Jews, Protestants Unite

To Mend Rift in Mideast

Leaders from Jewish groups and mainline Protestant churches plan to leave tomorrow for a joint trip to the Middle East in an effort to improve strained relations stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The six-day trip comes as the culmination of discussions among eight mainline churches and six national Jewish organizations. A long-standing alliance between Protestants and Jews has been threatened by Protestant efforts to divest from companies doing business in Israel.

Delegates plan to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as religious leaders and scholars, in an effort to understand both sides of the conflict. Leadership from each side will have the opportunity to plan two days of the event.

The visit was announced in May to help Christians and Jews see the region "through each other's eyes."

"The trip seeks to demonstrate that Christians and Jews can work together and dialogue on peace even when there is disagreement on specific policies and solutions, and to enable the participants to become even more effective advocates of peace," said a joint statement by Protestants and Jews planning the trip.

Jewish groups were angered when the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in 2004 to pursue "phased, selective [economic] divestment" from companies operating in Israel. The Presbyterian action was taken to protest Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

The divestment campaign has picked up support from Anglicans and at least two United Methodist conferences. The United Church of Christ voted this summer to use "economic leverage" in the region; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said they would not pursue divestment.

Other Christian groups on the trip include the Episcopal Church, the National Council of Churches and the Alliance of Baptists. Jewish groups on the trip include the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Congress, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

-- Religion News Service

La. Pastor Feared Dead

Like a loyal ship's captain, "Father Red" rode out hurricanes for decades at his tiny Catholic church in Louisiana. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he is feared dead, a drowning victim of the powerful storm.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans has received unofficial word that the Rev. Arthur "Red" Ginart's body has been recovered near St. Nicholas of Myra Church, where he served as pastor for 28 years, but "no one wants to speak the final words," Bishop Roger Morin said Wednesday at temporary New Orleans archdiocesan headquarters in Baton Rouge.

Ginart recently told Morin that he would never leave his beloved church during a storm. The pastor told his superior: "I never want to be moved from here. I want to stay here until I either retire or die," Morin said.

Ginart "used to pride himself on never having evacuated, and he used to tell people he never would," Morin said.

Of 180 active priests in the New Orleans archdiocese, 130 are accounted for, a spokeswoman said. Ginart is the only priest feared dead, she said.

-- Religion News Service

Evolution Case Advances

A federal judge refused last week to block a suit by Pennsylvania parents who are challenging the presentation of "intelligent design" in public school science classrooms.

The ruling by Judge John E. Jones III clears the way for a trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 26 in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, on whether biology teachers in the Dover Area School District should present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

Attorneys and national organizations representing 11 parents in the district filed suit to bar references to intelligent design after the board voted last year to require teachers to mention the concept in class and to refer students to a book in the library on the subject.

Supporters of intelligent design believe that the universe and living things are best explained by the existence of a guiding force. Opponents say intelligent design is based on religious beliefs, has no scientific foundation and, like creationism, does not belong in public school science classes.

Jones said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that a government-sponsored message violates the First Amendment if that message does not have a secular purpose, its primary effect advances or inhibits religion or it excessively entangles government and religion.

In rejecting a school board request to dismiss the challenge to intelligent design, Jones said "genuine issues" exist regarding "whether the challenged policy has a secular purpose and whether the policy's principal or primary effect advances (the school board's) arguments to the contrary."

-- Religion News Service