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CULTURE DIGEST: Priest urges PCUSA toward orthodoxy; prayer banned at high court?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Archpriest Siahei Hardun of the Orthodox Church of Belarus bluntly expressed disappointment in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s drift from biblical orthodoxy regarding sexual morality when he addressed the church’s General Assembly in July.

Hardun recounted how the church in Belarus suffered severe persecution under communism, with church buildings destroyed, seminaries closed and social ministries forbidden. Now, with the help of the PCUSA, the church in Belarus is recovering, and new churches are being built rapidly.

The archpriest traveled to the General Assembly to thank Presbyterians for their generous help, but he also took time to share his thoughts on his first meeting with the group. Prior to his greeting, the assembly voted to approve the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.

“I was really struck while listening to your discussion about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, civil unions and other moral issues,” Hardun said. “Christian morality is as old as Christianity itself. It doesn’t need to be invented now. Those attempts to invent new morality look for me like attempts to invent a new religion — a sort of modern paganism.

“When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Spirit that inspired the Bible, if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspires the Holy Orthodox Church not to change anything doctrinal or moral standards?” Hardun said. “It is really the same Spirit or perhaps there are different spirits acting in different denominations and inspiring them to develop in different directions and create different theologies and different morals?

“My desire is that all Christians should contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints, as St. Jude calls us to do. And my advice as an ecumenical advisory delegate is the following: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.'”

Later in the day, a proposal to redefine marriage as a covenant between “two people” rather than “a man and a woman” was narrowly defeated.

Carmen Fowler, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, wrote in an opinion piece that Hardun’s admonition “fell on a room of largely itchy ears.”

“However, Hardun bore faithful witness to the reality that, indeed, a faithful remnant can survive persecution and the efforts of the Enemy to destroy the witness of Christ,” Fowler wrote. “The revival of the Orthodox Church of Belarus from the ashes of communism is hopeful witness to a denomination in rapid Western decline.”

PRAYER PROHIBITED ON SUPREME COURT STEPS — A teacher was leading a group of Christian school students in prayer on the steps outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., when a police officer tapped her on the shoulder and told her to stop praying.

The teacher, Maureen Rigo of Wickenburg Christian Academy in Arizona, had led her students and a few adults on an educational tour of the Supreme Court complex, and at the end of the tour they stood to pray among themselves.

Alliance Defense Fund, which sent a letter to U.S. Supreme Court officials in July to urge them to stop police officers from prohibiting prayer on the court steps, said the Arizona group was not obstructing traffic, not demonstrating and not otherwise attracting attention. Yet the officer stopped them based on a statute which bars parades and processions on Supreme Court grounds, ADF said.

“Mrs. Rigo was not engaging in a parade, procession or assembly. She was speaking in a conversational level to those around her with her head bowed,” the ADF letter said. “There is no reason to silence Mrs. Rigo’s activities since these activities do not attract attention, create a crowd or give off the appearance of impartiality.

“… The only logical explanation for prohibiting Mrs. Rigo’s activities, while allowing other conversations, pertains to the viewpoint of Mrs. Rigo’s expression,” ADF said. “Evidently, people may engage in all sorts of conversational expression on Supreme Court grounds unless that expression happens to involve prayer.

“In doing so, the Supreme Court police have not targeted a subject matter or class of expression, but targeted a particular viewpoint for censorship. They have singled out and censored religious prayer as the only form of conversation to be silenced.”

Fox News reported July 23 that legal challenges to prayer are on the rise, quoting Annie Laurie Gaylor, cofounder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which was instrumental in an earlier ruling against the National Day of Prayer.

“We’ve never had more complaints about government prayer,” Gaylor said. “We have just hired a second staff attorney in July. It’s turned into a cottage industry for our attorneys.”

Nate Kellum, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said the bulk of the complaints are aimed against Christians.

“Religious liberties are under attack across the country,” Kellum told Fox News. “My sense is that there’s some type of knee-jerk reaction, almost an allergic reaction, if someone sees the expression of religion.”

AFA LAUNCHES BOYCOTT OF HOME DEPOT — The American Family Association now is warning consumers against shopping at The Home Depot, a popular home improvement store, because the company gives financial and corporate support to open displays of homosexual activism “on main streets in America’s towns.”

“Rather than remain neutral in the culture war, The Home Depot has chosen to sponsor and participate in numerous gay pride parades and festivals,” AFA said in July. “Most grievous is The Home Depot’s deliberately exposing small children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals and cross-dressers, which are a common occurrence at these events.”

AFA emphasized that the goal of every homosexual organization supported by The Home Depot is the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” Among the examples cited by AFA:

— In June, The Home Depot set up a “Kids’ Workshop” as a vendor at the Southern Maine Pride Festival and parade.

— Last year, The Home Depot gave more than $5,000 to sponsor the Nashville Gay Pride Festival in Tennessee, and the company also sponsored pro-homosexual parades in Atlanta, Kansas City, Portland and San Diego.

— The Home Depot offers insurance benefits that cover sex change operations for employees. The insurance extends to same-sex partners of employees, indicating that the company considers such couples “married,” AFA said.

— In 2008, The Home Depot sponsored the Durham Pride Weekend in North Carolina with a kids’ crafts workshop and parade. Events included a cross-dresser show.

— As early as 2005, The Home Depot placed a full page advertisement in the “Out & Equal” homosexual workplace conference program guide.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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