The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


February 1998 Worldscan

  • Oil paintings depicting events on the slave ship Amistad (a story retold in Steven Spielberg's recent film) and of Cinque and Lewis Tappan, two characters featured prominently in the film, are displayed at the United Church of Christ's national offices in Cleveland. The paintings are on the sixth floor-home to the United Church Board Ministry Association, founded as a result of anti-slavery momentum carried by the Amistad event. The United Church of Christ says no evidence exists that abolitionist Lewis Tappan ever suggested that the Amistad prisoners would be better served for the anti-slavery movement as martyrs, as the movie depicts.

  • The official name and ecclesiastical flag of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, which lacked copyright protection, are under the legal control of Bishop William Wantland of the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wis. Wantland incorporated the name of the Episcopal Church, an unincorporated body since its founding in the United States in 1789. "I have been advised that these actions violate the church's right and need to protect its name from misleading and unfair use, creating confusion within our church community and for the public more generally," said Edmond Browning, the church's presiding bishop. Wantland wants to maintain control of the church's name and flag for traditionalist members who think the denomination has strayed from historical Anglican standards. He also announced his resignation, citing church policy on ordination of women as a reason for his decision.

  • Luther Seminary, Shingahl, Korea, changed its name to Luther Theological Seminary following its full accreditation with permission to grant the bachelor of theology degree at a college level. The seminary opened in 1984 in Shingahl, 30 miles south of Seoul.

  • Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, father-general of the Society of Jesus in Rome, warned that a breakdown in ecumenical ties in Europe could create an "iron curtain," replacing Cold War divisions with new confessional and denominational hostilities. At a meeting in Hungary, he said the "ideological iron curtain between East and West" might be replaced by a confessional one-between Orthodoxy, which treats the East as its own territory, and Christianity rooted in the West. His comments reflect a concern among some Roman Catholics about relations with Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe, which are suspicious of efforts by Catholic and Protestant churches to establish congregations in the region.

  • About 10 of the 122 full-member churches of the Lutheran World Federation-including the ELCA-submitted responses to the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, all of them affirmative. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria adopted the doctrine. The LWF German National Committee has urged the other German churches to follow the church of Bavaria in adopting the doctrine. An annual joint staff meeting between the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF was held to discuss the procedures regarding the declaration's adoption, places of celebration and other related matters.

  • Parishioners gave a smaller percentage of their incomes to churches in 1995 than in 1994. Giving was down in all categories for the first time since 1992, according to The State of Church Giving through 1995 by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. The percentage of income giving to the church has decreased steadily from 1968 when it was 3.11 percent, to 1995 when it was 2.46 percent.

  • The Ethiopian Evangelical [Lutheran] Church Mekane Yesus, one of the fastest growing churches in the world, is increasing by about 200,000 members-10 percent-every year. The church, established in 1959, now has 2.1 million members. It is experiencing a shortage of pastors with only 450, but the numbers are rising. The church decided last year to approve the ordination of women. Its theological college has about 70 to 80 graduates a year.

  • Martin Luther and his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, were named the third most important person and the third event that most shaped this millennium by Life magazine in its fall 1997 issue.

  • Ninety-four percent of HMO executives believe personal prayer, meditation or other spiritual practices can aid medical treatment and accelerate the healing process. The survey, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, also found that 74 percent of the professionals say the positive effects of spirituality on medical treatment can reduce health-care costs. A similar survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians' showed that 99 percent of family physicians believe spiritual beliefs can be helpful in medial treatment and more than half reported they incorporate relaxation and/or meditation techniques as a complement to a patient's traditional treatment.

  • Americans give the nation a "C to C-" overall grade on human rights, states a survey by Human Rights U.S.A., a Washington-based umbrella agency for human rights groups. More than half of those surveyed listed police brutality, racism, poverty and discrimination against gays and working women as the nation's leading human rights problems. "The results are particularly shocking given the current solid economic conditions" in the United States, said Peter Hart, who conducted the poll.

  • The Lutheran World Federation decided Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem can continue operating this year under certain conditions. The decision was made despite serious financial constraints under which the hospital operates on the Mount of Olives. The hospital can continue with the provision that LWF's financial responsibilities be limited to the amount approved for this year, $1.4 million. Redevelopment measures can only be undertaken within the grants available.

  • Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., joined artist Frederick Hart in filing a suit seeking redress for wrongful and illicit use of his work Ex Nihilo, housed in the cathedral, in the Time Warner film The Devil's Advocate.

  • The World Council of Churches, which is undergoing a major restructuring for the millennium under the description "common understanding and vision," may include the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church "as a partner along with the WCC in strengthening the one ecumenical movement," states an official Vatican document. As part of preparations for a policy statement, a draft was sent to WCC members churches and others, including the Catholic Church, for comment. In its response, the Catholic Church suggested its "ecumenical understanding and commitment" was "in general coherent with the present affirmations of the WCC member churches and of the WCC" as outlined in the policy statement.

  • Action by Churches Together and the Lutheran World Federation have flown more than 44 tons of relief goods on 15 flights into flood-stricken parts of southern Somalia. ACT is targeting flood victims in the Gedo and Middle Jubba regions, which are suffering from severe rains and flooding of the Jubba and Shebelle rivers. Relief items have been mostly food, but future flights will include medicine, shelter materials, mosquito nets, water and sanitation equipment.

  • A Gallup poll showed that while 44 percent of Americans surveyed said they would like to receive counseling to reach spiritual peace on their dying days, only 36 percent said a member of the clergy would be the most comforting person at that time. The survey found that 81 percent would choose family; 61 percent, close friends. The survey also found that 30 percent would trust a doctor; 21 percent a nurse; and 27 percent a layperson as a key source of support.

  • Jackson Carroll, professor of religion and society at Duke University Divinity School, Durham, N.C., and Wade Clark Roof, a professor of religion and society at the University of California at Santa Barbara, surveyed 1,150 people in North Carolina and southern California about their worship styles, church-going habits and religious beliefs. The survey found that 80 percent have a belief in God but a majority were dissatisfied with the vitality of their congregations. "The results of the study can help churches become aware of attitudes toward religious involvement and church," Carroll said, adding that most successful churches "function like a shopping mall."

  • The Soren Kierkegaard Research Centre at Copenhagen's University has published the first five volumes of an edition comprising 28 volumes of the philosopher's writings and 27 volumes of commentaries. The goal is to complete the work in 10 years, both as books and in an electronic edition.

  • Although 11 of 12 bishops in the Church of Denmark agreed on an acknowledgment of homosexuality and a positive attitude to registered partnerships, they said new rituals for homosexual relationships should not be instituted.

  • The South Carolina Baptist Convention withdrew its financial support from the state's Christian Action Council after the council was part of efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol. Bobby Eubanks, pastor of Ridge Baptist Church in Summerville, proposed the amendment, calling the council "too theologically diverse" to represent South Carolina Baptists. He says the state convention's committee is better able to represent Baptist stands on moral and social topics. The council, which was started in 1933 as a temperance group, represents 16 denominations in South Carolina on religious and civic issues.

  • Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said even though Britain may be a demographically diverse society, it's not a multifaith society and, and he has rejected the idea of state-sponsored interfaith worship.

  • The Church of Norway General Synod said people living in homosexual cohabitation can't hold church positions as consecrated pastors, deacons or catechists. It recommended the same practice when it comes to other church positions with mostly preaching, teaching or liturgical functions.

  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, with an income tax for last year of $390.6 million, is $16.6 million below budget and has a $20.3 million deficit. The church projects that income will fall $12.1 million short of its projected 1998 budget.

  • About 1,000 traditionalist priests in the Church of England would like to form an autonomous province, says John Broadhurst, bishop of Fulham, London. He heads the traditionalist movement known as Forward in Faith, which includes about 7,000 lay and clergy, including 1,100 of the 18,500 priests in the church. The creation of an autonomous province would loosen their links to the rest of the church. Last week was the fifth anniversary of a vote that led to the ordination of women, a central focus on Forward in Faith's dissatisfaction with the church.

  • Nine members of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship were among the 500 protesters arrested in an ongoing effort to force closure of the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, near Columbus, Ga. More than 1,000 protesters prayed silently outside the gates of the school, whose graduates have been linked to torture assassinations and other human rights abuses in Latin America. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly has repeatedly called for the school's closing. The most recent congressional effort to close the school fell seven votes short of passing the House of Representatives.

  • Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox faithful worldwide, made a 16-city, one-month tour, where he was met along the way by various Episcopalians. Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, who met the patriarch at the funeral of his predecessor Athenagoras in 1991, said he was impressed with comments Bartholomew made at a state department dinner and a breakfast at the White House with Vice President Al Gore. Bartholomew's visit is credited with new energy to reestablish the official dialogue between the Greek Archdiocese and the Episcopal church in the United States. The dialogue was suspended by the Orthodox as a sign of frustration that resulted from recent developments including the ordination of women.

  • The Beijing government released an official "White Paper" on religion, denying there is religious persecution in China. The document promised to protect religious freedom as a basic right for all citizens, provided that those who practice religion register with the government and "hold aloft the banner of patriotism." The paper was published following protests about persecution of underground Christian congregations, Muslim groups and Tibetan Buddhists.

  • Statues of 10 20th-century Christian martyrs, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr., will be installed in the main west front of Westminster Abbey in London.

  • An ad-hoc committee on genetics appointed by a national agency of the United Church of Christ said "enough to technologies that are privileges of the rich in the Western world" and asked for laws "to ban cloning for reproductive purposes, at least for the foreseeable future."

  • The Gambling Impact and Policy Commission Act currently before Congress, which calls for a national commission to study the impact of gambling in America, drew support from the Office in Church and Society, a national agency of the United Church of Christ. Besides voicing support for the proposed study, the resolution will serve as interim policy for the church agency, which is still examining gambling-related issues. The resolution raises four moral objections to state-sponsored gambling: It is an improper function of government to encourage people to gamble; gambling revenue is a regressive form of taxation, drawing money disproportionately from the poor; addiction to gambling is a serious problem; the possibilities for corruption are extremely serious. The ELCA is conducting its own study on gambling.

  • Although most United Church of Christ congregations use the traditional baptismal formula — "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" — a few are trying other formulas, including "Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer." A UCC theological colloquy is wrestling with the issue. The argument for change is that the traditional language implies a male deity, when in fact God is neither male nor female. Working papers produced by the colloquy's small groups suggested a consensus that the language of Christian worship has been distorted by the subordination of women to men. But most participants said local congregations shouldn't unilaterally change the historic formula.

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