Entries in Church (20)


Texas Church Explodes on Would-Be Thieves

Buccina Studios/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Whether it was negative karma, divine intervention or just awful luck, a couple of would-be thieves learned a painful lesson while trying to rob a Houston church.

Westway Baptist Church is without power after the unidentified men apparently attempted to steal the building’s main electric cable for its copper and set off an explosion.

“Our security alarms went off at 2 a.m. on Wednesday and that’s when our church member Homer Pate notified the Harris County Sheriff’s department of the robbery,” head deacon Michael Kirtley told ABC News.

A surveillance camera caught the incident on tape. The video shows a truck pulling up, followed by one man cutting the wires near the street, possibly attempting to disconnect the main power line.

The video also showed the other man cutting the wires at the breaker box, followed by the explosion. The bolt cutters exploded upon contact with the copper wire.

“The man just blew up into a fire ball,” Kirtley said. “I surely don’t know if he was electrocuted or even alive.”

The church is calling on all local medical facilities to help find the alleged thieves. “If they encounter someone with suspicious burn wounds, we urge them to inform the authorities,” he said.

The church canceled all of Wednesday night’s activities for lack of power. It also rented a generator in preparation for Sunday services.

“We can start the generator for eight hours only to minimize expenses,” Kirtley said. “Our [insurance] deductible is $5,000. This robbery is going cost the church a lot.”

The church suffered two robberies last year when two air conditioners were stolen.

Westway Baptist urged anyone with information about the attempted robbery to call the church at (281) 894-4542. They can also contact the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teen to Church for 10 Years

Comstock/Thinkstock(MUSKOGEE, Okla.) -- Anybody who knows Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman probably yawned at the news that he’d sentenced a teen offender to attend church as part of his probation arrangement, and that the judge’s pastor was in the courtroom at the time.

Not only had he handed down such a sentence before, but he’d required one man to bring the church program back with him when he reported to court.

“The Lord works in many ways,” Norman, 69, told ABC News Friday. “I’ve done a little bit of this kind of thing before, but never on such a serious charge.”

Norman sentenced Tyler Alred, 17, Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in August for killing friend and passenger John Luke Dum in a car crash.

Dum died on impact in December after Alred crashed his Chevrolet pickup truck, ejecting Dum. Alred was 16 at the time of the crash and had been drinking prior to the deadly accident.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol issued a Breathalyzer at the time, and although Alred was under the state’s legal alcohol limit, he had been drinking underage.

The judge could have sent Alred to jail but, instead, taking into account his clean criminal and school records, sentenced him to wear a drug and alcohol bracelet, participate in counseling groups and attend a church of his choosing – weekly. He must also graduate from high school.

To avoid jail time, Norman gave Alred a maximum 10-year deferred sentence.

He’d never passed down the church-attendance requirement for someone as young as Alred,  said Norman, who has worked as a district Judge in Muskogee for 14 years.

“It’s not going to be automatic, I guarantee you,”  Norman said of the church sentence on future manslaughter charges. “There are a lot of people who say I can’t do what I did. They’re telling me I can’t legally sentence someone to church.”

Alred’s lawyer is not among the critics. “I usually represent outlaws and criminals,” defense attorney Donn Baker told the Muskogee Phoenix. “This is a kid that made a mistake. I think he’s worth saving.”

In the courtroom this week, an emotional scene between the victim’s family and Alred played out after statements from Dum’s mother, father and two sisters were read during the sentencing. Dum’s father and Alred stood up in court, turned toward each other and embraced one another.

“At that moment, it sure became a reality to me that I would sentence this boy to church” to help set him on the right path, Norman, a member of First Baptist Church in Muskogee, said. “There’s nothing I can do to make this up to the family."

“I told my preacher I thought I led more people to Jesus than he had but, then again, more of my people have amnesia. They soon forget once they get out of jail.”

After completing the rest of the requirements in his sentence, Alred will have the charge removed from his record.

“Only time will tell if we’ve saved Tyler Alred’s life,” the judge said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


North Carolina Man Says Church Kept Him Imprisoned for Being Gay

WLOS-TV/ABC News(SPINDALE, N.C.) -- A North Carolina church that has previously faced allegations of harassment and child abuse is the subject of a new investigation launched after a 22-year-old man claims he was held against his will for being gay.

Michael Lowry, who began attending Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale, N.C., as a child, filed a complaint with police earlier this year and has met with investigators multiple times over the past week about the allegations, according to police.

Lowry claims that he was kept in a church dormitory for months in 2011 after telling church members he was gay, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Lowry told ABC News affiliate WLOS-TV that he was knocked unconscious by church members in August 2011 as they read him scripture because of his sexuality.

"The pastor said to find out what my darkest secret was, and I was like, 'I'm never telling,' Lowry told WLOS.  "They hit my head with fists and I was out on the floor, they held my hands and feet down and were pushing on my chest and I could barely breathe."

Lowry could not be reached for comment by ABC News.

The Rutherford County, N.C., sheriff's department met with Lowry on Friday to go over his claims again, according to Sheriff Chris Francis.

"We did a follow up interview, we looked at the allegations against the individuals, and it looks like they're part of the church, and then we did a presentation to the district attorney and the assistant district attorney on Friday," Francis said.  "We believe there will be a presentation to the grand jury sometime in the near future."

Lowry has been subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury about his claims, Francis said.

Jane Whaley, a pastor of Word of Faith, told ABC News the allegations are "not the truth at all."

Whaley said she and other church members, including Lowry's parents, had no idea Lowry was gay until a televised news report which aired last week.  He never told them he was gay when he was a church member, she said.

"As far as this church being against gays, that's absurdity.  There are 18 people in this church who have been delivered, they're not homosexual anymore, but if they were they could still stay in the church," she said.

Whaley said that the room Lowry claimed to be locked in is not able to be locked from the outside.  She said that Lowry came willingly to stay at the church after his parents threw him out for "rebellious behavior" and that he stayed in a building used for Bible study.

She pointed out that Lowry has appeared on news broadcasts with a fellow ex-church member, Jerry Cooper, on numerous occasions to discuss the allegations.  Cooper has been outspoken about his dislike for the church, she said.

"(Lowry) wouldn't be saying this except some disgruntled members have pushed him to do that, one of them being the guy that's with him and two others," Whaley said on Monday.  Whaley noted that she still loved Lowry and Cooper, despite their claims.

Cooper has pressed charges against Word of Faith members for harassment, and a court date is set for November, Francis said.

"I've witnessed it, the patterns, the people held down, the loud screaming, all of it, so I knew Michael's story was very credible," Cooper told WLOS in an interview with Lowry present.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Baptist Leaders Criticize Church that Refused to Wed Black Couple 

File photo. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss.) -- Southern Baptist leaders on Monday urged a Mississippi church that refused to wed a black couple to reject racial discrimination.

Just one day before Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson were set to be married at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Miss., the pastor there told them they would have to find another venue because congregants were uncomfortable with a black wedding ceremony.

After outrage mounted locally and the Wilsons' story went viral online over the weekend, officials at the Mississippi Baptist Convention chastised the Crystal Springs church for its refusal to marry the pair.

"Our entire country, and especially here in Mississippi, has been on a long journey for right racial relationships," said Mississippi Baptist Convention Board executive director Jim Futral in a statement.

Since its founding in 1883, the church, in a Jackson suburb of about 5,000 people, has never been the site of a black wedding. Pastor Stan Weatherford said congregants felt so strongly that the Wilsons' wedding should not be the first that he feared he would lose his job if he went forward with the ceremony as planned. Instead, Weatherford, who is white, performed the marriage at a black church down the road.

"My 9-year-old was going to the church with us. How would you say to your 9-year-old daughter, 'We cannot get married here because guess what sweetie, we're black'?" said Charles Wilson in an interview with ABC's Jackson affiliate, WAPT-TV.

Most Crystal Springs residents, both black and white, were "blown away" by the church's decision, according to lifelong resident Theresa Norwood, 48.

The Wilsons were not members of the church, though they often attended services there. Te'Andrea Wilson's uncle is an employee of the church, and her father is a member. Charles Wilson told WAPT that the couple had planned to join as members after their wedding, which was planned for July 20.

The church leaders will now meet to determine how to handle future requests by black couples to be married there, Weatherford says.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NC Pastor Apologizes for Encouraging Violence Toward Gay Children

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.) -- A North Carolina pastor who told parents in a Sunday sermon that they should hit their children if they began to act gay has retracted his advice, saying he should have spoken more carefully.

Pastor Sean Harris, of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., apologized in a statement released this week for "any and all words that suggest that child abuse is appropriate for any and all types of behaviors, including (but not limited to) effeminacy and sexual immorality of all types."

In the sermon, given Sunday in support of a proposed North Carolina amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, Harris talked at length about homosexual behaviors. At one point, he instructed fathers who "see that son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist."

Harris said that gay tendencies in young children should be "squashed like a cockroach" and that if parents see young boys acting like girls, fathers should "give [them] a good punch."

"When your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign her in," Harris said in the sermon, which was posted in a video online. "You're going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl, and that means you're going to be beautiful and you're going to be attractive and you're going to dress yourself up."

Harris later told the Fayetteville Observer newspaper on Tuesday that he "would never ever advocate" hitting a child.

"If I had to say it again, I would say it differently, no doubt," Harris told the newspaper Tuesday.

Despite retracting his statement that parents should be violent toward seemingly-gay children, Harris reiterated that parents should reinforce traditional gender roles in children.

"I do not apologize for the manner in which the word of God articulates sexual immorality, including homosexuality and effeminacy, as a behavior that is an abomination of God," he said in a written statement.

Gay rights activists in Harris' community equated his tactics with the Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Christian church.

Harris did not return calls for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Seattle Churches Refuse Petition to Reverse Gay Marriage Law

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- At least two Catholic churches in the Seattle area are resisting an archdiocese effort to reverse Washington state's newly enacted marriage equality law.

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain sent a letter to all area churches encouraging them to hold petition drives for Referendum 74, which would put the issue of gay marriage on the ballot in November.

Opponents of gay marriage, which the legislature approved earlier this year, must collect 120,000 signatures by June 6 to get the referendum on the ballot.

The letter states that the Catholic church teaches that people who experience same-sex attraction have the same dignity as heterosexuals, but insists that marriage can "only be between a man and a woman."

"The word 'marriage' isn't simply a label that can be attached to different types of relationships.  Instead, 'marriage' reflects a deep reality -- the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union that is only possible between a man and a woman.  There is nothing else like it, and it can't be defined or made into something that it isn't," reads the letter.

If Referendum 74 doesn't receive enough support to make it on the ballot, the marriage equality legislation signed into law on Feb. 13 by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire will go into effect as planned on June 7.

"I am confident that we will collect enough valid signatures to place it on the ballot," archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said.  "We have 170 parishes and over 140 pastors and the vast majority of them are supporting the bishop in his strong desire to put Referendum 74 on the ballot so that voters can decide the issue of marriage in Washington state."

But not every area church wants to take part in the drive for signatures.

Reverend Michael Ryan of Seattle's St. James Cathedral noted on the church website that "after discussing the matter with the members of the cathedral's pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish.  Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.  In saying this, I do realize that there are some who will be disappointed with this decision."

At St. Joseph Parish, a note on the church website simply says, "Please be aware that Fr. Whitney has decided that no petitioning will be permitted anywhere on the campus of St. Joseph.  Please contact Fr. Whitney with any concerns."

ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV reports that Seattle's St. Mary's church will also abstain from signature drives.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Church Offers Adults-Only Services for Sex Offenders

Comstock/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- A Wisconsin church is reaching out to sex offenders by providing services that are for adults only.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison started offering the services in late February after a parole officer contacted the Rev. Jerry Hancock about offenders wanting a place to worship that would not violate their parole.

The senior minister at the church, Curt Anderson, said the program was a natural progression for the church, which also has a prison ministry.

“This congregation has a history to reaching out to all people,” Anderson said. “Folks who are in prison are people too.”

The bi-weekly meetings have attracted approximately 10-12 participants for each service, he said.

Experts in rehabilitation say faith-based groups can provide an important support system for offenders.

“Churches often have a capacity to help reintegrate offenders into the community because of wide network and an interest in helping people,” said Maia Christopher, the executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

Christopher said that in addition to adults-only services, churches occasionally offer specialized services or counseling so that sex offenders or other violators can participate.

“Creating spaces that are safe for people to worship [can] be very helpful towards leading to the prevention of sexual abuse [by] providing community support,” said Christopher, adding that by offering services and counseling specifically for offenders, the church leaders and members become invested in their rehabilitation.

At the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Anderson said the membership of 500 had been mostly supportive of the program.

The church’s website features photographs of members holding signs that read, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” It’s a statement that both the church leadership and parishioners say they’re committed to.

“I wasn’t exactly surprised, but I was once again reaffirmed and heartened by the church’s response to the idea,” Anderson said.

While some members were concerned about safety, Anderson said they were appeased after the church explained that they would ensure no children would be on the premises during the meetings.

“We truly want to be a church where everyone is welcome,” Susan Heneman, a parishioner, told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We have to live this out, not just say it on paper.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Backs Church in Landmark Religious Liberty Case

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The government must stay out of hiring and firing decisions by a religious organization, even if a minister sues for employment discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Religious freedom groups praised the decision, especially the fact that it came from a unanimous court.

“The fact that the court was unanimous underlines how essential a part of religious liberty is to the principle that churches and synagogues get to select their religion teachers,” said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice. “Government has no business deciding who should or should not carry out religious ministry, and we’re delighted the high court reached that conclusion.”

The case stemmed from the firing of Cheryl Perich, a Michigan teacher who had been employed by a school run by the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Perich had completed training to become a commissioned minister at the school. In 2004 she became ill with narcolepsy and went on disability. School officials expressed concern that Perich would not be able to return to the school for several months. The congregation voted to pay a portion of her health insurance premiums in exchange for her resignation. Perich refused to step down and returned to work, only to be told she must leave and that she would likely be fired.

Perich told the school that she had consulted a lawyer and intended to assert her legal rights. She contacted the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit, arguing Perich’s termination was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

But the court ruled Wednesday the case could not go forward.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment -- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" -- bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.

The court had harsh criticism for the government’s argument that a church should be treated no differently from a labor union or a social club when it came to the organization’s freedom to choose its leaders.

“We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers, ” Roberts wrote.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he thought in Wednesday’s ruling the court had gone too far.

“If you are declared a minister by a religious organization, you are out of luck if you have a claim for discrimination even if it’s based on race, gender or any other non-religious factor,” Lynn said. “This effectively blocks almost any kind of serious challenge to an adverse employment decision. ”

Roberts said that while the interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is important, “so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission.”

He said, “When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Kentucky Pastor Nullifies Church Ban on Interracial Couples

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GULNARE, Ky.) -- The pastor at a small Kentucky church says he has nullified a vote by parishioners that banned interracial couples from the church.

"As far as I'm concerned and the church is concerned, this case will be closed as of tomorrow," Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church pastor Stacy Stepp said on Saturday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.  "We will...get back on the right track and continue to win souls for the Lord."

Stepp, who said he opposed the vote, declared it null and void after approaching the Sandy Valley Conference of Free Will Baptists, which consists of 13 Pike County churches.

The conference met on Saturday and released a statement saying it had reviewed the situation and concluded that the vote was of no effect because it, "was not carried out in accordance with" Robert's Rules of Order, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, and would therefore require a change in the church bylaws.

The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church voted nine to six on Nov. 27 to ban interracial couples from church services or functions, with the exception of funerals.

Stella Harville, 24, and her fiance Ticha Chikuni, 28, are the couple that prompted the church's actions.  Harville is white and Chikuni is black.  The couple met at Georgetown College in Kentucky, where both were students, and they plan to marry in July 2012.

Harville is in graduate school in Indiana and Chikuni is working at Georgetown College, but when the couple visits Harville's parents in Pike County, Ky., they usually go to church with her parents, Cathy and Dean Harville.

But after a service in June where Stella Harville and Chikuni participated by singing and playing the piano for a hymn, the family was shocked when then-pastor Melvin Thompson approached them after the service and told Chikuni he could not sing anymore.

The next week, Cathy and Dean Harville met with Thompson and were that members of the congregation had said they would walk out if Chikuni sang again.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Kentucky Church Bans Interracial Couples

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GULNARE, Ky.) -- A small Appalachian church in Kentucky is being called racist for passing a vote that banned interracial couples.

The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church voted nine to six on Sunday to ban interracial couples from church services or functions, with the exception of funerals.

Stella Harville, 24, and her fiance Ticha Chikuni, 28, are the couple that prompted the church's actions. Harville is white and Chikuni is black.  The couple met at Georgetown College in Kentucky, where both went to school, and are scheduled to marry in July 2012.

Harville is in graduate school in Indiana and Chikuni is working at Georgetown College, but when the couple visits Harville's parents in Pike County, Ky., they usually go to church with her parents, Cathy and Dean Harville.

But after a service in June where Stella Harville and Chikuni participated by singing and playing the piano for a hymn, the family was shocked when then-pastor Melvin Thompson approached them after the service and told Chikuni he could not sing anymore.

The next week, Cathy and Dean Harville met with Thompson and were shocked to hear their pastor say that members of the congregation had said they would walk out if Chikuni sang again.  The parents wanted to know exactly who had a problem with their future son-in-law.

"'Me, for one,'" Cathy Harville said that Thompson replied.  She said he added, "'The best thing [Stella] can do is take him back where she found him.'"

Thompson has since been replaced with a new pastor who said that everyone was welcome at the church and the Harville family said the issue was dropped.  But at a recent meeting, Thompson, who is still a member of the congregation, brought up the issue again and asked that it be discussed at a business meeting among the church's men.

Three men voted to bring the issue before the church for a vote, and two voted against it, so the matter went before the congregation this past Sunday.  Ultimately, nine people voted for the motion and six voted against it, and interracial couples were banned.

Other churches in the community have condemned the decision.

This weekend, the matter will be up for discussion again at the Sandy Valley Conference for Freewill Baptist Churches.  After it is discussed, it may go before the congregation again on Sunday for a vote to repeal the decision.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio