Invites at Issue

A church-state watchdog group is questioning whether invitations to military members to attend an event sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association could lead to inappropriate government endorsement of religion.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in an Aug. 5 letter sent to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, expressed concern that invitations sent to military base commanders from evangelical Christian ministries might lead to unconstitutional communications.

In a news release, the group cited an e-mail sent to base commanders from an official of the Military Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International urging them to distribute information about the seminar.

But a spokesman for the Graham association said the criticism is unfounded because the event, "Serving God and Country," which will be held from Sept. 9 to 11 in Asheville, N.C., is privately funded and on private, not government, property.

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Franklin Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said that the seminar is not an evangelistic rally and that the e-mail message clearly noted that it is "designed to provide assistance to chaplains and other military personnel who are followers of Jesus Christ."

"Military personnel are also American citizens and have the right to worship as they choose, and they have an option to attend or not attend an event like this," DeMoss said.

-- Religion News Service

Policy on Gays Criticized

The head of the 17.5 million-member Anglican Church of Nigeria has denounced the Church of England's new policy on partnerships for gay clergy and laity and asked world Anglicans to discipline their mother church unless it recants.

The dispute adds to the severe split over same-sex blessing ceremonies within the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and the foment created by the Episcopalians' consecration of a gay bishop living with a partner.

The Church of England's new policy responds to Britain's Civil Partnership Act, which goes into effect Dec. 5 and grants same-sex couples many privileges of marriage, though that term is not used.

The English bishops announced July 25 that gay priests in same-sex partnerships will remain in good standing if they promise to follow church teaching that limits sexual relations to heterosexual marriage.

Clergy are directed not to provide blessing services for same-sex couples, but lay members registering gay and lesbian partnerships will not be denied baptism, confirmation or Communion.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola of Nigeria denounced what he called "a deliberate change in the discipline of the church" that world Anglicanism must deal with, just as it has taken steps against the U.S. and Canadian denominations.

Akinola said telling partnered gay clergy to remain celibate "is the height of hypocrisy," "totally unworkable" and "invites deception and ridicule." He said the policy on lay couples "dishonors the laity and the sacraments."

"For the Church of England to promote such a departure from historic teaching is outrageous," Akinola said.

-- Associated Press

Navajos Legalize Peyote

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. has signed a law that makes it legal for Navajos to transport and possess peyote for ceremonial purposes on Navajo Nation land.

The new tribal law also allows peyote that Navajo police confiscate from people who have it illegally to be given to the Native American Church to be used for approved ceremonies. Shirley said the legislation will help preserve Navajo culture.

The Navajo Tribal Council approved the measure in a 63 to 1 vote. The signing July 29 included an all-night ceremony in a sacred tepee near the Navajo Nation Museum. Officials at the event stressed the importance of using peyote properly.

Peyote is used for meditation and spiritual ties both in the Native American Church and other ceremonies. Ceremonial peyote is not smoked but is ingested as a powder.

Smoking peyote is not allowed under the new law.

Peyote, a cactus plant that causes hallucinogenic effects when ingested, is classified by U.S. law as a controlled substance, and it is illegal to possess in the United States, but the use of it by the Native American Church is allowed.

-- Associated Press