* National Council of Churches representatives visited the Cuban Council of Churches in January to help Elian Gonzalez return to his father in Cuba and facilitated the grandmothers' visit. Joan Brown Campbell, former NCC general secretary, said, "We hold that except in cases of abuse, children are best served when they are with their parents, and all indications are that this is a good, loving father … those who say Elian should stay in the United States because `the way of life is better' ignore the meaning of family." The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered Elian's return to his father, but the decision has been challenged in court by Miami relatives.
* Three men were arrested for the 1998 slaying of Juan Gerardi, a Roman Catholic bishop who headed the church's human rights office in Guatemala. Two days before his murder, Gerardi released a report blaming military "death squads" for human rights abuses. All three suspects have ties to the nation's military — one received training at the School of the Americas, a military institution critics say was used to train Latin and Central American military in torture during the Cold War.
* The ELCA does not intend to assign participants in this summer's Youth Gathering 2000 to the Adam's mark Hotel in St. Louis, nor will it use any meeting facilities at the hotel, said William H. Kees, director of the ELCA Youth Gathering.
The ELCA's action is a response to a federal lawsuit filed against the Adam's Mark Hotel chain in December 1999, in which the chain was accused of racial discrimination. The ELCA considers these matters to be serious, Kees said.
The Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis is designated as one of the official hotels for housing youth and adults attending the ELCA's Youth Gathering 2000. Two identical events are planned for June 28 to July 2 and July 5 to July 9, Kees said.
The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Justice Department, alleges the Adam's Mark Hotel chain engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in its hotels, restaurants and related facilities. The lawsuit followed another widely publicized legal case, in which the Adam's Mark Hotel, Daytona Beach, Fla., is accused of engaging in overt and offensive discriminatory actions against minorities attending a college reunion, Kees said. "Other lawsuits containing allegations and findings of racial discrimination by the Adam's Mark and its parent company, HBE Corporation, have recently come to light as well," Kees said. "We understand, in some cases, the Adam's Mark has been found guilty of discrimination. In other cases, the hotel chain strenuously denies it engaged in discriminatory conduct."
"As a result, the ELCA cannot, in good conscience, require those attending Youth Gathering 2000 to stay at the Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis," Kees said.
Youth Gathering 2000's organizers are concerned that those attending the events may object to being housed in a hotel that is alleged to have treated minority college youth and even its own employees in ways that are discriminatory, demeaning and illegal, Kees added.
The ELCA's decision not to assign people to rooms at the Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis or use any of the hotel's meeting rooms does not mean the ELCA is judging the outcome of any pending lawsuits, Kees said.
"This simply means we will release the hotel's rooms for the Adam's Mark to use as it sees fit," he said. Kees explained the Youth Gathering does not have to pay for rooms that are not used for the event.
* More than 850 religious leaders, including some ELCA theologians, endorsed The Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality (see www.religiousinstitute.org), which urges all faiths to recognize same-sex unions and gay and lesbian ministers. The document also advocates lifelong, age-appropriate sex education and "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion and HIV/STD prevention and treatment.
* After Christians in Oregon placed religious memorials for victims of car accidents at the side of public roads, some critics posted anonymous signs with black crosses and a red slash through them. Oregon's transportation committee is considering a bill to legalize the memorials.
* Muslims in Indonesia demanded a holy war against Christians living in Maluku and North Maluku, where the two groups have been fighting for a year. In recent months, more than 1,000 have been killed, and nearly 17,000 refugees have fled the provinces. Indonesia's 210 million citizens are 90 percent Muslim.
* After the United States dropped its opposition, international agreement was reached on a draft treaty to ban "child soldiers" and establish 18 as the minimum combat age. The State Department estimates that 300,000 children under 18 participate in armed conflicts in countries including Colombia, Sudan and Liberia. Some 17-year-old U.S. soldiers were on active duty in Somalia, Bosnia and the Gulf War.
* International Orthodox Christian Charities, a Lutheran World Relief partner agency in the Balkans, provided food and hygiene parcels to more than 20,000 people in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro. LWR also provided additional support for the aid delivery and demining programs.
* Billy Graham heads a list of the 10 most influential Christians of the 20th century, according to a series of essays published in Christian History magazine. Author C.S. Lewis, African American Pentecostal minister William Seymour and Mother Teresa rank second, third and fourth, with Martin Luther King Jr., placing eighth.
* U.S. Catholic bishops asked the Vatican to name slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. a 20th century martyr for Christianity. If selected, he would be honored in Rome May 7. Paul Henderson, director of the U.S. bishop's office for Jubilee 2000, said granting the recognition to non-Catholics represents the pope's wish for an inclusive celebration of Christianity.
* More than 120 students at the Vocational Training Center run by Lutheran World Federation near Jerusalem are renovating LWF facilities on the Mount of Olives, gaining on-site construction experience as they install new plumbing, heating, windows and workspaces at a reasonable price.
* Born-again Christians are slightly more likely to divorce than non-Christians, a Barna Research Group survey of 4,000 adults says. Data shows that 27 percent of born-again Christians surveyed have been divorced, compared with 24 percent of adults who were not born again. Twenty-five percent of all adults have experienced at least one divorce in their lifetime. Lutherans and Catholics had the lowest percentage of divorced individuals, 21 percent.
* Pope John Paul II consecrated 12 new bishops that he said represented "the universality" of the Roman Catholic Church hours after the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics installed five new bishops loyal to Beijing rather than the Vatican. "The election of the new bishops is valid and legal," said an announcer of the government-loyal bishops during the ceremony in Beijing's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. China considers religious matters an internal affair and forces millions of Chinese loyal to the Vatican to practice their religion underground. Beijing cites the Vatican's diplomatic ties with Taiwan as the main impediment to renewed relations.
* Yu Changxin, 74, a retired general in the Chinese Air Force, received a 17-year prison sentence on charges he played a key role in the banned Falun Gong spiritual meditation movement, reports the Information Center on Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. Yu was accused of helping publish and sell the sect's materials.
* Lavinia Byrne, one of Britain's best-known nuns, is leaving the Catholic Church because of "bullying" by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. She says the organization pressured her to publicly support Pope Paul VI's encyclical condemning artificial means of birth control and Pope John Paul II's ruling that only men are to be priests. Byrne has been a target of the doctrinal watchdog agency since 1993 when she published, Woman at the Altar, which examines the role of women in the church and argues for their ordination.
* Christian music sales in 1999 increased 11.5 percent over the previous year. Christian retailers accounted for 57.5 percent of the 1999 sales, according to SoundScan, a network that collects sales data from retailers.
* After signing the Joint Declaration of Justification, Lutherans and Roman Catholics are hoping to deepen their ecumenical relations. Representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation agreed to continue the dialogue on unresolved theological questions relating to the declaration, including the common understanding of the ordained ministry and the sharing of the eucharist.
© 2015 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers