Church and Debate

Church and Debate

Church and Debate

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 6 2003 4:39 AM

Church and Debate

The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times lead with Episcopal church's approval of the first openly gay bishop. V. Gene Robinson was confirmed as the next bishop of New Hampshire in a 62-43 vote last night after allegations of sexual misconduct that had halted an earlier vote were rejected. USA Today leads with the results of Census Bureau study that says a centurylong trend of Western migration looks to be over. While a good number of New Yorkers used to flee to California, most are now staying in the East, relocating to New Jersey or Florida. California, meanwhile, has lost almost 2.2 million people to other Western states, thanks in part to rising housing costs and other economic issues.

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Yesterday's vote came after a 24-hour delay in which a committee investigated allegations that Robinson had "inappropriately touched" David Lewis, a Vermont man who had e-mailed church leaders on Sunday. Lewis, whom the papers describe as a married father who once studied to become an Episcopal priest, acknowledged to investigators that "others could have seen the exchange as natural and normal" and declined to bring formal charges. A committee also threw out charges that Robinson was affiliated with a youth organization that had indirect links to Internet porn.

In the end, two bishops abstained from the final vote, but Robinson had more than the 54 votes that he needed for confirmation. According to the LAT, it is believed that Robinson, 56, is the first openly gay man to be elected bishop of any church in 2,000 years of Christianity. Yet the debate isn't over. Following the vote, a group of conservative bishops issued a public plea to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the church, to intervene in what they described as a "pastoral emergency."

For his part, the archbishop, Rowan Williams, said in a statement that "difficult days lie ahead" and that the decision "will inevitably have a significant impact" on the church. Though Williams warned it was too early to say what the impact might be, the LAT cites global speculation of a major realignment of the church, resulting in a "parallel Anglican denomination in the United States."

Everybody goes high with yesterday's suicide bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Most of the papers note that no one has claimed responsibility for the blast—which killed at least 10 and wounded more than a 150, including two Americans. But USAT (online, at least) catches early-morning wire reports that Jemaah Islamiah, a group that some claim has ties to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility.

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As the NYT notes, Tuesday's explosion came on the same day as Abubakar Baasyir, identified by intelligence agencies as Jemaah Islamyah's spiritual leader, was testifying in his own defense at a trial in Jakarta. Among other things, he's on trial for his involvement in several bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19 people. The blast also came two days before a verdict was expected in the trial of two suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members accused of carrying out last October's deadly nightclub bombings in Bali. Tuesday's bomb was eerily similar to those attacks, investigators tell the LAT, in part because the vehicle used in yesterday's attack closely resembled the car bomb used in Bali.

The NYT goes inside with largely unspecific word from Washington that yesterday's bombing might be linked to recent intelligence on possible al-Qaida attacks on U.S. interests here and abroad. While the headline and lede focus on Jakarta, the story is mostly a terror wrapup, noticing yesterday's warning from Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge that al-Qaida might use cell phones, cameras, or other electronics to smuggle guns or explosives on airlines. The advisory comes after a recent raid on an al-Qaida hideout overseas. This means closer inspections at airport security, the WP reports on Page A-1.

The WP stuffs word of a looming terror indictment against Uzhair Paracha, a 23-year-old Pakistani who worked for his father's textile import business in New York. Detained in March, Paracha is accused of using that business to smuggle al-Qaida operatives or weapons into the U.S.—information that officials got from detained terror operative, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the WP reports. Paracha also allegedly has ties to Iyman Faris, the Ohio truck driver and al-Qaida footman who plotted to take down the Brooklyn Bridge. Paracha, through his attorney, denies the charges.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered government lawyers to report on federal judges who hand out soft sentences and to appeal those sentences more often. The move, announced in an internal memo last week, comes on the heels of congressional legislation aimed at promoting stricter sentencing guidelines. Ashcroft's efforts have rankled the judiciary, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who say one-size-fits-all guidelines are unfair and an attack on their independence.

The WP fronts a look at a counterterrorism database under development in Florida that will combine police records with commercially available databases of personal information about ordinary people to aid cops in the search for criminals. The system, dubbed the Matrix, would allow cops, for instance, to find out the name and address of every person who owns a red Ford truck in the vicinity of a particular crime, the WP notes. Not surprisingly, that has prompted a debate about the importance of national security versus individual privacy. The program could debut nationally next year. On a related note, the second lawsuit in a week has been filed to challenge the Patriot Act, the WP notes.

On recall watch, the LAT weighs the odds of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein entering the California governor's race. Feinstein isn't talking, but the paper polls a bunch of pollsters and academics, who all agree that it's her dream job but are split on whether she'll make the leap. A separate story notes that her decision affects the two other undecideds in the race: Richard Riordan, who says he won't run if Feinstein does, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is set to announce his decision later today. "This is the scene at the OK Corral, right before the first cowboy grabs his gun," GOP operative Dan Schnur tells the LAT. "They're all standing in the corral with their fingers hovering just above their weapons. And as soon as the first person draws, bullets will start flying in every direction." Meanwhile, nearly 500 people have filled out paperwork to enter the race, the paper reports.

Finally, the NYT tackles a burning question: What's happened to sex in movies? Film critic Elvis Mitchell, in mourning the death of Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger (the only person ever to win an Oscar for an X-rated film), writes that the major film studios have for all practical reasons abandoned films that address sexuality. Showgirls was the last major NC-17 (today's equivalent of the X) film by a major studio, and its box office failure has scared most studios into editing films for a more friendly R rating.  "(Now) movies are intentionally sexy without being sexual, because puerile teasing is a kind of salesmanship," Mitchell writes. "The sad corollary is the preponderance of violence in American films. A foreigner judging the United States by its films would think Americans spend more time running from exploding fireballs than having sex."