Methodists Defrock Lesbian Pastor

The highest court in the United Methodist Church revoked the ordination Oct. 31 of Irene Stroud, who had been a lesbian pastor of First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. The denomination's Judicial Council thus overturned a lower court reversal of an original decision last December to defrock Stroud. The latest ruling said gays and lesbians are allowed to be Methodist ministers, but they must remain celibate. Stroud has acknowledged that her relationship with her partner is sexual.

While Stroud can no longer claim the title "reverend," an Associated Press story said she will "continue as a lay staff memberpreaching, supervising children's and youth work, and conducting pastoral visits."

Based on an Associated Press article.

Assailants Behead 3 Christian Schoolgirls

Unidentified machete-wielding assailants attacked a group of girls attending a private Christian high school in eastern Indonesia's Central Sulawesi Province on Oct. 29, beheading three of them and seriously wounding a fourth, police said. The students were ambushed while walking through a cocoa plantation on their way to class in the Poso Kota Subdistrict. The three headless bodies of the girls, dressed in brown uniforms, were left at the site of the attack. Their heads were found at separate locations by residents two hours later.

 The attacks occurred despite a government-mediated truce signed in early 2002 that brought Muslims and Christians together after fighting on the Moluccan Islands left up to 9,000 people dead in three years. But since then a series of bomb attacks and assassinations have targeted believers. Christian leaders have repeatedly criticized the authorities in Jakarta for not doing enough to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Assist News Service/Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Pastor Electrocuted in Baptismal Service

A Baptist pastor was electrocuted as he was about to perform a baptism at his church in Waco, Texas, the morning of Sunday, Oct. 30. Kyle Lake, 33, died at University Baptist Church in Waco when he grabbed a microphone while partially submerged in the baptismal. Doctors attending the service performed chest compressions on Lake until he was taken to a Waco hospital where he was declared dead.

About 800 people attended the Sunday-morning service, which was larger than normal because it was homecoming weekend at nearby Baylor University. The woman being baptized apparently had not stepped into the water and was not seriously injured. Lake was the church's pastor for the last seven years and the author of two books published by Relevant Books: Understanding God's Will and Understanding Prayer. Lake is survived by his wife and three young children.

Assist News Service/Associated Press via MissionNet

Muslim Gangs Force 60 Church Closures In West Java

Christians in Indonesia are facing a severe escalation of terrorism, intimidation and persecution with 60 churches forced to close in West Java alone in the last three months. "This escalation is part of the process to implement sharia (Islamic law)," said Pastor Johan Bandi, secretary of the Indonesian Churches Together, in an e-mail report. He added that some of the publicly known radical Islamic groups such as the Defense of Islam (FPI) and the Alliance Against Apostasy (AGAP), have broken into churches in the middle of services, ordered pastors and congregations out of the church, and forced them to sign statements that the building would no longer be used for church services. Often they carry letters of authorization from the mayor and chief of police and are accompanied by government officials and police who stand by doing nothing.

"This is not just a West Java problem," Bandi said. "This is a national problem facing every church group throughout the country." At least 35 churches in Bandung, for example, have been closed in the last 12 months. The Indonesia media has reported that some 150 churches have been destroyed or closed down in Jakarta and throughout the island of Java in recent years.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

7.3 Million Meals for Victims of Hurricanes

An all-time record has been reached—more than 7.3 million meals prepared as of Oct. 11 for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita under the Southern Baptists' mammoth disaster relief effort across the Gulf Coast. The denomination's old record was 2.5 million meals prepared during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Southern Baptists provide the third-largest disaster relief operation in the country, behind the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, with more than 30,000 trained volunteers on call for local, state and national emergencies.

But while the efforts of feeding units are tapering off, the need for cleanup and recovery operations continues to grow, said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board. "The number of damaged homes and churches is overwhelming," Burton said. "Volunteers will be needed for years to assist in the long-term recovery efforts."

Baptist Press

Half of Conservative Christians Favor Embryonic Research

Two-thirds of Americans, including half of conservative Christians, approve of stem cell research that destroys human embryos, according to a recent survey. The poll, sponsored by the Genetics and Public Policy Center, also revealed an American public that is concerned about protecting human embryos but even more supportive of research that results in their destruction.

Only those classified as "fundamentalist/evangelical" failed to achieve at least 55% approval for embryonic research—and 50% of fundamentalists/evangelicals supported ESCR, with 9% strongly approving and 41% approving.

The survey results, released Oct. 13, came as debate continues over the federal government's role in stem cell research. There are efforts in Congress to liberalize President Bush's policy, which bars federal funds for destructive embryonic stem cell research. The House of Representatives approved such a measure earlier this year. The Senate appears to have a majority in favor of that bill but has yet to vote on it.

David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at Family Research Council, told Baptist Press the questionnaire should have included non-embryonic stem cell research as an option to respond to. In a survey earlier this year, the Genetics and Public Policy Center reported 76% opposed human embryo cloning for research.

So far, embryonic stem cells have produced no treatments for human beings, while non-embryonic stem cells have provided therapies for at least 65 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia. Taking stem cells from non-embryonic sources—such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood—does not harm the donor.

Baptist Press

Mercy Ships Aid in Katrina Relief

Mercy Ships Disaster Response Team is working in southern Mississippi to bring aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Docked in its home port of Chickasaw, Ala., near Mobile, not far from where the eye of Katrina came ashore, the Caribbean Mercy survived the hurricane with only minor damage. Normally used to serve the poor and needy in the Caribbean and Central America, the ship was stationed to provide relief closer to home. "We're certainly not denying that (it was a miracle). I don't know if God caused the ship to be there at this time, but He is still in the redemption business, and that's one of the things He wants to use us for," said Mercy Ships Disaster Response Team Leader Mark Thompson. After Katrina struck, the Caribbean Mercy became a staging platform for Mercy Ships personnel who were being called to serve in the Mobile and Gulfport, Miss. areas. Having the ship already on site enabled Mercy Ships to immediately provide support without struggling through the delay of finding shelter for volunteers. Never before has a Mercy Ships vessel been called upon to help provide disaster relief in the United States. The organization, founded in 1978, typically services ports in developing nations. Each year more than 2,400 career and short-term volunteers serve with Mercy Ships, which has three hospital ships and offices in 17 countries. via MissionNet

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Churches Continue to Multiply in Kyrgyzstan

While the future of religious freedom is in question in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, the church is growing, says R.K. Ulrich of The Bridge International. The ministry is involved with churches attended by some 11,000 believers in Kyrgyzstan. As these churches grow, the leadership identifies a team from each congregation and sends them out to evangelize and plant a new church elsewhere. Their heart for the lost and their healthy view of persecution is keeping their faith strong and vibrant, Ulrich says, adding that in an area where 75 percent of the population professes Islam, it's difficult to proclaim the gospel freely.

Mission Network News

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