Religion News in Brief

AP News
Posted: Aug 03, 2011 2:18 PM
Religion News in Brief

Minn. Methodists investigate same-sex blessings

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Leaders of the United Methodist Church in Minnesota are investigating whether a Minneapolis pastor violated church policy when he blessed same-sex unions as part of gay pride festivities in the Twin Cities.

The Rev. Greg Renstrom of New Harmony Methodist Church admitted bestowing blessings on six same-sex couples on June 25 at events in Minneapolis and Blaine. Renstrom said none took place on Methodist Church property but he realized he might run afoul of denominational rules.

"I deeply believe that what a number of us are doing is expressing the love of Jesus the best way we can," Renstrom said. "How can that ever be wrong? Sharing the love of Jesus is an important experience. Offering a word of blessing is an extremely important pastoral responsibility."

Renstrom gave advance warning of his plans to Bishop Sally Dyck of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. On Monday, she announced the complaint, which could take up to 45 days to investigate, after which she will either initiate supervisory action or dismiss the complaint.

A conference spokeswoman said Renstrom will continue to officiate at New Harmony Methodist Church during the investigation.

Like many Christian denominations, the United Methodist Church has been struggling with how to respond to growing recognition of gay relationships. In June, a United Methodist pastor in Wisconsin was suspended for 20 days after being convicted in a church trial of officiating at a same-sex union.

The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline states that "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

But some Methodist clergy in Minnesota and elsewhere are challenging that. In Minnesota, 70 Methodist pastors recently signed a statement pledging to offer the church's blessing to "any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage" regardless of sexual orientation. Methodist clergy in a number of states have signed similar documents.


Poland's government earmarks funds for the Auschwitz memorial

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Poland's government has earmarked funds to improve accessibility to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp memorial for visitors and to develop educational programs about the notorious Holocaust site.

At a session on Tuesday, the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk pledged nearly US$12 million to local authorities to be spent between 2012 and 2015 on developing access roads leading to the museum and other infrastructure.

The money also would be spent on teaching undergraduate students about human rights, international relations and peace initiatives.

Nazi Germans who occupied Poland during World War II killed more than 1 million people _ mostly Jews _ in 1940-45 at Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau.


Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit challenging policy limiting Va. inmates' CD selections

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A federal judge in Richmond has refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a Virginia prison system policy that restricts the kind of CDs inmates can have.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer says in Tuesday's ruling that Owen North of LeCompte, La., raised sufficient constitutional claims to warrant a trial on the merits of his case.

At issue is a policy allowing inmates to have only approved music and faith-based spoken-word CDs, such as religious sermons. The policy prevented North from giving a Virginia inmate a spoken-word CD by writer Dylan Thomas as a Christmas gift. North claims the policy violates his free expression and due process rights.

Spencer says prison officials must prove at trial that the restrictions serve a valid government interest.

No trial date has been set.


Chicago-area Muslims launch environmentally friendly initiatives during holy month of Ramadan

CHICAGO (AP) _ Muslims in the Chicago area have an additional focus during the holy month of Ramadan: the environment.

Officials with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago launched several green initiatives Monday, the first day of a month marked by fasting and prayer.

The efforts follow a resolution adopted by Illinois legislators a few weeks ago designating Ramadan as a "Green Month."

Alexandra Maragha, a spokeswoman for the council, said Muslims already spend a lot of time reflecting during Ramadan and it seems like a natural extension to focus on the environment.

The council represents dozens of Muslim organizations, which are being asked to recycle and look at solar energy. Council representatives have also been working the Field Museum on an environmental study.


Knights of Columbus say Haitian amputee soccer team to tour US, work with injured soldiers

DENVER (AP) _ An amputee soccer team that includes players injured in Haiti's 2010 earthquake plans to tour the United States and work with soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Knights of Columbus said.

Andrew Walther, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic benevolent organization, said Monday that the aim of the fall tour by Team Zaryen was to raise awareness about earthquake amputees in Haiti and to thank the U.S. military for its help after the quake.

Thousands of Haitians lost limbs so they could be pulled from the rubble or to stop infections following the quake.

The Knights of Columbus began working with the soccer team through its work with Project Medishare to provide prosthetic limbs to Haitian children. The Knights are holding their 129th international convention in Denver.