The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


World Scan

Pope John Paul II, in a 200-page "apostolic exhortation" on religious life, said that women in the Roman Catholic Church should be encouraged to promote a "new feminism" in educational and decision-making roles. But the pope did not mention any change in his opposition to women's ordination.

Membership in several Protestant denominations continues to decline, despite a continued increase in contributions, according to the National Council of Churches' 1996 yearbook. The biggest drop in membership came in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which lost 98,630 members-down 2.6 percent-while showing a 4.8 percent increase in total contributions.

The Episcopal Church reached an agreement to settle its civil suit against former treasurer Ellen F. Cooke, who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $1.5 million in church funds, and her husband, Nicholas T. Cooke III. The agreement includes the transfer to the church of the Cookes' liquid assets, valued at approximately $100,000.

Gospel music sales are growing faster than sales of other major forms of popular music, according to a study by the Gospel Music Association. Between 1991 and 1995, gospel music has averaged 22 percent growth per year, while other music genres such as rock, pop, country and rap had an annual growth of 5 percent or less.

A report by the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church in Germany says that non-celibate homosexuals could be ordained to the ministry under certain circumstances. But the report says that such ordinations should be handled on a case-by-case basis and only where the candidate for ordination is living in an "ethically responsible" relationship.

Roman Catholic Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., has forbidden Catholics in his diocese from belonging to Planned Parenthood, the Freemasons, the Hemlock Society, Catholics for a Free Choice and eight other groups. "Membership in these organizations or groups is always perilous to the Catholic faith and most often is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith," he said.

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops will mount a campaign against assisted suicide comparable in scope and intensity to their fight against abortion, said Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. While the church has always opposed euthanasia, the bishops' decision to move it to the top of their public policy agenda was prompted by a March 6 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. The ruling states that mentally competent, terminally ill adults have a constitutional right to use a doctor's assistance to hasten death.

A new brand of coffee, manufactured according to ecologically sound and socially just methods and backed by the Church of Sweden Environment Protection Group, is to be launched this year. It will be called "Church Coffee."

Katakshama Paul Raj has been installed as president of the Good Samaritan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Raj, who was elected president of the southern Indian church on Jan. 15, was the first woman pastor of the church and is the first woman bishop of a Lutheran church in Asia.

A group of 16 Protestant and Muslim religious leaders, including ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson, asked the U.S. Congress to create a national commission to study the impact of gambling. "Legalized gambling continues to spread with astonishing speed and scope-from electronic slot machines to new casinos and riverboats and Indian reservations," the leaders said in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

The consecration of Canon Christopher Hill as Bishop of Stafford in the Church of England marked the first time a Norwegian bishop has taken part in consecrating a bishop in the Church of England. Participation of Norwegian Lutheran Bishop Andreas Aarflot resulted from the Porvoo Declaration, an ecumenical agreement scheduled for signing Sept. 1. Ten of the 12 churches involved have endorsed the agreement, which links British and Irish Anglicans with Nordic and Baltic Lutherans. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia postponed its decision on whether to endorse the Porvoo agreement, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark refused to endorse it.

The Lutheran Church of Hamburg, Germany, has accepted the first public blessing of a homosexual couple by AIDS chaplain Rainer Jarchow. "All people are in need of blessing," said Bishop Maria Jepsen after a meeting with Jarchow. Anyone who wishes to receive "God's word of comfort" on their common path in responsibly living as Christians, should not be refused, Jepsen said. She added that the public blessing should not be misunderstood "in the sense of marriage" and reinterpreted for sociopolitcal purposes.

The synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia approved a revised version of the church consistory's resolution of September 1994 "On Pursuit of Homosexuality." The revised resolution stated that homosexuality is a "deadly sin" and congregations are instructed to exclude from the eucharist all practicing homosexuals who don't repent of their homosexuality. It also said those "deliberately practicing homosexuality and having chosen it as their way of life are not allowed to fulfill any duties and positions in the church hierarchy." The resolution was approved by an overwhelming majority of synod members.

Action by the U.S. government to curb worldwide religious persecution has been urged by the National Association of Evangelicals, which said it was dismayed by government inaction. In a Statement of Conscience approved at its 54th annual convention in Minneapolis, the association said that Evangelical Protestants and Catholics "have become special targets of reigns of terror initiated by authorities who feel threatened by Christian faith and worship."

The North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church has a duty "to unreservedly affirm marriage and its special importance," said its governing board in a statement on "Marriage, family and other lifestyles." But the German church also said an affirmation of marriage does not have to go hand in hand with a depreciation of other lifestyles.

Kunchala Rajaratnam was elected president of the National Council of Churches in India, the first Lutheran to serve in that post. The NCCI membership comprises 29 Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical churches.


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February issue


Embracing diversity