September 1999 Worldscan
The American Association of Lutheran Churches, those congregations that chose not to join the ELCA in 1988, elected Thomas Aadland of Duluth, Minn., as its new presiding pastor. During its convention, delegates from the 18,000-member church unanimously supported resolutions calling for Congress to override President Clinton's veto of a bill banning late-term abortion procedures and to end foreign aid to countries where Christians are persecuted.
The United Church of Christ approved a restructuring plan at its General Synod meeting in July, eliminating the old hierarchical model of leadership. The 1.4 million-member denomination will now be led by a five-member college of officers who each have equal authority and responsibilities. The UCC is in full communion with the ELCA. Beginning in 2000, Baptists and Anglicans will begin talks to encourage understanding between the two groups. Over a four-year period, representatives of the Baptist World Alliance and the Anglican Consultative Council will consider major theological issues and plan joint mission and community service activities. A 256-page "comic book" Bible, published in Great Britain last October, is being touted as a way to make the world's best-selling — but often highly unread — book come alive for children and adults. Although the Crucifixion is shown, several scenes with sexual or violent content are downplayed, as in the story of David and Bathsheba and the Israelites' slaughter of the Canaanites. Others, such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, are left out altogether. Japanese church officials, including leading Christian activists, politicians and the National Christian Council in Japan, condemned legislation approving greater military cooperation between Japan and the United States. Church officials described the guidelines, passed in May, as a "war manual" that violates the country's constitution, which renounces war. Several Japanese church leaders and peace activists have called on U.S. churches to join the protest. No full agreement exists between Lutherans and Roman Catholics on the doctrine of justification, says A.L. Barry, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod president, referring to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification that will be signed Oct. 31 by Vatican and Lutheran World Federation representatives. Barry asked how the pope's renewal of the practice of offering indulgences (although not for sale) last year "can be reconciled" with the Lutheran understanding of justification by grace "apart from any of the good works which Christians do." Roman Catholic and Muslim representatives are working together to promote "religious values" among political leaders, the Vatican said in July. The Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee, formed in 1995 to further dialogue between the two faiths, also appealed for the media "to promote religious values and the culture of dialogue." The Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response expressed concern that the crisis in the Balkans not eclipse acute needs in Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Sierra Leone, where ongoing conflicts have claimed millions of lives. Poor rains in 1998 and the early half of 1999 caused a severe drought in Ethiopia, leaving more than 1.2 million people hungry. The figure does not include people affected by the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The committee is an international alliance of the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and such secular organizations as the Red Cross. A new road in Jordan leading from Amman to Bethany is under construction. Beginning in December, the road will allow pilgrims and visitors to access the newly discovered site where Jesus was baptized. Other planned improvements include an interfaith chapel and a complex water system that will allow visitors to touch the water at the site. The Church of England's highest decision-making body, the General Synod, pledged to eliminate racism within the church and to work toward eradicating racism in society as well. "We cannot afford to rest," said George Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury. Twenty-five religious groups, including the National Council of Churches, sent a letter urging Congress to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The proposed act would extend the protection of current hate crime laws to people who are victimized based on their sexual orientation, gender or disability. It would also increase the ability of federal lawyers to prosecute such hate-based crimes as the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., an African American man in Jasper, Texas; the beating death of Matthew Shepard, a gay man in Laramie, Wyo.; and the racially motivated shooting spree of white supremacist Benjamin Smith, who killed two people in the Midwest. Calling for support of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, Ambrose Moyo, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, said the burden of the country's debt is not only a burden for the government, but "people are becoming poorer and poorer because of the burden of debt." The Jubilee 2000 campaign calls for the cancellation of the debts of the world's poorest countries by the year 2000. China banned a popular meditation sect, Falun Gong, in July, considering it a political threat to the country's communist-controlled government. Following the ban, police arrested 200 protestors and confiscated from publishing houses and homes a reported 1.5 million books and videos written about the sect. Human rights groups have called the situation a clear case of religious oppression. Falun Gong combines elements of Buddhism and Taoism with a regimen of physical exercise meant to harness cosmic forces. Interdenominational marriages where the couple settles on one tradition have the lowest divorce rate (six percent) of all Christian marriages, according to a national study conducted by Creighton University's Center for Marriage and Family in Omaha, Neb. The high success rate could be due to the struggle and decision-making couples experience in choosing a tradition together, said one researcher. In the study, Christians who married someone from their own denomination had a 14 percent divorce rate. Thirty-five to 40 percent of all U.S. marriages are interdenominational and 40-60 percent end in divorce.
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