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Compiled By Eric Tiansay

Fort Worth Confidential

A Texas court ruling may spell trouble for pastors--especially those with professional counseling credentials.

Pastors who are also professional counselors may want to think twice before they schedule another office visit with a struggling congregant.

An appeals court this summer said that Peggy Penley can proceed with her lawsuit against her pastor, who is accused of sharing what she said in private counseling sessions with church elders and the congregation.

The Fort Worth, Texas, 2nd Court of Appeals ruled May 20 that Penley can sue the Rev. C.L. "Buddy" Westbrook, challenging his actions as a counselor under the Texas Licensed Professional Counselor Act.

In 2002, a judge threw out Penley's lawsuit, which accused Westbrook, Crossland Community Bible Church and its elders of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and negligence.

The minister's attorney argued that Westbrook's religious beliefs are "inexorably intertwined" with his actions and that the Texas statutes on counseling imposed an unconstitutional burden on him in his "pastoral capacity."

Tim Lyons, director of Safe Harbor Counseling Center, a ministry started three years ago by Praise Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo., expressed concern over the potential liabilities that pastors may face in providing counseling services through their churches.

"Many states already have laws that place requirements on pastors in their counseling ministry, which require them to be mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect," Lyons told Ministries Today. "But I think this case could end up having a profound effect on how pastors counsel and even their willingness to counsel."

However, Richard Hammar, legal counsel to the Assemblies of God, says the case is "a very limited ruling."

"It will have no impact on any pastor who engages in pastoral counseling, whether a state-licensed counselor or not," Hammar, editor of Church Law & Tax Report, told Ministries Today. "But the lesson of this case is that pastors who are state-licensed counselors and who engage in purely secular counseling may be exposed to a greater degree of risk."

So what can churches do to protect congregations that provide counseling services through their pastors?

"A church that has a pastor on staff who is a licensed counselor or psychotherapist should clarify what kind of counseling the pastor performs," Hammar explains. "If it is purely secular in nature, then the pastor and church are definitely exposed to an increased risk of liability."

STUDIES

Church Leaders Lack Worldview Literacy

Study indicates that pastors could stand to study up on the basic tenets of other world religions.

A new study has found that Protestant ministers in the United States often have limited familiarity with the core beliefs of other faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology and Wicca.

Released this summer, the Ellison Research survey asked 700 pastors to rate how familiar they are with the core beliefs of 13 different religious groups, using a scale of 1 (not at all familiar) to 5 (extremely familiar). The poll revealed that not one of the 13 groups has a majority of Protestant ministers claiming to be extremely familiar with its teachings.

Conducted for Facts & Trends magazine by Ellison, a marketing-research firm in Phoenix, the study found that the religions most likely to be extremely familiar to ministers are Catholicism (41 percent), Judaism (33 percent), Mormonism (21 percent) and Jehovah's Witnesses (21 percent).

On the other end of the scale, the pastors showed little or no familiarity with the doctrine of Satanism (45 percent), Scientology (54 percent), Bahai (66 percent), Wicca (67 percent) and Sikhism (85 percent).

"Trying to reach people who hold other beliefs is more likely if you understand what those beliefs are," Ellison Research President Ron Sellers says.

CHURCH & STATE

Free Speech in the Pulpit

Congressional leaders push for a tax-code amendment to allow churches to endorse political candidates.

More than 130 members of the House of Representatives want to amend the provision in the IRS tax code that prohibits partisan activity by 501 (c)(3) groups.

They hope to do this by inserting a provision into a bill that is already before a House-Senate conference committee, which would avoid public debate or votes in either body.

Supporters say the provision (called the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act) is needed to restore free speech to religious leaders. Barring political endorsements from the pulpit curtails the First Amendment rights of pastors, they say.

But opponents argue that it would turn churches into campaign vehicles and possibly reshape America's religious and political landscapes.

"Nothing is more important than our spiritual leaders having the right to name candidates who stand for protecting morality," says Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), the bill's sponsor. The legislation would allow political speech or "presentations" during services or other church-sponsored gatherings.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recently asked the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell because of a column titled "Time to Open Wallets for Bush," posted on the Web site of Falwell's Liberty Alliance, a nonprofit educational and lobbying organization.

IRS tax rules state that churches can speak out on moral issues, but should not favor one candidate over another. Falwell says he did nothing wrong, noting that his comments were not made under the auspices of his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., or other Falwell tax-exempt entities.

He said Americans United for Separation of Church and State is using "scare tactics" to intimidate pastors from speaking out on moral and social concerns.

"It is becoming increasingly evident that conservative pastors in America are being targeted for speaking out on political issues that confront our nation," Falwell says on his church's Web site .

NEWSBITES

'Reverend Shredder' Reclaims World Record

Sixty-nine-year-old retired pastor tears up 39 phone books in three minutes.

Aretired Oregon pastor, also known as "the Rev. Shredder," has reclaimed his title as world champion phone-book ripper by tearing through 39 White Pages directories in three minutes this summer.

About 100 people watched as Ed Charon, 69, ripped the 1,004-page Portland phone books in half during the exhibition in August at a Roseburg, Ore., mall.

Charon lost his Guinness Book of World Records title in late 2002, when Mike West, a fitness and judo instructor from Indiana, ripped through 30 phone books.

Charon is the former pastor of Umpqua Trinity Fellowship and has a prison ministry. His earlier record helped land him on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in 1993. Another guest on the program, comedian Robin Williams, dubbed Charon "the Rev. Shredder."

"God has blessed me to be able to do this," Charon, who turns 70 in April, told Ministries Today. "Everywhere I go people want me to tear up phone books. Most of the time I'm looking for an opportunity to give my testimony."

Charon, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds, wears a size 16 ring. He exercises frequently to stay in shape.

He has traveled to 10 Western states, giving ripping demonstrations before youth groups, church groups and inmates.

"I rip the phone books, while giving a mini-message," says Charon, who started ripping phone books after watching the feat done on television. "I also give an invitation during the demonstrations. So far this year about 135 people have accepted Christ for the first time."

He has 500 phone books on hand at any given time, traveling as far away as 200 miles to replenish his supply.

"It's a hobby and a ministry combined," says Charon, who has three children, seven grandchildren and four greatgrandchildren. "I enjoy it, even though I'm considered the oldest man in the world doing what I'm doing."

INNOVATIONS

Plans Laid for 'Country Club' Church

An Ohio congregation purchases an operational nine-hole golf course as the site for its new facility.

Many pastors find it difficult to get golfers into church. The elders at First Christian Church (FCC) in Canton, Ohio, decided to take church to the golf course.

In September, FCC broke ground on a new 127,760-square-foot sanctuary, which will be completed in December 2006 at its new location on the Edgewood Golf Club.

So why would the 2,500-strong congregation buy a golf course?

"After walking 18 different parcels of land over many months, God continued to lead the elders of First Christian back to this property," FCC pastor John Hampton told Ministries Today.

"Growing churches seeking to expand their ministries have purchased shopping malls, industrial parks, farms, cinemas and even abandoned strip clubs. In the final analysis, God was saying, 'Why not a golf course?'"

First Christian bought the nine-hole golf course, which covers 114 acres, for $5.1 million in 2002.

"The reason we bought a lot of land is because we want to minister to a lot of people," says Hampton, 42, noting that the church currently owes less than $3 million. The church has agreed to sell its current facility to a local college.

The church's new mega-complex will consist of two buildings and include a 2,000-seat sanctuary, a 1,712-square-foot activity center, a children's worship and indoor play area, bookstore, cafe and a full commercial kitchen with a banquet seating capacity of 375.

Plans also call for a new clubhouse, an upscale driving range, practice greens and a practice bunker.

FCC is leasing the golf course to a separate entity that will oversee golf operations, although the manager of that business is a First Christian member.

Hampton, who has pastored the church for seven years, believes God can use the golf course.

"If God can use a burning bush, a donkey, a floating ax head, a jug of oil and a jar of flour, and five loaves and two fish, which all brought Him glory, then He can use a golf course," he explains.

First Christian is part of a nondenominational network of churches.

STUDIES

A Clergy Credibility Crisis

Clergy in Western nations struggle to maintain a reputation for trustworthiness.

Europeans and North Americans trust teachers, doctors, soldiers and police officers more than clergy. That's according to the results of a recent opinion poll done by a Germany market-research company, which interviewed a 1,000 people in 19 European countries and the United States.

But the study revealed that pastors enjoy a higher reputation than lawyers, journalists and managers of big companies. Politicians end up at the bottom of the trustworthiness scale. The survey also found that church leaders enjoy the highest reputation in Denmark, Romania and Finland. People in Spain, France and the Czech Republic expressed the highest degree of distrust in ministers.

R.T. Kendall, international speaker and former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years, says he is not surprised by the poll's findings.

"The scandals that have emerged in the last 20 years have been hurtful," Kendall, 69, told Ministries Today. "The world loves it when a person who is regarded to be a man of God turns out to be a fraud. It gives them reason not to trust ministers and church leaders."

So what can pastors do to boost their trustworthiness?

"They must be people of transparent integrity," Kendall, who now lives in Florida, says. "They must seek the honor that comes from God rather than the praise of people, which was the reason Israel missed their Messiah in the first place."

Kendall, who has written more than 40 books, including In Pursuit of His Glory, believes prayer can also increase the trustworthiness of pastors.

"The average church leader, according to a poll about 15 years ago, spends less than five minutes a day alone with God," he says.

"I would plead with every church leader to give God no less than one hour a day in prayer (not counting sermon preparation). Were that to be taken seriously by every pastor, things would change--perhaps sooner than we imagine."

NEWSBITES

A JESUS Film in Every Home

Video campaign aims to partner with church leaders to distribute DVDs of the most-watched film in history.

Capitalizing on the popularity of The Passion of the Christ, the JESUS film has been released on DVD as the centerpiece of a "saturation evangelism" strategy to mail a free copy of the movie to every home in America.

"The release of the DVD is especially relevant at this time, given increased interest in the life of Jesus created by movies like The Gospel of John and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ," says Joe Gossett, the national field director of The JESUS Video Project America (JVPA), a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

"We have a divine window of opportunity to convert the interest of this 'sight and sound' generation into decisions for Christ by distributing free copies of the DVD to as many homes as possible across America," adds Gossett, who called the DVD "one of the most powerful and effective tools for mass evangelism available today."

He noted that viewers have the opportunity to give their lives to Christ, and the movie encourages them to be connected to a local church.

Gossett says JVPA is looking for Christian leaders across the country who have a heart for evangelism for their community to initiate or join a local JESUS DVD-distribution effort.

A more current and versatile technology than traditional VHS video, the DVD features enhanced video quality and offers the film in seven languages and four subtitle languages, a scene-by-scene commentary, the movie The Story of Jesus for Children and other features.

The JESUS movie is a 94-minute United States edition of the two-hour film developed by Campus Crusade. The movie has been translated into more than 800 languages and has been viewed more than 5 billion times worldwide, making it the most-watched film in history.

For more information on the DVD-distribution campaign, visit www.jesusvideo.org.

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