Exiting Methodists take church property

More than 130 congregations have split from the United Methodist Church using a conscience clause to leave with church property ahead of an official division over LGBT issues. Methodist bylaws say that all property is held in trust of the denomination, using legal language put in place by John Wesley and Francis Asbury. In 2019, however, a special general conference created an exemption. Congregations can leave with property if they exit for reasons of conscience, approve departure with a two-thirds vote, and finish by late 2023. It is unclear whether the departing churches will form a new denomination or become nondenominational. The next general conference, where Methodist delegates will be asked to vote on “A Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation,” is scheduled for late August.

Support for church choirs disappears

The last of the major publishers of church choir music has closed its doors. Brentwood Benson, which published the Ready to Sing series that was a staple for many small-church choirs, announced its closure in December 2021. The Lorenz Corporation, which was founded in 1890 and absorbed Word Music in 2017, went bankrupt during the COVID-19 pandemic. And Lifeway Christian Resources stopped publishing physical choral music, though it will still produce some material in a digital format. The changing landscape is attributed to the rapid decline in church choirs, compounded by the disruption of COVID-19.

COVID-19 lawsuit dismissed

Bolivia’s Minister of Justice disqualified an Association of Evangelical Churches lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccine passports. The churches, joined by a labor leader and two doctors known for promoting unproven treatments of COVID-19, asked the court to annul two government decrees that required vaccination passports and threatened violators with up to 10 years in prison. The government official said the vaccine is voluntary and a negative coronavirus test also suffices for a passport. He dismissed the churches’ arguments as “a series of fallacies, lies, [and] half-truths.”

Prayer stick unearthed in Oslo

Archaeologists in Oslo have discovered a medieval rune carved on a wooden stick, which appears to bear the female name Bryngjerd and the Latin words for Lord and hands. The full inscription has not been recovered from the marred wood but may be a version of the common prayer “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.” Elsewhere on the stick, the medieval woman appears to have written, “It is true.” Researchers hope the find will expand their knowledge of the breadth of Christian practice in medieval Scandinavia.

Dozens killed at worship meeting

A stampede at a church gathering in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia killed at least 29 people, including 11 children and a pregnant woman. A gang of street robbers known as zogos reportedly started the panic by rushing into the all-night worship event, called a crusade, with blades at about 9 p.m. President George Weah declared a three-day period of national mourning and said the government might consider regulations restricting the number of people allowed in a venue. Even though “we all are religious people,” Weah said, Liberians should be willing to comply with reasonable safety regulations. The pastor who led the service could face criminal charges.

Murder charges dropped in succession fight

The case against 42 people accused of murdering five men in a conflict over succession at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) in Zuurbekom, western Johannesburg, has been dismissed due to insufficient evidence. Three factions within one of the largest South African churches have struggled for control since Glayton Modise, son of founder Frederick Samuel Modise, died in 2016. The struggle turned deadly with an early-morning raid in July 2020. Police, responding to the scene, found five bodies and more than 60 firearms. Michael Sandlana, leader of the now-cleared “Jerusalem faction,” said he hopes authorities go after the real killers soon.

Bible bashing punished with prison

A Muslim cleric in Indonesia was sentence to five months in prison for committing blasphemy against Christians when he said the Bible was a work of fiction. Muhammad Yahya Waloni, a convert from Christianity, made the statement in a sermon posted on YouTube. The crime can carry a five-year sentence, so a local Catholic leader complained the verdict was “very far from justice.” Human rights advocates oppose the law, which criminalizes religious belief and has been used to covict more than 150 people since 1965, most of them Christians.

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