There is a lot of tragedy, and it is going to take a long time to rebuild," said ELCA missionary Wendell Friest following the Sept. 21 earthquake in Taiwan. The earthquake took 2,000 lives and left more than 100,000 homeless. Friest, pastor of Truth Lutheran, Taipei, said the congregation sent food, bottled water, clothing, blankets and flashlights to help those affected, many of whom are "living in tents in parks and other public places."
The Vatican presented a revised manual on the doctrine of indulgences, which now says that Roman Catholics can win remission of punishment for sins by simple acts that proclaim their faith in public (i.e., crossing oneself in response to a co-worker's blasphemy, giving up smoking or not eating meat for a day). Joining other religious leaders nationwide, the ELCA signed a Sept. 27 letter to President Clinton that called for an end to economic sanctions on Iraq. The ELCA also signed a Sept. 29 letter urging the U.S. to pay more than $1 billion in past dues it owes to the United Nations, stating that its "humanitarian work is irreplaceable, and if the U.N. did not exist, we would be laboring to create it." Equal Exchange, an employee-owned fair-trade cooperative that sells coffee to more than 1,300 Lutheran congregations, now markets its product to Presbyterians. Equal Exchange buys coffees and teas directly from small cooperatives and impoverished farmers in Latin America, Africa and Asia for a guaranteed fair price-typically much more than the small farmers can get from commercial traders. Following increased vandalism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland tightened security in parish cemeteries and churches. Some parishes added surveillance cameras and hired security firms, while others organized volunteer guards. In 20 cemeteries an estimated 1,200 grave markers have been overturned. Devil worshipers are suspected to be behind some of the vandalism. The ELCA International Disaster Response gave $50,000 to Action by Churches Together to provide food and shelter to 200,000 people who fled East Timor. Violence erupted following East Timor's vote for independence from a 24-year occupation by Indonesia. Militia control of access to refugee camps makes relief delivery difficult. Arlindo Marcal, moderator of the Christian Church of East Timor, urged North American churches to support an international tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of the violence. The East Timorese church lost its general secretary, Francisco de Vasconcelos, to the violence. The Southern Baptist Convention urged members to pray that Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah during Judaism's High Holy Days. "Intercessory prayer is an act of love," said Randy Sprinkle, director of the Baptist Convention's international mission board. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "We are shocked and deeply offended by the call .... It is pure arrogance for any one religion to assume they hold the truth, especially on the eve of the holiest days for Jewish faith." The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, at its convention, canceled more than $200,000 in mortgage interest additions from 13 of its ministries. The action is in support of Jubilee 2000, a movement that calls for a debt reduction of poor nations. Pope John Paul II called on the Roman Catholic Church to acknowledge its past mistakes to start anew in the year 2000. He placed first among mistakes the schism of 1054 that split the Roman and Orthodox churches and the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries that divided Protestants from Catholics. Spyridon Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, resigned following two years of controversy sparked by what critics called his autocratic style unsuited to a church that has moved beyond its immigrant roots. Spryridon, who was replaced by Demetrios Trakatellis, said he resigned for "reasons totally independent of and unrelated to my personal intentions." United Methodist Church leaders applauded ELCA approval of full communion with the Episcopal Church. "Thank God for Lutherans and Episcopalians who took this historic step," said William Boyd Grove, an ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops. Grove said the Methodist Church is about to begin bilateral dialogues with both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. Next year each of the 31 parishes in Greenland will get their own pastor for the first time since the church in Greenland became an independent diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. Twelve pastoral-theological students will fill the vacancies. Dom Helder Camera, 90, the former archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, who was also known as the "Red Bishop," died Aug. 27. Helder pushed the Roman Catholic Church to move beyond mere charity and advocate social change in areas such as land distribution and access to education to empower the poverty-stricken in the world's largest Catholic nation. He argued that the church must have a preference for the poor and used Marxist sociological analytical tools to criticize social structures, actions that branded him a Communist by some church members. Johannes Hanselmann, 72, a former president of Lutheran World Federation, died Oct. 2. Hanselmann, who served as president from 1987 to 1990, was the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria from 1975 to 1994. "His theological contribution, strength and pastoral skills enabled the LWF to be where it is today," said Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary. "He has played a significant part in advancing the intention of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." Vlado Deutsch, 71, senior bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Croatia, died July 15. Deutsch was thought by many to lead the church with an iron fist and was accused of numerous financial improprieties within the church. In response to his actions, a second Lutheran church was formed in 1996. Christian-Muslim relations was a major topic during the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa General Assembly, held in Tanzania. Participants urged their churches to stock adequate material on Islam and agreed to continue dialogue between leaders of the two religions. In other assembly business, the secretary general of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, Amani Mwenegoha, urged the member churches to overcome their differences and unite to form a single Lutheran church of central and eastern Africa. Leif Bork Hansen, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark bishop who received a suspended sentence for unlawfully helping 29 Serbian refugees hide from Danish authorities, faces new charges. Hansen could face imprisonment and dismissal for launching a financial appeal for Serbs who have gone underground in Denmark fearing they will be sent back to East-Slovania Croatia. Members of the Council of Christian Churches in Congo weren't spared the violence that has erupted in the Republic of Congo, where nearly 8,000 people have been killed in the last few months. Church buildings have been destroyed and some church personnel have either been forcibly relocated or killed, making it difficult for the council of churches to continue its ministry. The United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom, which two years ago voted to accept practicing homosexuals into the ministry, adopted a statement by its executive body to reverse the policy, stating there is not a sufficiently clear mind in the church to allow practicing homosexuals into the ministry. An international church aid effort that includes $125,000 from Lutheran World Relief is providing 200 winterized tents for 1,000 people left homeless by an earthquake in Turkey that killed thousands. Future plans include starting schools in tent cities and constructing prefabricated homes. The National Council of Churches issued an indictment against the gun lobby following a shooting at a Fort Worth Baptist Church that left seven people dead. "We should treat guns as a plague that needs to be eradicated for our own health," said Staccato Powell, NCC deputy general secretary. A United Methodist Church appeals panel refused to overturn the conviction of Gregory Dell, a Methodist minister who performed same-sex marriages. Dell said he will continue to perform the ceremonies in defiance of the church law and despite his suspension from the ministry. "My ordination requires me to be in ministry to all people without discrimination," Dell said after his appeal was rejected. Nearly 10 percent of the Angolan population is facing the imminent problem of malnutrition, hunger and other related diseases unless food delivery and assistance is provided, according to the Lutheran World Federation. Angola's long-fought civil war continues to displace thousands of people, many of which need immediate aid. Seven years of civil war in Liberia ended in 1996, and the Lutheran World Federation continues to send aid to help the thousands of victims who lost property or have no job. The LWF is targeting some 172,000 people for food distribution, 675 schools for supplies as well as resettlement and reintegration assistance. Action by Churches Together, with the Lutheran World Federation and Norwegian Church Aid, is supporting more than 450,000 people in Ethiopia and Eritrea who have been displaced during more than a year of battles along the border. The Lutheran World Federation commended Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, president of Sierra Leone on its successful peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary United Front, which had engaged in an eight-year civil war. "You and your government will be strengthened in the days and months ahead, as you seek to implement the accord and entrench a culture of peace in your country," said Ishmael Noko, LWF president, in a letter to Kabbah.