Baptist Group Urges

Respect for Islam

A group of Southern Baptist missionaries working in predominantly Muslim countries has issued a letter asking that Baptists refrain from denouncing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

"Comments by Christians in the West about Islam and Muhammad can and do receive much attention in our cities and communities on local radio, television and print sources," the group wrote, referring to disparaging remarks made in recent months by former Southern Baptist Convention president Jerry Vines and evangelists Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell.

"These types of comments . . . can further the already heightened animosity toward Christians, more so toward evangelicals, and even more so toward Baptists," the letter writers said. For security reasons, they identified themselves only as "a Group of Southern Baptists serving in the Muslim World" that included more than two dozen missionaries in the Middle East, North Africa, East Africa and South Asia.

"We have found it more beneficial with our Muslim friends to concentrate on sharing Christ in love and concentrating on the message of the gospel, instead of speaking in a degrading manner about their religion or prophet," they wrote.

The letter was released by the Biblical Recorder, a news journal for North Carolina Baptists. The journal received it from a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., who had made a trip to the Middle East.

-- Religion News Service

Epiphany at Church

Destroyed Sept. 11

Members of a tiny Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks returned Sunday to lower Manhattan to mark Epiphany, which commemorates Jesus's baptism.

The congregants from St. Nicholas Church met by the Hudson River to keep a tradition of watching divers jump into the river to retrieve a golden cross.

The Rev. John Romas asked for a moment of silence for the nearly 2,800 victims of the terrorist strike.

"May God rest their souls," he said in Greek.

The church, a former tavern the size of a three-story rowhouse, stood less than a block from the World Trade Center and was buried in steel girders and concrete when the buildings collapsed. Those inside escaped injury.

The congregation has raised more than $2 million to rebuild the church.

-- Associated Press

Top Church Lawyer

Sees Encroachment The top lawyer for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States said bishops need to guard against lawmakers who want to use the recent sex abuse scandal to push laws that would damage the church.

Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the clergy sex scandal has given fuel to people who want to force the church to endorse contraception or limit the confidentiality of confession.

"There are forces at work in this society that will, unless checked, radically remake the religious institutions serving the public," Chopko said Wednesday in a speech at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law.

"Unless we are prepared to defend our constitutional rights as a community of believers, our greatest gifts to the larger society in health, education and welfare are in jeopardy."

Chopko criticized new laws in California and New York that force the church to pay for contraception for employees and proposed legislation in Kentucky that would remove the confidentiality of the confessional in abuse cases. "We can't allow the path of litigation to reduce the church as an institution, and we can't allow the state to remake the church," he said.

-- Religion News Service