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CULTURE DIGEST: Fiancé of runaway bride illustrates forgiveness; Methodists reinstate defrocked lesbian minister

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The fiancé of Jennifer Wilbanks, the widely publicized “runaway bride,” mentioned elements of his faith and reflected God’s forgiveness when he spoke to Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity on national television May 2.

Hundreds of friends, family members and others in the community of Duluth, Ga., searched fervently for Wilbanks for days when she didn’t return from a late-night jog April 26. But Wilbanks turned up in Albuquerque, N.M., apparently after skipping out on her wedding and faking an abduction.

The finance, John Mason, told Hannity that the first thing he did when he saw Wilbanks again was give her the engagement ring she had left behind to show that he still wanted to marry her.

Mason, 32, is a member and a Sunday School teacher at Peachtree Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Norcross, Ga.

“Just because we haven’t walked down the aisle, just because we haven’t stood in front of the 500 people and said our ‘I dos,’ my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger,” he said. “And I’m not backing down from that now.”

Mason also described the agony he felt when he feared Wilbanks had been the victim of a crime and investigators were pressuring him with lie detector tests and endless questioning to be sure he was not responsible for her disappearance. He said his pastor and a deacon took him aside at his house when they noticed he was beginning to break.

“They got me on the back deck and we just kind of talked it out. They let me yell at them, and then we prayed…. Then a couple other deacons came in, went back in my office and we prayed some more,” Mason said, adding that by Thursday afternoon he had the peace of God which transcends all understanding as stated in Philippians 4:7.

Wilbanks’ father, Harris Wilbanks, is a member of Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga. The church’s pastor, Tom Smiley, appeared on Fox News with Mason and said that after talking extensively with Wilbanks upon her return, the issues that made her run “are very resolvable and they’re not anything that no one else in this world has not ever experienced.”

“And I’ll tell you something else, Sean. But for the grace of God goes I,” Smiley said. “And I really think people will begin to understand that she is remorseful. She is concerned. She’s not selfish. She really had some issues that she did not know how or wasn’t equipped in how to deal with.”

Hannity asked Mason whether he was disappointed that he was supposed to be on his honeymoon instead of facing such an ordeal, but Mason pointed out how God had answered the prayers of so many people during the search for Wilbanks.

“After all I’ve been through, we prayed that she’d be home safe. You know, Harris sat there on TV and he says, ‘You know, man, I really pray this is the runaway bride thing and we’d just get her back safe,’ and we got her back safe. And that’s all we asked God to do, was to bring her back safe to us.”

METHODISTS REINSTATE DEFROCKED LESBIAN — A panel of the United Methodist Church voted 8-1 to reinstate Irene Elizabeth Stroud, the Philadelphia minister who was defrocked in December after revealing in a sermon that she was living with her homosexual partner despite the church’s policy that forbids “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” to be ordained.

The church’s regional appeals panel reversed the decision of the lower court, which they said had committed a legal error because church doctrine does not define a “practicing homosexual” or what is meant by “homosexual” status, according to USA Today May 2.

“This ruling was an ill-reasoned, obtuse and tortured attempt to avoid applying the plain, unequivocal meaning of the Scriptures and church law,” said Mark Tooley, a United Methodist spokesman for the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington. “It will be overturned by the church’s top court. It represents the fading voice of a declining, elite minority within United Methodism that is still enthralled by the failed, revisionist theologies of the last century.”

IRD noted that the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline states that clergy must show “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.”

The New York Times reported April 30 that Stroud “has continued to preach, teach and organize youth groups, but she does not don vestments or celebrate the sacraments” at her local church after being defrocked. Stroud has also said she would not resume her full ministerial duties yet because she expects the panel’s April 29 decision to be reversed upon appeal.

ABSTINENCE PROGRAMS SURPASS SIMPLE PLEDGES — Syndicated columnist Mona Charen shed light April 29 on a study that garnered little mainstream attention on young people who make pledges to remain virgins until marriage.

The Journal of Adolescent and Family Health “has just published a carefully crafted study of the Best Friends program and found that it does, in fact, deliver on its promise — to promote abstinence from sex, drugs and alcohol among its school-age participants,” she wrote.

Best Friends, Charen explained, is a school-based program in 24 cities and 15 states that, beginning in the fifth grade, pairs girls with teachers and other volunteers who serve as mentors. The curriculum requires more than 110 hours per year and includes units on friendship, love and dating, self-respect and AIDS and STDs, among other topics. Girls are asked to commit to abstinence, and the positive peer group helps reinforce their commitment.

Compared to girls of similar age, income, race and family structure who participated in a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, Best Friends girls were eight times less likely than the others to use drugs, Charen noted, and six times less likely to engage in premarital sex. Among eighth-graders, 65.6 percent of Best Friends girls abstained from alcohol, compared with only 37.3 percent of YRBS youngsters, she wrote. Best Friends works because the focus of the program is on preserving girls’ dignity, Charen concluded, and girls have plenty of opportunities to see such behavior demonstrated.

“Dignity is not what the condom crowd is after — which is why this column is probably the first you’ve heard about this impressive study,” she wrote.

The study is at odds with one published in March by sociologists from Yale and Columbia Universities, which various observers have questioned concerning its methodology, that said teenagers who make abstinence pledges have the same rate of sexually transmitted diseases as their peers who do not make such pledges and are more likely to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity.

PRINCETON GROUP STANDS UP FOR PURITY — A group of Princeton University undergraduates have organized what they call the Anscombe Society to provide a haven for sexually abstinent students in the midst of what they call a sex-saturated campus.

The group derived its name from Elizabeth Anscombe, the Cambridge University Anglo-Catholic whose 1977 essay “Contraception and Chastity” is touted among conservative Catholics for defending the pope’s guidelines on sexual behavior, according to The New York Times.

Joan Claire Krautmann, a senior from Salem, Ore., told The Times she joined Anscombe after she was overwhelmed by the overt sexuality promoted even by her residential adviser when she arrived on campus her freshman year.

“Immediately, when you get on campus you’re bombarded with sexual material, and it’s a whole different atmosphere from my Catholic high school upbringing,” she said.

The Anscombe Society exists not to pass moral judgment, they say, but to inform the campus of another option because “information is better than ignorance” about abstinence.

So far, the group has about 80 members and has been granted the use of university rooms for meetings and a page on the university website along with other student organizations.

“We are trying to remove this discussion from a setting that would make people feel uncomfortable — from a religious setting, for example — and make it available to everyone,” David Schaengold, a member of the group, told The Times.

“We don’t believe that human beings should be used as instruments or objects,” he added. “We think the proper relationship between humans should be one of respect and love, and we think promiscuity and random hook-ups are completely destructive to respect and love. Dignity itself is a moral standard.”

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  • Erin Curry