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CULTURE DIGEST: Episcopals reject Anglican guidance; Max Lucado stepping aside

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Episcopal Church has rejected a recommendation by Anglican leaders to form an alternative leadership structure for conservative U.S. dioceses and parishes that are at odds with the liberal leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Some observers think the bishops’ defiance could lead to the exclusion of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion following increasing differences over the issue of homosexuality. Meanwhile, a New York Times article noted that the Episcopal Church finances at least a third of the Anglican Communion’s annual operations and a split could have serious financial implications.

The primates of the Anglican Communion, during a meeting in Tanzania in February, called on the Episcopal Church to stop granting official prayers for homosexual couples and stop the consecration of homosexual bishops. Anglican leaders believe homosexuality violates Scripture, and they asked the Episcopal Church to adhere to that teaching or face discipline, the Associated Press reported.

Also, the primates expressed concern over the growing number of U.S. dioceses and parishes breaking with the Episcopal Church and affiliating with Anglicans in other nations, which is against communion tradition and has led to lawsuits over church property. The primates suggested that disgruntled dioceses and parishes could submit to the leadership of a conservative structure parallel to Schori in the United States, and they gave the Episcopal Church until Sept. 30 to respond.

But the bishops of the Episcopal Church said in an initial response March 22 they are unwilling to compromise the church’s autonomy and its commitment to the full inclusion of “all God’s people,” including homosexuals, in church life, The Times said. A more complete response is expected by September.

“The concern is that that would indicate we are, in some sense, subservient to the primates, rather than simply a church in fellowship with them,” Bishop Mark Sisk of New York told The Times. “And that could have significant legal implications.”

In a March 20 article, The Times said at least $18 million is given by the Episcopal Church headquarters to support aid and development programs in the Anglican Communion’s poorer provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and millions more are sent directly from American churches to Anglican causes worldwide each year.

But The Times reported that no one in the Episcopal Church has threatened to cut off that flow of money because of the ultimatums handed down by the primates.

“We certainly are in partnership with people who disagree with us, and that’s just fine,” Rob Radtke, president of Episcopal Relief and Development, told The Times. “We give our money based on the need, and not on the basis of some theological discussion.”

MAX LUCADO STEPPING ASIDE — Max Lucado, a popular Christian author, is stepping aside as senior pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio following a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, a disorder the American Heart Association says affects more than 2 million Americans and if left untreated could lead to a stroke, the San Antonio Express-News reported March 14.

“I told our elders, ‘Your quarterback’s tired,'” Lucado said. “… I compare what is happening to going from being president of a college to joining the faculty. It was a painful decision, a hard decision, but I feel very peaceful about it now. I’ve been thinking about it since September.”

Lucado, 52, will continue to be part of the rotation of preachers at Oak Hills, the church he helped grow to 5,500 in average attendance after nearly 20 years as pastor, the Express-News said. He will maintain his senior minister status until a successor is named, and his goal is to slow down his lifestyle while he is treated with medication, the newspaper reported.

Named “America’s Best Preacher” in 2005 by Reader’s Digest, Lucado has written 70 books, many of them national bestsellers, and has two new books scheduled for release this year and plans to keep writing.

HAGGARD HAD HABITUAL PROBLEMS, STAFF SAYS — In the ongoing saga of former Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard, the Los Angeles Times reported March 18 that the senior staff of New Life Church in hindsight acknowledges that Haggard talked too much about sex, was crudely suggestive and often pushed boundaries.

“His loose discussions about sexuality might have seemed refreshingly raw and real, especially since church had always been so stuffy and prudish in the past,” Rob Brendle, an associate pastor at New Life, told the Times. “In retrospect, some of his comments and interactions that at the time seemed edgy, but innocent enough, now seem questionable.”

The board of overseers charged with investigating Haggard concluded his behavior was more than merely questionable, the Times said, and they uncovered “everything from sordid conversation to overt suggestions to improper activities to improper relationships.” It was a matter of grace, overseer Larry Stockstill said, that Haggard was caught in his relationship with a male prostitute last fall.

“Ted will need years of accountability to demonstrate his victory over both actions and tendencies,” Stockstill told the congregation, adding that as part of his recovery, Haggard has agreed to restrictions on what he watches and reads in order to banish what Haggard has called “repulsive and dark” desires, the Times reported.

TRANSGENDER PROFESSOR FIRED BY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL — Spring Arbor University, a small, evangelical school in Michigan affiliated with the Free Methodist Church, fired an associate professor because she was actually a man.

Julie Nemecek, who recently changed her name from John and had filed a discrimination complaint, agreed to a settlement with the school after mediation talks with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Associated Press reported March 14.

Nemecek, 55, is an ordained Baptist minister who once led churches in Chicago and Grand Rapids, AP said, and does not plan to have a sex-change operation. Spring Arbor said being transgender violates the school’s employment qualifications and such behavior is “inconsistent with the Christian faith.”

BIOLOGY TEACHER FIRED OVER BIBLE VERSES — Kris Helphinstine was a part-time high school biology teacher in Sisters, Ore., for eight days before he was fired for including Bible references in handouts he gave students and for giving a PowerPoint presentation that linked evolution to Nazi Germany and Planned Parenthood, the Associated Press said March 20.

Helphinstine, 27, said he was careful not to teach creationism but he included the Bible references because he wanted students to learn to think critically.

“Critical thinking is vital to scientific inquiry,” Helphinstine told AP. “My whole purpose was to give accurate information and to get them thinking.”

But the school board punished him for deviating from the curriculum on the theory of evolution.

ALTERNATIVE TO WIKIPEDIA OFFERED — For those conservatives fed up with the liberal bias of the popular Internet site Wikipedia.com, there is now Conservapedia.com, a website with more than 5,500 “educational, clean and concise entries.”

The site began last fall as a class project for Andrew Schlafly, whose mother, Phyllis Schlafly, founded the Eagle Forum, a national pro-family group. Conservapedia includes a Bible quote of the day on its main page and does not allow obscenity, contrary to the rules of Wikipedia, which Conservapedia says is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American, not to mention unreliable.

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  • Erin Roach