The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• ELCA and Lutheran Church­ Missouri Synod leaders met Oct. 14 to discuss topics that included the possibility that both could be part of a new round of theological dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church. "We're interested in being full participants in the discussion," said Samuel H. Nafzger, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations. Of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, he said: "Some progress was made. We did not feel all [the] issues were resolved," adding that the LCMS had no desire to "place an obstacle on what's been done." The LCMS is not an LWF member; the ELCA is. The two church bodies held theological conversations Oct. 13, focusing on areas of continued cooperation and their differences. Cooperative working arrangements include support for military chaplains, social ministry chaplaincy and social ministry organizations, and some schools and campus ministries. Joint work is carried out through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Services in America and Lutheran Disaster Response.

• Humberto Ramos Salazar, president of the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church, died in a car accident Oct. 7. Pastors Juan Zeballos and Ramon Conde and Sister Verena Welz, a volunteer from Germany, also died in the accident, which occurred as they were returning to La Paz from Vilacaya. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, who recently made his first visit to the region as Lutheran World Federation president, called Ramos a "visionary leader, compassionate pastor and articulate prophet." Ramos was moderator of the Conference of Bishops and Presidents of the 13 LWF member churches in Latin America.

• Following the Oct. 16 bombing of five Baghdad churches, the Vatican's missionary news agency, Fides, reported that Iraqi Christian leaders will continue their work. Leaders of the Chaldean, Assyrian, Latin, Syrian, Armenian, Greek-Orthodox and other Christian communities said in a statement: "Christians and Muslims have lived here side by side for more than 1,400 years and they intend to continue. We will not leave our country; we will stay here and help to build an Iraq of peace, freedom, democracy and tolerance."

• In October, Congress passed a bill providing assistance for the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region (September, page 42). The Comprehensive Peace in Sudan Act reiterates Congress' position that the atrocities in Darfur are genocide in which Sudan's government participates. The bill calls for the immediate imposition of sanctions in the Sudan Peace Act and a visa ban on all senior Sudanese government and military officials and their families. HR 5061 also establishes a framework for providing reconstruction aid in the south as well as relief for 1.2 million internally displaced people in Darfur.

• Lutheran World Relief shipped two 40-foot containers of relief supplies to Peru in October in response to a crisis caused by severe winter weather in one-third of the country's 24 regions. The containers include nearly 6,000 quilts, more than 3 tons of children's clothing, 3,000 sewing kits, 6,000 health kits, 8,200 school kits and 4,000 layettes. Extreme storms began in June and hit Peru's high country with bitter cold, high winds, heavy snow and torrential rain at lower altitudes. Residents got sick, houses and crops were damaged, and many livestock died.

• The Somali Peace Conference elected Abdullah Yusuf Ahmed as that country's president Oct. 10. Yusuf, 67, is expected to lead the war-torn country to peace after 13 years of anarchy. Most of the 28 presidential candidates who were warlords controlling militia groups signed a declaration to respect the election results, disarm their fighters and hand over weapons to the new government. Chair of the Somali Christian Community, Peter Ahmed Abdi, expressed disappointment that no Christian was selected to join parliament, saying they had been rejected because of their faith. He said Yusuf had indicated willingness to work with the tiny Christian community in Somalia.

• In September, the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople signed an agreement to recognize baptisms. Under the agreement, Christians who convert from one denomination to another won't be baptized again. "Although [full] church fellowship does not yet exist between our churches, we each regard the other's members as being baptized and in the case of a change of confession, we reject undertaking a new baptism," the churches said in a joint statement. The Evangelical Church in Germany is the country's main Protestant group.

• An international conference in Nairobi on female genital mutilation condemned the practice and gave its support to religious leaders who campaign against it. Charles Kibicho, director of fellowship and mission for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, said religious groups "are an integral component in fighting [genital mutilation]." It's estimated that 130 million of the world's girls and women, 90 million of them in Africa, have been subjected to genital mutilation.

• Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu appeared in a play in New York that raises questions about the detention of suspected Al Qaeda members and their sympathizers at a U.S. military center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The South African Anglican prelate said of the U.S. detentions: “It is inhumane, and it is a blot on the West, which claims such high standards of justice and fair play.” The justification of “state security” had once been used in South Africa to detain people and place them under house arrest, he said.

•  Fueled by membership growth in Latin America, Africa and Asia, the Seventh-day Adventist Church reports its membership worldwide climbed in one year by more than 1 million. The denomination gave its total world membership as 13,663,497 as of June 30, adding that if such a rate holds, there will be one Adventist for every 100 people on earth by the year 2034.

• Religious leaders in Sri Lanka reiterated their backing for Eric Solheim, the Norwegian peace mediator, in his efforts to bring their country’s government and Tamil rebels back to the negotiating table. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders from the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation and anti-war activists met Solheim in October. Norway mediated the cease fire in 2002 that halted the two-decade-old war. Nearly 65,000 people have been killed since 1983 when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam launched an armed campaign. They seek independence for the Tamil areas in the north and east of the island to end the dominance of the mainly Buddhist Sinhalase majority who account for 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 19 million people.

• Imam Abduljalil Sajid, chair of Britain’s Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, urged Christians not to “harden themselves” against Muslim issues. He called on Iraqi militants to release their hostages and explain their grievances in a “civilized” manner. Referring to beheadings, he said “these horrible acts” are “unacceptable not just to Muslims but to all human beings.” Muslims needed “to change” to rebuild their image of “legality, civility and openness to dialogue” in the eyes of Western society, Sajid said. “That a tiny minority is gaining publicity through horrific acts is deeply alarming to us all. The victims include Muslims as well as Christians. But it will never work to suppress national and religious aspirations by force, whether in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq or Chechnya. Without addressing its root causes, evil will prevail,” he said.

• A breakaway diocese of the Lutheran Church of Sweden hopes to ordain a bishop and three priests soon. The Mission Province is a nongeographical diocese that opposes female priests and rejects the Church of Sweden’s support for a wedding ceremony for same-sex couples. The ordinations of the priests, one of whom comes from Finland, will be performed by the new bishop, whose name hasn’t yet been made public.

• Indigenous Asian theologians and pastors who attended a Lutheran World Federation study seminar in Malaysia expressed the desire to reclaim some of their cultural traditions and heritage. They asked the LWF to help develop guidelines on how to deal with Asian spiritualities and spiritualistic movements. Conference topics ranged from the exclusiveness and inclusiveness of the gospel, blood sacrifice, spirits in the Bible, the nature and role of spirits in indigenous traditions and the veneration of ancestors to healing in traditional beliefs and in Lutheran church ministry.

• Lutheran World Relief invites higher education students, faculty and administrators to feel fair trade with their own hands as they pick the ripe red cherries, each containing two precious coffee beans, side by side with Nicaraguan coffee farmers. The LWR study visit will depart during the heart of coffee harvest season in Central America Jan. 2-13. Participants will meet with a variety of people for and against fair trade.

• Members of Action by Churches Together give survivors of the Dec. 26, 2003, earthquake in Bam, Iran, a reason to hope again. More than 200 earthquake-proof houses are being built in four of the 22 villages that were completely destroyed. Water tanks and mobile sanitation stations with toilets and showers are being provided for people whose homes were destroyed or whose water supply systems were damaged.

• Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan, is worried about what the situation in the Holy Land does to the humanity of the people who are in Israel and Palestine. Younan expressed to the Lutheran World Federation his fears about increasing incidents of anti-Semitism in the world. “One has to differentiate between the state of Israel and Judaism. There is no justification to make any Jewish group a scapegoat. It is not acceptable under any circumstances,” he said, adding that he worries about anti-Islamic sentiment too.

• China is stepping up its repression against Roman Catholic clergy, provoking the Vatican to issue a strong statement against a spate of arrests. During August police arrested the vicar general of the diocese of Baoding in the Hebei Province along with seven other priests and two seminarians. In all, 23 members of the diocese’s clergy have been detained or denied their freedom, said Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls. That number includes Bishop James Su Zhimin who disappeared in September 1997 and Auxiliary Bishop Francis An Shuxin, who has been missing since March 1996. The Vatican called religious freedom a fundamental human right to be respected and asked that those detained “be freed as soon as possible, in accord with justice, freedom and their pastoral commitment in the service of their respective communities.” The Vatican also annouonced it had received news that Bishop John Gao Kexian of Yantai died at the end of August at age 76 in a Chinese prison, where he had been held since the late 1990s.

• At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, churches and nongovernmental organizations in Southeast Asia were urged to do more for “undocumented children” whose stateless parents have often fled from their homelands because of violence, forced displacement or economic deprivation. “These children face exploitation through practices such as economic and sexual exploitation and human trafficking,” said Arist Merdeka Sirait of the Advocacy Center for Children in Need of Special Protection in Indonesia. The World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia organized the meeting. A report presented to the meeting said 800,000 undocumented Indonesians live in Malaysia as illegal workers or prostitutes. Of these, about 240,000 are children.

• A papal delegation returned the venerated icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to Moscow in late August at a solemn, three-hour ceremony in a church inside the Kremlin. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II made clear that he didn’t consider that the icon, a 300-year-old copy of the lost 16th century original, warranted an invitation to the pope to make a historic visit to Moscow. First, he said, disputes over the Roman Catholic presence in traditional Orthodox territory must be settled. But Alexey said he sent the pope “our great thanks for the gift that testifies to the will of the Vatican to return to relations of respect between our churches and also the intention of our aiding each other.” The Catholic and Orthodox churches have been divided since the Great Schism of 1054. New strains arose after the fall of communism over what the Moscow Patriarchate sees as Catholics proselytizing in its territory and over contested property in western Ukraine.

• Angelene Swart, president of the Moravian Church in South Africa, affirmed efforts toward the Lutheran World Federation’s global campaign against HIV/AIDS. Prior to the September LWF Council meeting in Geneva, she said: “We are losing people including pastors who could have given so much to the church because of their expertise, talents and gifts, young people who could have turned Africa into what it should be.” For Swart, one of the biggest challenges for church leadership is to keep hope and love alive among hurting people. For a long time, she said, church people were ashamed to admit they were HIV-positive or had AIDS. “Throughout the ages, the church has seen itself as holy, without blemish,” she said. “But we came to realize that we must be open and confess our sins especially about the silence on this disease.”

 Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, expressed concern over the escalating violence in the Gaza region. He urged Israelis and Palestinians to break the cycle of violence through dialogue, mutual understanding and compassion. In an October statement, Noko said: “The bloody cycle of attack and counterattack will not bring peace for either community. And while the children of Abraham remain in enmity and conflict, the whole world is divided. The LWF reiterates its long-held position supporting a two-state solution, based on the negotiated establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.”

• The Lutheran World Federation transported 500 buckets of rice, beans, spaghetti and milk powder to Gonaives, Haiti, along with water, according to an Oct. 1 Associated Press report. Violence erupted in Port-au-Prince during a march by supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In Gonaives, violence came as the hungry and homeless from recent storms waited for relief efforts. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that armed gangs attack people once they leave relief distribution points guarded by U.N. peacekeepers.


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February issue


Embracing diversity