• The Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil signed a "Covenant for Cooperative Mission" with the ELCA at the Churchwide Assembly. The ELCA is already in full communion with the Brazilian church because both are members of the Lutheran World Federation. The covenant includes sharing resources for social and congregational ministry, leadership development and theological education, and working together to "address social, economic, political and ethical issues affecting church and society." • Faced with a shortage of chaplains, the U.S. Army is targeting ordained clergy under 40 with a "Consider the Call" nationwide marketing campaign. It uses magazine ads, a Web site, a video and personal letters to reach out to possible chaplains, as well as a range of benefits: commissioning as officers, at least $33,600 per year in salary and housing allowance, as much as $3,500 per year in scholarships for seminarians, and their choice of location for their first tour. For the Army, the main barrier to finding qualified applicants is age, since most seminarians tend to be middle-aged people in their second career.
D. Philip Veitch, a former evangelical chaplain, says the U.S. Navy discriminated against him for theological reasons and that he was forced to resign because he refused to stop including his conservative Christian beliefs in his sermons. The suit asks that the Navy reinstate Veitch.
At a "Call to Action" conference in Philadelphia Sept. 16, Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, said the Roman Catholic Church should be more worried about Catholic women studying at Protestant seminaries than Catholic women who want to be ordained as priests. Earlier this year, the Vatican tried to prevent Chittister from speaking at a women's ordination conference in Dublin, but her prioress refused to sign the gag order. In a related incident, the Vatican reaffirming a ban on ordaining women as deacons on Sept.17.
• Dalia Habash, a Lutheran woman, was injured in Ramallah on Sept. 18, while trying to ensure the safety of Birzeit University students, who began classes Sept. 15. At an Israeli checkpoint at Surda, Israeli soldiers told Habash and other university staff there was no passage through the road. The group objected, saying they would stay on the road until they could negotiate passage. A soldier then placed a sound bomb near the staff, set it and walked away. The explosion broke Habash's leg.
• Two gunman killed a Roman Catholic nun, who was active in human rights work, on Sept. 19 in Tumaco, on Colombia's Pacific Coast. Sister Yolanda Ceron's death comes as Colombian Roman Catholic and Protestant church leaders are reporting increased harassment. Amnesty International said it was likely she was killed by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary group with a history of targeting human rights activists. The U.S.-backed Colombian military has reportedly collaborated with the AUC and other paramilitaries in a civil war that has lasted 40 years, killing 3,500 Colombians annually.
• The Lutheran World Federation Council and many Colombian church leaders expressed concern about "Plan Colombia," a government strategy that uses $1.3 billion from the U.S. government to combat cocaine production, drug smuggling and guerilla warfare in the country. Concerns include fears that some parties will still seek solutions through armed combat or oppression, said Roberto Caicedo, a Mennonite pastor. "Plan Colombia is largely based on repression … we must insist that the [conflict and drug trafficking] are settled through negotiations." Another critic, Colombian economist Luis Garay, said "only a third of the money is used for public development aid, strenghtening the judicial system, human rights, development of alternatives to illegal crops and social projects."
• This fall, the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether school voucher programs are an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money. The Bush administration and some religious groups, especially Roman Catholics, strongly support vouchers. A decision, expected by next June, will settle conflicting rulings on the issue in the lower courts.
• A survey of 502 teens and 1,011 adults, commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, found that 70 percent of adults and 72 percent of teens think congregations need to do more to prevent teen pregnancy. Forty percent of teens said their parents were the most influential source for their decisions about sex; 6 percent said their religious leader has the most influence. In a related report, psychologist Brian Wilcox said his research indicated that frequent worship attendance is linked with increased contraceptive use among boys and decreased use among girls. Wilcox speculated that boys may think contraception is "the moral thing to do" but "guilt might be driving" the girls' behavior.
• The Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Church in Russia and Other States blessed its second graduating class at a July 7 graduation service in Novosaratovka, just outside St. Petersburg. Six students will serve one-year internships with regional churches in European Russia.
• Former Nigerian military ruler Yakuba Gowon is serving as a mediator between Muslims and Christians in Jos, Nigeria, where religious strife erupted Sept. 7, killing 165 and injuring more than 900 people. Gowon, leader of the city's predominantly Christian Berom tribe, asked people to make the city the "home of peace and unity."
• Religious groups said Sept. 10 that the $170 farm bill before Congress threatens to destroy the family farm and many rural communities. Critics say the bill, like the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill, will allow giant agribusinesses to squeeze family farmers out of business. John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmer's Union, said, "A very bad situation has been made significantly worse through public policy." Hansen pointed to rise in production costs, yet a drop in selling prices from $2.71 a bushel of corn in 1996 to $1.85 last year, and $7.35 per soybean bushel in 1996 to $4.75 now.
• Konrad Raiser, World Council of Churches general secretary, sent an Aug. 29 letter to Australian churches commending them for their actions to help asylum-seekers on a boat The Tampa, who were prevented from landing on Christmas Island. "The right to seek and enjoy asylum is a basic human right that must be upheld throughout the world …," he wrote. "Such policies stand in stark contrast to Australia's history as a country of immigration and refuge." Amid "stereotyping, xenophobia and lack of compassion," Raiser expressed solidarity with Australian churches.
• More than 3,400 former child soldiers in Sudan were allowed to return to their homes after a six-month retraining program. The rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army estimates that up to 30 percent of its fighters are no older than 18.
• Louis Feldman, a classics professor at Yeshiva University, New York, argues that construction for the Colosseum in Rome somewhere between A.D. 70 and 80 was financed in part by treasures taken from the ransacked Jerusalem Temple. In A.D. 70, Roman armies destroyed the temple, built by King Solomon.
• Police in Saudi Arabia arrested 10 Christians who discussed their religion at a party in Jiddah. Public display of any faith other than Islam is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Conversions are punishable by death.
• India's prime minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, called the activities of some Christian missionaries "improper," causing a wave of criticism from Indian Christian groups. The All India Christian Council said no Hindus are converted to Christianity "unless it is of one's free will, a freedom guaranteed by the constitution of India." The council said remarks such as the prime minister's are seen as condoning "lies and half-truths that are being spread in many parts of the country."
• "We [dalits] are outcasts," said Raja Selvakumar, a member of the Lutheran World Federation delegation, told the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa. The dalits, or "untouchable," caste in India, struggle against "racism, discrimination and marginalization in a most concentrated form," said Ismael Noko, LWF general secretary.
• Robert Edgar, National Council of Churches general secretary, said he strongly regretted the downgrading of the U.S. delegation due to language relating racism to conflict in the Middle East to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism. And Mvumelwano Dandala, president of the South African Council of Churches, called the U.S. action "a terrible message to young democracies that have ideals of replacing war with dialogue."
• A Gallup poll of 1,202 "people of faith" and 303 clergy found strong support for campaign finance reform, with 78 percent of respondents not concerned that overhauling campaign finance reform might threaten their right to free speech. Seventy-one percent of religious people and 64 percent of clergy preferred limits on "soft money" contributions, as well as full disclosure.
• Ishmael Noko, Lutheran World Federation general secretary, said in an Oct. 8 statement that the LWF "deeply regretted" that diplomacy did not "open up avenues avoiding the use of armed force." Noko said military actions must "be superseded by strong, constructive efforts on other levels" and called for long-range development aid. "In this way," he added, "it would become clear that such assistance is more than a way to appease public opinion." In a related statement, the World Council of Churches urged the United States and United Kingdom to bring "a prompt end to the present action" and urged other states not to "join with them in it." It says, "We do not believe that war ... can ever be regarded as an effective response to the equally abhorrent sin of terrorism."