Presbyterians Faulted

The Presbyterian Church (USA), already under fire from Jewish groups for considering financial divestiture to pressure Israel, has angered them again by sending a delegation to the Middle East that met with Hezbollah, a Lebanese group that the United States characterizes as terrorist.

A 24-member delegation of a church advisory panel on Sunday visited the Khiam refugee camp in southern Lebanon and met with leaders of Hezbollah, which runs the camp. The delegation also met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and planned to meet with unnamed Israeli officials.

At the camp, Hezbollah's commander in southern Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, said Hezbollah is seeking dialogue with Americans, the Associated Press reported. "Hezbollah, which represents the will of a people and a nation, does not have any problem with the American people," he said.

The visit, part of a two-week tour of the Middle East that concludes Friday, was planned two years ago to allow the church's Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to see the situation firsthand. It was not related to the church's vote in July to launch a study of divestment of holdings in some companies doing business in Israel because of that nation's treatment of Palestinians, church officials said.

Still, several Jewish groups called the visit "disturbing" and "irresponsible." The U.S. State Department has deemed Hezbollah a terrorist group since the 1980s.

"It is outrageous that, rather than seeking out moderate voices working for positive change in the Middle East, the Presbyterian leaders decided to seek out the leader of a terrorist organization," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The delegation received special funding more than a year ago from the church's General Assembly Council, which acts as a board of directors, to hold its first-ever meeting in the Middle East, according to church spokesman Jerry Van Marter.

"It would be a mistake to confuse conversations with any group as an endorsement of their views or tactics," he said.

-- Religion News Service

New Hall of Famers

Contemporary gospel artists CeCe Winans and Donnie McClurkin are among the new inductees of the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame & Museum. They and several other honorees will be inducted at a ceremony today in Detroit.

Winans, a Grammy Award winner, has recorded several albums that achieved gold and platinum status. McClurkin, also a Grammy Award winner, is known for his song "We Fall Down."

Other inductees are the Rev. Milton Biggham, who was musical director for the movie "The Preacher's Wife"; Anna Crockett Ford, who published the Church of God in Christ's standard hymnal; Albert J. Lewis Jr., founder of the World Gospel Music Association of Newark; Bill Moss & the Celestials, who first gained fame in the 1950s; Joseph Niles, a Barbados resident who has made significant contributions to Caribbean gospel music; and the O'Neal Twins, a celebrated gospel duo known for songs such as "Jesus on the Mainline" and "Jesus Dropped the Charges."

The hall of fame and museum, which was founded in 1995 and added "international" to its name in 2003, now receives nominations for inductees from gospel music fans in several countries. Nominees must have been involved in gospel music activities for 25 years or more.

-- Religion News Service

Suit Over Canceled Talk

Patti Davis, the daughter of President Ronald Reagan, has filed suit against the Salvation Army, contending that her views supporting stem cell research led to a speaking engagement being canceled.

In a suit filed this month in a New York state court, Davis and her talent agency, Greater Talent Network, said plans for her to speak at a Santa Rosa, Calif., event were changed because her views differed from those of the evangelical Christian charity. They seek $7,500 -- half the $15,000 fee she was to receive -- and punitive damages of as much as $22,500, court documents show.

Davis supports embryonic stem cell research that some hope may someday cure ailments such as Alzheimer's disease, which afflicted her father, who died in June. Opponents disapprove of the research because it involves the destruction of embryos.

An attorney for the Salvation Army said that other reasons led to the plans being dropped and that a contract was never signed by both parties. A denominational official said the Salvation Army has not taken a stand on stem cell research.

-- Religion News Service