Black Churches to Meet

Leaders of four historically black denominations plan a joint meeting in Nashville in January, marking the first time such a gathering has taken place since they formed separate organizations decades ago.

"It will give us an opportunity like we've never had before to create for our people an agenda that we all can rally around and work towards for the good of African Americans and minorities in this country as a whole," said the Rev. Major L. Jemison, president of the Washington-based Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Jemison's denomination traces its roots to the Nashville-based National Baptist Convention USA, founded in 1895. The Progressive National Baptist Convention split from the parent church in 1961 because of differences over civil rights and leadership.

The National Baptist Convention of America, based in Shreveport, La., had split from the National Baptist Convention USA in 1915, in a dispute over control of a publishing house. The National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, in Los Angeles, broke from the National Baptist Convention of America in 1988, also over a publishing house dispute.

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin, a professor of social ethics at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, said the joint meeting could fill a need for relations across denominations since the Congress of National Black Churches was dissolved last year.

"We've really had a vacuum of vigorous ecumenical cooperation in the black church community," Franklin said.

-- Religion News Service

Anglicans Discuss Rift

Anglican leaders met last week to discuss how to heal divisions surrounding last year's election and consecration of openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The leaders, who met in North Carolina, are part of the Lambeth Commission, headed by Irish Archbishop Robin Eames. The task force was appointed last year by the global leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. A final report is expected in October.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said in a statement that his delegation tried to give a "full and accurate picture" of the divisions in the church by representing the "breadth of views and the depth of feeling" across factions.

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh also met with the commission as moderator of the conservative Anglican Communion Network, which opposed Robinson's election and the growing acceptance of same-sex blessings.

Duncan asked that traditional Episcopalians not be "forced to submit to the aggressive and uncompromising innovators" who support greater acceptance for gay men and lesbians in the church.

Liberal groups, meanwhile, were dissatisfied. Kevin Jones, editorial director of Every Voice Network, said in an article that pro-gay groups such as Claiming the Blessing, Integrity and Via Media have been shut out of the dialogue.

-- Religion News Service

Monk Given Asylum

A dissident Buddhist monk who was jailed for 20 months for stirring unrest against the Vietnamese government has been given asylum in Sweden.

Thich Tri Luc, also known as Pham Van Tuong, belongs to the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and had previously fled to Cambodia, where he was given U.N. refugee status.

"He left Tuesday evening from Ho Chi Minh City," an official from the Swedish Embassy said Thursday. Luc, his wife and young son are settling in the small town of Jonkoting, the official added.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry confirmed the departure, saying it reflected the government's "humanitarian policies."

Hanoi says Luc, 50, was arrested at the border of Vietnam and Cambodia in July 2002. He has accused Vietnamese security of colluding with Cambodian police to kidnap him and forcibly return him to Vietnam, where he was jailed until the end of March, having served the 20 months. Hanoi denies forced repatriation. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint statement Wednesday condemning Vietnam's treatment of Luc.

"When a devout Buddhist is forced to go into exile to practice his religion safely, it's clear that Vietnam will simply not tolerate any independent thought or institutions," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia section.

-- Reuters