Professor to lead theology center


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – A Tennessee professor who teaches creationism has been named to lead the Center for Theology and Science at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Kurt P. Wise, currently a professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., is replacing William Dembski, a leading proponent of intelligent design, who left to take a teaching job closer to his Texas home.

Wise was also director of Bryan College’s Center for Origins Research, which supports the “validity of the biblical account” of creation, according to its Web site.

Wise, who holds degrees in philosophy and paleontology from Harvard University, advocates a form of creationism that says God created the Earth relatively recently.

Groups accused of illegal activities

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) – An Uzbek official has accused two Christian groups of illegal missionary activities in the predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic.

Bekhzod Kadyrov, of the State Committee on Religions, said in an article posted Monday on the government-run Web site, that followers of the Pentecostal Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses were organizing illegal gatherings and private religious lessons.

President Islam Karimov, who has led the nation of 25 million since before the 1991 Soviet collapse, bars religious activity of any kind – including the practice of Islam – outside state-controlled institutions. About 2,000 religious organizations are registered in Uzbekistan.

Archbishop: Don’t let ‘Da Vinci’ rule

LONDON (AP) – Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says the huge public appetite for revisionist stories like “The Da Vinci Code” should not weaken the truth of the Gospel.

Williams, spiritual leader of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, used his Easter sermon to take on the spread of conspiracy theories about religion.

Dan Brown’s theological thriller “The Da Vinci Code” – whose plot is based on a theory overwhelmingly rejected by historians and theologians that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child – has sold more than 40 million copies since it was published in 2003.

“One of the ways in which we now celebrate the great Christian festivals in our society is by a little flurry of newspaper articles and television programs raking over the coals of controversies about the historical basis of faith,” Williams said.

Williams said “saturation coverage of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ literature” and the recent rediscovery of the ancient “Gospel of Judas” were part of a widespread desire to trust conspiracy over authority.

“Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect,” Williams told worshippers at Canterbury Cathedral in southern England.

He said such theories, while they may be appealing, did not help in “understanding what the New Testament writers are actually saying and why.”

Williams said the Bible “is not the authorized code of a society managed by priests and preachers for their private purposes, but the set of human words through which the call of God is still uniquely immediate to human beings today.”

Malaysia’s top court to decide if Muslims can leave Islam without Shariah approval

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia’s highest court has agreed to decide whether the country’s Islamic court has the exclusive right to deal with Muslims who renounce their faith.

The Federal Court ruling, which could take months, is a rare step into the highly sensitive area of conversions – and a test of religious freedom in this majority Muslim country.

The Federal Court’s April 13 announcement came in the case of Lina Joy, who converted from Islam to Christianity in 1998. She applied to the National Registration Department to change her Muslim name, Azlina Jailani, on her government identity card, which also identifies the cardholder’s religion. The agency agreed to change her name, but would not remove “Islam” as the religion, saying it needed permission from a Shariah court, which handles Islamic issues.

Muslims, who comprise 60 percent of Malaysia’s population of 26 million, are governed by Shariah courts on civil and family matters. Chinese and Indian minorities are under civil court.

But there are no clear jurisdiction guidelines about which court should handle a case like Joy’s.

Joy’s lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, contends Malaysia’s Constitution does not require Shariah court approval to convert out of Islam. It would violate her religious freedom to deny the conversion, he said.

“She wants to get married to a non-Muslim, but cannot because the civil registry only marries non-Muslims, which she officially isn’t right now,” he said.

Dalai Lama, at famed Mayo, touts compassion’s role in health

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) – The Dalai Lama followed up a routine medical exam at the Mayo Clinic with an address to 300 employees of the renowned health care institution, telling them that love, forgiveness and tolerance can help a body heal.

“If the mind is dominated by negative emotions,” he said, “then there is no possibility to develop compassion, kindness, forgiveness and tolerance” and the resulting peace of mind those virtues bring.

The Dalai Lama walked into the Mayo meeting hall Monday to silence, greeting people in the front row with clasped hands and bows.

The day before, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke in Minneapolis to many of the 1,500 Tibetan refugees in the area. Minnesota has the largest Tibetan refugee community in the United States outside of New York.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959, when Chinese communist forces invaded Tibet. Recently, he has said he wants to make a pilgrimage to China, which has long rejected his demands for Tibetan independence.

Besides drawing attention to Tibet, the Dalai Lama said he was committed to two other tenets: secular ethics, by which he means a tolerance of all religions, and religious harmony.

Before visiting Minnesota, he met with Muslim leaders in California, mentioning that visit as a way of offering a prediction: While the 20th century was marked by war, he said, the 21st century may be marked by dialogue between people of different religions and creeds.

Blagojevich signs legislation protecting condo owners’ religious rights

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Gov. Rod Blagojevich has signed legislation guaranteeing condominium owners the right to display religious objects at their homes.

The measure, which takes effect next Jan. 1, was prompted by several cases in which co-op boards and condo associations attempted to ban the display of religious symbols in outer hallways, Blagojevich’s office said in an April 12 statement.

In one case, the office said, a Jewish owner of a Chicago condo had returned home from her husband’s funeral to find that her management company had removed from her door a mezuzah, a small case containing a scroll that bears text from the Torah affixed to a door-post as a sign of faith.

The Chicago City Council passed a similar measure in December.

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