The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• A gathering between gays and conservative Christians at Jerry Falwell's church in Lynchburg, Va., found the groups seeking common ground, although not without contention. Falwell organized the meeting with Mel White, a gay minister who came out years after ghostwriting Falwell's autobiography. Falwell compared the meeting to "building a bridge as we do to addicts, alcoholics and other sinners." Falwell invited Michael Johnson, head of a group that attempts to convert gays to heterosexuality. White disapproved, saying, "Calling someone sinners over and over and over again approaches hate speech very quickly." Falwell pledged to examine his preaching to ensure it doesn't contain anti-gay sentiments that could lead to violence.

• Hindus in India and Nepal criticized a Southern Baptists call for prayers during an upcoming Hindu festival that they be converted to Christianity. K.R. Malkini, spokesman for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party said, "The missionary approach to Hindus and Hinduism has always been illiterate and offensive. ... India is more religious than any other country in the world. Morally it's more Christian than any other Christian country. ... Is it not an insult to India to tell Hindus that they are sinners and that only Jesus can save them?"

• Israeli authorities detained 21 people belonging to two predominantly American millennial Christian sects and issued them deportation orders, saying they pose a danger to public safety. Each group denies involvement in violent activities, saying they are in Jerusalem to wait for the return of Jesus to the Holy Land.

• The United Methodist Church suspended its funding of the National Council of Churches because of the council's financial instability. Joan Brown Campbell, NCC general secretary, said, "United Methodist funding is essential to the stability of the NCC." The council, which is expected to have a $4 million shortfall thisyear, is taking steps to address the concerns, she added. Campbell, NCC general secretary since 1991, will leave the organization to direct the Chautauqua Institution Department of Religion by April 15, 2000, announced Chautauqua Institution officials. The Chautauqua Institution is an adult education center with offerings in the arts, education, religion and recreation.

• Three weeks after National Council of Churches delegation visited Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to support families of citizens who have "disappeared," public debate ignited on the issue in each country. Under South American military dictatorships that flourished in the 1970s, thousands of people vanished without a trace. Council delegates said people need to know what happened to their relatives to grieve properly. The families also desire acknowledgment that these relatives were not criminals just because they had different ideas.

• In a meeting with a World Council of Churches delegation, Cuban President Fidel Castro described Jesus as a social revolutionary and said he admired how Protestants pray. "It is a direct way of communicating with God," he said. Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary, told Castro that churches involved in the ecumenical movement "share a concern for justice that has a lot in common with the life and struggle of the Cuban people." Earlier, Raiser told Protestants in Havana to be cautious about the growth of religious life in Cuba, urging them to trust in the gospel, not their rising numbers. Castro's 1991 decision to drop the requirement that all Communist Party members be atheists has influenced a dramatic growth in Cuba's churches.

• Religious leaders were credited with influencing a rejection by Alabama voters of a state lottery, which Gov. Don Siegelman suggested be implemented to improve state schools. "It shows the church still does have quite a bit of power," said William Stewart, a University of Alabama political analyst.

• Entrepreneurs hoping to turn the Mount of Temptation into a major tourist attraction in Israel built a cable car so visitors can be next to a Greek Orthodox Monastery mountain sanctuary where, ancient Christian tradition states, Jesus resisted Satan.

• China topped the list of seven countries the U.S. State Department said are of particular concern because of its poor treatment of religious believers. The nations, which include Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Sudan, are subject to economic sanctions that the White House can apply under provisions of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

• Every church in Canada is being asked to ring its bells Jan. 1, 2000, as part of a project co-sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Historically little cooperation has existed between the two groups. The churches are also encouraged to share prayers Jan. 2 and to engage in new projects and acts of compassion.

• Kentucky's state guidelines for teaching science replaced the word "evolution" with the phrase "biological change over time." Gene Wilhoit, the deputy education commissioner, said "evolution" was replaced because it was a "lighting rod that creates a diversion from what we're teaching." The word was in place until 1998, when science teachers lobbied for the change. The current phrase is the same one used before the switch to "evolution."

• A Protestant church in West Timor, Indonesia, is finding safe places for East Timorese refugees who are being sought by the militia that ravaged East Timor. Action by Churches Together provided $50,000 to the church and is requesting an additional $400,000 from member agencies to with food, shelter, medicines and transportation.

• Scottish Baptists voted 247-113 to admit women to the ordained ministry. Two years ago the issue failed by by 28 votes. The Baptist Union of Great Britain has admitted women since 1918-one of the first British churches to do so.

• A House-Senate conference committee dropped legislation that would have expanded the definition of federal hate crimes to include anti-gay incidents. Opponents said state officials already can prosecute offenses that would be covered by such a bill. Twenty religious groups, including the National Council of Churches, had supported the legislation.

• Catholic and Jewish scholars will make a joint study of Vatican archives covering World War II to try to resolve whether the Roman Catholic Church could have done more to avert the Holocaust. The decision came amid controversy over whether or not Pope Pius XII failed to act in defense of Jews.

• AIDS is now the leading cause of death for children worldwide, said Kul Chandra Gnutam, a UNICEF official, at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. He said 14 million women of childbearing age worldwide are HIV-positive, adding, "Last year, 700,000 children were born HIV-positive and there will be more in the future. About 34 percent of these babies will die in the first year and 66 percent will die by the third year. If no intervention takes place among HIV-positive mothers, about 30 percent of the children will be born with the infection."

• To celebrate the Christian Millennium, Dec. 25, 2000, the largest star on earth will be constructed in the Holy Land. The Star of Peace will be built of native stone on land where Jesus walked. It will have seven points to reflect the spread of the gospel to all seven continents. Water from a fountain will flow into each point. In the center of the fountain will be a Millennium Flame, to be lit next Christmas.


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