since YomKippur 1995 in what the dissidents contend was a campaign ofselective building-code enforcement rooted in an internal religiousquarrel. The village also promised not to discriminate against thedissidents in village services or rulings.

    For their part, the dissidents promised to resolve disputesthrough a four-man arbitration panel rather than by airing theirgrievances in the courts or in newspapers.

    The settlement brings to a close for now a quarrel that had beenraging publicly since 1989 and that has its roots in a welter ofissues, including questions of who was the legitimate successor tothe late Satmar grand rabbi, Joel Teitelbaum, and whether thevillage violated Satmar religious credos when it set up a publicschool system for handicapped children.

    The public school district was declared an unconstitutionalestablishment of religion by the U.S. Supreme Court but wasre-opened in a slightly different framework by the stateLegislature. The constitutionality of the revamped district is alsobeing challenged in the courts.

    Joseph Waldman, a leader of the dissidents, celebrated theagreement Tuesday morning by visiting the grave of Rabbi JoelTeitelbaum, the former grand rabbi. For years, he and his allieshave been barred from visiting the cemetery.

    ``No stones were thrown at me and there was no spitting oryelling at me, no insults, just respect,'' Waldman said.

    Many of the dissidents, known as Khal Charidim (Congregation ofthe Devout), had never fully accepted the legitimacy of Rabbi JoelTeitelbaum's appointed successor, his nephew Rabbi MosesTeitelbaum, father of Aron, though they never identified their ownchoice. They also opposed the creation of the public schooldistrict because it would teach children in a secular atmosphere.

    Abraham Weider, the village's deputy mayor and a president ofKiryas Joel's dominant congregation, Yetev Lev (Strong of Heart),said in an interview that he was pleased hatchets had been buried.

    ``I feel this is a victory for everyone because the primarypurpose in life is that people should be able to live together,''he said.

    Asked whether the prospect of Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum on thewitness stand played a role in the resolution, he said, ``Thatwould have been an embarrassment to the whole Jewish world.''

    In his comments, Michael H. Sussman, the dissidents' lawyer,cautioned that the stability of the agreement will depend on thespirit with which the antagonists carry it out.

    ``Lawyers don't resolve disputes, `` he said. ``People resolvedisputes.''

    The five days of the trial had been embarrassment enough forKiryas Joel, exposing some of the flaws in a village that is runentirely by a single devout religious group. The village, with morethan 10,000 residents, was founded in the mid-1970s as a ruralspinoff of the Williamsburg Satmar.

    Weider, the deputy mayor, testified on the stand that he had nottaken violators of the building code to court because religiousbeliefs require settlement of disputes before a religiousarbitration panel known as a bet din. Weider also acknowledged onthe stand that the makeup of the village's governing board andplanning board were basically identical, and that there were manyoverlaps with the board of the leading synagogue, Yetev Lev.

    The principal focus of the civil suit before Judge Jed Rakoff ofU.S. District Court in lower Manhattan was the dissidents'synagogue. The first witness, Zalman Waldman, Joseph's brother,testified that village officials began trying to close thesynagogue soon after it was opened by saying it had not obtained aproper zoning variance or a certificate of occupancy. But hepresented photographs of other home-based synagogues in Kiryas Joelthat also were built without zoning variances and used for holidayprayer services before they were completed.

    Under Monday's agreement, brokered by Rabbi Usher Anshel Katz,head of the Weiner Hasidim, the village will immediately grant thesynagogue a permit to open so that construction can be completed.And it will allow a mikvah, or ritual bath to be constructed on thesite.

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    c.1997 Fort Worth Star-Telegram=

    God certainly is not dead, but the wave of spirituality sweepingAmerica has to be looked at critically.

    At least that's the view of Carl F.H. Henry, a gentlemanlyevangelical who impressed me when I first met him more than adecade ago.

    We met again last week when he spoke at Southwestern BaptistTheological Seminary, and at age 84, he's still a major force inthe religious world.

    Anerica's new-found interest in spirituality, I thought, shouldplease Henry. For decades he has said that secularism has too tighta hold on the nation. We have taken God out of the universities andhave failed to teach moral absolutes, he says.

    Henry, who is considered one of the leading evangelical scholarsof the 20th century, said the new spiritual wave may only be skindeep.

    ``A spiritual veneer is sweeping over America, but much of thiseffusion is doctrinally indefinite and religiously confusing,'' hesaid in an interview.

    Books on spiritual and religious subjects are often bestsellers,and polls show that nine out of 10 Americans believe in God andpray. But the popular spirituality books often downplay theologyand substitute psychology, he said.

    ``These trends can unwittingly prepare our generation for areactionary era of melancholy and pessimism,'' he said. ``The newmillennium may be an age of spiritual repression and fear.''

    Much of the God talk is just that—talk, he said.

    ``We don't see much rebellion against the worldly things thatoccupy us,'' said Henry, and the nation is still gripped by crime,violence and materialism.

    When I first met Henry in 1982, I was on leave of absence fromthe Fort Worth Star-Telegram, taking part in a RockefellerFoundation-sponsored religious studies program at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    He spoke to one of my classes and, despite a busy schedule,granted me an interview that contributed heavily to a researchpaper I presented on secular humanism.

    Some of his many achievements include joining with Billy Grahamin founding Christianity Today. Henry was editor from 1956 to 1968.

    He has written 40 books, including ``Remaking the Modern Mind,''``Aspects of Christian Social Ethics,'' ``A Plea for EvangelicalDemonstration'' and the six-volume ``God, Revelation andAuthority.''

    He has been a noted professor at Fuller Seminary and NorthernBaptist Theological Seminary.

    That's enough to impress anybody.

    Also extraordinary is the fact that Henry, despite strongevangelical conservative views, has been able to command therespect of those at both ends of the theological spectrum,including many moderates and liberals.

    Some of that is due to the insightful, intellectual way thatHenry has presented his traditional evangelical viewpoint.

    ``That hasn't been a deliberate goal on my part,'' Henry saidlast week. ``I do try to express my convictions as strongly aspossible. But I do it with love and appreciation for those who maydiffer from my point of view.''

    Despite his reservations about the wave of spirituality sweepingthe United States, Henry sees some hopeful signs.

    Internationally, Christianity is flourishing in many places,including South Korea, Nigeria and Kenya, he said. Evangelicalmovements, such as the Promise Keepers men's movement and the BillyGraham crusades, are still having a big impact.

    ``The American scene is not without spiritually encouragingsigns,'' he said. ``The potentiality is there for a massivespiritual power and impact.''

    And he hopes for the best.

    ``I think there is a hunger in the heart of men that can besuppressed but ultimately will not be denied,'' he said.

    (Jim Jones is religion editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.Visit the Star-Telegram's online services on the World Wide Web:www.startext.net; www.arlington.net; and www.netarrant.net)

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    MY CHANCE OF WINNING? IMPOSSIBLE

    By BILL GOODYKOONTZ<

    c.1997 The Arizona Republic

    (Undated)—Well, there's no longer any point in my entering theAmerican Family Publishers sweepstakes.

    You might as well toss your entry into the trash, as well. It'snot that the $11 million top prize isn't enticing. Who couldn't usea mansion and a Jaguar?

    It's the competition that's got me throwing in the towel.

    After all, what chance do we have against God?

    You don't normally think of God as a big-sweepstakes kind ofguy. Being omniscient and omnipotent pretty much eliminate the needfor a lucky break, you would think.

    But there in the pile of mail for the Bushnell Assembly of GodChurch, in Bushnell, Fla., as you may have heard or read about, wasan announcement last month that God was a finalist for the $11million prize.

    Which would seem to cut into the rest of our chances of winningconsiderably.

    ``If God runs, can He lose?'' Bill Brack, the pastor at thechurch, asked over the phone from his office last week. ``Or doesGod have to enter to win?''

    Who knows? After all, it's not like this is an everydayoccurrence.

    ``I don't think we've ever gotten anything like this at thechurch,'' said Brack, who has retained an easy sense of humorthrough several inquiries into the subject. ``We get junk mail likeany business, but never any sweepstakes stuff.''

    Normally, Brack throws the junk mail away. He was inclined to dothe same with the sweepstakes announcement until the church's youthminister and secretary, who had read the notice and chuckled at itscontents, convinced him at least to have a look.

    ``It was not funny to me when I got it,'' Brack said. Buteventually, the youth pastor and secretary won out.

    ``I opened it up and read it,'' Brack said. ``(And) it was kindof hilarious.''

    The letter began, like most, with a simple salutation: ``DearGod.''

    It went on in the usual drivel such contest notices employ, thatbizarre kind of language that no one but salesclerks in departmentstores and phone solicitors use, in which they say your name at theend of nearly every sentence, lest you think you're not getting thegenuine personal touchy-feely treatment. Only in the context ofthis recipient, the old standbys were given a new twist.

    ``God, thank goodness we've finally found you,'' it said.``We've been searching for you.'' If God won, it continued, ``whatan incredible fortune there would be for God! Could you justimagine the looks you'd get from your neighbors?''

    To some, this kind of thing would be offensive. Others mightlaugh. Nothing if not practical, Brack read the sweepstakes noticeduring a church service, even though ``it had nothing to do withwhat I was talking about that morning.''

    But with lines such as ``Don't just sit there, God. You mustcome forward now,'' how could He resist? This is the kind ofmaterial that could only have come from, well, above. Or from theAmerican Family Publishers.

    ``Those are great phrases,'' Brack said, laughing. We had a lotof fun with it. We Christians sometimes can laugh.''

    Of course, not everyone shares Brack's sense of humor. That'sone of the reasons he hasn't sent the entry in just yet (he hasuntil Friday

    ``I'm waiting to talk to some of my board, to see what theysay,'' he said. ``I don't know whether we'll hand it in or not.''Some members of the Assembly of God, he added, might consider sucha thing gambling, and frown upon it.

    Still, it's intriguing. If God did win, $1.1 million would go tomissions right off the bat, Brack said, because his church gives 10percent of financial gifts to undesignated missions.

    As for the rest, like most churches, the 140-member BushnellAssembly of God could find plenty of uses for it.

    ``You could do a sizable amount of work with that amount ofmoney,'' Brack said.

    Who knows, such a bounty might even turn some of the naysayersaround.

    ``If we won,'' Brack wondered, ``would they forgive us?''

    About 11 million times, I'd bet.

    Bill Goodykoontz can be reached at 271-8828, or atgoodyk@aol.com on the Internet.

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