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Episode no. 1148

TIM O’BRIEN, guest anchor: Coming up – hundreds of Anglican bishops from around the world gather in England, divided by issues like the consecration of openly gay American bishop Gene Robinson.

Bishop GENE ROBINSON (Diocese of New Hampshire): In every one of their congregations, whether they know it or not, there are gay and lesbian people, and we are here to remind them that we’re not going to go away.

O’BRIEN: And how a practitioner of Christian Science treats her patients, without medication or medical procedure.

Plus, a rabbi who recovers and restores Torah scrolls that survived the Holocaust.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Welcome. I’m Tim O’Brien, sitting in for Bob Abernethy. Good to have you with us.

The Olympics will begin in Beijing this week, and with it loud protests against China’s human rights abuses. Amnesty International accused the Chinese of breaking promises to reform before the games. Religious leaders and activists called on President Bush and other world leaders to publicly condemn China’s restrictions on rights and religious freedom.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Meanwhile, President Bush signed legislation tripling – to $50 billion over five years – the U.S. commitment to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world. The initiative has won the administration praise from some of its sharpest critics, but it took months of compromise. Democrats succeeded in removing a provision requiring that a third of the money be spent on promoting abstinence. Conservatives, on the other hand, won assurances that religious groups would not be forced to participate in programs they find morally offensive.

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TIM O’BRIEN: In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a measure allowing gay couples throughout the U.S. to marry in that state. Previously, a couple could not marry in Massachusetts if their union would not be recognized in their home state. While gay and lesbian groups hailed the new legislation, opponents said it reaffirms the need for a federal constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

In addition to the political, social and moral implications, there’s also an economic incentive. According to one study, the additional hotel bookings, banquets and wedding cakes over the next three years could pump more than $100 million into the Massachusetts economy.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Same-sex unions, as well as the consecration of gay bishops, are among the most contentious issues facing the worldwide Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference in England this week. With 77-million-members, the Communion is the third largest Christian denomination in the world. Anglicans have been threatened with schism because of deep divisions over homosexual issues and Scriptural interpretation. At their once-a-decade meeting, Anglican bishops are not expected to resolve the crisis, but they hope the gathering will ease tensions. Kim Lawton has our report from Canterbury, England.

KIM LAWTON: They came from all over the world and walked into the historic Canterbury cathedral together, a visible celebration of their common Anglican heritage. But there’s sharp disagreement about what it means to be an Anglican today. And the more than 650 bishops at this Lambeth Conference struggled to find a way to hold the Anglican Communion together despite b divisions about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture.

Bishop EUGENE SUTTON (Diocese of Maryland): Our children and children’s children will judge us by what we’ve done today. People may be tired of talking, but when we’re tired of talking about these issues, we are no longer being faithful.

LAWTON: Anglican bishops meet for the Lambeth Conference once every 10 years. In contrast to previous years, organizers of this meeting decided not to hold any policy votes.

Bishop MARC ANDRUS (Diocese of California): Legislation, report writing, voting – all those things, if you will, are things that we can use to avoid encountering one another.

LAWTON: Instead they held a series of discussions, many in small groups and Bible studies as a way to promote dialogue. Tensions were still high. Nearly all the sessions were private, with heavy security all around the circus tent where the main events occurred.

In one speech inside the tent that the media was not allowed to record, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams challenged both liberals and conservatives to work harder at finding resolutions. He said, quote, “At the moment, we seem often threatening death to each other, not offering life.”

The Anglican Communion is made up of 38 regional bodies or provinces, including the Episcopal Church in the U.S. All those provinces are all autonomous. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the Communion, but doesn’t have the authority to dictate what happens inside the regional churches. Relationships have been severely strained since the U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and local parishes began blessing same-sex unions. Leaders of more conservative Anglican churches in Africa, Asia and South America accused the Episcopal Church of violating Scripture and disregarding centuries of church teachings. About 230 of those leaders boycotted this Lambeth meeting. Mark Lawrence is a conservative Episcopal bishop from South Carolina.

Bishop MARK LAWRENCE (Diocese of South Carolina): I wish Nigeria was here, Uganda was here, Kenya was here, Rwanda was here. But in a way they are. Their silence speaks volumes if we’ll only quiet ourselves long enough to recognize their voices here in their absence.

LAWTON: Bishop Gene Robinson was also absent from the official sessions; he wasn’t invited because of the controversy. Nonetheless, he came here to participate in non-official meetings.

Bishop GENE ROBINSON (Diocese of New Hampshire): Actually, being excluded from the conference has been harder than I expected. I thought I was going to be emotionally and spiritually prepared for it. But it’s been harder than I thought to be separated, especially from my own house of bishops.

LAWTON: Robinson was discussed at numerous points during the meeting, and one Sudanese bishop urged that he resign. Still, Robinson said he was able to quietly meet with several international bishops to introduce himself and tell his story.

Bishop ROBINSON: We’re all here for one purpose, which is to remind the bishops who are meeting that in every one of their congregations, whether they know it or not, there are gay and lesbian people. And we are here to remind them that we’re not going to go away.

LAWTON: This was the first Lambeth conference where gays and lesbians had a visible presence in events surrounding the meeting, such as this demonstration of traditional African dancing.

This was the first Lambeth meeting for another controversial American figure, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who attended not only as a bishop, but as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Only four of the 38 provinces consecrate female bishops.

Bishop SUTTON: Her presence, of course, is pushing the edge for a number of people. They are in societies and cultures where women do not take leadership. I think it’s a marvelous work of the Holy Spirit.

LAWTON: Even with the boycott, the growing influence of leaders from Africa, Asia and South America was clear. Some of the largest and most vibrant Anglican churches are in these so-called Global South regions. American conservatives welcomed their support.

Bishop LAWRENCE: In the United States, I’m in the extreme minority when I gather in the House of Bishops. But here among bishops from all over the world, I’m in that odd position of being in the majority opinion and that’s different for me. And I kind of like it actually.

LAWTON: The bishops discussed a variety of topics and did agree a lot. Last week, they marched through the streets of London urging that global poverty be cut in half by the year 2015. They saved the topics of gender, sexuality and the Bible for the end of the conference when there was intense debate yet again over how to respond to the Episcopal Church’s actions.

Bishop PETER BECKWITH (Diocese of Springfield, IL): The American Church has gone ahead on its own with the idea that that, “We’re going to go ahead with this because we think it’s appropriate and if you have a problem with it, that’s your problem.” That doesn’t sound like communion to me.

LAWTON: An official crisis working group released a proposal renewing previous calls for a ban on more gay bishops and same-sex blessings. It also called for an end to cross-jurisdictional relationships where conservative U.S. parishes are affiliating with Anglican churches in places like Africa and South America.

Bishop CLIVE HANDFORD (Anglican Communion, speaking at press conference): To pull back, to draw breath, take stock and the better dialogue together as we go forward from here.

LAWTON: The proposal won’t be voted on until 2009, but people on both sides have already said it won’t work. Bishop Marc Andrus from the San Francisco area told the bishops he would not stop blessing same-sex unions.

Bishop ANDRUS: I wanted them to know that while I have sought to be transparent, that if they didn’t understand that we were continuing to do blessings in the diocese of California, that is the fact and will continue to be the fact, and that I was available to them to tell them why I consider that essential and that it would continue to go on.

LAWTON: Conservatives expect the cross-jurisdictional relationships to continue as well.

Bishop BECKWITH: There’s precedence in the Church to cross geographical boundaries when theological boundaries are being crossed. And theological boundaries are being crossed.

LAWTON: There was also intense debate about changing some of the ways the Communion operates. Some bishops are pushing for a broad statement of agreement that would help define who Anglicans are.

Bishop LAWRENCE: There is a limit as to what diversity can allow for in the midst of a family, a community that has to trust one another.

LAWTON: Many bishops are increasingly frustrated by the seeming stalemate. And not surprisingly, there are differing opinions about whether schism can ultimately be avoided.

Bishop BECKWITH: If we don’t change, is that Communion going to continue? That remains to be seen. But I would say it’s very questionable.

Bishop TOM SHAW (Diocese of Massachusetts): On some days I have really significant conversations with individual bishops and in groups. And I get a sense that we really are listening to one another and trying to find a path forward. And then on other days, it doesn’t seem like we’re really talking to one another and it’s hard for me to see how we’ll be able to go forward.

Bishop ANDRUS: There will be a Communion. It may look different than the Communion we have today. I think most of the people here will stick with each other.

LAWTON: Organizers hope this Lambeth conference has helped the bishops build the relationships needed to hold the Communion together. Many here say they will also need some “divine intervention” to make that happen.

I’m Kim Lawton in Canterbury, England.

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TIM O’BRIEN: In other news, Paraguay’s new president has received an extremely rare papal dispensation. Fernando Lugo has been allowed to give up his status as a Roman Catholic bishop so that he can take office later this month. Pope Benedict had opposed Lugo’s political aspirations because the church discourages clergy from holding political office. The church has allowed many priests to become laymen, but Lugo is the first former bishop.

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TIM O’BRIEN: The Christian Science Church, founded in the 19th century, teaches that physical affliction can be healed through spiritual means rather than medical procedures. Membership in the Church has declined in recent decades, but some “Christian Science practitioners,” as they are known, still treat large numbers of people, through spiritual healing. Judy Valente reports.

JUDY VALENTE: It’s a no-frills Sunday service: one that hasn’t changed significantly since the Christian Science Church was founded more than a hundred years ago.

FIRST READER: Let us join in silent prayer, and follow that by praying together “The Lord’s Prayer,” which I will intersperse with its spiritual interpretation as found in the Christian Science textbook: “Our Father which art in heaven . . .”

SECOND READER AND CONGREGATION: Our father, mother, God – all harmonious.

VALENTE: There’s no religious imagery. No clergy – only “Readers” in Christian Science churches. Scripture passages and the writings of Church founder Mary Baker Eddy have the status of a pastor.

The basic Christian Science teaching hasn’t changed: that human beings made in God’s image are not matter, but spirit. Therefore, illness, physical injuries, even mental suffering are not considered real and can be overcome through prayer.

SHIRLEY PAULSON (Christian Science Practitioner): I deal with physical problems and emotional problems and finance problems and marriage problems. And everything I think that hits the human condition comes into this office.

VALENTE: Shirley Paulson is what’s called a Christian Science “practitioner” – someone who tries to heal the health problems of others without medication or medical procedures. She has a Masters degree in divinity from a seminary, and completed special classes within her church.

Ms. PAULSON: Christian Science treatment is really helping the patient to turn away from fear or their belief in the thing that’s troubling them – to have more confidence and more belief and more understanding in what God is doing for them.

LOIS CARLSON (Patient and Christian Science Practitioner): My skis flipped out underneath me and I landed full force on my knee. And there was no way that I could get up. It was very painful.

VALENTE: Paulson treats hundreds of patients a year. Most are Christian Scientists like Lois Carlson, a fellow practitioner, although a growing number are from a variety of other faiths.

Ms. PAULSON (in session with Ms. Carlson): I was also thinking about some Bible verses that frequently come to me in support of this kind of prayer. And, for example, I can think of one right now that reminded me of this kind of confidence I have in God’s lover for you: in “Jeremiah” where God says, “Again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt.”

VALENTE: There’s no laying on of hands. Paulson simply listens to, and prays with, her patients.

Ms. PAULSON: I listen to them and then at an appropriate time in the conversation, I’ll gently guide them away from their sorrow or pain, or whatever is going on, to that place where they can feel close to God.

VALENTE: She says practitioners don’t give advice on whether or not a patient should seek conventional medical care.

Ms. CARLSON (speaking to Ms. Paulson): I wondered, actually, if I needed some surgery, some corrective surgery?

Ms. PAULSON: The decision as to what you’re going to do next has to be your own. There’s no church policy about that and I’m not gong to give you an opinion about that. One of the things I have learned to love so much about Mary Baker Eddy’s writings and studies of Jesus and his healings, is that Jesus would not put up with things that weren’t complete. All the healings that Jesus did were complete, and he never taught managing pain or trying to get along.

VALENTE: But sometimes relying only on spiritual care results in tragedy. This Web site tracks the deaths of children whose parents chose spiritual treatments over medical help. There haven’t been any recent cases in the press of Christian Science children dying from lack of treatment. Christian Scientists say their church doesn’t prohibit them from seeking medical care.

Ms. PAULSON: There isn’t any theology or policy that would make a Christian Scientist feel like their religion is above the life and safety of their child. The child comes first no matter what.

VALENTE: What do you say to someone who has stage four cancer and they’re not necessarily going to get better?

Ms. PAULSON: Well, I have seen healings from almost death itself rise up and be healed. So I wouldn’t say that there’s any particular point at which you say, “You’re helpless.” I think that this idea of having to die in order to see God is where Christian Science has a different take on the typical orthodox Christian view of this. Death is not the marking point where you see God.

VALENTE: As a young woman in the mid-19th century, Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy suffered from a variety of illnesses. She found inspiration in Bible passages where Jesus cures the sick. In her words, she set about to revive Christianity’s “lost element of healing.”

Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” has sold 10 million copies since it was first published in 1875.

Jane Bailey is a fourth generation Christian Scientist.

JANE BAILEY: I’ve really learned that prayer and turning to God for help brings answers to every aspect of my life.

VALENTE: Membership in the church has steadily declined since the 1930s. Mrs. Eddy forbade her followers from keeping an official membership tally. The Church estimates it has about 400,000 members worldwide. But independent studies put membership at around 100,000. In the U.S., the number of churches has dwindled from about 1,500 10 years ago, to 1,100 today.

In the last three years, the Church has increased its efforts to keep and attract members. It has begun holding annual youth summits in large American cities, like this one recently in Los Angeles, hoping to interest 20-somethings like Adam Olszeski.

ADAM OLSZESKI: It gives you understanding. It gives you a way to deal with problems that arise. It helps you overcome challenges. It gives you a peaceful way, a positive solution, to what the world has to offer.

VALENTE: Christian Scientists are heavily involved in the current health care debate. The Church has lobbyists, like Roger Gates of Illinois, in every state. Their goal is to insure that any plan for universal health care will cover the services of practitioners. Patients currently pay practitioners out of pocket anywhere from $25 to $50 dollars a treatment.

Christian Science practices remain controversial in many circles. But with a growing number of Americans seeking alternative medical treatments, Christian Scientists see the possibility for renewed interest in their teachings.

Ms. PAULSON: I am confident the faith is going to go on, because I see so much evidence of the vitality of this idea of Christian healing. And it’s a natural thing to trust God with all your heart and soul.

VALENTE: That enduring trust in God’s healing power is what has kept alive Mary Baker Eddy’s 100-year-old teachings.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Judy Valente in Chicago.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Finally, a story about Menachem Youlus, a Torah scribe who has been called the “Indiana Jones of Rabbis” because he has traveled to dangerous places all over the world in his mission to find, rescue and recover sacred Torah scrolls. He has delivered more than 1,000 repaired scrolls to Jewish communities, many through his “Save a Torah” organization. He spoke with us as he put the finishing touches on a scroll that had been buried in a cemetery near Auschwitz. The scroll was welcomed at its new home, Central Synagogue in New York City, during Holocaust Remembrance Day services this past spring.

Rabbi MENACHEM YOULUS (Save a Torah): When we began, I thought, “How many scrolls could’ve possibly survived the Holocaust? Five, 10, a hundred?” Now I know it’s thousands.

I thought I would find them in old synagogues that were burnt, or places like that. Now I found out that some of them are in museums, in warehouses, churches all over the world.

So we’re taking Torahs which have been desecrated, which have been left for dead, and rejuvenating them and giving them hope in different communities that are just reviving or just starting out. And our goal is that everybody should have a Torah to pray with.

A Jewish scribe is called a Sofer. A quill has to come from a kosher bird. Turkey is what’s mostly used. Parchment that we use comes mostly from cow or calf.

There’re really three major fonts that we work with. But even within those three major fonts, there are a lot of dialects. On some of them, you could get a letter within a letter – all kinds of nuances.

What makes you a terrific scribe is not necessarily your handwriting. The most important thing is your total focus, your total intent – that what it is that you’re doing is only for God’s sake. If you have any other, literally anything else going on in your head, you could make that piece or that Torah not kosher.

You know, if you took an exam or one of your children took an exam, and they got a 99.99 on the exam, you’d be ecstatic. For me, I bring that home it’s a failure. It’s either perfect or it’s not.

The scroll that we’re talking about right now, the Auschwitz Torah, we had to repair over 52 percent of the lettering. It’s an arduous process.

When you do God’s work, it’s not about you and it’s not about what you can do; it’s what has to be done.

CONGREGATION (Central Synagogue, New York City, praying in Hebrew during Yom Hashoah service)

Rabbi YOULUS: It’s the 613th commandment: that every man, woman and child should write their own Torah scroll. If somebody fills in a letter in a Torah, it’s as if they wrote the entire Torah by themselves.

Rabbi PETER J. RUBINSTEIN (Central Synagogue, New York City): The fact that we’re in New York, in one of the great communities and certainly one of the great cities, that we will make it possible for people to view the scroll, to learn the story.

Rabbi YOULUS (Central Synagogue, New York City, speaking during Yom Hashoah service): We are here today to dedicate a Torah that was once used in a Jewish community that thrived for five centuries, was buried in the city of Auschwitz for nearly 60 years and survived the Holocaust.

Rabbi RUBINSTEIN (Central Synagogue, New York City, speaking during Yom Hashoah service): Reborn from the earth, from ashes to life, please rise and let us greet to its new home, the Torah from Auschwitz.

DAVID M. RUBENSTEIN (Torah Scroll Donor, Central Synagogue, New York City, speaking during Yom Hashoah service): The Jews, when they were rounded up and put into concentration camps, many of them just took their clothes with them. But some of them took parts of Torahs, and this was the most important thing in their life. And when many of these concentration camps were liberated, the only thing that the people in the concentration camps had to give to the liberators – the American soldiers in many cases – were pieces of the Torah because, to them, this was the most valuable thing that existed for them.

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TIM O’BRIEN: That’s our program for now. I’m Tim O’Brien.

There’s much more on our Web site, including more on religion and politics on our “One Nation” page. Audio and video podcasts of the program are also available. Join us at pbs.org.

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