Update on the latest religion news

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By AP

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Updated: Tue, 29 Apr 2014 04:15:36 EST

SEVERE WEATHER-PASTOR

Pastor fled home minutes before it was leveled

VILONIA, Ark. (AP) — The pastor of an Arkansas church that's become a Red Cross shelter says his own home was one of those leveled by the killer tornado that struck the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower Sunday evening.

The Rev. Wade Lentz says he and his family fled their home just minutes before the tornado hit, and returned later to find nothing but a slab.

The pastor of Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia says he thanks God that his wife and children are safe. Although he has to rebuild, Lentz is asking for prayers for others who lost loved ones and must now plan funerals.

The tornado killed eight people in Vilonia, including two children, and three people in Mayflower. A father and his two daughters were killed in the same storm system near Little Rock, while a 55-year-old woman died in northern Arkansas.

Lentz says dozens of people who lost their homes are staying in his church. Several other local churches also are serving as Red Cross shelters.

Sound:

288-a-08-(The Rev. Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church, in AP interview)-"pray for them"-The Rev. Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia, says his home was destroyed, but he didn't lose loved ones. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *288 (04/28/14)££ 00:08 "pray for them"

287-a-14-(The Rev. Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church, in AP interview)-"would have died"-The Rev. Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia, says when he and his family returned home, there was nothing but a slab. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *287 (04/28/14)££ 00:14 "would have died"

286-a-05-(The Rev. Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church, in AP interview)-"but a slab"-The Rev. Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia, says he and his family left their home minutes before the tornado hit. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *286 (04/28/14)££ 00:05 "but a slab"

IRAQ-BAGHDAD PASTOR

Pastor from embattled Baghdad in US to receive award

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) — As violence spreads in advance of this week's election in Iraq, the vicar of Baghdad's St. George's Anglican Church is in the U.S. to receive the annual William Wilberforce Award presented by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

But Canon Andrew White says his heart is with the Iraqi people he's come to love. White says Baghdad is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, but "perfect love casts out fear."

The Wilberforce Award is named for the 19th Century British statesman whose Christian commitment led to abolition of the slave trade. White will accept the honor near Washington D.C. on Saturday following his visit to Wheaton College in Illinois.

White has worked to bring Iraqis together to end sectarian violence. He says, "If religion gone wrong is the cause of so much violence, religion gone right has to be the cure."

Sound:

342-a-16-(Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, in AP interview)-"they'll get me"-Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, says it's dangerous in Baghdad. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *342 (04/28/14)££ 00:16 "they'll get me"

340-a-09-(Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, in AP interview)-"with my people"-Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, says he misses his congregation in Iraq. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *340 (04/28/14)££ 00:09 "with my people"

339-a-10-(Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, in AP interview)-"change the world"-Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, says he's honored to be receiving the William Wilberforce Award. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *339 (04/28/14)££ 00:10 "change the world"

341-a-10-(Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, in AP interview)-"very bad there"-Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, says violence has grown in advance of this week's election in Iraq. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *341 (04/28/14)££ 00:10 "very bad there"

344-a-11-(Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, in AP interview)-"be the cure"-Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, says he believes love can overcome religious violence. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *344 (04/28/14)££ 00:11 "be the cure"

343-a-14-(Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, in AP interview)-"as much love"-Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, says he isn't afraid of being killed in Iraq. (28 Apr 2014)

<<CUT *343 (04/28/14)££ 00:14 "as much love"

GAY MARRIAGE-NORTH CAROLINA

Lawsuit seeks to overturn NC same-sex marriage ban

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Some members of the clergy have filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's constitutional ban on gay marriage, saying it violates their religious freedom.

The clerics say they'd like to perform same-sex marriages, but can't because of the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2012.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the United Church of Christ, a dozen clergy members and same sex-couples who want to marry.

But NC Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald, who helped lead a Christian and conservative coalition supporting the constitutional ban, said "It's both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs."

Seventeen states allow gay marriage, and federal judges have struck down voter-approved bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia.

TEACHING EVOLUTION

SC board wants students to question evolution

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's Education Oversight Committee wants high school students to question evolution.

The independent agency's board voted 7-4 Monday on biology standards that require students to use scientific evidence to both support and discredit Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

The recommendation pushed by Republican Sen. Mike Fair of Greenville returns to the state Board of Education for review. The committee and board must agree on any change to the standards. The two were at an impasse over the same issue in 2006.

Fair says natural selection should not be taught as fact. But fellow committee member Barbara Hairfield says she's concerned that the recommended change borders on teaching religion.

The rest of the science standards on what students kindergarten through 12th grade should learn were approved by the committee in February.

REPEAT CON MAN

Con man gets prison for San Diego church fraud

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A con-man-turned-pastor has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for embezzling $3 million from his San Diego church congregation.

Barry Minkow was ordered Monday to do the time after he completes a Florida sentence of up to 21 months for an unrelated fraud.

Minkow, who's 48, became famous as a teenager for founding the ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company. It made him a millionaire but was embroiled in a $100 million fraud scheme. Minkow went to prison, was released in 1995 and two years later became pastor of the San Diego Community Bible Church.

Prosecutors say he opened unauthorized church accounts, forged checks and stole member donations. In a letter to the judge, Minkow said he regrets his actions.

In court, parishioners said they felt he'd betrayed them.

PRIEST-FRAUD

Priest, aide arraigned on fraud charges

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit-area Catholic priest and his parish administrator have been arraigned on charges of fraud and conspiracy in a scheme to steal nearly $700,000 from their church.

The Rev. Edward Belczak and Janice Verschuren were freed on $10,000 bonds Monday at Detroit's U.S. District Court. A magistrate entered not-guilty pleas for them.

Authorities say they conspired over an eight-year period at St. Thomas More parish in Troy, where cash turned up missing from special collections.

An indictment says the 69-year-old priest helped himself to $110,000 to help pay for a Florida condominium that was sold to him by Verschuren and her former husband.

Defense attorney Jerome Sabbota tells The Detroit News that proving a case against Belczak "won't be an easy task." Verschuren's attorney Patricia Maceroni says her client "will be fully exonerated."

MARIJUANA MINISTRY

Hawaii's marijuana minister gets 5 years in prison

HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaii man who openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for having 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring.

Roger Christie of Hilo (HEE'-loh) said Monday at a sentencing hearing that he looks forward to appealing. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess marijuana plants.

Christie says his religion is based on helping people heal through the "sacrament" of medical marijuana.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi also sentenced Christie to four years of supervised release, a mandatory minimum.

PAKISTAN

Blast kills 3 seminary students in Pakistan

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A police official says a bomb blast has killed three Muslim seminary students in Pakistan.

Javed Odho says the Monday bombing in the port city of Karachi also wounded at least 10 students at the religious school adjacent to a mosque. Odho says the mosque belongs to the country's majority Muslim Sunni sect and that there is no indication as to why it would be a target.

The official says the explosion went off as students were in class. He says it is not clear whether the bomb was planted inside the seminary or if someone threw a hand grenade from the outside.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Karachi has been a scene of ethnic, political, sectarian and militant violence.

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