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New book, same old heaven, hell

Heaven, hell and original sin are alive and well . . . at least in the new Catholic catechism.

That's the word from a four-day symposium this month in Portland, Ore., where Catholic leaders from 50 archdioceses in the United States, Canada and Mexico were introduced to the 600-page document.

Already available in French, German, Spanish and Italian, the catechism is expected to debut in English this spring, according to a report from Religious News Service.

The first publication of comprehensive Catholic teaching since the 1500s, the new catechism covers the Catholic waterfront, from mortal sin to the existence of angels.

It is designed primarily for clergy use but eventually will be rewritten for high school and elementary school students.

The English version has been delayed for translation work _ and maybe a bit of political correctness.

"There were concerns about gender sensitivity," the Rev. Michael Maslowsky, director of the office of Ministry Foundation in the Portland Archdiocese, was quoted. "This was part of the 24,000 amendments taken into due consideration."

Will the new catechism sell? Maybe not as well as the latest Tom Clancy thriller or Danielle Steel romance, but consider this: The French edition has sold more than 3-million copies since November 1992.

Exit signs for black males

The black church was a powerhouse in the civil rights era of the 1960s, but many observers say it hasn't been as strong since.

One reason may be the exodus of African-American men from the congregations.

Robert M. Franklin, director of black church studies at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, concludes in a new study that black churches face a crisis because many African-American men have left in the decades following the civil rights movement.

"The African-American male exodus from church is part of a larger crisis of institutional participation, including exodus from the workplace, school and family life," Franklin says in a release.

Why are black men leaving black churches? Here are a some reasons cited by Franklin:

Since the civil rights movement, some churches have withdrawn from active social movements and justice ministries, alienating black male activists.

Black men have become critical of some Christian character traits stressed in church, such as "turn the other cheek."

Black men struggling with income and jobs are alienated by emphasis on monetary support of the church and not other ways to contribute.

Culturally inappropriate art and icons (for instance, images of a white Jesus) are viewed as offensive, especially by the young.

Male preachers enjoy disproportionate respect from women of the church. Male members feel they can't compete.

Oliver Stone, where are you?

Remember all those JFK assassination conspiracy theories? Well, make way for the Branch Davidian fiasco in Waco, Texas.

According to Religious News Service, conspiracy theorist Linda Thompson claims a videotape produced by her American Justice Federation shows flames spewing from a tank barrel during the FBI's final assault on the Branch Davidian compound.

She contends other footage shows that federal agents executed three of the four Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents killed in the Waco raid. She won't say why the feds would kill their own, but she points out _ correctly _ that the three dead agents had been bodyguards to Bill Clinton during his presidential campaign.

The government denies Thompson's version. The tank "flames" are really sunlight reflections, it says. And the dead agents? The government says Thompson's video shows gunfire on the compound's second floor. The agents were killed while on the grounds.

Wait, there's more. It's not happenstance that one of the songs the feds blasted at Koresh was Nancy Sinatra's 1965 hit, These Boots Are Made for Walkin'

, Thompson says.

Four lines in the song show the ATF planned to end the siege by setting fire to the Waco compound, she asserts.

And what lines are those?

You keep playin' where you shouldn't be playin.'

You keep thinkin' that you'll never get burned.

I just got me a brand new box of matches.

And what he knows, you ain't got time to learn.