The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, appealed to African church leaders to press their governments to act over Sudan's humanitarian crisis in Darfur. At least 1 million people have been displaced, and many face the threat of hunger and disease. Dandala said the Sudanese churches have long talked of gross human rights abuses, massive discrimination, disease and even slavery in Sudan. "As churches, we are in this together," he said. "We must stand in solidarity with the Sudanese people."

A helping hand in Indonesia: Partners of Action by Churches Together prepare to distribute clothing to refugees in Ambon, Indonesia, who fled their homes during violent clashes with only the clothes they wore. Figures show that more than 10,000 Muslims and Christians are displaced, 40 have been killed and more than 270 injured. ACT members are providing food and nonfood items. The clashes were the worst violence since a February 2002 agreement ended three years of sectarian fighting in which some 5,000 people died.

Lutheran World Relief accepted a $500,000 gift from the founders of eBay to help address the Sudanese crisis. Money from the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund at Peninsula Community Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif., is already being used in western Sudan to provide water, sanitation and shelter, said LWR President Kathryn Wolford. The ELCA sent $145,000 to help provide food and other necessities in Sudan, where militia attacks led to a massive displacement of people and the death of as many as 50,000.

Archaeologists uncovered a cave they believe was used by John the Baptist for ritual immersions. The cave is located on a kibbutz about two miles outside Ein Kerem, the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist that is now part of Jerusalem. Researchers found shards of small jugs used in ritual purifications and uncovered steps leading to the bottom of the cave, where they found niches for holding clothes and what appear to be dispensers for ritual oil.

Bishop Emmanuel Schanz, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kyrgyzstan, stated his willingness to remain in office another year. The election of a new bishop was a focal point in the church's 11th synod meeting last spring. Schanz had intended to resign, proposing his deputy, Alfred Eichholz, as successor. But during synod discussions, it became clear that a new bishop could only be inaugurated in the presence of three Lutheran bishops. So Schanz rescinded his decision. The Kyrgyzstani Lutheran church has 15 congregations and about 1,170 members.

At its Sept. 1-7 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, the Lutheran World Federation Counci
l: • Heard that receipts have decreased and reserve funds are slowly shrinking. LWF’s 2003 expenditure was $97.8 million, but its income was $94.8 million. LWF Treasurer Peter Stoll said some Southern Hemisphere churches were actually paying more than their fair membership fee, while some in the north were decreasing their support. Stoll said LWF cost-saving measures could include combining resources with ecumenical partners or reducing LWF goals and staff. • Condemned continuing militia attacks against Sudanese civilians; a massacre of 300 at a school in Beslan, Russia; and violence against civilians in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Moscow. • Re-elected Ishmael Noko, 60, a theologian from Zimbabwe, for a second seven-year term as LWF general secretary. • Appointed a task force to report on issues of “marriage, family and sexuality,” which Noko said, “if we are not careful enough to listen to one another … might easily become church-dividing, but at the moment it is not a church-dividing issue.”

Europe is becoming one of the new "mission fields" where people don't know basic information about the faith, says Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Kobia made his comments at a meeting in Malaysia of the WCC's Faith and Order Commission, which promotes dialogue to help resolve differences between churches and to promote church unity.

Asian church leaders created a strategy for mobilizing churches to overcome violence against children. Some 70 leaders met Aug. 28-31 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sept. 1-4. Children are forced to be soldiers, sex workers, bonded laborers in factories and fields, and domestic servants. The gatherings focused on creating a culture of peace at the community level through equipping churches to address the violence.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Baltimore, urged Attorney General John Ashcroft to follow the February 2004 recommendation of the Department of Homeland Security and grant Rodi Alvarado asylum. Alvarado suffered abuse from her husband in Guatemala for 10 years before fleeing for her life in 1994, said LIRS President Ralston Deffenbaugh. She had repeatedly sought her government's protection but was denied. "LIRS advocates on behalf of ... vulnerable women and girls who flee from domestic violence, trafficking, sexual slavery, rape, honor-killing and other abuse and who seek asylum in the United States," he said.

Resolutions in July by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly on Israel and Christian-Jewish relations, including one that calls for "selective" divestment from firms that do business in Israel, triggered a rebuke from U.S. Jewish groups. The resolutions were wide-ranging and included denominational funding for ministries intended for Jewish converts to Christianity. Others called on Israel to stop erecting a security barrier that separates Israelis and Palestinians. The divestment was seen as most controversial.

Leaders of churches in Jerusalem--Roman Catholic patriarch Michel Sabbah, Lutheran bishop Munib Younan and Greek Melkite archimandrite Mtanios Haddad--visited three predominantly Muslim Palestinian communities to take a stand for interfaith cooperation and peace Aug. 2. The leaders praised the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Program as demonstrating the positive role churches play in Palestinian society, both Muslim and Christian, reported The Christian Post. Younan said the conflict isn't one faith fighting another, underscoring that Christians, Muslims and Jews who work for justice work together.

Christian and Muslim leaders expressed concern that the August targeted bombings of five Iraqi churches may cause irreparable harm for that country's struggling Christian minority. The attacks left 11 dead and injured dozens more. Prince Hassan bin Talal, moderator of the New York-based World Conference of Religions for Peace, called the militants "the lowest dregs of an irreligious power-crazed gang" who had committed an "obscene blasphemy against the spirit of Islam and the character of Iraq." He vowed to protect the minority Christian population.

Roman Catholic politicians who support abortion rights in three Southeastern states will be barred from communion until they publicly recant and receive the consent of their bishop. The bishops of Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and Charleston, S.C., said unrepentant politicians "are not to be admitted to holy communion in any Catholic church within our jurisdictions."

Ongoing violence in Iraq continues to hamper humanitarian response. But Church World Service and the All Our Children campaign continue to supply vital aid by working with Iraqis to deliver supplies and services to vulnerable children. "Today after 'regime change' and handover by U.S. forces to Iraq's provisional authority the humanitarian sector can report considerable progress in providing basic health and medical care for the country's children as well as such vital supporting needs as clean water supplies," said John L. McCullough, CWS executive director. "But the task is far from over."

On orders of Bulgaria's prosecutor-general, police seized about 250 churches that were in the hands of the Alternative Synod, a group of church leaders that opposes Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Maxim. The action flows from the controversial Law on Religious Denominations that gives Maxim's church sole right to all Orthodox church properties in the country. Dissenters have for more than 10 years strenuously objected to Maxim being patriarch. They say he got the post through collusion with Bulgaria's former communist government. Former president Petar Stoyanov said the "brutal steps" against the dissenters would deepen tensions among Bulgaria's Christians.

The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ formalized a relationship with Salt Lake Seminary to train its pastoral candidates. Located in Salt Lake City, the seminary is an interdenominational school of biblical and theological studies. The LCMC formed in March 2001 as an alternative for ELCA members who oppose the historic episcopate and full communion with the Episcopal Church. It has 118 congregations in 26 states and in Mexico and Vietnam.

K.G. Hammar, archbishop of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, pleaded for Muslims to be allowed a bigger say in society and for their right to wear religious symbols in the workplace. Hammar says discrimination is a burning question in Sweden today, especially in workplaces.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams announced a $27,770 competition to find a published work on theology that is "at the cutting edge" of Christian thinking. The first award will be presented next year and must have been published between January 2000 and June 2004. Since assuming office, Williams said he sees that "a real priority had to be the encouragement of excellence in the field of theological education."

Mennonite and Roman Catholic scholars met in Collegeville, Minn., in July to continue discussions on a joint landmark study of 16th century Christian martyrs of the Reformation. Given the vagaries of conflicting historical interpretation, developing a narrative about such martyrdom won't be easy, as it involves reckoning with "skeletons in the closet," said Ivan Kauffman, a Washington, D.C.-based author and an organizer of the conference.

A Lutheran World Federation study team on Christian-Muslim relations met in Jogyakarta, Indonesia, in August. They repeatedly heard the message: "To be religious in Indonesia today means to be inter-religious." In discussions with religious, political and community leaders, the LWF team learned that there's a growing trend of both Christian and Muslim fanaticism since the 1998 fall of former President Suharto's dictatorial regime. The transition from a controlled state to democracy isn't easy, affirmed Indonesian social critic Bakhtiar Effendi. But the study team saw promising indications for dialogue among the religiously diverse communities in Yogyakarta, home of the renowned Institute of Interfaith Dialogue. A new sanctuary just north of the city allows worshipers from different religions to offer prayers for the nation according to their respective faith tradition.

Veli-Matti Karkkainen, a renowned Finnish theologian and tenured professor at Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, Calif., was forced to leave the United States because he didn't qualify under new visa regulations for religious professionals. Karkkainen couldn't appeal the government decision and stricter visa regulations that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "I didn't think the INS was supposed to deal with theological discernment," Karkkainen said in reference to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now renamed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In a random telephone survey of 3,290 U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 by The National Study of Youth and Religion, 29 percent said they have participated in an organized religious service project or mission. Among teens who participated in such an activity, the survey found that 43 percent attend church once a week or more, 25 percent once or twice a month and 21 percent less than once a month.

Rebel forces in western Burundi attacked a camp of Tutsi Congolese refugees Aug. 13, leaving 160 dead and 101 wounded. The attack was launched from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and created difficulties for relief work of Action by Churches Together. Relief items were lost when shelters belonging to the refugees were burned in the attacks. A special meeting was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the issue of elections, which may take place before November.


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February issue


Embracing diversity