Paul Sherry, president of the United Church of Christ, requested that his letter supporting full participation of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the membership and ministry of the church and the protection of their civil rights in society, be read aloud at all UCC congregations. In the letter, which was mailed to more than 6,000 churches, Sherry said, "The hatred exposed in the shocking murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming underscored the critical importance of this reflection and of the need for our voice to be heard." U.S. Roman Catholic bishops adopted a strengthened anti-abortion policy calling on Catholics from office-holding politicians to the voting laity to uphold the church's opposition to legal abortion. "We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin," the new policy states. David Benke, president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, apologized to the denomination for participating in a prayer service for the poor, which was hosted by the Roman Catholic bishop of New York and included participants who were Muslim and Jewish, as well as other Christian denominations. "I recognize that my participation in this interfaith prayer service was a violation of my duties and responsibilities as an elected officer of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod," he said in his apology.
The general synod of South Africa's predominantly white Dutch Reformed Church, which supplied theological justification for apartheid, denounced apartheid as "wrong and sinful." The denouncement means the church has met all the conditions to be restored to full membership in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, from which is was suspended in 1982 because of its heretical support of apartheid. In a report, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox members recommitted themselves to the National Council of Churches and recommended several changes to increase and improve their involvement. "We realized that our participation in the ecumenical movement is a divine imperative," said Bishop Dimitrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. "We cannot choose to not be a part of this movement." Among the recommendations are Orthodox member churches should be given the opportunity to participate actively in setting the agenda of the General Assembly and other important council events; more emphasis should be placed on ecumenical training; and meetings between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches should be encouraged and, if need be, facilitated to help foster unity as an important stage toward Christian unity.
Nine in 10 Roman Catholics ages 20 to 39 who were confirmed Catholic have kept their faith, and three out of four said they could not imagine belonging to any other church. A survey by the Religious Research Association and the Society for Scientific Study of Religion said the results for Catholics is the opposite of mainline Protestants, where, according to a similar survey in 1990, almost half of all Presbyterians ages 33 to 42 surveyed classified themselves as unchurched. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, decided it would not review Wisconsin's school voucher program that provides taxpayer money to parents sending their children to private schools, including religious ones. "This historic decision clears the way for impoverished families who want a better life for their children to choose schools that make the most sense to them," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. 1999 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther. More than 150 events will be held across Germany to celebrate the anniversary, marking the first celebration for a woman from the Reformation. Germany's post office also will issue a special commemorative stamp. A nationwide poll by the Josephson Institute of Ethics of 20,000 youth showed that 70 percent of high school students said they cheated on an exam at least once in the past year. In 1996 the institute found that the cheating rate was 64 percent. The poll also showed that 92 percent of high school students said they lied at least once in the past year to their parents, while 78 percent said they lied two or more times. In 1996, 85 percent admitted to lying once and 73 percent had lied two or more times.
President Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act, which mandates that the White House and State Department consider the level of religious freedom in foreign lands when dealing with their governments. The new law allows the White House to respond to religious persecution abroad with a choice of measures, from sending a private diplomatic note to invoking economic sanctions. But the president may also do nothing if it is determined to be in the best interest of the United States or those being persecuted. South Africa's truth commission released its report regarding the country's human rights record during the apartheid era, placing most of the blame on the white minority government but also saying the black freedom movement violated human rights in its struggle for democracy and majority rule. The country's Christian churches were harshly criticized in the report for their ethical failure that contributed to a climate where apartheid could exist. The panel, headed by retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said the Christian church was often guilty of promoting "an ideology of apartheid in a range of different ways that included biblical and theological teaching." At least 179 Anglican bishops worldwide have signed a pastoral statement vowing to work for the "full inclusion in the life of the church" of lesbian and gay Anglicans — just three months after an Anglican bishops conference declared that homosexual practice was incompatible with Scripture. Some bishops who voted for the motion's hardline stance on homosexuality have not signed the pastoral statement, which is more conciliatory, although it does not express any approval for same-sex unions or for the ordination of gay or lesbian priests.
Traditional Protestant churches in Latin America are being eclipsed by religious churches preaching a "theology of prosperity," said Wanda Deifelt, vice rector and professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran theological seminary in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil. Six months after the murder of Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi, more than 1,000 people marched through Guatemala City in memory of the respected champion of human rights and demanded that authorities take action to find the murderer. Gerardi was killed two days after releasing a report blaming the country's military for most of the violence during the country's 36-year civil war. Although prosecutors have charged a Catholic priest, Mario Orantes, with the murder, most of the marchers believe Orantes, who is in prison awaiting trial, is a scapegoat. Cuba canceled a debt of more than $50 million owed by Honduras, which suffered devastating damage from Hurricane Mitch. The Boy Scout Handbook has been updated for the first time in more than a decade, adding a new section called "Preparing for Life," which addresses social issues such as alcohol, drug abuse and sexual abstinence. The handbook enforces basic principles while discussing common situations faced by boys.