Monday, March 30, 2009

GOOD NEWS, OR PERHAPS NOT

From Riley Case of the Confessing Movement with the United Methodist Church:

The United Church of Christ, which prides itself on being a Progressive denomination, through its HIV and AIDS Network, is encouraging condom distribution at UCC places of worship. A statement explains: "Condoms are a sign that people of faith take sexuality seriously as part of human life and that we endorse all options for preventing HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases."

The UCC statement is critical of Pope Benedict XVI, who urges abstinence as a way of dealing with AIDS. Anglican Bishop Andrew Proud of Ethiopia responds that the sexual politics of churches like the UCC compromise the churches' witness in Africa by legitimizing the behaviors that cause AIDS and abetting the Islamization of Africa and inviting violence against Christians.

And, speaking of Africa: The Africa Assemblies of God Alliance (AAGA) has set out to baptize 10 million believers within a ten year period, the denomination's news agency reported this past week.

The Assemblies of God is the world's largest Pentecostal denomination with somewhere between 57 to 60 million adherents.

There are about 16 million AG members meeting in more than 50,000 churches in 50 countries in sub-Sahara Africa and the Indian Ocean Basin, according to the denomination. In 1990, there were only 2.1 million constituents and 12,000 churches.

Three decades ago, the combined total of Pentecostals and Charismatics was less than 5 percent, now they make up some 17 percent of Africa's population, or about 147 million people, according to a 2006 Pew Forum study that highlighted the dramatic growth of the movement within half a century.

"Pentecostalism's dramatic expansion has left almost no part of sub-Saharan Africa unaffected," stated the Pew Forum. "If Pentecostal churches continue to grow in numbers and activism, the long-range political impact of Africa's vibrant Pentecostal community will become increasingly difficult to ignore."

Meanwhile (and speaking further of Africa): the General Board of Global Ministries several months ago terminated several effective, evangelical United Methodist missionaries in Africa, citing pressure on funds and changing priorities.

The changing priorities evidently have to do with the new focus on environmental issues, which the board seems to see as included in the mandate to preach the gospel to the whole world. While the General Board is cutting back on overseas missionaries, and while it is facing increasing financial pressures because of the economy (it has decreased its 2009 budget by 7%), it has found the funds to create a new missionary position for Rev. J. Pat Watkins. Rev. Watkins will work with the Virginia Conference Board of Church and Society in a program called "Caretakers of God's Creation." Rev. Watkins will serve as a church and community worker.

This represents the first time a denomination has used missionary money to assign a missionary to climate and ecological issues.

And, speaking further of Africa: the Anglican Province of Nigeria has extended a welcome to the new North American Anglican Province into the Anglican Communion. The Nigerian province claims 25% of all Anglican members in the world and voted unanimously to be in full communion with the Anglican Church in North America.

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that full recognition of the new North American Anglican Province will take years. The province is made up of former Episcopal Church congregations who felt they must leave the Episcopal Church because of issues regarding homosexuality and Biblical authority.

The Episcopal Church in the U.S., meanwhile, is seeking to uphold the property trust clauses in various states to prevent renegade Episcopal churches from taking their property with them as they leave the Episcopal Church to join with the new Anglican Province of North America.

And, speaking of trust clauses: while the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches seek to enforce trust clauses, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is seeking to break a trust clause. The board has admitted it has now spent 1.4 million dollars from its own reserve funds to seek a favorable decision on the matter of whether the trust clause of 1964 that restricts funds received from the Methodist Building and Endowment Trust for temperance and alcohol issues must be followed. The board has operated since 1964 under the opinion that all that the board does fulfills the intent of the clause. In the past seven years approximately 5 million dollars of net profit from the building has been used for such causes as divestment from Caterpillar stock (because Caterpillar sells machines to Israel), advocacy for the acceptance of homosexual practice, and a number of other non-alcohol related issues. Church and Society defenders blame critics of the stances of Church and Society for the lawsuit. However, it is the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, representing the people, who are opposing Church and Society.

Dr. Riley B. Case is a retired member of the North Indiana Conference. He is a graduate of Taylor University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, with a graduate degree from Northwestern University and an honorary degree from Taylor University. Dr. Case’s appointment before retiring was St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Kokomo. Before that he was the district superintendent of the Marion District of the North Indiana Conference. He represented the conference five different times at the General Conference and seven times at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. At the general church level he served as a consultant on the Hymnal Revision Committee (1984-1988) and was a member of the Curriculum Resources Committee of the Board of Discipleship.

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