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Updated September 28, 2000


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (EP) - The author of the Weigh Down Diet, a popular Christian weight loss plan, lost a book contract with Thomas Nelson publishers because of her controversial views on the Trinity, according to a report by Christianity Today.

Gwen Shamblin's business has grown from a garage-based startup to a multimillion-dollar corporation in the last eight years. Her 1997 book The Weigh Down Diet sold more than a million copies, and there are 30,000 Weigh Down Workshop groups meeting each week around the world, thousands of which are affiliated with evangelical churches.

The current controversy flared up after Shamblin sent a weekly e-mail message to followers Aug. 10, explaining her view of the Trinity. "As a ministry, we believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit," Shamblin wrote. "However, the Bible does not use the word 'trinity' and our feeling is that the word 'trinity' implies equality in leadership, or shared Lordship. It is clear that the scriptures teach that Jesus is the Son of God and that God sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not send God anywhere. God is clearly the Head."

Shamblin quickly discovered that her view is rejected by much of the Christian world. She was removed from the Women of Faith web site and several influential evangelical churches dropped her program. On Sept. 6, Thomas Nelson canceled her new book, Out of Egypt, which had been scheduled to ship in late September.

"Gwen has touched the lives of untold thousands of people," Michael S. Hyatt of Thomas Nelson told Christianity Today. "We had the joy of publishing Rise Above and seeing it appear of the bestseller list. However, because of the recent controversy created by her doctrinal position we do not feel that we can go forward with this project."

L.L. Don Veinot Jr., president of the apologetics ministry Midwest Christian Outreach, spoke with Shamblin after the controversy erupted. He told Christianity Today, "Her views are closer to that of Jehovah's Witnesses than anything resembling the historic biblical faith." He added, "The material on the Web site makes a distinction between the Father and Son that is heretical. She is clearly anti-Trinitarian." 

Shamblin's e-mail insisted, ""If God wanted us to refer to Himself, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as the 'trinity,' He would not have left this word completely out of the Bible." To that, Veinot replies that the word "Bible" is not in the Bible.

Shamblin told Christianity Today that she believes people are making too much of her views on the Trinity. "A few people have been on a witch hunt in the last month," Shamblin said. "People don't care about this. They don't care about the Trinity. This is going to pass. What the women want is weight loss. They care about their bodies being a temple and their lives turned over to the Lord. That's what my ministry is about."

Shamblin's views probably reflect her background in the Church of Christ, which has historically had an ambiguous view of the Trinity.

In a related story, a former Weigh Down employee says he was fired for questioning Shamblin's doctrinal views. "She told me I couldn't embrace the message of grace and then she fired me," said Carney Hawkins, who worked for Shamblin for four years. Hawkins told Christianity Today that co-workers were ordered to shun her. "Anyone who leaves is labeled a devil. She orders them not to speak or fellowship with those who leave the ministry. There is a spirit of fear."


BERKELEY, Calif. (EP) - Christians are falling for an Internet hoax involving the Harry Potter books, according to Christian apologist Tal Brooke. Brooke criticized Christians for being taken in by a fabricated Harry Potter Satan story that has have been circulating among Christian groups by e-mail and originating from an Internet publication called "The Onion." The false story's headline states, "Harry Potter Books Spark Rise In Satanism Among Children."

The story includes fabricated quotes by British author J.K. Rowling. It says Rowling told the London Times, "I think it's absolute rubbish to protest children's books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan. People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son of God is a living hoax." The story also includes fabricated quotes of a vulgar and obscene nature.

Brooke's suspicions were aroused by the obscenities in some of the alleged quotes, since he did not believe that England's most prestigious newspaper would have printed such words. He also doubted that Rowling's agents or handlers would allow her to say anything that could hurt the marketability of the popular book series.

"Unfortunately this article is currently being promoted in many Christian circles - especially fundamentalist ones - as proof that Harry Potter is satanic," says Brooke, who is president of Spiritual Counterfeits Project. "While I have not the slightest doubt that Harry Potter books promote witchcraft among young people, the problem is that we need to ensure that we not blow our case by then falling for a sensationalistic invention that will only come back and embarrass us." Brooke notes that "The Onion" is known for satire, and suggests that that the Harry Potter story is intended to lampoon scare tactics about Satanism sometimes used by Christian leaders.

"The fact that so many Christians have fallen for this obvious fabrication, especially when it only takes a minute to check the web site where it came, is a sad reflection of the way Christians hunger for sensationalism," said Brooke. "In some ways this is a deep indication of corruption within the Christian ghetto. We don't seem to have any discernment here at all about what is truth or about how the real world operates."

Brooke notes that the web site operated by "The Onion" is filled with intentionally ludicrous stories, many of which are also blasphemous. For instance, one issue's religion section has headlines announcing, "Christ Announces Hiring Of Associate Christ," "Christ 'Categorically Denies' Speaking To Lutheran-College President" and "Christ Converts To Islam."

Brooke noted that immediately beneath the Harry Potter story is one with the headline, "Headless Barbie Doll Found In Shallow Shoebox Grave." He said, "It's the humor of Mad magazine with an X-rated twist."

Brooke notes that his own web site ( carries well-researched material on the Harry Potter phenomenon.

"The real issue we have here is this pattern of Christians looking for shocking and scurrilous materials that they can quickly circulate unthinkingly around the world by e-mail while doing zero background checking," Brooke said. "It shows the low level of Christian reporting and how naive and gullible so many are."

Brooke concluded, "If we don't stop this kind of scare-mongering we will soon have no credibility with the world. Christians must wake up and stop this kind of simple minded lack of discernment!" CHRISTIANS PLAN TO PICKET FAMOUS CATHEDRAL, SITE OF UPCOMING 'HARRY POTTER' FILM

QUEDGELEY, England (EP) - English evangelical Christians are threatening to picket Gloucester Cathedral if plans to use the church in the filming of the upcoming "Harry Potter" movie aren't changed.

The 900-year-old Gothic cathedral will be cast as Hogwart's School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the place where title character Potter and his friends are enrolled as apprentice witches and wizards in the popular children's book series by J.K. Rowling.

However, evangelical Christians in Gloucester told the cathedral leadership and Warner Brothers, the studio producing the film, that they object to the church being portrayed as a place of witchcraft.

Residents Derek and Paula Clare told the Sunday Times, "Witchcraft is about rebellion against God, it is about manipulation and control. God speaks out against it in the Bible. As adults we should be protecting children and standing up to say that witchcraft is wrong...If we can't persuade Warner Brothers to go somewhere else we shall be in favor of some sort of protest."

The Rev. Nick Bury, dean of Gloucester, defended his decision to let Warner Brothers use the cathedral. Bury told the Times the Harry Potter books were, "extraordinarily wholesome books" and "children should be encouraged to read them."

"They emphasize that truth is better than lies, good overcomes evil and the use of gifts should be responsible," said Bury.


ATTLEBORO, Mass. (EP) - Members of a cult based on Old Testament teachings lost custody of their children after refusing to answer questions about the death of their leader's young son. Eight adults have been in jail since last November for refusing to talk about the deaths of two children connected with the group, which does not recognize the government and bases its teachings on passages from the Old Testament. Dennis Mingo, who left the group in 1997, told the Boston Globe, "It began as a harmless Bible study. But before you knew it, you're caught in a thing that you would never have imagined in a million years." The group is led by Jacques Robidoux, whose son Samuel is believed to have died of malnutrition. Another child is believed to have been stillborn. Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth P. Nasif, who is holding the cult members in contempt, called Robidoux a "false prophet." KODIAK, Alaska (EP) - The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, 80-year-old head of the Unification Church, faces charges of overfishing in Alaska. The cult leader and his wife took 16 coho salmon between them; the legal limit is five per person. The pair face fines of $250 each. The Unification Church is the largest taxpayer in Kodiak, where it operates a fish-processing plant and a fleet of fishing boats. 


NEW YORK, N.Y. (EP) - A recent summit of world religious leaders at the United Nations to discuss world peace has instead caused more controversy.

Over 1,000 religious leaders representing 70 of the world's religions gathered at the U.N. General Assembly hall Aug. 28-31 for meetings designed to promote peace between religious groups. The group also established a permanent advisory council of religious leaders to the U.N., designed to help prevent and solve religious disputes.

Controversy started before the meeting began, mainly due to the absence of the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Organizers of the summit reportedly did not initially invite the Dalai Lama because of a request from U.N. advisors and pressure from Chinese delegates. After public outcry, the Lama was invited to attend the final two days of the summit; he declined that offer. When Tibetan representatives read a prepared statement to the assembly on his behalf, delegates from China walked out of the room. The Chinese government accuses the Dalai Lama of creating unrest in the small country that was taken over by the communist government of China in 1959. The Lama is currently exiled from Tibet.

Another noticeable snub was the lack of evangelical Christian groups at the meeting. The Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko, representative to the summit from the World Council of Churches, said the meeting would have benefited from a broader constituency base - a base that should have included more Christians.

If more Protestant Christian representatives had been invited, they probably wouldn't have enjoyed the floorshow. Ted Turner, honorary chairman and primary financier of the summit, took the opportunity of his keynote address to criticize Christianity.

Turner described to the delegates his desire to become a pastor and Christian missionary when he was a child, but said that upon further study he later decided that his Christian upbringing was wrong. "What disturbed me is that my religious Christian sect was very intolerant,'' Turner said. "We thought that we were the only ones going to heavenŠIt just confused the devil out of me because I said heaven is going to be a might empty place with nobody else there. So I was pretty confused and turned off by it." The billionaire also called for the establishment of a new world religion based on New Age principles.

Ironically, during the rest of the speech Turner implored the assembly to stand up for religious tolerance (as well as nuclear disarmament). Turner gave his remarks after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked religious leaders "to set an example of interfaith dialogue and cooperation."

This is not the first time Turner has publicly spoken against Christianity. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Turner said that Christianity is "a religion for losers" and "I don't want anybody to die for me."

"Listening to Ted Turner criticizing Christianity was like listening to nails on a chalkboard," said Darren Logan, a policy analyst at the Family Research Council who attended the summit. "Mr. Turner supposedly wanted to sponsor this summit to pursue global goals of 'peace' and 'tolerance,' but then used the podium as a soapbox to malign Christian teaching. How does Mr. Turner expect to strengthen religious tolerance when he is criticizing the tenets of one of the major world religions?"

Christian leaders questioned what the meeting of leaders would achieve. According to Bawa Jain, secretary-general of the summit, organizers hoped to "build a global network of support for the work of the United Nations." "Tolerance" and "interfaith cooperation" were buzzwords also tossed around in media reports, but Christian groups charge that the leadership of the summit is more interested in liberal causes rather than world peace. 

"The so-called Peace Summit in New York in the United States this week is nothing more than another attempt by another international bureaucracy to undermine the faith and culture of Christians," said Father Matthew Habiger, president of Human Life International, the world's largest pro-life, pro-faith, pro-family group.

The summit was organized in part by the United Religions Initiative, a group that reportedly favors population control, abortion and same-sex marriage. While not officially organized by the United Nations, the summit was financed by several international funds tied to the U.N. (including Turner's Better World Foundation) that have financed causes encouraging abortion rights, acceptance of homosexuality and sex-education worldwide.

"Some representatives voiced concern over the agenda of the summit and its purpose. More specifically, delegates questioned why a number of Christian groups had not been invited, and what were the intentions of the funders," said Jonathan Gallagher, United Nations liaison director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. "Other concerns centered on what role would be played by the proposed International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders. Any attempt to work towards a kind of 'unified world religion' or single religious voice - as some are proposing - would be doomed to failure."

Robert Maginnis, vice president of foreign policy for the Family Research Council told Charisma magazine that the meeting was "a wolf in sheep's clothing, cloaking anti-life, anti-family politics in the robes of religion."

Religious relativism was also a main theme expressed by several religious leaders attending the conference. Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, told the assembled leaders during her speech that Jesus was the only true way to heaven. A Buddhist priest then countered her statement saying, "Every river leads to the ocean and every religion leads to God."

This vague, relativistic ideal was repeated by other leaders at the summit. "The spirit loves diversity," said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a Hindu teacher quoted by the Ba'hai World News Service. "The time has come to love each other's religions as one's own." This sentiment was also favored by Turner who said, "We are all one race, and there is only one God who manifests himself in different ways."

The actual impact of the summit on the world's religions remains to be seen. One outcome was the Commitment to Global Peace, a document written before the summit began, which was amended and signed by the attending leaders. The document asks the religious people of the world "to cooperate in building peaceful societies, to seek mutual understanding through dialogue where there are differences, to refrain from violence, to practice compassion and to uphold the dignity of all life."

Another outcome was an effort by Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh delegations to draft a resolution to the United Nations declaration of human rights, passed by the assembly in 1948, that would demand a better clarification on religious conversions. The delegates asked the U.N. to clarify the statement in the declaration that says, "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."The delegates say Christian missionaries are misinterpreting this passage to favor "unhindered conversions" and "proselytizing" in India. In a Sept. 1 meeting, the delegates drafted their own resolution condemning what they consider organized proselytism which, according to these leaders, "has a long history of creating tension, conflicts, between religious communities and which continue to impair inter-faith goodwill, tolerance and harmony." There is no report yet on how the resolution will be submitted to the U.N. FCC GETS FRESH MAIL ON 26-YEAR-OLD HOAX

Atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair is tormenting the FCC from beyond the grave

WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) - O'Hair disappeared five years ago and is presumed dead. But that hasn't stopped a fresh tide of letters to the Federal Communications Commission protesting an alleged plan by O'Hair to end all religious broadcasting.

This rumor began in 1974, and has proven unstoppable. This year, the volume of mail has increased because of a new version of the rumor which claims that O'Hair's group, American Atheists Inc., is trying to ban broadcasts of the hit CBS series "Touched by an Angel."

The original rumor claimed that atheists had gathered thousands of signatures on "petition 2493" to ban all religious broadcasting. According to the rumor, the FCC had scheduled a hearing on the matter. The rumor is spread through a photocopied counter-petition which Christians were urged to sign and send to the FCC.

Like many rumors, the FCC hoax has a tiny kernel of truth. Once upon a time, there really was an FCC petition 2493. Presented to the FCC in December, 1974, the petition by California men Jeremy Lansman and Lorenzo Milam, asked the FCC to temporarily freeze the awarding of TV and FM channels to religious and government institutions while it studied whether existing non-commercial stations were fulfilling their obligations to broadcast truly educational programming.

Their petition was denied nine months later. Richard Wiley, who was chairman of the FCC when the petition was submitted, said, "We dismissed it while I was chairman of the FCC. There's never been anything since then. There was never any truth to this, and I don't think the current commission would see religion as not being part of the public interest, which would be the issue. That's the way we saw it when I was there, and I wouldn't expect the current commission to see it differently."

Current messages spreading the O'Hair-FCC rumor still bear the number of that long-defunct petition - RM-2493. They often urge "concerned Christians" to respond, claiming, "We need one million signed letters." The current version of this hoax letter, dated January of this year, has found new legions of gullible readers through e-mail. It claims that "CBS may be forced to discontinue 'Touched by an Angel' because they use the word God in every program."

The FCC received an estimated 700,000 letters from Christians during the months it took for the original petition to be heard and rejected. That number had risen to 25 million by 1989. The agency continues to receive a couple of million pieces of mail each year, and answers hundreds of calls each month on the subject.

O'Hair is a natural bogeyman for such a hoax. She was involved in lawsuits in the early 1960s which banned religious activity - particularly Bible reading - from public schools.

American Atheists President Ellen Johnson told the Washington Times, "At least more Christians are bothering to ask whether it's true. Our members still see it circulating in some office, and they e-mail me, 'You won't believe what's circulating here.'" Johnson said atheist groups have protested against public funding of chaplains, tuition vouchers for religious schools, funding of faith-based social work, and the use of the slogan "In God We Trust" on currency, but has never asked for an FCC hearing on religious broadcasting. "I think there is somebody behind this," she said of the FCC hoax. "Christians should be upset that it's making them look pretty foolish."

The current FCC rumor may have roots that stretch back farther than the Lansman-Milam petition, according to Bob and Gretchen Passantino, cult research experts who direct the California-based Answers in Action. "The rumor has gone through an evolution," says Gretchen. "It started out much earlier as a [rumored] petition by Madalyn Murray O'Hair to ban any astronauts from taking the Bible on space flights, or from saying religious things on space flights. It's kind of metamorphised into the FCC thing." 

The mail is likely to continue, according to Jan Harold Brunvand, a professor of English at the University of Utah and one of America's leading folklorists. Brunvand, author of The Vanishing Hitchhiker and other collections of urban legends, says, "I don't think it's going to die out or ever be debunked successfully. No matter how hard we try to debunk it, there will be people who haven't seen it and will help spread the rumor the next time around. These things are photocopied and can lie around in somebody's drawer for years and then be brought out again and posted on a bulletin board. The fact that it has a coupon and a petition number and address makes it seem real."

The ease with which one can respond also gives the hoax life, says Brunvand. "It's not very difficult to fill this thing out, put a stamp on an envelope and send it in. It's not asking for a lot of money, or to take radical action. People can lend their voice to the right side for the price of a stamp."

The Madalyn Murray O'Hair petition to the FCC is the best-known hoax circulating in the Christian community, but is certainly not the only one.

Another rumor driven by a photocopied sheet with shelf-life involves an alleged film being made about the sex life of Christ. The photocopied flyer, which resurfaces from time to time, claims that an organization known as "Modern People News" is planning to produce a film about the "sexual life of Jesus Christ." The flyer claims that Christ will be portrayed as a homosexual, and the part of Mary Magdalen will be played by a notorious French prostitute. Concerned Christians are asked to "do everything possible to halt production of this film." (Halting the film should be easy, since there's no such film being made.)

The roots of this rumor can be traced to November, 1977, when Modern People, a weekly magazine then based in Franklin Park, Illinois, published an article claiming that a group of European filmmakers planned to make a film depicting Christ as a bisexual. The article said that the part of Mary Magdalen would be played by a French prostitute.

In a later article, the magazine reported that the producers had given up on the film. But in 1980, a letter began to be circulated claiming that such a film was being made by a group called Modern People News. A year later, the office of the Illinois Attorney General had received more than 40,000 letters opposing the film - most of them photocopies of the anonymous letter.

The letter urging Christians to take action isn't dated, and doesn't include an address or telephone number of a sponsoring organization, making it difficult for its claims to be verified or for the letter itself to be recognized as outdated.

The third of the "big three" rumors making the rounds in Christendom involves Procter and Gamble. In this rumor, the president of the company is falsely alleged to have appeared on Phil Donahue's talk show and admitted that his company gives its profits to the Church of Satan, and that its familiar "moon and stars" logo is a satanic symbol. Variations have had the president of McDonald's appearing on "The Tonight Show," and Liz Claiborne appearing on "Oprah" to make similar admissions about their corporate ties to Satanism.

In reality, the president of Procter and Gamble has never appeared on any talk show to discuss Satanism. (Donahue once tried to get him to appear to debunk the rumor, but the company determined that being able to say he had never been on was more convincing.) The company has successfully filed lawsuits over the years against a number of people who were intentionally spreading this rumor - some of whom were multi-level marketing businesspeople selling products which compete with Procter and Gamble brands.

The company has an information kit it distributes to media which includes a letter from Donahue confirming that the rumor is false, and letters from a number of religious leaders, including Jerry Falwell and an executive with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The "big three" hoaxes account for most of the pointless mail and phone calls in the Christian community, but there are many other examples of "things we know that just aren't so" circulating:

* NASA scientists are reported to have been puzzled while calculating the historical orbits of the planets because of a "missing day." In this legend their dilemma was resolved when a Christian member of the team showed them passages in the Bible where God stopped the sun. The stoppages, we're told, exactly equal led the unaccounted for "missing time" that had stumped the scientists. This rumor persists despite NASA's denials, and despite the scientific impossibility of a "missing day" - a finding that would presuppose a precisely known starting point for the universe.

* The Christian version of the "Vanishing Hitchhiker" story has a person, often a pastor, stopping to pick up a hitchhiker, who delivers a prophetic warning (often of Christ's imminent return), then vanishes. The "hitchhiker" is often assumed to be an angel or Jesus Christ. This story has also turned up in Australia and New Zealand.

* Amsterdam and Brussels are popular locations for a rumored super computer that the anti-Christ will use to usher in his one world government. The computer, nicknamed "The Beast" by its operators, will contain information about every person on earth. Some versions of the story have "666" as the code command that activates the computer's plan for world domination.

* Another legend with a "666" component has a retired pastor or missionary going to the social security office to get a check for a missed payment. In this rumor, the director of the office provides a check with the number "666" in the lower left corner, then hurriedly takes it back, explaining that a mistake has been made that those checks aren't to be distributed yet.

* Scientists in the Soviet Union are alleged to have drilled a hole straight to Hell. In this story, scientists on an oil drilling platform in the North Sea drilling the deepest hole ever stopped when they heard human screams of anguish and smelled sulfur, leading them to conclude that they had drilled right into Hell. This supermarket tabloid story was once reported as truth by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). A bogus English-language translation of a non-existent Norwegian newspaper account of the incident was sent to TBN as a hoax by someone who wanted to see if the network would bother to check its sources.


COSTA MESA, Calif. (EP) - Why do Christians fall for hoaxes? Bob Passantino of Answers in Action ( gives several reasons such hoaxes take root:

* "It fits into our world view. [The fact that] something is possible, doesn't mean that it is true; and [the fact that] something exists, doesn't mean every report we receive of it must be true.

* "We accept what we're told. It's not that we don't want to be critical, but we don't always have time to check everything we're told. We forget that finding someone willing to tell us what to think about a certain situation is not the same as finding the right person to tell us what can be verified.

* "We base our knowledge on common sense. Often common sense parallels the truth - that is, what we commonly think makes sense...It may even correspond to truth, but common sense is not a trustworthy method to find truth.

* "We place too much faith in 'experts.' We seem to think that truth gets truer if someone important says it, even if that important person has no particular knowledge of that field. Believing an expert without appropriate authority and without corroborating evidence is not a trustworthy way to discern truth.

* "We believe what makes us feel comfortable."

Passantino offers several tips for identifying false legends. "Use extra caution if the story fits any of the following characteristics," he warns.

* There's no evidence to back it up. "Sometimes there is no evidence because of the very nature of the story," he says. "That doesn't mean such a story can't be true; it just means that it's not a story that can be considered trustworthy research. At most it's an illustration or example."

* It's so detailed or bizarre that we can't believe someone could make it up.

* Its strongest commendation is that it ought to be true. "Be careful that you are not persuaded to believe a particular story simply because you wish it to be true," Passantino concludes. "This can be a strong temptation, but don't give in to it. God won't excuse us for supporting made up stories because they serve a useful purpose." 


ROME, Italy (EP) - The Catholic Church reaffirmed its doctrine of being the only "true" church on Sept. 5 with the release of "Dominus Iesus, on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church." The document is reportedly aimed at fringe Catholic theologians who believe in religious relativism - the belief that all religions offer equally valid paths to salvation. However, the leadership of the world's Protestant churches and denominations reacted with concern to the arguments contained in Dominus Iesus.

The document, a 36-page exposition approved by Pope John Paul II, was released by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at a press conference. Ratzinger is director of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Dominus Iesus was released along with a note from the cardinal himself, stating that Catholic bishops and theologians who refer to Protestant churches as "sister churches" were causing ambiguity. Instead of referring to Protestant churches as "churches," both documents use the term "ecclesial communities."

"Dominus Iesus" also affirms that Catholicism is the only true church, arguing that other churches which lack the "valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery are not churches in the proper sense." Whatever truth other denominations possess is derived from the Catholic church and its traditions, it says. The only other churches the document recognizes as keeping closely to the Catholic tradition are those in the Orthodox tradition.

The document goes on to say, "If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

While the doctrines contained within "Dominus Iesus" are nothing new to Catholicism, the timing of the document's release is surprising. Recently, the Catholic Church has made several ecumenical overtures. Catholics offered an olive branch to the Lutheran church in the form of the Joint Declaration on Justification, signed by representatives from both churches last year. Ecumenical talks were also held between Catholic and Anglican representatives during the past two years. However, both Anglican and Lutheran denominations are now dismissed as ecclesial communities, rather than churches, according to "Dominus Iesus."

The Rev. George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world's Anglicans and Episcopalians, told Reuters, "The idea that Anglican and other churches are not 'proper churches' seems to question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made." Carey also said he does not agree that the Anglican Church is preaching a form of Christianity that is deficient when compared to Catholicism.

Evangelicals reacted to the statement with a similar defensiveness. In response to the document Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, said "I think most Southern Baptists would strongly agree that the trend toward religious relativism and pluralism should be rejected. The way to salvation is a narrow path. We emphatically disagree with the Vatican, however, on the direction that path takes. Salvation comes by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone - not through any institutional church body, be it Baptist, Catholic or otherwise." 

Christians in Germany, the birthplace of Protestantism, said the doctrines emphasized by "Dominus Iesus" will inhibit future ecumenical efforts. "The declaration suggests that the Catholic and the Protestant church are not on equal terms with each other,'' the Rev. Manfred Kock, chairman of the council of the Evangelical Church of Germany, told Reuters. "This will not help discussions between the two churches."

A statement from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) indicated that the release of "Dominus Iesus" requires more discussions between the two churches. "We are disappointed that 35 years of ecumenical dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans seem not to have been considered in the formulation of the letter and documents issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The impact of these statements is more painful because they reflect a different spirit than that which we encounter in many other Lutheran-Roman Catholic relationships," said Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of LWF. "The Lutheran World Federation remains committed to ecumenical dialogue. We believe that ecumenism is not optional but essential to the church. Temporary setbacks should neither be allowed to cloud or darken our vision for Christian unity as willed and prayed for by Christ himself."

Concern for the cause of ecumenicism in the wake of the document was expressed by the leadership of the World Council of Churches (WCC). "All churches have gained enormously from the recent entry - through the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s - of the Roman Catholic Church into the ecumenical movementŠIn the wider ecumenical movement, many sensitive conversations are underway about the relationships of the churches to one another. What a loss if these were hindered - or even damaged - by language which precludes further discussion of the issues," said the Rev. Dr. Tom Best, a member of the WCC's Faith and Order Team.

A common and credible Christian witness is needed to the many ethical and social challenges facing the world today, including issues of globalization, prophetic witness and mission, asserts a statement released by the WCC. "What a tragedy," added Best, "if this witness to a hurting world were obscured by the churches' dialogues about their relative authority and status - however important they may be."

Ruth Ward Heflin Dies

RICHMOND, Va., (EP) - Ruth Ward Heflin, a central figure in the "gold dust" revival, died Sept. 15 after battling cancer for several months. She was 60. Heflin worked with the Calvary Pentecostal Campground in Ashland, Va., which attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. The camp has drawn attention in recent years because of reports of gold dust miraculously appearing on people and claims of tooth fillings turning to gold. More recently, some say they've seen gemstones falling during services. Heflin spent nearly 40 years of her life in ministry. She lived in Jerusalem for more than 25 years and founded the international prayer ministry Mount Zion Fellowship.

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