At least three of the Columbine High School students who were killed in Littleton, Colo., were apparently chosen as targets because they openly held Christian beliefs. Cassie Bernall, 17, carried a Bible to school daily. Rachel Scott, 17, often spoke of wanting to become a missionary to Africa. John Tomlin, 16, participated in a church home-building mission in Mexico. The two students who killed 12 youth and a teacher before killing themselves were known to be angry at athletes, minorities and devout Christians.
Ongoing violence between Christians and Muslims in Roman Catholic East Timor left at least 22 people dead. East Timor, once under Portugal's colonial rule and the occupied territory of Indonesia since 1975, is deciding whether it wants autonomy or independence. B.J. Habibie, Indonesia's president, said his Muslim-dominated country will abandon East Timor if its people desire independence. Since then, there has been ongoing conflict, with pro-independence forces accusing the government of starting anti-independence violence. The National Council of Churches is urging the United Nations and the United States to send a peacekeeping force, but Ali Alatas, the Indonesian foreign minister, said it's unlikely that troops will be deployed.
The executive committee of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) overturned a vote by the denomination's National Ministries Division, that would have denied giving Jane Spahr, an activist lesbian cleric, a Women of Faith award. Officials said those who put forward Spahr's nomination and the steering committee that rejected it acted appropriately, but it did not explain why it was reversing the decision. The award is one of denomination's most prestigious honors. Church policy bars the ordination of sexually active gays, but Spahr was ordained before the policy was enacted. The Jehovah's Witnesses, one of Russia's fastest growing faiths, was recognized as an authentic religion under the country's 1997 religion law. The move will help smooth the way for the registration of 900 Jehovah's Witnesses congregations across Russia by year's end. In recognition of having existed in Russia for 50 years, the Witnesses were given the right to use the term Russia in their official name-the Administrative Center for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. The faith is listed one level below "traditional" faiths, which are Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. Chinese authorities raided an underground Protestant church in Henan province-the fifth raid since October, according to the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in Hong Kong. More than 200 Christians have been detained, and some fined, in these raids. A letter urging the halt of NATO military action in Kosovo was sent to Kofi Annan, the U.N. general secretary, signed by Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the Word Council of Churches; Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; and Keith Clements, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches. The letter was later endorsed by Milan Opocensky, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. "Each day of bombing makes the solution more distant and increases the risk of regionalization of the conflict," the letter states. The United States and Japan need to break the "cycle of threats" and suspicion between North Korea and the West, according to Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. "Instead of maintaining an attitude of distrust and obliging North Korea to maintain an aggressive stance, the primary objective should be to reduce the level of tension," Raiser said. Jana Silerova, Eastern Europe's first woman bishop, distanced herself from feminism and said she will be guided by the "femaleness" of Christ's mother. Of her election as bishop of Olomouc by the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, she said, "This step had to be taken, since women already make up almost half of the church's clergy. However, it has also needed its own time, as well as more forthcoming ecumenical attitudes and a greater spirit of unity." A spokesperson for the Catholic Church rejected suggestions that Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of the Czech Republic condemned Silerova's appointment. "The emergence of a woman bishop does not create any barrier at all," said Daniel Herman, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference. "This is an internal matter for the Hussite Church and Catholics have no right to interfere." The Vatican barred Remi De Roo, a retired bishop of Victoria, British Columbia, from addressing the International Federation of Married Catholic Priests. The federation meets every three years to support Roman Catholic priests who have left active priesthood to marry and have children but wish to continue in a priestly role. De Roo was the only bishop who had agreed to speak.
The first Kosovar refugees sponsored by Church World Service joined relatives living in Austin, Texas; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Chicago and Houston. "I've been impressed with the great outpouring of concern for these refugees that has come from the church community," said William Sage, interim director of the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program. The World Council of Churches joined the International Action Network on Small Arms, a coalition of 200 nongovernmental organizations aimed at preventing the proliferation and misuse of small arms. "The issue of disarmament has been on the WCC agenda for a long time," said Salpy Eskidjian, the council's executive secretary for international relations. "In this context our concerted effort and focus on micro-disarmament is a major contribution to the ecumenical commitment to overcome violence and to build a culture of peace." Family, money and religion are more important to Americans than sex, according to a study co-sponsored by Columbia University, New York, and Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health. Of those surveyed, 82 percent said sexual satisfaction was important or very important. The most votes, 99 percent, went for loving family relationships, followed by 98 percent for financial security and 86 percent for religion and spiritual life. Job satisfaction ranked last, with 79 percent considering it important or very important. Christian companies are rapidly increasing their representation on the Internet, where an estimated $5 billion in merchandise was sold last year. "Christians are turning to the Net in staggering numbers to find the resources they need at prices and related terms they can live with," said Dale Mason, director of marketing for Gospel Communications, which receives 2 million hits a day on its Web site. Bill Armstrong, a former Republican senator of Colorado, resigned from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and has been replaced by Michael Young, the George Washington University law school dean. Armstrong, who is believed to have resigned for personal reasons, was the commission's only evangelical Protestant voting member. Young is Mormon. Other panel members are Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Baha'i and mainline Protestant. The International Religious Freedom Act made religious persecution abroad an official U.S. foreign policy concern. The commission evaluates nations' performances in this area and recommends a U.S. response, ranging from a private diplomatic message to economic embargo. Poland's president, Alexsander Kwasniewski, signed a law ordering the removal of crosses placed outside the former death camp at Auschwitz by conservative Catholics and protested by Jews. The law restricts development in a 100-yard perimeter around several former death camps, and it allows for government intervention if the peace and dignity of the former camps are threatened. Catholic groups erected the crosses last year after Jewish leaders objected to the placement of a 26-foot tall cross outside Auschwitz, which was used in a 1979 papal mass. Jews consider the crosses an affront to the memory of the million Jews who died at Auschwitz while Catholics say the crosses are to memorialize the 152 Polish Catholics who were also slain. The Polish Catholic hierarchy and the Polish government opposed the additional crosses, although the government said the papal cross will remain. The World Association for Christian Communication is holding a contest to find a logo to convey the idea that media can make the difference in political conflicts. The winner will receive an invitation to the association's World Congress in 2001, where the logo will be used.