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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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August 2001 Worldscan

  • An ecumenical group of church leaders, including ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Donald McCoid, pressed Secretary of State Colin Powell on June 7 to end U.S. military aid shipments that are used against Palestinians. Powell was also asked to urge Israel to stop controversial settlements in Palestinian territories. McCoid said the delegation was particularly concerned for Palestinian Christians, who have been affected by violence as much as their Muslim neighbors.

  • The Lutheran World Federation warned against the use of excessive Israeli military force on Palestinian communities, saying it impacts both sides. Writing to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko said proposals to unleash Israel's "full military might against Palestinian communities" or to tighten existing restrictions on the Palestinians' freedom of movement and economic activities can only lead to "greater desperation on the part of Palestinians, more violence and less security for the Israelis …."

  • A Barna Research Group study says 78 percent of American adults donated money to a church or other nonprofit organization in 2000 — a 6 percent drop from 1999 and 9 percent since 1998. The average per-person giving decreased 15 percent in 2000 to a mean of $886. In 1999, the mean was $1,045; $1,377 in 1998. Churches are still the most likely groups to receive individual financial support, with 61 percent of adults donating money to one or more churches in 2000.

  • With North Korea facing another year of food shortages after the driest spring in 80 years, Lutheran World Relief extended its support for an agricultural project begun in 1997. A $20,000 grant will provide seeds, fertilizers, vinyl sheeting and machinery parts for farm cooperatives in North Korea served by the American Friends Service Committee, a LWR partner.

  • The Lutheran World Federation discussed the church's role in reconciliation at its June 12-19 council meeting in Geneva, but took no official action. In a message to the council, 17 youth representing LWF-member churches and ecumenical partners, said: "If we continue to avoid the core issues of violence or simply discuss violence, we will lose the credibility of our Christian communion." The youth called on churches to continue creating programs and partnerships to learn from one another how to address violence. In other business, the council was asked to consider a name change that would recognize the LWF as a communion of churches, rather than a federation.

  • The once-troubled finances of the National Council of Churches have improved, and next year's budget could end in a surplus, the group's executive board reported. A $730,000 deficit was absorbed by reserve funds at the end of the last fiscal year. Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary, trimmed staff and expenses to end years of deficit spending that depleted reserve funds and caused an appeal to its 36 member churches, including the ELCA.

  • A Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans say premarital sex is morally acceptable; 38 percent say it is wrong. But, when asked specifically if sex between an unmarried man and woman is acceptable, 53 percent said it is; 42 percent said no. Researchers said Americans' views on the topic depends on their age. Sixty-seven percent of young adults find premarital sex to be morally acceptable, while only 28 percent of those 65 and older say it is acceptable.

  • The Vatican welcomed a new investigation by Mexican authorities into the assassination of the archbishop of Guadalajara and expects "complete and authoritative clarity." Cardinal Posadas Ocampo, who had accused the Institutional Revolutionary Party of ties to narcotics traffickers, was killed in 1993. A Milan newspaper reported that an unidentified cardinal gave Vatican authorities nine compact discs containing new evidence linking the assassination to Mexico's former president, Carlos Salinas, and his brother Raul. President Vincente Fox's election in 2000 apparently cleared the way for a new probe into the killing by ending the church-state hostility of seven decades of PRI rule.

  • Afghanistan's ruling Islamic group, the Taliban, now prohibits foreigners from consuming alcohol and pork, listening to loud music and having inappropriate contact with members of the opposite sex, reports the Bakhtar news agency. Punishment ranges from a three-day jail sentence to expulsion from the country. Women in Afghanistan have lived under strict controls since the Taliban took control of Kabul about four years ago. The group barred women from the workforce and prohibited girls older than 8 from attending school. The United Nations says the strict laws have increased the number of children and women begging for food and money.

  • The Episcopal Women's Caucus is sending women into three church dioceses that are refusing to ordain women. Some church leaders say this could hamper the task force appointed to work with the dioceses on the matter. The Angel Project is meant to "place thick-skinned angels — ordained women — intentionally in the paths of people who have been denied the opportunity and gift of the presence and work of female priests," said Lynn Headley-Moore, caucus president.

  • ABC, the first major network to add a national religion correspondent (Peggy Wehmeyer) in 1994, is eliminating the position in a series of cutbacks. Jeffrey Schneider, vice president of media relations, said ABC is "still very committed to covering issues of religion and spirituality."

  • An interfaith coalition of religious leaders urged President Bush to help end sanctions against Iraq. The letter denounced the sanctions as "in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the targeting of civilians during warfare," noting that an estimated "4,500 children under age 5 die every month as a result of the economic sanctions."

  • Leaders of minority faiths in Russia say the Russian Orthodox Church is encroaching on the freedoms of others. Ali Vyacheslav Polosin, adviser to Russia's Council of Muftis, said the church has pressured regional officials to stop construction of mosques to serve the country's 20 million Muslims. He complained that calls to prayer are forbidden in Moscow, but church bells are not. Roman Catholic leaders also have complained of government discrimination rooted in frequent Orthodox criticism of such Catholic activities as prosyletism.

  • Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold called the June 24 consecrations of four new dissident bishops "an invitation to schism" and asked for global Anglican help. Griswold won't recognize the new bishops, who were ordained in Denver by leaders of the Anglican Mission in America and placed under the oversight of the Anglican Diocese of Rwanda.

  • As worldwide refugee numbers rose to 14.5 million, funding to international aid agencies dropped, says a June 19 report from the U.S. Committee on Refugees. In the past two years, the world's refugee population has increased by 1 million, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' budget has shrunk by $100 million. Palestinians are the largest group of refugees with 4 million. Afghan refugees number 3.6 million; Sudanese, 460,000; and Iraqi 450,000. The report also noted that as many as 24 million people are "internally displaced" within their countries.

  • Supporters of Soulforce, a Christian gay-rights advocacy group, held a vigil outside the Southern Baptist Convention at the New Orleans Superdome June 11-13. "Southern Baptist teachings are a primary source of misinformation about sexual and gender minorities," declared Bill Carpenter, Soulforce co-chair of the event. Holding a symbolic jazz funeral, the group filled a coffin with letters from and about those hurt by anti-gay teachings. Police prevented them from taking the coffin into the Superdome, arresting 34 people.

  • The Church of England's second most senior clergyman endorsed a new catechism, which suggests that homosexuality may be "divinely ordered." "An Anglican Catechism" contradicts the views of George Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury. Edward Norman, a church canon, wrote the work, which was commissioned by Archbishop of York David Hope to provide a training tool for ministry. Norman argues that sexual acts condemned in the past were not necessarily specifically homosexual. His catechism says: "Homosexuality may well not be a condition to be regretted but to have divinely ordered and positive qualities ... homosexual Christian believers should be encouraged to find in their sexual preferences such elements of moral beauty as may enhance their general understanding of Christ's calling."

  • Meeting in June, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops adopted rules implementing a Vatican requirement that theologians at Catholic universities by approved by the local bishop. They also clarified teaching about the eucharist, saying many Catholic lay people are "too casual" about communion and treat it as symbolic instead of transubstantiation (the real transformation of wine and bread into Christ's blood and body). The bishops also said Catholic health-care organizations merging with non-Catholic institutions should not show "immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia and direct sterilization."

  • Researchers at Penn State University, University Park, Pa., say rural teenagers who stay active in church throughout high school are more likely to achieve better grades and enjoy greater peer popularity than teens not involved. Their survey of 451 rural Iowa families found that for religiously involved teenagers, "their peer group was a moral ally, not an adversary, of the adult community of parents … religiously involved youth tended to score higher than other adolescents" in academic achievement, social success and self-confidence.

  • Thirty-five Christians were detained May 26 in Inner Mongolia on suspicion of "illegal religious activity." Chinese police released 20 detainees after they each paid about $24 in fines. The remaining 15 will likely be sent to labor camps, according to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy. China maintains that police arrest members of unregistered religious groups because they threaten public peace.

  • Meeting in April, the governing body of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil decided the denomination won't ordain homosexual staff members. "At the present time the conditions do not exist in our church whereby practicing homosexuals can publicly serve as ministers in the IECLB," the council said. Since there was no scientific or biblical consensus on how homosexuality should be assessed, the council said the issue "calls for the church to be judicious rather than judgmental."

  • At Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., a May 26 tornado damaged vehicles and campus buildings designed by the late famed architect Eero Saarinen. Seminary president Dean Wenthe said he expects all building repairs to be completed in time for the Sept. 9 opening of the 2001-2002 academic year.

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