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Buddies rather than rallies get people to church

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A national survey looking into what influences people to become Christians has found that personal relationships, not Billy Graham-style rallies or television evangelists, are what count most in drawing people to church. Men are especially subject to influences from wives or girlfriends, said the survey, conducted for Churches Together in England, the new name for the English Council of Churches. And when conversions occur, according to the survey of 511 adult men and women who have recently made a public profession of faith in English churches, they are the result of a long process and not a sudden zap from on high. Only 22 of those surveyed, or 4 percent, said they had been brought to Christ through big evangelistic rallies. Events such as the birth of a child or a death of a loved one are also important occasions of conversions, according to the study.

Sinead O'Connor act draws heated reaction

WASHINGTON _ U.S. Catholic Conference officials said this week they are watching "with interest" the unfolding flap over pop singer Sinead O'Connor. "We're pleased that so many people have spoken up," said William Ryan, a conference spokesman, of the controversy that has erupted since O'Connor, 26, ended an appearance on Saturday Night Live by ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul II as she proclaimed, "fight the real enemy." O'Connor's act, which startled NBC and Saturday Night Live officials, confused and outraged viewers. Among those criticizing the popular singer's act were New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a devout Roman Catholic, and the Anti-Defamation League. Cuomo said that O'Connor's act "hurt me as a Catholic _ it's offensive and it hurts people. I regret it." The ADL said it deplored O'Connor's behavior and said it found it conveyed "hatred to a religious leader who has fostered peace and understanding." "Her action was offensive to all people of good will, regardless of their religious conviction." The motives behind the act and the statement the singer sought to make were unclear. It came with O'Connor choosing to sing a song by the late Bob Marley called War. Marley was a Rastafarian, a Jamaican religious sect that holds in high honor the onetime Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. The song uses words from a speech Selassie gave in 1968. As she sang, the set of the show was decorated with a poster of Marley, a scarf with the Ethiopian national colors was draped over her microphone and she wore a necklace with a Star of David, another Rastafarian emblem. Rastafarians believe that the Catholic Church promoted or condoned slavery and the colonization of Africa and have been known to depict the pope as the antichrist.

Interfaith group

plans tornado relief

PINELLAS PARK _ An interfaith group will meet Tuesday to discuss ways to respond to recovery needs in the wake of last weekend's tornado damage in Pinellas Park and Largo. The Rev. William Nix, disaster response consultant for Church World Service, said the group will meet at 8:30 a.m. at Good Samaritan Church, 6085 Park Blvd. N in Pinellas Park. The meeting is open to representatives of all interested churches and synagogues, Nix said.

Accusations damaging; confidentiality urged

HOUSTON _ Calling alleged sexual misconduct cases extremely sensitive, a district inquiry committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is urging careful confidentiality in such cases and avoidance of "harmful rumor and innuendo." The committee offered the advice to clergy and laity throughout the church in concluding unanimously that there were no probable grounds for charges of sexual misconduct against the Rev. W. Clark Chamberlain. Chamberlain, head of the church's regional synod, stunned the denomination's general assembly last June by resigning as its chief executive for the "good of the church" the day after he was elected. He explained later he had acted after being informed that an unnamed person had accused him of sexual harassment. However, the inquiry committee determined "there are no probable grounds or cause to believe that an offense was committed by the accused as alleged." No formal charges were filed, and the accuser was not identified except as a continuing employee of the church's executive offices in Louisville, Ky.

Bishops denounce Oregon

anti-gay "Measure 9'

PORTLAND, Ore. _ Episcopal bishops of Oregon denounced a ballot proposal that calls homosexuality "wrong, unnatural and perverse" and would overturn laws in several localities barring discrimination against homosexuals. Bishops Robert Ladehoff and Rustin Kimsey issued a pastoral letter saying the proposal, known as "Measure 9," would create "an environment of suspicion and fear." The issue is on the statewide ballot Nov. 3. The letter urged Episcopalians to consider the matter in light of their baptismal commitment to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being." Earlier this year, the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a statewide coalition of 16 member denominations including Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, denounced the measure. It was proposed by the Oregon Citizens Alliance, an organization of conservative Christians who gathered petitions to put the measure on the ballot.

Episcopal bishop sues

to block secession

FORT WORTH, Tex. _ An Episcopal priest and lay church members seeking to affiliate with an Orthodox Christian group are confronting serious opposition from Bishop Clarence Pope, who heads the Diocese of Fort Worth. Pope has suspended the priest, the Rev. Morris Lynn McCauley, and filed suit to keep dissidents from using church property if they carry out their plans to secede from the Episcopal Church. McCauley and his supporters say they are leaving the Episcopal Church because it has become too liberal. Among policies they oppose are ordination of women priests and decisions by some bishops to ordain gays and lesbians. Ironically, Pope shares those views. He is a conservative within the Episcopal Church who has become controversial for his leadership role in the Episcopal Synod of America, an organization of traditionalists. The synod, based in Fort Worth, describes itself as a "church within a church."

Black pastors defend

Rev. SalmonCampbell

Four black Presbyterian pastors in Philadelphia say they plan to ask regional church leaders next week to respond to charges of racism, sexism and classism made by the Rev. Joan SalmonCampbell, former pastor of the prestigious Old Pine Presbyterian Church. SalmonCampbell says she was forced to resign as pastor after serving in the post for only 21 months. She is a nationally known leader who in 1988 became the first African-American clergywoman to serve as moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The black pastors plan to voice their concerns at a meeting of the Philadephia Presbytery, the regional governing body of the denomination. The departure of SalmonCampbell last month has caused a rift in the church, with five members of the congregation leaving because of the resignation. Three are blacks who say they were victims of racism, classism and sexism. They say, for example, that several white church members had asked them to leave the congregation. While SalmonCampbell claims her resignation was forced, some church leaders say she was never asked to leave. Her strongest opponents say the problem was not racism but differences over her preaching and leadership style.

Southern Baptist pastor stands by plan to resign

DALLAS _ The Rev. Joel Gregory is standing by his decision to resign as pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas despite efforts to persuade him to reconsider. Gregory resigned abruptly last week, citing a leadership dispute with the Rev. W.A. Criswell, a legendary Southern Baptist preacher and former pastor of First Baptist. Criswell, 82, had stayed on as senior pastor when Gregory, 44, became pastor less than two years ago. Criswell had been pastor of the 28,000-member congregation for 48 years. Gregory met with church officials Tuesday and told them his decision is final. In a statement, officials said, "Dr. Gregory indicated that he considered his statement made to the church on Wednesday night, Sept. 30, to be firm. He did not ask that his resignation be reconsidered, nor did the deacon leadership ask Dr. Gregory to reconsider or return as pastor." Speculation that Gregory might change his mind arose when 25 deacon leaders initially rejected his resignation. The speculation was reinforced when Criswell indicated Sunday that he planned to cut back on involvement with the congregation and devote more time to his role as chancellor of Criswell College, a school sponsored by the church. Ron Harris, church spokesman, said the congregation will begin a search for a new pastor.

Baha'is decry new round of persecutions in Iran

WASHINGTON _ U.S. Baha'is said last week they had received word of a new round of persecutions of Baha'is in Iran and have asked U.S. government officials to look into the situation. "During the past few weeks Iranian Islamic revolutionary institutions in Yazd, Tehran and Isfahan (Iran) have confiscated a number of private homes and other property belonging to Baha'is," said a statement issued by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is in the United States. "We are concerned that these actions against the Baha'is, that are occurring almost simultaneously in different parts of Iran, and which follow an intensification of persecution over the last several weeks since the execution in March 1992 of a Baha'i leader may signal the beginning of a new phase in the persecution of the beleaguered Baha'i community of Iran," the statement said. Baha'i, a faith that grew up in Iran in the 19th century, stresses the unity of all religions and all humankind. Muslim fundamentalists consider it a heresy.

Churches fill as Cuban state sanctions faith

HAVANA _ With religion now sanctioned by the state, Cubans are returning to the church in numbers unseen since the 1959 revolution. Long-suffering priests and ministers are witnessing the phenomenon with delight, welcoming back prodigal sons and daughters and baptizing new believers by the thousands nationwide. The religious resurgence holds profound implications for Cuba, expanding the influence of church leaders over the island's 10.8-million inhabitants even as Fidel Castro's Communist regime struggles to survive without Soviet economic and political sponsorship. New adherents are flocking to a variety of faiths and denominations, from Roman Catholicism to Protestant evangelism to Santeria, the slave-rooted folk creed that blends Catholic and African tribal beliefs.

_ Compiled from staff reports and news services to the Times