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Clergy Tax Break, World Cup, Cleric Sex Change & Vietnam

Clergy Tax Break, World Cup, Cleric Sex Change & Vietnam

In Today's Edition:

Clergy-Housing Tax Break Might Still Be Endangered .... According to a report from the Associated Baptist Press (ABP), a tax exemption that ministers receive for their housing allowances might still be in danger. Although Congress and President Bush recently approved a bill designed to protect the income-tax break for clergy, a California law professor said he would likely go back to court to challenge the tax break on his own.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Law, is continuing to press the case against the clergy exemption. ABP reports that Chemerinsky is the lawyer appointed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to address the constitutionality of a part of the tax code that allows clergy members to deduct from their taxable income the portion they use to pay housing costs. In the suit, the IRS had said that Los Angeles-area pastor Rick Warren wanted to claim too much housing allowance.

The dispute got unusual attention on Capitol Hill, where both the House and Senate rushed through legislation designed to render moot the IRS's argument in the case. Bush signed the bill into law in May. Both sides in the case and the Department of Justice then asked the judges to dismiss the case. However, Chemerinsky -- an official party to the case by virtue of his appointment by the court -- has opposed the motions to dismiss. The judges have not yet ruled on the dismissal request. But even if they do dismiss the case, that may not end the constitutional question.


Goal 2002: Reaching Others for Christ at World Cup ... Youth With A Mission, Campus Crusade, Baptists and many other mission and church groups have come together to set up Goal 2002, an outreach during the World Cup soccer playoffs, May 31 to June 30 in South Korea and Japan. The outreach is in partnership with local churches throughout Japan. According to a Goal 2002 press release, "We believe this is a strategic time to reach Japan for Jesus in many ways, including covering Japan in prayer, intercession, evangelism, worship and unity."

Among the initiatives mentioned in the Goal 2002 press release: Setting up Christian festivals throughout the nation of Japan, with the goal of seeing Jesus praised and many young people reached with the gospel; inviting Christian soccer players from England, Korea, the U.S. and Hong Kong to hold soccer clinics and share about their faith in God; and holding Kids Games in quite a number of locations. The Goal 2002 volunteers will also hand out thousands of tracts. For more on the events happening in Japan, visit http://www.goal2002.org/


Methodist Church Officials to Rule on Cleric Who Had Sex Change ... According to The Baltimore Sun, Methodist Church officials will soon decide what to do about a minister who took a leave of absence to have a sex-change operation. "The question of whether to allow the minister - formerly Richard A. Zamostny and now named Rebecca Steen - to end a voluntary leave of absence and lead a congregation has touched off a quiet discussion within the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, which was scheduled to debate the issue in a session today at the start of its annual meeting," The Sun reported. Insiders indicate it is unlikely the conference could take action this week to stop Steen from being reappointed to a new church.

The case has ignited a larger debate in the church about how to deal with pastors who have changed gender, according to The Sun. In a report issued after last year's Baltimore-Washington conference, leaders acknowledged the issue of transgendered pastors and called for more discussions during the year.

Some conservative ministers and groups say the Methodist conference should find a way to keep Steen from leading a congregation, although current rules don't prevent it. "There's a general understanding that this is sin, and we don't accept sin," said the Rev. A. Frederick Walz, pastor of the Smithville United Methodist Church in Dunkirk, Md.


World Relief to Assist Montagnard Refugees Arriving in the United States ... The first of more than 900 Montagnard refugees from Vietnam left Cambodia this week for freedom in the United States. World Relief, working with partnering churches, will welcome almost 100 Montagnard refugees in North Carolina as they arrive between now and the end of July. The Montagnard people are minority groups that live in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. These refugees fled across the border into Cambodia in February 2001 after security forces quashed their protests over land rights and religious freedom. It's estimated that more than 50 percent of these refugees are Christians.

To Tim Ziemer, World Relief's executive director, the Montagnards are particularly special. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, his missionary parents were attacked, leaving his father dead and his mother critically wounded. It was the Montagnard people who rescued his mother and helped her get to a hospital for treatment, which saved her life.

Plans were made by the United Nations, Cambodia and Vietnam to allow these refugees to return to Vietnam, but the United Nations pulled out of this arrangement in March when U.N. staff witnessed the refugees being mistreated and threatened. Cambodia then approved of the United States' offer to take them.


Bishops Propose Zero Tolerance for Future Offenders ... From CNS News -- A proposal released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends that the Vatican automatically defrock Catholic priests who sexually abuse children in the future. The recommendations are part of a draft charter designed to protect children that was assembled by the U.S. Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse and will be voted on next week by the bishops at their annual meeting in Dallas.

"Aside from the zero tolerance policies for priests who sexually abuse children in the future, the policy, if passed, would mandate that all accusations of abuse be reported to secular authorities for investigation," said CNS. Priests who have committed abuse once in the past could remain in the ministry, provided they were never diagnosed as pedophiles, received counseling and met the conditions under the plan.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told CNS he applauded the proposal. "The draft is a reasonable document that should allay the worst fears of a skeptical laity," he said. "It is thoughtful, pointed and fair to all parties." Donohue said the document creates a policy for making known each priests' past to any diocese he may be reassigned to.