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Religion News Report

January 22, 2001 (Vol. 5, Issue 313) - 4/4

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> Part 4

=== Death Penalty and other Human Rights Violations
36. A Race to the Death
37. It's Hard To Justify Cuban Embargo

=== Noted
38. The exorcists (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God)
39. Missionaries flock to Britain to revive passion for Church
40. ''Biblically illiterate'flock to classes (Alpha Course)
41. Pastors with a past

=== Internet
42. Paternity test (Chopra)

=== The Y-ners around the corner
43. Fox aims to shut down university's science Web site

=== Death Penalty and other Human Rights Violations

36. A Race to the Death
CNN/Time, Jan. 15, 2001
http://www.cnn.com/Off-site Link

The national trend toward a slowdown in executions amid fears of wrongful convictions has not shaken the resolve of the Sooner state. ''It's the wild West,'' a minister named Robin Meyers said outside an Oklahoma City courtroom where a death-row inmate's attorneys made an unsuccessful plea for mercy last week. ''Texas and Oklahoma are in a race to see who can kill the most people.''

Texas won in a rout last year (40 to 11), but Oklahoma led the country in per-capita executions. And the state is beginning 2001 ambitiously. It can't claim credit if Timothy McVeigh is put to death--he's a federal prisoner--but it has already scheduled eight of its own through Feb. 1. And one of the two last week included the first black woman put to death in the U.S. in nearly a half-century.

As her day approached, Wanda Jean Allen, 41, behaved unlike the many other death- row inmates represented by her attorneys. That may be because the high school dropout was hit by a truck as a child, suffered a head injury and was stabbed in the head. She suffered from possible brain damage, and in two IQ tests scored 69 and 80. ''A resignation usually sets in at this stage, but not with Wanda,'' lawyer Steve Presson said. But in her life, ''normal'' and ''rational'' seldom popped up on Allen's radar screen.

None of her supporters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson--who was among 28 protesters arrested at Allen's prison--were trying to spring her or dismiss the suffering she has caused two families. They were arguing that under the circumstances, an execution was barbaric.

Allen's attorney in the 1988 case was shocked to learn the state was after the death penalty. He asked the judge for help from the public defender's office because he had never handled a capital case alone and the Allen family paid him only $800, so he couldn't afford investigators. The judge refused, and Allen was convicted without her attorney knowing anything about her IQ or possible brain damage. She didn't have the sense to tell him.

Not that it would have mattered. Oklahoma is one of 13 states that do not prohibit executions of the mentally deficient.

I happened to sit next to Jackson on the plane out of Oklahoma City. ''She wasn't altogether there,'' he said of Allen, whom he had visited. ''My God. We honor Dr. King on Monday and execute on Tuesday and Thursday.'' He was talking about this week's execution schedule in Oklahoma.

''Capital punishment is a statement of moral outrage and justice sought and received,'' the Governor said last week. Maybe so. But having executed a woman of marginal intelligence who had shamefully cut-rate trial representation, Bible-belt Oklahoma is no holier. It is no safer. It is no more civil.
* Amnesty International's report of US human rights violationsOff-site Link

37. It's Hard To Justify Cuban Embargo
The Hartford Courant, Jan. 19, 2001 (Column, Bessy Reyna)
http://www.ctnow.com/Off-site Link

The opening of the film ''Thirteen Days,'' portraying the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, no doubt has some Americans thinking about Cuba these days.

I, too, am thinking of Cuba, as I do often and particularly this time each year, because January marks another anniversary of the Cuban revolution.

Fidel Castro took power in 1959 by overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista, a dictator whose excesses were tolerated by the United States. In 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated an international campaign to prevent loans to the Castro government and to ban exports to Cuba.

President John F. Kennedy followed in 1962 by prohibiting all trade between Cuba and the United States. As if this wasn't enough, in 1964 the Organization of American States joined the United States in further isolating Cuba by imposing their own trade embargo of member countries.

Restrictions were tightened by the Bush administration, which outlawed subsidiary trade, severely restricting foreign ships doing business with Cuba from docking in U.S. ports. By 1995, still unsatisfied with our failure to depose Castro, we enacted the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (the ''Helms-Burton'' Act), which further attempts to deter foreign investment in Cuba.

In the early years of the Castro regime, the Soviet Union was Castro's main financial support and trading partner, which lessened the impact of the embargo.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban people began to feel the embargo's full terrible force, many living without such basic necessities as food, potable water and medicine.

It has been reported again and again those most affected by the U.S. embargoes against countries like Haiti years ago, or Iraq since the Persian Gulf War, are the poor. Their survival is threatened while their countries' leaders are emboldened.

But in spite of this knowledge, we continue to enact and maintain embargoes against certain selected countries perceived as ''our enemy,'' further endangering the well being of innocent people whose only crime is living under a dictatorship that the U.S. finds intolerable in countries that are not essential to our economy.

Compare communist Cuba with communist China. Despite Castro's authoritarianism, there has never been a Tiananmen Square-like massacre in Havana. The Cuban government has not invaded and destroyed another country like the Chinese have done in Tibet. Nor does Cuba (at least since the pope's visit) curtail and persecute a religious sect as China continues to do with the Falun Gong.

When our economic interests are at stake, we conveniently look the other way. We are willing to continue the embargo against Cuba while, at the same time, we welcome China as a trading partner. We restore diplomatic relations and resume trade with communist Vietnam. We invite communist North Korean military leader Jo Myong Rock to the White House.

Another country on our list of enemies was Iran. Remember the ayatollah? The hostages? In Iran, journalist and writer Akbar Ganji was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus five years in internal exile in southern Iran for exposing state-sponsored death squads responsible for the killings and persecution of writers and intellectuals. Though our relations with Iran are still very strained, the U.S. government dropped the longtime ban on the import of luxury items from that country. How did we survive all those years without Iranian caviar, pistachios and carpets?

=== Noted

38. The exorcists
The Guardian (England), Jan. 15, 2001
http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Off-site Link

It claims to offer protection from black magic and attracts millions of followers. But the murder of Anna Climbie - in one of Britain's worst ever cases of child abuse - has raised troubling questions about the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The Rainbow Theatre in north London can hold several thousand people, but only about 100 are gathered on this chilly Friday morning. Once it was one of Britain's top rock venues, resounding to the screams of teenage fans of the Beatles, David Bowie and the Osmonds. Now it belongs to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a global evangelical church which originated in Brazil in the 1970s; and assistant bishop Wellington Marcelo is pacing the stage bellowing gospel tunes, leading a ''deliverance service'' which offers protection from ''voodoo, black magic and witchcraft''.

''Are there any evil spirits tormenting you? Stopping you sleeping?'' he cries. A young woman who is making the loudest noise is brought to the middle of the circle. The preacher is shouting now, asking Jesus to ''send his fire - burn the evil spirits!''

''Burn! Burn! Burn!'' the worshippers shout in response, stamping their feet. Marcelo takes hold of the young woman, clasping her neck in what looks like a wrestling grip, and tells everyone a devil is inside her.

Marcelo shouts at the devil to leave her and she gets more hysterical, hitting him with her fists and making a growling sound. He calms her down and gives her a cup of water that he has blessed in the names of the Holy Trinity.

The Universal Church has already got into trouble over its claim that evil spirits are the cause of people's woes. In 1997, the Advertising Standards Authority banned a church poster that said: ''Constant headaches, depression, insomnia, fears, bad luck, strange diseases . . . These are just a few symptoms caused by demons.''

But now the deliverance service has dragged the church into its darkest controversy yet. It was to one of these services that eight-year-old Anna Climbie, the little girl who died of hypothermia after being tied up in a bathtub in one of Britain's worst ever cases of child abuse, was to have been taken by her adoptive mother, Marie Kouao.

At the deliverance service I attend, almost everyone is from an African or Afro-Caribbean background. Judging by their dress, the people do not seem wealthy. Another clue to the economic realities of these people's lives appears in the church's free newspaper, City News, where an advert declares: ''If money is your problem, come to the richest person in the world - God.''

The church seems to be a one-stop shop for every social ill: on Monday there is a service for financial and immigration problems (''bring your CV, passport etc''); Tuesday's speciality is health and Thursday's is family problems. On Saturday there is a prayer for prosperity - ''bring your Bible and learn how to be prosperous''.

All this is brought into sharp focus at the end of the service when the preacher turns to the subject of fundraising. Drug dealers have plenty of money, Marcelo says. New nightclubs are built every day. But there is never enough money for God's work. ''We need offerings to build more churches,'' he says. ''Is there anyone here who will give £50 or more?''

A woman goes to the front and writes out a cheque. An extraordinary Dutch auction commences as the assistant bishop asks: ''Is there anyone who will give £30 or more? £20? Anyone who will take an envelope and come back next week?''
He gives Bibles in exchange for the big donations. Then he asks for anything people have - even as little as 50p. No one seems to find this strange.

This fundraising has proved hugely successful. The Universal Church, which claims to have 4,500 members regularly attending its services in London and the west midlands, raised £2m from donations at services in 1999, the last year for which figures are available.

On its website, the church discloses that it committed £569,000 to ''direct charitable expenditure'' in the financial year 1998-1999, and describes some of the work it carried out: an outreach service supplying shoes, blankets and Bibles to prisoners, and a lending library of taped services for the housebound elderly. Some £330,000 was spent on ''fundraising and publicity'', while management and administration costs were £246,000. At the time the records were filed, the church had a bank balance of £3.3m, including income saved from previous years.

Observers of the church say that it seeks media investments both for commercial reasons and to obtain a platform. In Brazil, where it was founded by a former lottery shop assistant, Edir Macedo, in 1977, the Universal Church is far more than a spiritual organisation; it is a powerful political, financial and media force. It owns one of the main terrestrial television channels, about 20 other TV stations, 50 radio stations, a football team renamed Universal and a newspaper with a weekly circulation of 1.3m.

It is estimated to have an annual turnover of £700m - which would put it in the top 100 Brazilian companies - and is the country's fastest-growing religion, with an estimated 8,000 churches and eight million followers. The church also has 18 elected deputies affiliated to it in the Brazilian congress, giving it a political clout that outweighs its size. In the early 1990s Brazil's attorney general ordered an investigation, which is still in progress, into Macedo and the church over allegations of charlatanism.

The vast majority of Macedo's followers in Brazil are from the poorest communities. They, like the members of other churches in a country where there is no national health service, are attracted by the promise that true believers will be able to find the cure for any disease. Followers are expected to donate 10% of their earnings. Many priests who have left the fold have accused the church of only being interested in making money.

But the death of Anna Climbie has exposed the church's practices to unwelcome publicity that could hamper its ambitions in Britain.

For now, the Universal Church and its pastors will have to tread carefully with everyone they advise. After Anna's death, the accusation that they are ''playing with fire'' could yet come back to haunt them.

39. Missionaries flock to Britain to revive passion for Church
The Daily Telegraph (England), Jan. 18, 2001
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Off-site Link

Missionaries from Africa, Asia and the Americas are flocking to Britain in their hundreds to convert a nation that they believe has slipped into godless secularism.

About 1,500 missionaries and their full-time staff from 50 countries are believed to be operating in churches in Britain at the moment. Sixty per cent are from America. Most of the missionaries come from countries where Christianity was introduced by Britons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The role reversal follows vast growth of the Church in Africa, Asia and South America and a steady decline in church-going in Western Europe.

Andy Peck, assistant editor of Christianity and Renewal magazine, has written a guide for churches on how to make foreign missionaries feel welcome.

40. ''Biblically illiterate'flock to classes
Lancaster Sunday News, Jan. 21, 2001
http://www.lancnews.com/Off-site Link

Doug Campbell had been on a ''50-year sabbatical'' from church when he and his wife Mary attended a Christmas Eve service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church a few years ago.

Not long afterward, Campbell enrolled in a course that changed his life.

Now the real estate marketing manager is a man with a mission. His mission is to spread the word about that course, called Alpha, to every church in Lancaster County.

Alpha, a 10-week class in basic Christianity, is the last word in modern evangelism. More than 2 million people worldwide have taken the course. Despite its Anglican roots, it spans denominational lines. And it is particularly effective at attracting ''seekers''; 68 percent of unchurched participants end up attending the church sponsoring the class.

In England, where Alpha originated, the program is a phenomenon. In 1999, some 7,000 British Alpha classes were held _ in a nation where a survey last year showed just 7.5 percent of the population was in church on an average Sunday.

Dr. Jim Ayers, who chairs the pastoral studies department at Lancaster Bible College, says the fundamentals that Alpha teaches are necessary in today's more ''biblically illiterate'' society.

''Alpha is really a back-to-basics approach,'' he says.

The classes cover such topics as whether Jesus existed, why he had to die, reading the Bible, prayer and making the most of life. Halfway through the 10 weeks, there's a retreat weekend at which the focus is the Holy Spirit.

The course is for people who are exploring and questioning Christianity, as well as new Christians. But even ''people who have been attending for a long time get a real refreshing boost,'' Eberle says. He has seen giving increase among St. Thomas members who've taken Alpha.

Alpha originated 20 years ago at Holy Trinity Brompton church in London as a class on principles of the faith for new Christians. Nicky Gumbel, who took over the course in 1990, began noticing that most participants were not churchgoers.
Inspired, Gumbel reworked the class as a tool for evangelism, and it exploded. In 1991, 600 people around the world took an Alpha course. In 1999, 1.5 million did.

Alpha leaders don't try to convert people. That's a big reason why the course is so successful with the unchurched, says East Petersburg Mennonite pastor Karl Steffy: ''There's no pressure.''

Why Alpha?

''I think there's a spiritual vacuum, that maybe people are longing for some spiritual reality, and so people are searching,'' says Steffy.

''I think what God does,'' Eberle says, ''he provides vehicles at various times that are just right for the people at that time.

''Alpha is not the be-all and end-all. But in our time, it really is kind of the wave of the Spirit that is sweeping through churches.''

41. Pastors with a past
Indianapolis Star, Jan. 20, 2001
http://starnews.com/Off-site Link

Years of living a carefree -- sometimes careless -- lifestyle have helped Russ and Judy Cockrum in their new endeavor as road warriors for Christ.

''We were from the Bloomington '70s era. We're more hippies than bikers,'' said Russ, 53.

Ex-hippies, maybe, but these days the Martinsville couple spends weeks at a time traveling cross-country in a minivan bearing the slogan ''Jesus Loves Bikers, Too.'' And always nearby is their link to an unusual ministry -- two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

After 20 years serving as a pastor of two Assemblies of God congregations, one in Martinsville and one in Florida, Russ resigned last year and began pursuing a chaplaincy specifically reaching out to the 8 million motorcycle riders across America. There is no official training program, so Russ is immersing himself in the culture and raising funds.

They are among a handful of Assembly of God motorcycle chaplains in the country.

''They've chosen an unusual mission. Chaplains have felt the need and gone out and ministered in their field -- whether it's rodeo chaplains, trucking chaplains, political chaplains or motorcycle chaplains,'' said Linda Ragain of the Assemblies of God national headquarters in Springfield, Mo.

''These are areas that are not typically reached by local churches. It's similar to a foreign missions field. Instead of them going to the churches, the churches come to them. Some of these people ministered to have never heard of Jesus at all. By living with these people, they introduce them to Christ.''

The idea of introducing nonbelievers to Christ is a turnabout for Russ.

Tom Rakoczy, now an Assembly of God pastor in Phoenix, first met Russ more than two decades ago. Rakoczy then was a youth pastor in Bloomington, and Russ, the oldest of three children from a Seymour, Ind., family, came knocking on the church door, searching for a change in his life. Rakoczy handed him a cup of coffee and invited him to sit in the church.

''He came in with long hair and a beard. He looked like such a rough character, but he was very intelligent,'' says Rakoczy. ''As he allowed his mind to explore, he realized there was something more to life than what he was living. Russ was a magi of his culture. Because of his background as a rebel in his early day, Russ will be very accepting and nonjudgmental of people. He won't be shocked but will relate to bikers in their culture and present Christ in a way that is transforming to them.''

The couple has spent the past several months speaking to motorcycle enthusiasts at various churches throughout the state. Dressed from head to toe in black leather, Russ and Judy approach their audience ready to offer personal testimony. From their talks, they have gained financial sponsorship for their ministry.

At a recent talk to the First Assembly of God congregation in New Castle, Russ spoke of ''Finding Your Harley,'' suggesting that members of his audience learn what their tools are to make inroads into other people's lives.

''When they come riding in on their Harleys and present a talk that reaches the mindset of hardcore riders, it's easy to see how devoted they are to this mission,'' said Steve Gallaway, pastor of the New Castle church.

Motorcyclists Tom and Katie Buck were among those who responded to Russ' words at a presentation in southern Indiana.

At the close of a church service for bikers, the two accepted an invitation to the altar.

''I grew up in a religious atmosphere, but there was something different when I heard Russ speak. It was like I suddenly realized that there's a difference between being a good person and having a personal relationship with God,'' said Katie.

The seed-sowing begins the moment Russ and Judy set up camp at biker rallies. They're open about who they are and what they stand for. Russ wears a leather vest that reads: HonorBound Men's Ministry; Disciples of Jesus Christ Chaplain. Judy wears a similar vest that reads: Property of Jesus Christ. The slogan reflects biker terminology suggesting that women are the property of a gang, says Russ.

At the camps, Russ and Judy awake early to brew a large pot of coffee.
''We'll go out and find the most hungover person we can, and hand him a cup of coffee'' in a mug with an inspirational message on it, explains Russ. ''I never use the word 'testify,' or they may think I have a court appearance,'' he adds with a chuckle.

Russ hopes his personal testimony and such subtleties as a touch will make the difference in the lives of those he serves.

''I constantly remind myself that these are all God's children,'' he says. ''My goal is to share my own story and hopefully break down stereotypes about bikers -- you can still ride a bike and be a Christian -- and stereotypes about Christians -- you can still be a Christian and ride a bike. To me, evangelism is anything you do to bridge the gap and bring people closer to Christ.''
For more information on Chaplains Russ and Judy Cockrum, write to HonorBound Warriors for Christ, 55 Cramer Place, Martinsville, Ind. 46151; or call (765) 342-1582.

=== Internet

42. Paternity test
Forbes Global, Jan. 22, 2001
http://www.forbes.com/Off-site Link

Mallika Chopra dropped out of an M.B.A. program at Northwestern University in 1999 and went calling on Silicon Valley venture capitalists, pitching a multimedia ''mind salon'' that would churn out books, products, TV programming and Internet content on healthful and successful living. Sort of a Martha Stewart enterprise for New Age stuff.

It wasn't a tough sell. Chopra, 29, is the daughter of the well-being guru Deepak Chopra, who has an enormous following from his spiritual self-help books, which include Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. It didn't hurt that the elder Chopra, 53, often accompanied Mallika to meetings with the VCs.

He went along for more than the ride. The elder Chopra is chairman of MyPotential, the company in Santa Monica, California, that his daughter conceived. His undisclosed investment made him its majority owner. The younger Chopra snared close to $10 million in funding from four investors, more than half from EastWest VentureGroup, headed by Merv Adelson, the cofounder of Lorimar Telepictures and a Chopra fan.

Mallika is MyPotential's front person; she's not running the show. That job goes to CEO Kathryn Downing, the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

By the Numbers

Spirited Sales
- The U.S. self-help industry is expected to grow 12.9% anually through 2003.
- $4.7 billion Estimated yearly sales of self-improvement products.
- $400 million Sales of self- improvement-related audio books.
- $1,145 What the average middle-aged woman spends annually on
self-help products.

=== The Y-ners around the corner

43. Fox aims to shut down university's science Web site
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jan. 17, 2001
http://www.jsonline.com/Off-site Link

[...more offbeat news...]
MILWAUKEE (AP) - Call it a close encounter - of the legal kind.

A dispute over a University of Wisconsin-Madison Web site is pitting academics against people from the worlds of television and the law.

Attorneys for the Fox Network want the university to stop using the name ''The Why Files'' for a 5-year-old Web site that explores science behind the news.

The network claims the site confuses consumers and infringes on its trademark ''The X-Files'' television show, the popular 7-year-old program about FBI agents who encounter aliens.

''If you haven't been abducted by aliens recently or had some type of mind-altering experience, there is absolutely no way you could confuse The Why Files and The X-Files,'' said Terry Devitt, Why Files editor and program coordinator.

But since last January, lawyers for Fox have been sending letters to UW officials.

''The Web site clearly uses a play on words to trade off on the goodwill of our client's trademark,'' a Fox attorney wrote in an Aug. 4 letter. ''While our client appreciates the educational value of your website, Fox cannot afford to permit others to lessen the distinctiveness of The X-Files.''

On the Net:
The Why Files: http://whyfiles.org/Off-site Link
The X-Files: http://www.thexfiles.com/Off-site Link