- First Woman Takes Office as Methodist Council of Bishops President
- Converts Boost Ranks of Orthodox Christians
- Biblical Illiteracy Spreading Among Christians
- New Arrests of Christians in Laos
- Other Headlines at a Glance
First Woman Takes Office as Methodist Council of Bishops President ... For the first time in the history of the United Methodist Church, reports UMNS, the top two officers of the Council of Bishops will be women. Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher of the Illinois Area became the first woman to assume the office of president on May 3, and Bishop Sharon Rader of the Wisconsin Area continues as secretary, an office she has held since 1996.
The president normally serves for one year and presides at all meetings of the council and the executive committee. She also represents the council at official functions and serves as the spokeswoman after the body has acted. The council comprises nearly 150 active and retired bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The secretary serves for four years. She coordinates the agenda, maintains current records and assists the council in connecting with others across the church.
Asked about the significance of serving as the first woman to preside over the council, Christopher said, "This moment is not about me. It is about the Council of Bishops that has been appointing women as leaders in congregations and conferences for many years. It is about laity who have been forming girls and women in faith and welcoming them as pastors of their congregations. It is an expression of the heart of the United Methodist Church, a church of open hearts, open minds and open doors."
Converts Boost Ranks of Orthodox Christians ... According to an article in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Orthodoxy in America is "emerging from generations of repression" and has "a corps of new converts who are eager to carry the faith into the future." St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y., which serves the Orthodox Church in America, has about 100 students, but few of them were raised in the United States. According to the Post-Gazette report, most are either converts or foreign-born. The rest are sons of priests. The dean of the seminary attributes this trend to an overall decline in people entering mainline Protestant ministry.
Converts to Orthodoxy do not make up for the decline, says the dean, but they are providing "a new generation of leaders." Among those who have embraced Orthodoxy, according to the report, are "former Roman Catholics who prefer Orthodox church government, mainline Protestants who want historic theology, Protestant evangelicals in search of mysticism and Pentecostals who want liturgy to support religious experience."
Biblical Illiteracy Spreading Among Christians ... The results of the international educational survey PISA (Program For International Student Assessment) should give churches something to think about, according to "idea" - an evangelical news agency based in Wetzlar, Germany. This scientific investigation of school education in 32 industrialized countries showed that a considerable number of people have problems with the comprehension of texts.
What does this mean for the understanding of the Bible? PISA should alarm the churches, says Volker Gaeckle, dean of studies at the evangelical Albrecht Bengel Center in Tuebingen. Gaeckle notices an "insidious biblical illiteracy" even in Christian circles. Many find it difficult to read and comprehend biblical texts. At the same time many preachers pay too little attention to whether their message is easy to understand. The Scripture reading in some worship services has become a mere "ritual."
"Churches should heed the PISA warning that text comprehension is a major problem," Gaeckle said. The Albrecht Bengel study center is named after the German theologian Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752). At the center 120 theology students receive spiritual and theological nurturing. - (www.idea.de)
New Arrests of Christians in Laos ... Lao authorities have renewed their efforts to stamp out Christianity, according to local sources. Police officers continue to harass Christians and threaten to close down their churches. "Many Christians now are having difficulties getting together for prayer, fellowship, and Bible studies," reported Open Doors, USA in May.
In February, a pastor was arrested and detained for 10 days. He was charged with illegal repair of the church building. In March, two church leaders were arrested after a funeral service and charged with trying to revive Christianity. In April, 11 Christians were arrested at the border of Thailand and charged with possession of Bibles and Christian literature.
One Western observer says, "The problem with the Lao authorities is not the lack of laws but the lack of respect for their written laws." The U. S. Department of State expressed the same concern in the International Religious Freedom Report. "The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricts this right in practice. Some government officials committed abuses of citizens' religious freedom." Lao authorities admit that they have jailed some Christians who tried to proselyte others. Church officials in Laos report there are about 45 who are serving their sentences in prisons around the country. More than 100 Christian churches remain closed by the order of the local authorities.
Other Headlines at a Glance:
- Between Christian rock and a hard place ... Florida Times-Union
- Cardinal Law is Told to Give Deposition on Wednesday ... New York Times
- Andersen, again, settles with Foundation investors ... Associated Baptist Press
- Religion Liberty Panel Hits Home ... Washington Times