Protest at Sudan Embassy

In a demonstration organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, about 100 people marched from Dupont Circle to the Embassy of Sudan on Wednesday to protest human rights abuses in that country, including the seizure of a church property in the capital city of Khartoum.

Assistant Bishop Francis Campbell Gray and Bishop Suffragan David Jones led the group.

In a May 24 letter to Sudan's Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed, the bishops said they protesting the seizure of the Khartoum property, the demolition of church-run schools and "widespread ethnic cleansing" by government-sponsored militia, according to a diocesan statement. In the two-decade-long civil war in Sudan, the Islamic government "has systematically bombed and displaced millions of southern Christians and other non-Muslims," the statement said.

Gray, who recently returned from a visit to Sudan, was invited into the embassy to meet the ambassador, according to diocesan spokeswoman Nancy Jenkins. Afterward, Gray said the two had "a frank and cordial conversation," according to Jenkins.

The embassy said in a statement that "there is nothing political or religious" about the eviction of church personnel from the property. It added that the property apparently had been sold by a former bishop and that police were acting on a court order giving the new owner possession of the property.

-- Caryle Murphy

Graham Crusades Delayed

The Billy Graham crusades scheduled for Kansas City, Mo., next month and the Los Angeles area in July will be postponed until autumn, the evangelist's son said this week.

The Rev. Franklin Graham said his father needs more time to recover from the pelvic fracture he suffered in a fall May 14 at his home in Montreat, N.C.

Arrangements are being made to reschedule the crusades at Arrowhead Stadium and the Rose Bowl for the fall, Franklin Graham said Wednesday. Plans are going forward for a 2005 Billy Graham crusade in New York's Madison Square Garden, he said.

Graham said his 85-year-old father, who had surgery last week, is in "a lot of pain" but "healing well" and getting back on his feet. At the time of the fall, the elder evangelist was recovering from a partial hip replacement in January. That procedure was performed after Graham broke his left hip in a fall in a Jacksonville, Fla., hotel room.

In recent years, Billy Graham has been treated for a variety of ailments, including Parkinson's disease and skin cancer. -- Associated Press

Texas Relents on Exemption

The Texas comptroller has reversed a decision that denied tax-exempt status to a Unitarian Universalist church because it "does not have one system of belief."

The Red River Unitarian Universalist Church in Denison, Tex., was one of 17 groups denied tax-exempt status by Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn since 1999, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

At issue was whether the church qualified as a religious organization with a belief in "God, or gods, or a higher power." Strayhorn also had rejected bids from New Age, atheist and witches groups to qualify as religious groups.

Unitarians have no official creed and embrace a mix of religious beliefs. Unitarian leaders said it was the first time one of their congregations was judged not to be a religious organization.

On Monday, Jesse Ancira, chief lawyer for Strayhorn's office, told the church the ruling had been reversed. Ancira said he had determined that the seven-year-old congregation "is an organization created for religious purposes" and should be tax-exempt.

-- Religion News Service

Caution About 'The Passion'

A panel of U.S. Jewish and Roman Catholic leaders has advised religious educators not to rely to heavily on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" to teach young people about the Crucifixion.

The Catholic-Jewish Consultation Committee said teachers should also use educational material, such as the U.S. bishops' guidelines on how to depict Jesus's final hours, to explain the "complex historical context of the Passion narratives that no single film could fully convey."

Jewish leaders and some of their Christian colleagues have said the Gibson film includes disturbing stereotypes of the Jewish role in the death of Jesus. Many Christians have countered that the movie is the most powerful depiction they had seen of the Crucifixion.

Gibson says the movie is not anti-Semitic.

The committee, organized in 1987 to address common concerns of Catholics and Jew, issued its statement May 19, following an April meeting in New York. The committee is led by Rabbi Joel Zaiman, rabbi emeritus of Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore County, and by Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, who oversees Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

-- Associated Press