The 260-member governing board of the National Council of Churches, which represents 32 Protestant and Orthodox denominations with a total of 40 million members, debated this week in San Francisco whether a predominantly homosexual denomination should be given membership in the ecumenical organization, but left voting on the controversial issue until the fall.
The first vote on the membership application of the 15-year-old Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, which claims about 150 predominantly homosexual congregations with 27,000 members, is expected at the November council meeting.
A coalition of some Orthodox and black denominations opposing the application is expected to be joined by other churches, fearing that admission of the Metropolitan Community Churches might cause other denominations to withdraw and the ecumenical organization to collapse.
"Neither the clergy nor the laity would accept being part of an organization that included the Metropolitan Community Churches ," said the Rev. Alexander Doumouras of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Rev. Cecil Murray of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said admission of a church for homosexuals would threaten the black family.
Others supported the membership application. "When justice is forfeited for the sake of unity, we settle for a watered-down unity," said Valerie Ford of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The Mormon Church has opened its first temple in the southeastern United States in Atlanta to serve about 150,000 church members from nine southern states.
The temple, opened May 3 for a three-week open house, will be dedicated next month and used after that only by church members for marriages, baptisms, and other religious ceremonies.
The temple is the 21st in the world for the 5.2 million-member church.
United Methodist bishops have rejected a call for an external probe and approved an internal investigation of charges that church money was used to finance revolutionaries in Third World countries.
The church's Council of Bishops, meeting last week in Little Rock, Ark., adopted a resolution setting up a nine-member committee of bishops to look into the accusations. The panel will report its findings at the next bishops' council meeting in November. Some church members had wanted an outside commission to investigate.
The accusations center on two ecumenical organizations, the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, which are supported by the denomination. The two ecumenical bodies were charged in a Readers Digest article and a CBS "60 Minutes" TV program early this year with financing groups that oppose the United States and seek to overthrow right-wing governments.
Despite the investigation, the bishops reaffirmed their support for the two organizations and voted to "encourage the continued generous support of these bodies by our constituency."
The 9.5 million-member denomination, the largest single contributor to the National Council of Churches, gave $4.7 million to the organization last year. It also is a member of the World Council of Churches.
Pope John Paul II, indicating the Vatican may overturn the church's 1633 condemnation of Galileo, said this week that the Italian astronomer who held that the earth was not the center of the universe but revolved around the sun was a victim of "grave incomprehension" by the church.
"He suffered from departments of the church," the pope told a gathering of 200 scientists in Rome for a convention on Galileo.
Galileo was condemned by the church's Holy Offices, the Vatican department in charge of the Inquisition, for "vehement suspicion of heresy." He spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest.
The pope told members of the Science for Peace group that the work of a Vatican commission reviewing the condemnation was "progressing very encouragingly." The commission began its work in 1980.
The case against Galileo became a symbol of centuries of conflict between science and the church. The first person to use a telescope to study the skies, Galileo developed his theory from calculations made 90 years earlier by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus.
The Salvation Army substantially increased its nationwide feeding programs over the year to respond to the "new poor" created by high unemployment, the church's national office has reported.
Church divisions reported an estimated 10 million emergency meals were served last year to 5 million people, and others were helped through food pantries. The church also reported an increase in clients at programs serving alcoholics, abused children, and battered women.