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Adam, Eve and T. Rex

latimes.com
COLUMN ONE
Giant roadside dinosaur attractions are used by a new breed of creationists as pulpits to spread their version of Earth's origins.
By Ashley Powers
Times Staff Writer

August 27, 2005

CABAZON, Calif. — Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.

Dinny01The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.

Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.

Dinny's new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah's Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, "Don't swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution."

The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least half a dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles' popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.

"We're putting evolutionists on notice: We're taking the dinosaurs back," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that's already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.

"They're used to teach people that there's no God, and they're used to brainwash people," he said. "Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That's their star."

The nation's top paleontologists find the creation theory preposterous and say children are being misled by dinosaur exhibits that take the Jurassic out of "Jurassic Park."

"Dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden, and Noah's Ark? Give me a break," said Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley and president of National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group that supports teaching evolution. "For them, 'The Flintstones' is a documentary."

Tyrannosaurus rex and his gigantic brethren find themselves on both sides of the nation's renewed debate over the Earth's origins and the continuing fight over whether Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" or Genesis best explains the development of life.

Science holds that dinosaurs were the Earth's royalty for about 160 million years. Their reign ended abruptly, possibly after a meteorite smacked into the planet, but they're considered the forebears of birds.

Unearthing dinosaur bones that are millions of years old "doesn't prove evolution, but it shows the Genesis account doesn't work," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.

Drivers who pull off Interstate 10 in Pensacola, Fla., are told a far different story at Dinosaur Adventure Land. Its slogan: "Where Dinosaurs and the Bible meet!"

The nearly 7-acre museum, low-tech theme park and science center embodies its founder's belief that God created the world in six days. The dinosaurs, even super carnivores such as T. rex, dined as vegetarians in the Garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned — and only then did they feast on other creatures, according to the Christian-based young-Earth theory.

About 4,500 years after Adam and Eve arrived, the theory goes, pairs of baby dinosaurs huddled in Noah's Ark, and a colossal flood drowned the rest and scattered their fossils. The ark-borne animals repopulated the planet — meaning that folk tales about fire-breathing beasts are accounts of humans battling dinosaurs, who still roamed the planet.

Kids romping through the $1.5-million Florida theme park can bounce on a "Long Neck Liftasaurus" swing seat; launch water balloons at a T. rex and a stegosaurus, and smooth their own sandbox-size Grand Canyons, whose formation is credited to the flood. A "fossilized" pickle purports to show that dinosaur bones could have hardened quickly. Got an upcoming birthday? Dinosaur Adventure Land does pizza parties.

"Go to Disneyland, they teach evolution. It's subtle; signs that say, 'Millions of years ago' " said evangelist Kent Hovind, the park's founder. "This is a golden opportunity to get our point across."

Carl Baugh opened his Creation Evidence Museum in the 1980s near Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, where some people said fossilized dinosaur tracks and human footprints crisscrossed contemporaneously. The Texas museum sponsors a continuing hunt for living pterodactyls in Papua New Guinea. Baugh said five colleagues have spotted the flying dinosaurs, "but all the sightings were made after dark, and we were not able to capture the creatures."

Organizers at Creation Research of the North Coast in Humboldt County, Calif., dream of building their own reptile park but lack funding and acreage. So do leaders at Project Creation in Mount Juliet, Tenn., who would need to raise about $1 million to assemble 30 to 50 pterodactyl and brachiosaur replicas to mingle with live chickens and goats.

At the Institute for Creation Research museum in Santee, a San Diego suburb, officials plan to enlarge its paleontological offerings.

"We like to think of [dinosaurs] as creation lizards, or missionary lizards," said Frank Sherwin, a museum researcher and author.

A 50,000-square-foot Answers in Genesis museum and headquarters is under construction near the Ohio-Kentucky border, where the group hired a full-time dinosaur sculptor. When the facility opens in 2007, the lobby will spotlight a 20-foot waterfall and two animatronic T. rexes hanging out with two animatronic children dressed in buckskins.

The creation museums are riling mainstream Christian denominations that believe the Earth is billions of years old and that God uses evolution as a tool. This conviction makes modern science compatible with their faith in a creator.

"Taking the Bible as astronomy or physics is blasphemy. They're treating it as an elementary textbook and it's not," said Francisco J. Ayala, a UC Irvine evolutionary biology professor and ordained Dominican priest.

"We believe that God created the world…. They misread, misquote and misuse the Bible, but they will lose out to science," said Ayala, a past president of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.

Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and founder of Reasons To Believe ministry in Pasadena, frets that "young-Earth theologians" damage the credibility of scientists who are Christian and push intellectuals away from religion.

"I'd put them in the same category as flat-Earth people and the people that think the sun goes around the Earth," he said. "They think they're defending the truth, but the young-Earth model has no scientific integrity."

Advocates of the intelligent design idea, who assert that certain features of life are best explained by a creative intelligence, bristle at being lumped in with young-Earth creationists. There's little question that the Earth is billions of years old, said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle that is critical of Darwinian theory.

"Critics would rather tar everyone with the brush of creationism," said West, who teaches political science at Seattle Pacific University. "I think the idea that Genesis provides scientific text is really farfetched."

Creationists defend their dinosaur museums and attractions as a way to teach a grander purpose: If the Bible's history is accurate, then so is its morality.

"If [evolutionists] convince people that dinosaurs are exotic, strange creatures, they've won right there, and the Bible looks like a book of Jewish fairy tales," said Sean Meek, executive director of the Tennessee group Project Creation.

In Cabazon, it was the apatosaurus' underbelly that first enticed an Orange County developer a decade ago.

Gary Kanter had driven to the desert to size up Dinny the dinosaur and the 60 surrounding acres of scrubland, with the idea of expanding the adjacent truck stop.

While gawking up at the dinosaur's tummy, Kanter imagined the beast's tree-trunk legs lumbering across the barren plain.

"He's like a movable Golden Gate bridge," he recalled thinking when he reached his epiphany: Dinny was the perfect pitchman for a higher power.

Kanter's development company bought the site from the family of the late Claude K. Bell for $1.2 million.

Bell, an ex-sculptor at Knott's Berry Farm, crafted Dinny from discarded steel and concrete in the 1960s.

The mayor of Cabazon at the time called the reptile an eyesore. The apatosaurus once sheltered two dozen people during a snowstorm and starred in an ad for an air-conditioning company that bragged about cooling the beast.

Bell eventually added Mr. Rex, a 65-foot-tall tyrannosaurus. The creatures' red eyes glare in tandem at nighttime drivers and on postcards that show Mr. Rex chomping a freeway sign. In 1985, actor Paul Reubens climbed inside Rex for the film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," peering through 50 spiky teeth.

Kanter and his wife, Denise, are Christian home-schooling advocates who are hosts on a DVD titled "How to Home Educate with Ease." After the gift shop vendor's lease expired, Denise Kanter posted an essay on the Christian website Revolution Against Evolution, seeking volunteers for the attraction.

"Our national museums (that we fund through our taxes) leave millions of people with information that they are no more than an evolved rock," she wrote. "The destruction of millions of souls has been devastating."

Pastor Robert Darwin Chiles offered to transform the Cabazon Dinosaurs from tourist stop to place of worship.

The pastor and the Kanters now hope to turn Mr. Rex's innards into exhibits about cryptozoology — the study of speculative creatures, such as Bigfoot — and creationism. They will somewhat mirror those in Santee, which takes visitors from Genesis to modern times with placards that say Darwin "came at just the right time to be the catalyst for a revival of ancient paganism" and that evolution birthed Communism, racism and Nazism.

"It's what we call marketplace ministry. I bring the Gospel to the people," said Chiles, who runs a nondenominational church at the attraction, inside Bell's rickety old home.

Kids flock to the huge statues. "And it's not like they're crying, 'Oh, mommy, take me out, I'm scared.' They're drawn to it," Chiles said. "There's something in their DNA that knows man walked with these creatures on Earth."

The Kanters intend to spend $2 million to $3 million to add a giant sand pit where kids would rummage for fossils, a center that would contrast creation and evolution arguments, a maze and a replica of Noah's Ark. All that alerts visitors now is a cryptic sign that asks, "Is evolution true?"

Parents glanced past it on a recent afternoon as their children raced toward the growling dinosaurs. Boys wedged their heads between a smaller carnivore's teeth, or smacked its mouth with toy swords. Toddlers hugged Dinny's legs while one family crowded under his tummy in party hats, unwrapped presents and bonked a stegosaurus piñata.

Douglas Bant and his wife ushered their kids from gift shop to minivan for the trip back to Scottsdale, Ariz. The couple teach their children about Jesus, but Bant was miffed about a dinosaur trying to do the same.

"Who thinks, 'I'm going to open a gift shop and convince people this is church'?" he said. "Why would you turn a toy for kids into some sort of religious crusade?"

Corina Shreve had pulled off the highway with her son and daughter.

The family, from Westminster in Orange County, drops in on Dinny maybe twice a year. Shreve said a staffer recently piled pamphlets about creation onto her 6-year-old son Aeron's hands and told him to pass them to friends.

When Aeron asked his mom during this year's visit for a T-shirt, Shreve balked at buying the only one in his size. It read "By Design and Not By Chance."

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

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August 27, 2005 in Creationism/Intelligent Design/Evolution | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Plight of African Christians

allAfrica.com         

Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)
OPINION
August 26, 2005
Posted to the web August 26, 2005

By Bugalo Chilume

In African culture, homosexuality is taboo. President Robert Mugabe has been widely reported to have said that homosexuals are worse than pigs, which didn't go down well with the West. Sam Nujoma is also known to have publicly unpalatable terms to describe homosexuality. In fact, he is reported to have ordered the arrest and deportation of homosexuals from Namibia.

Across the continent, homosexuality is a criminal offence, except in South Africa, where the minority white race was in power prior to majority rule - they ensured that the country's new constitution guaranteed freedom of sexual orientation before relinquishing power to the Africans.

Traditional Christian teachings frown upon homosexuality, as does African culture. It is against this background that the majority of African Christians, Anglicans in particular, are agonising over the consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay American divorcee of two, as bishop of an Episcopal Church, the American version of the Anglican Church. Most are horrified, and the consecration was met with harsh condemnation across Africa. The Kenyan Anglican archbishop is reported to have lamented that, "the devil has clearly entered the church. God cannot be mocked".

The majority of Anglican churches in Africa were against the consecration, with the notable exception of the South African church. Obviously, mindful of the provision of his country's constitution, Njongokulu Ndungane, the Archbishop of Cape Town, is reported to have welcomed Robinson into the church's fold: "Robinson has been consecrated by his province and that makes him a bishop of the church".

In white societies, homosexuality is an accepted lifestyle - even same sex marriages are recognised under law and enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual marriages. Robinson's appearance at his nomination victory celebration with his gay partner by his side didn't cause much of a ripple in the white Christian movement. His consecration had been a foregone conclusion despite spirited opposition from church leaders of non-white races, who make up about 70 percent of the worldwide Anglican membership.

To the dismay of many African Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican Church (a.k.a. Church of England) didn't rebuke the diocese in the US state of New Hampshire that firstly nominated and then consecrated Robinson. If anything, the archbishop was very accommodating in his remarks.

The current trials and tribulations of African Christians emanates from the fact that you cannot divorce indigenous culture from indigenous religion. When this happens, a society becomes dysfunctional, thus impeding its advancement economically, politically and spiritually.

Religion is the foundation upon which cultural values of a society are based; a framework within which these values function. By forsaking his own religion to embrace the religion of another race (white) that has totally different societal values from his, has left the African in a cultural limbo. As a result, African Christians, at least the Anglicans, are now in despair and utter confusion over the recent developments within the Anglican Church. Indeed, even without the consecration of the gay bishop, African Christians on the whole have always found it difficult to harmonise the spiritual demands of Christianity with their traditional African way of life.

Despite their opposition to the consecration of Robinson, there is nothing much the African and other non-white Anglicans can do to reverse this milestone in the Christian history, although they outnumber their white counterparts by far - clearly a master-servant relationship.

The consecration has taken place and the church has accepted it.

African Anglicans just have to bear it, toe the line and conform to the dynamics of the cultural values of their white masters, even if these are at loggerheads with their own African values.

Christianity is a religion of the white race, and therefore impervious to the cultural and social needs of its African and other non-white followers.

The near-hysterical opposition to contraceptives by the Vatican is incomprehensible, to say the least. Widespread poverty in Africa, where economic growth is largely stagnant, at best, makes it absolutely imperative that modern family planning methods be employed to contain runaway population growth; yet, the Roman Catholic Church instructs its many followers in Africa (and other developing parts of the world) not to use contraceptives. What is this?

Christianity is a white man's religion that he rightly wants to be in tandem with the dynamics of his own culture, and, needless to say, culture evolves over time to accommodate changing needs of society.

Given the comparatively pitiful low levels of economic development in the continent, African culture hasn't evolved to the same degree as European culture - hence the current deep cultural split between the races over the consecration of an openly gay bishop.

African Anglican ministers are reported to have accused their white counterparts of allowing their societies' increasingly secular morals to corrupt the traditionalist beliefs of Anglicanism.

What do they know? African Christians accepted the white man's religion when they were not party to its formation, now, what gives them the right to dictate to the owners of the religion?

Whites own the religion and should do whatever they damn well please with it!

In fact, over the years whites have made changes to their religion to suit the requirements of the times. Ineffectual gestures such as severing ties with the diocese of which Robinson is bishop is the most that African Anglican leaders can do to show their consternation at the consecration.

If, indeed, they believe that the consecration of an openly homosexual man as a bishop goes against the basic teachings of the Bible, and that it is an abomination, why don't they break away from the Anglican Church altogether? The church has broken up many times in the past to spawn new Christian denominations over less contentious issues.

The sad truth is that there is nowhere for them to go, no other spiritual home, for they were party to the destruction of their own true spiritual home.

Meekly, they will toe the line because they have been conditioned to always obediently follow the white man wherever he leads them, even if it is to their own deaths. Poor Africans.

Copyright © 2005 Mmegi/The Reporter. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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August 26, 2005 in Africa | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Trial of Harare bishop collapses in farce

telegraph.co.uk
By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
(Filed: 26/08/2005)

The ecclesiastical trial of an Anglican bishop who is an ardent supporter of President Robert Mugabe ended in farce yesterday when the presiding judge withdrew from the case before a plea had been heard.

Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, 55, the head of the Diocese of Harare, had been accused by priests and parishioners of 11 charges ranging from incitement to commit murder to bringing the Anglican church into disrepute. He rejects the charges .

But the trial, ordered by Archbishop Bernard Malanga, the head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa in Malawi which has authority over Zimbabwe, was quickly bogged down in technicalities and adjournments raised by the defence.

Judge James Kalaile, from the Malawian Supreme Court, told the court, mostly filled with black Anglicans gathered to give evidence against their bishop: "I have not in my years as a judge in Malawi or elsewhere heard anything like this dispute. I will contact the archbishop and ask him to appoint another judge."

Minutes after proceedings began, the defence attorney James Matizha demanded 17 pages of "further particulars" of the Church's case against his client.

Jeremy Lewis, the prosecuting barrister who is a prominent Anglican, said the objections were "vexatious" and out of step with ecclesiastical justice and intent. "The bishop has not even been asked to plead. Let him admit or deny the charges, that is why we are all here," he said.

Pauline Makoni, another leading Zimbabwean Anglican who travelled from London to give evidence against the bishop, said: "Our canons remain broken, our case against the bishop will not go away, we will continue." Wearing a cerise cassock and surrounded by family members, Bishop Kunonga emerged from the courtroom, convened at Harare Royal Golf Club, smiling broadly and claiming victory.

Bishop Kunonga would only speak to Zimbabwe's state media after the hearing. He is an open supporter of Mr Mugabe, who has given him at least two farms seized from their white owners.

An Anglican priest, Rev James Mukunga, who fled Zimbabwe last year, claimed in an affidavit signed in London last week that Bishop Kunonga had solicited assistance from state security agents and militant war veterans loyal to Mr Mugabe to have 10 "unruly" parishioners and priests killed because they opposed his tenure at Harare cathedral.

The chancellor of the Harare diocese, Bob Stumbles, who Bishop Kunonga has tried to sack, said: "I understand this case may now be investigated to see if charges can be brought against the bishop in the civil court."

The allegations against the bishop, had they culminated in a full trial, would have been the first time charges of such a serious nature would have been decided by the Anglican Church in Africa.

24 August 2005: Church court puts Mugabe bishop on trial
18 February 2003: Harare judge who cleared opposition mayor is held
12 January 2002: Prelate attacks Zimbabwe Anglicans

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
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August 26, 2005 in Church of Zimbabwe | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

catch the new Episcopal Church TV ad!

If you'd like to catch the new Episcopal Church ad on television, here's the schedule for its broadcast this weekend (click on the image for a larger version):

Episcopalchurchadtimes_2


August 25, 2005 in Advertising/Public Relations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bishop 'besmirching church'

23/08/2005 20:39 - (SA)

Michael Hartnack

Harare - An Anglican bishop who is a strong supporter of President Robert Mugabe was brought before an ecclesiastical court investigating charges ranging from inciting murder to besmirching the church.

On Tuesday, Jeremy Lewis, acting as prosecutor, postponed pursuing the most serious incitement to murder charge against Bishop Nolbert Kunonga.

The 55-year-old clergyman arrived wearing a jewelled cross over his dark suit and crimson shirt at Tuesday's hearing held in a golf clubhouse across the road from one of Mugabe's official residences.

Kunonga had not yet been asked to admit or deny the charges, for which he could be expelled from the church, defrocked or merely reprimanded.  If convicted, he could appeal within the hierarchy of the 200-million member global Anglican family of churches.

Local church refuses to provide funding

The case was the culmination of a long series of disputes between Kunonga and parishioners and other members of the clergy, who bought the charges. The local Anglican Church had refused to provide funding for the prosecution, which was being financed by international donations. Other charges alleged Kunonga intimidated and improperly fired priests, ignored church law, commandeered bank accounts and foreign exchange, and "brought the diocese into contempt". He also was accused of ordering the removal of Cathedral memorials to Zimbabweans killed in the first and second world wars as well as pioneers of former white-ruled Rhodesia and to victims of the 1972-1980 independence war.

Archbishop Bernard Malanga, head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which had authority over Zimbabwe, appointed Malawian supreme court judge James Kalaile to hear the case with Zambian bishops Leonard Mwenda and Albert Chama assisting. Kalaile was a prominent lay member of the Anglican Church in Malawi.

Priest can't give evidence from UK

James Matizha, defending council, won an adjournment until Thursday, claiming charges had been changed at the last minute. Prosecutor Lewis said Kunonga was apprised of the charges two years ago. Plans for the key witness to the incitement to murder charge, former Zimbabwean priest James Mukunga, to give evidence via a closed circuit video link from a secret location in London, were disallowed under local rules of evidence. Lewis said Mukunga feared for his life if he returned to Zimbabwe, but might be prepared to testify in neighbouring Malawi. The incitement to murder charge might be heard later in Malawi.

Kunonga was accused of inciting members of Mugabe's feared Central Intelligence Organisation and "war veterans" militia to murder 10 of his critics in the local Anglican hierarchy. Mukunga allegedly received letters from Kunonga in 2003 with instructions to pass them on to the intelligence organisation and war veterans, urging them to "meet" the bishop's critics.

August 23, 2005 in Church of Zimbabwe | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Judge Rules Dissident Parish Owns Property

The Episcopal diocese had claimed that it was the rightful owner of St. James Church after the congregation defected in a dispute over gay rights.

By Larry B. Stammer
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 16, 2005

A conservative Newport Beach parish that severed ties with the Episcopal Church in a dispute over scriptural teaching and homosexuality is the rightful owner of its buildings and other property, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

Judge David C. Velasquez's ruling in favor of St. James Church finalized a tentative opinion he announced last week that rejected the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles' claim that the local congregation held the multimillion-dollar property in trust for the diocese — and that it forfeited any right to the buildings and other property, including hymnals, when it broke with the diocese and national church.

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the six-county diocese, said he would appeal. His attorney, diocesan chancellor John R. Shiner, called the judge's ruling "a grave error."

Church conservatives said Monday's ruling was a setback not only for the Los Angeles diocese but also for efforts by the 2.3-million member national Episcopal Church to stem defections by parishes and dioceses over deep differences about the national church's decision in 2003 to ordain an openly gay priest in a committed relationship as bishop of New Hampshire.

"I think the verdict … is a momentous verdict across the U.S.," said the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the Atlanta-based American Anglican Council, which has assisted dissident congregations to leave the Episcopal Church. "It gives great encouragement to Episcopalians and people of other Christian denominations that hold to the fact that the local congregation that buys the property and buildings does, in fact, own their property," Anderson said in a telephone interview.

In handing down his ruling, Velasquez said that the diocese had failed to show that it ever had legal title to the St. James property or that the property had been held in trust by St. James for the diocese. The diocese had argued that under canon law, the property was held in trust for the diocese and national church.

"California courts are not bound by canon law," the judge wrote. State courts, he said, followed "neutral principles of law" in resolving church disputes, relying on deeds, articles of incorporation, state statutes and the rules of the "general" church or denomination.

"No evidence has been presented that a trust over parish property has ever been created under statutory law," Velasquez said.

The diocese also lost on 1st Amendment grounds. The judge said that St. James was exercising its free speech rights when it broke with the diocese, issued a press release declaring its estrangement and amended its articles of incorporation to write out any references to the diocese.

"Such acts arise out of and are in furtherance of the [St. James'] exercise of the right to speak on a matter of public interest," the judge wrote. "The views expressed by the defendants concern matters of public interest. How churches in America are reacting to the different viewpoints of homosexuality is currently a topic of much public significance."

The Rev. Praveen Bunyan, rector of St. James, said, "Freedom of speech and freedom of religion in this country is still upheld and we just rejoice in that." He added, "I would not speak for other churches, but I'm sure other orthodox churches would be very blessed by this goodness. I'm sure they rejoice with us."

Told the diocese would appeal, Bunyan said, "I don't know if I should be surprised, seeing the way they have continued to cause us pain…. I would wish that the Episcopal Church would say all right…. We want to be about God's mission and be about God's work."

St. James attorney Eric C. Sohlgren was more direct. He charged that the diocese tried to "intimidate the church and take away its property so the members would have no place to worship."

Shiner, the diocesan attorney, said the issue was not free speech but who owned the property. "When [St. James] became part of the diocese, they committed themselves both orally and in writing to abide by the canons of the church, both national and local," he said in an interview after the ruling. In a prepared statement, Bruno added: "We have never disputed that members of the departing congregations are free to worship how they wish and with whom."

The Santa Ana ruling marked the second time in a year that a court had ruled in favor of a congregation that broke from its national body. A year ago, the state Court of Appeal in Fresno ruled that a United Methodist congregation that left the Methodist denomination had a right to keep its church buildings.

The issue in that case was whether St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Fresno could revoke a trust with the denomination, which promised that the church buildings would be held in trust not only for the local congregation but also for the national United Methodist Church. The court ruled that because the trust had not been expressly declared irrevocable, the local congregation could end it.

Besides St. James, two other parishes — All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood — left the Los Angeles diocese and were sued. Velasquez is scheduled to rule on their cases but has not said when he would act.

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August 16, 2005 in American Anglican Countil (AAC), Church of Uganda, Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Dissent is a centuries-long Episcopal tradition

Church that formed in ferment of Reformation may be facing new crossroads.
By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Monday, August 15, 2005 - LONG BEACH — Fissures in the Episcopal Church are certainly nothing new. In fact, many say it is the diversity of the congregants and their beliefs that makes the church vibrant and relevant.

Diversity is what allows Episcopalians to have very structured and ritualized High Churches and more relaxed and socially active Low Churches. It is what allowed radical thinkers such as bishops James Pike and John Shelby Spong to rise to positions of power, while simultaneously questioning the literalism of the Virgin Birth and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And sometimes, it is what drives parishes from the flock.

When All Saints Church of Belmont Heights and St. James and St. David's parishes left the national church after the ordination of an openly gay bishop, the blessing of same-sex unions and other doctrinal changes, it was a sign that for some congregations, diversity has its limits. The three breakaway parishes have since aligned themselves with an Anglican diocese in Uganda, a decision that has met with a variety of responses.

Some may see the breakaway congregations as reactionary parishes that are on the outer fringe of the faith and out of touch with modern society. Others may see them as the leading edge of a much larger and ominous trend that could ultimately rend the Episcopal Church and shake the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Already, Anglican leaders from around the globe have repudiated the Episcopal Church and declared varying levels of diminished relations. As the Episcopal Church continues with its current policies, those relations could become more strained.

"I think it's safe to say the Anglican Communion won't look like it has in the past. I think Anglicanism is from now on permanently changed," said the Rev. Gregory Wilcox of St. Mary of the Angels, a parish that split from the Episcopal Church in 1977. "The Episcopal Church committed itself with the consecration of (V. Gene) Robinson and the continued dissolution of doctrine. It has committed itself to this path."

One of the larger active groups in the U.S. that is trying to restore conservatism to the Episcopal Church from within is the Anglican American Council. Formed in 1996 with nine bishops and representatives from more than 20 parishes, the AAC now has 29 chapters and affiliations with 41 schools and organizations.

There have been suggestions that the Anglican American Council could eventually evolve into a second more conservative Anglican Church in the United States.

Others see the latest dustup as just another minor skirmish.
 

Frank Kirkpatrick of Trinity College wrote in the spring 2004 edition of "Religion in the News' that "the threat of schism has been, as Mark Twain said of obituaries announcing his death, greatly exaggerated."

The decline of the Episcopal Church, however, has not been a source of laughter for leadership.

Worldwide, Anglicanism has been growing and now has 77 million adherents. However, the Episcopal Church has been in steady decline for 40 years, from 3.6 million in 1965 to fewer than 2.3 million.

Some connect that slide to the church's march toward social liberalism.

As the Rev. Beau Davis, an Anglican priest in Los Feliz, says, "(The Episcopal Church is) trying to be loving and trying to be inclusive, but you can't throw Scriptures out."

"The Episcopal Church is dying. They're shuttering churches," said the Rev. Donald Ashman, whose Anglican Church of Our Saviour was one of four parishes to break away from the Episcopal Church in 1977. "If these churches are successful, it could open the floodgates."

Since its founding, the Anglican Church has been one of revolt. It is, after all, a "Protestant' church.

In the early 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church was quaking with dissent. Martin Luther launched the Reformation with his scalding attacks on papal abuses and indulgences.

Soon the Calvinists, Presbyterians, Puritans and Congregationalists, Anabaptists, charismatics and humanists were seeking their own paths, setting doctrine and redefining their relationships with God and their churches.

Amid the upheaval, King Henry VIII of England, frustrated by the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and allow him to marry Anne Boleyn, decided to join the tide away from Catholicism. When Henry formally broke ties with Rome in the 1530s to create the Church of England, or Anglican Church, he created a fractious sect of the Christian religion.

That tradition has continued. From the disputes that set Anglican groups such as Pilgrims and Puritans at odds, to the breaking off from England and establishing the Episcopalian Church in the United States, the worldwide Anglican Communion has rarely lacked for commotion.

That trend in the U.S. church has become particularly noticeable in the last 30 years. In the 1970s, there was the ordination of women throughout the clergy, changes to the liturgy and Book of Common Prayer and a trend toward humanism or social conscience.

Those moves led a number of clergy and parishes to leave the Episcopal Church. In 1977, about 2,000 bishops, clergy and lay people met in St. Louis and created the Affirmation of St. Louis that, among other things, accused the Episcopal Church of "unlawful attempts to alter faith, order and morality."

From those meetings, a number of Anglican parishes organized and created dioceses and Anglican organization apart from the Episcopal Church.

More recently, new battlegrounds have emerged as the church has dealt with issues of homosexuality in the clergy, blessing of same-sex unions and ever-evolving issues of biblical orthodoxy and interpretation of Scriptures.

A group called Anglicans on-line lists more than 60 Anglican churches, dioceses and larger organizations that are not formally recognized or "in communion' with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

These churches may be completely Anglican in heritage and origin, but are simply not recognized by the See of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of Anglicanism. Many of them exist across a wide spectrum of orthodoxies and conservatism.

For example, two groups, the Anglican Church in America and The Anglican Church of America, have very different outlooks despite strikingly similar names. The former espouses more conservative values, while the latter is a member of the International Communion of All-Inclusive Churches. In both groups' Web sites, they note that they should not be confused with the other.

A number of dioceses that have remained in the Episcopal Church have elected to withhold funding to the national church. Virginia, one of the cradles of Anglicanism in the United States, reduced its contributions by more than $1 million. Nationally, funding for the church was down by 12 percent in 2004.

This year, there are pockets of discontent across the country. In Connecticut, a group of priests faced being defrocked for their opposition to the ordination of Robinson. In Alabama, a second congregation has left the fold. In Tempe, Ariz., a parish of 400 split from the Episcopal Church and left its building behind. In Lexington, Ky., a second parish severed ties with the national church. In Philadelphia, a parish defied its bishop by not only keeping a defrocked priest as rector, but elevating him to a bishop of the Anglican Church in America. In New Westminster, Canada, two congregations ended their affiliation with the Anglican Church of Canada, which also blesses same-sex unions.

Whether these events are just part of the normal ebb and flow of opinion and dissent in a large church or the sign of major fracturing, remains to be seen.

The congregants of All Saints Church and St. James and St. David's parishes say for them the split with the Episcopal Church is final and irrevocable.

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August 15, 2005 in American Anglican Countil (AAC), Churches Not In Communion, Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Breaking Away

By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Monday, August 15, 2005 - LONG BEACH — When All Saints Church in Belmont Heights split from the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese in October, it became part of a rich, fractious tradition that dates back to when King Henry VIII created the Church of England and cut ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Biblical, doctrinal and social schisms have been a part of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church ever since. So have defections.

In the late 1970s, the issue of ordination of women into the clergy rocked the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Approval of the ordination of women, along with proposed changes to the Book of Common Prayer, spurred four Southern California parishes to take the extreme step of severing ties with the national church.

Nationally, the effect was not unlike the current debate over the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and the blessing of same-sex unions that led All Saints in Long Beach, St. James in Newport Beach, St. David's in North Hollywood and others to sever ties with the Los Angeles diocese and the national church. The three Southland parishes chose to remain in the worldwide Anglican Communion by aligning themselves with a diocese in Uganda.

The L.A. diocese sued the breakaway churches for their property and financial holdings, arguing that the parishes held them in trust for the diocese and forfeited them when they left the church. The same argument was used in 1977.

The four Southern California churches that left the fold in the 1970s found that their experiences tested the faiths and pocketbooks of both churchgoers and leadership.

The current breakaway churches may or may not have similar experiences. On Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge David Velasquez tentatively ruled that one of the churches, St. James of Newport Beach, is the rightful owner of the church and its property. Velasquez's final ruling is expected today at a 2:30 p.m. hearing.

The ruling will not apply to the two other breakaway parishes. Hearings haven't been scheduled on those churches but the issues are much the same, according to attorney Eric Sohlgren, who represents St. James but acts as a spokesman for all three.

 


The gang of four

In 1977, St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood's Los Feliz neighborhood, St. Matthias in Sun Valley, Church of Our Saviour in Los Angeles and Holy Apostles in Glendale were moderate-sized parishes that made the monumental decision to break away from the U.S. Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Their decisions were spurred by the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 1976, which approved the ordination of women and changes to the Book of Common Prayer. All four parishes were sued by the Los Angeles diocese and went through lengthy court battles. Three won in court, but at a steep cost emotionally, financially and in terms of faith.

Of those that "won," St. Matthias of Sun Valley is now defunct and Our Saviour in Los Angeles hangs on with a rector who is also a full-time teacher. St. Mary of the Angels, the Los Feliz church that spearheaded the move, is now thriving. But in the interim it lost almost its entire congregation, most of its endowment and teetered on the edge of collapse before rebounding.

The rector of St. Mary's at the time, John Barker, whose name has become synonymous with the court case, led an attempt to have his parish accepted as a Roman Catholic Church with Anglican rites. When that failed, he left the Anglican faith, converted to Roman Catholicism and is now a priest in Murrieta. The Rev. William Brown of St. Matthias, similarly unsuccessful, also converted to Roman Catholicism and has since retired. Some members of the St. Matthias congregation later helped found St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Rite Catholic Church in Chatsworth. Despite its title, that parish is not a member of the global Anglican Communion nor affiliated with the U.S. Catholic Church.

Some remaining members of the congregation of Holy Apostles in Glendale, which lost its case, now rent space at a Presbyterian church for weekly Masses. The parish the Episcopal diocese retained was converted into a church for Spanish speakers and was renamed Iglesia de la Magdalena.

"We were young and ready to fight," said the Rev. Donald Ashman, rector of Our Saviour in Los Angeles and a member of Holy Apostles during the secession. "We didn't know how much pain would come. But don't misunderstand me: I don't regret it."

Catholic journey

For Barker and Brown, the former rectors of St. Mary's and St. Matthias, the journey was particularly painful and difficult. They bore the responsibility of leading their parishes away from the Episcopal Church, but eventually failed in their ultimate goal of forging relationships with the Roman Catholic Church.

Barker, popularly referred to as Father Jack, now presides over a flourishing Catholic congregation in Murrieta. St. Martha's Catholic Parish recently celebrated completion of an $8 million project to build a 1,400-person-capacity sanctuary. The parish now consists of 4,500 families and is growing each month.

When the subject of his time at St. Mary's is brought up, Barker politely declines to discuss it.

During the secession battles, Barker and Brown helped lead a national campaign to allow disaffected Episcopal parishes to be in communion with the Catholic Church of the United States while retaining Anglican traditions, including liturgy and married priests.

Barker and Brown were spokesmen for a portion of "Catholic-minded' Anglicans in the U.S. who saw Roman Catholicism as a safe harbor from leaders they said were making "irreversible changes to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church," according to a document Barker wrote describing the times.

For many years, there have been Episcopalians who subscribe to the so-called "branch theory." An outgrowth of the liberal Oxford Movement of the 19th century, the theory holds that Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism along with Anglicanism are branches of the one true church of Christ. This is rooted in the notion of apostolic succession, which holds they are the only faiths that can trace a direct lineage of bishops who have been consecrated back to St. Peter, an original apostle of Jesus. St. Peter is generally regarded as the first pontiff of Rome.

Episcopalians and Anglicans who share this belief have often sought to forge tighter affiliations with Rome. In addition to straining relations within Anglicanism, the events of 1976 threatened the Episcopal Church's relations with Rome. As a result, Barker, Brown and other disaffected Episcopal leaders met with officials of the Vatican, eventually working out an agreement that was approved by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

In 1980, Archbishop John R. Quinn announced a "pastoral provision' by which Episcopal and Anglican parishes could become Roman Catholic. In 1983-84, the clergy and parishes of five churches were accepted into the Catholic Church.

Although Barker and Brown won the war, they lost the battle.

In his paper describing the history of pastoral provision, Barker wrote that in October 1984, Catholic Bishop John Ward, on behalf of Cardinal Timothy Manning, told the clergy of St. Matthias and St. Mary of the Angels that no pastoral provision would be offered to the parishes. This happened despite what Barker said were private assurances by Bishop Bernard Law, one of the point men for the Catholic Church in the process, that the Southland parishes "would have little difficulty' being admitted into the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

After being rebuffed, Barker and Brown both left the Anglican faith and converted.

The Rev. Beau Davis, a parishioner at the time and now a curate at St. Mary's, still is angry when he talks about what he saw as underhanded treatment from Manning.

However, he remains hopeful that one day his parish will become a Catholic church with Anglican traditions. Maybe even in his lifetime.

"We still have good communication with the Roman Church," Davis said. "It's not going to happen quickly, but it will happen in God's time."

What's ahead

Given their experiences, members and clergy from the breakaway parishes of the 1970s say their prayers and wishes are with All Saints Church and the other secessionists.

Ashman said he suspects the three parishes are in better financial shape than the group that took on the church in the 1970s. And he predicts they'll need the resources.

"They're going to suffer because they're taking on a large corporation," Ashman said. "(The diocese) is stronger numerically and has more resources. A giant is going to take (the breakaway churches) to court, and it's going to be rough. I've been there and done that."

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August 15, 2005 in Church of Uganda, Churches Not In Communion, Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

1970s church divisions painful for congregants

Legal outcomes differed, but communities in Sun Valley and Glendale faltered.
By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Sunday, August 14, 2005 - Two parishes did not survive the separation trials of the 1970s.

St. Matthias Church in Sun Valley won its court case but was unable to keep its property. The once-thriving parish was already in desperate straits when the court trials began, and eventually the church was sold. Some of the congregants left with their pastor, the Rev. William Brown, and merged with St. Mary of the Angels in Los Feliz, while others helped start St. Mary the Virgin in Chatsworth. Still others left the faith entirely.

On a blistering day in Sun Valley, the L-shaped main church building that was St. Matthias appears deserted. The church and a portable outbuilding sit on a weed-covered corner plot of land near the Golden State (I-5) Freeway. The church is run by the Korean Blessing Mission Church. On a weekday afternoon the property is gated and locked.

Neil Paquin was a St. Matthias congregant in the '70s and deeply involved with the church. He said beyond the money the parish spent, the greatest toll was to his relationship with the clergy.

Photo gallery: St. Mary of the Angels Anglican Church

"Most of us really put our hearts and souls into it," Paquin said, "which I will never do again to any church. I wouldn't put my faith in a priest or minister or any man. That's where I stand now."

Paquin and Ruth Zuber are among former congregants who believe their clergy had ulterior motives in seceding from the church, although they agreed with the move at the time.

"The rector of our church seemed to lead us to Roman Catholicism," Zuber said. "That's not the way it was presented to us at first."

Paquin puts it in more stark terms.

"(Brown) sold us down the river," Paquin said. "He kept telling us he was doing it for the Anglican church."

Despite the outcome, Paquin guesses he still would have left the Episcopal Church and said traditional Anglicans felt forced to make a choice by either accepting a revised Book of Common Prayer or leaving.

Paquin and Zuber say the ordeal was hard for many.

"A lot left and never entered another church of any sort," said Paquin, who now lives in Washington.

Holy Apostles in Glendale was the only church to lose its court case. Unlike the other churches, Holy Apostles was relatively young and was formed after canons, or church laws, were put in place that specifically called for the property to revert to the diocese if the parish was dissolved.

That didn't make it any easier for the congregation, which spent about $20,000 in legal fees and was left with nothing, according to the Rev. Donald Ashman, a member of Holy Apostles during the secession.

In addition to his duties as rector of Our Saviour in Los Angeles, Ashman tends to 35 or so remaining congregants of Holy Apostles who rent space from a Presbyterian Church. Father Anthony Rascher, a former Episcopal priest who was among the first to leave the faith in the late 1970s, helps Ashman with the Holy Apostles congregation, as well as his own parish, St. Mary the Virgin in Chatsworth.

Doctrinal disputes and court battles make it hard for parishioners to remember the real purpose of church, Ashman said.

"You become filled with martyrdom and bitterness and forget charity," Ashman said. "That's what happens when you're pushed too hard. The tendency is to get angry and fight back."

Ashman said the prospect of taking on the Episcopal Church was daunting for a small parish like Holy Apostles, but congregants believed it was their only choice.

"They were frightened, it was a scary time," Ashman said. "Some people never recovered. I know parishioners who just gave up on God because they didn't know how he could do this."

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August 15, 2005 in Churches Not In Communion | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

St. Mary thrives after years of turmoil

Its 1977 exit from the Episcopal Church cost money, members. Now it's healthy again.

By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Monday, August 15, 2005 - St. Mary of the Angels is a jewel of a building that sits on a quiet corner at the intersection of Hillhurst and Finley avenues in Hollywood's Los Feliz neighborhood. Founded in 1919, the original plan was to build a large church of the stars of Hollywood. However, the 1929 stock market crash hit hard on the West Coast, and although the 1930 structure remains, it is only a portion of what was envisioned.

It wouldn't be the only time vision and reality didn't match for the congregation.

The Rev. Gregory Wilcox, a large man with a heavy flowing beard, remembers the mid-1970s as a time of intense turmoil in the Episcopal Church. Amid this upheaval, St. Mary of the Angels decided it would have to secede.

The Rev. Beau Davis, a parishioner at the time and now a curate at St. Mary's, said rector John Barker and others, sensing the movement in the national church, changed parish bylaws to align with California property laws and help shield the parish from a future takeover.

The legal maneuver worked, but the price to the congregation was considerable.

"(The politics) took a toll on the parish, because that's not why people come to church," Wilcox said. "At one point they erected a chain-link fence because there were rumors the bishop would come and try to take the property. There were armed guards during Mass. It was not a situation geared to people who wanted to come and say their prayers."

Davis is a thin man whose passion about religion is so overt that he occasionally blurts out very unreligious expletives when he gets excited. His voice still cracks when he remembers those days.

"Probably the most painful thing, next to losing my son to cancer, was leaving the faith," Davis said.

For four years the diocese and parishes waged legal wars in the courts.

"People in this parish mortgaged their homes," Davis said. "We had a huge endowment at one time and almost all was expended on legal fees. But the people, the vestry and the people, insisted this must be done. There was a lot of genuine sacrificial giving."

By the time Wilcox became rector in 1985, the congregation had shrunk from about 170 to 18. The last member of that congregation still with the parish died in 2004, according to Davis. Although St. Mary's had won its freedom, the lingering psychological damage was evident.

"Even though we were completely separate, this place still had a siege mentality, and it took a long time for that to go away," Davis said.

Wilcox's solution was to refuse to talk about the parish's history and politics.

"(Wilcox) simply said, 'It's time to refocus. You come from an unpleasant past, but you've been delivered to a pleasant new future," Davis said.

Today, the parish is strong.

Wilcox said membership has grown to 220, most in the 20-40 age range. Davis said they are people who want a more orthodox doctrine and form of worship.

"We still get a fair number of Episcopalians who come here when they get upset with the way the church is going," Wilcox said. "But I'm not enthusiastic about getting a group of unhappy people who come here to gripe."

St. Mary's is affiliated with the Anglican Church in America, which is part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Church. The Anglican Church in America was one of several splinter Anglican organizations formed in 1977 after the Affirmation of St. Louis.

The St. Louis meeting was attended by 2,000 Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people in opposition to the outcomes of the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 1976, including the ordination of women and changes to the Book of Common Prayer.

The Anglican Church in America has five dioceses in 32 states. The worldwide organization claims a congregation of 400,000.

Wilcox said the loose affiliation is irregular but valid.

Although Davis said God has delivered him to a better place spiritually, the pain and bitterness remain just below the surface. Davis said he remains close to many people who have left the Episcopal Church.

"One thing we all agree on is that the bishops sold us and our faith down the drain," Davis said. "The very people we looked to and trusted to be centers of unity became centers of disunity, and it was done with incredible cruelty. They were like shepherds who would torture their sheep before shearing them."

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August 15, 2005 in Churches Not In Communion | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack