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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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December 2001 Worldscan

Following protests led in part by the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Argentina, government officials suspended a police order to arrest children living or begging on the streets in Buenos Aires. In a letter, the UELC told the Buenos Aires officials of 800 complaints from minors describing abuse while in police custody. The church further argued that the police order treated poverty-which affects approximately 400,000 families in the Buenos Aires province-as a crime.

Forty-four U.S. organizations, including various church groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, signed a letter that voices opposition to President Bush's plan to expand charitable choice legislation. The letter argues that besides infringing upon separation of church and state, expanded legislation might force houses of worship to become dependent upon federal funds for financial support, making them less able to criticize government from a religious standpoint.

Lutheran churches in Chile were among seven religious organizations to call for a response to alarming rates of domestic abuse within the country. Estimating that more than 50 percent of women and 73 percent of children in Chile have been victims of abuse and mistreatment within their immediate families, these religious bodies also acknowledged a responsibility and pledged to provide places for nonviolent conflict resolution.

After nearly 10 years of meeting in temporary locations, the West Siberian Christian Mission dedicated a new church building at Novosibirsk, near Akademgorodok, the capital of Siberia, in September. The Lutheran congregation is one of approximately 15 in Siberia connected with the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. The building also will house part of a Lutheran seminary.

•  An Independent Sector poll indicates that donations to help victims of the Sept. 11 attacks won't sap other charities. Of 1,009 Americans polled, 70 percent said they gave in some form to disaster-related charities after the attacks, and 73 percent of that group said they would maintain or increase their usual giving to charities. About half said a weakening economy wouldn't affect their giving, while 20 percent said they would greatly reduce or stop their giving if the economy worsened.

•  Televangelist Jerry Falwell's son, Jonathan, sent out a fund-raising letter saying the ministry lost more than $500,000 since the Sept. 11 attacks and requesting support for his father. The letter followed Jerry Falwell's statements on the "700 Club" that gays and lesbians, abortionists and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union bore responsibility for moral decline that led to the attacks. Falwell later apologized, calling his remarks "insensitive." Jonathan Falwell wrote: "While my father made it abundantly clear that he blamed absolutely no one but the terrorists for the slaughter … liberals, and especially gay activists, have launched a vicious smear campaign to discredit him." Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the letter "a new low."

•  A study found that celibacy is shrinking the number of Roman Catholic priests, with one in seven of the newly ordained resigning in the first five years, largely because of feeling lonely and underappreciated. Researcher Dean Hoge of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., surveyed 527 priests, as well as 72 who left the priesthood. Ninety-four percent of those who left said celibacy should be optional. Hoge said the number of priests ordained in recent years is only 35 percent of the number needed to replace those who die, retire or resign.

Church leaders in Bangladesh are disappointed after an Oct. 1 election where the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Muslim right-wing partners won 202 of 283 Parliament seats. One partner, the Jamaat-I-Islami party, publicly said it would like to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state. "We [Christians] never expected the BNP to win," said Susanta Adhikari, president of the National Council of Churches of Bangladesh. "We are disappointed over the emergence of Jamaat-I-Islami." Bangladesh is 0.3 percent Christian and about 90 percent Muslim.

A bill introduced recently in Congress aims to clarify the extent to which churches may participate in politics as tax-exempt institutions. The bill suggests a church spending limit of 20 percent for lobbying and 5 percent for campaign support. Supporters say the bill would allow churches to vocalize moral views; opponents claim it would involve churches too closely with political agendas.

The Vatican plans to mint Euro coins with the image of Pope John Paul II as a part of the common currency of the European Union, which will begin circulation in January 2002. Each of the participating countries will share an identical paper currency, but each nation will produce a unique design on one side of the coins.

Fears expressed by Pakistan's minority Christian population were validated Oct. 28 when three gunmen opened fire on a Sunday worship service in Bahawalpur, killing 18 Christians. Victims included the pastor of the Protestant congregation and a Muslim policeman guarding the church. The attack followed warnings from international analysts and Pakistan's Christian leaders that the anti-American sentiments building among Muslim extremists would lead to a targeting of Christians in Islamic countries as symbols of the West.

•  Thousands of houses of worship tightened security after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some large mosques, synagogues, cathedrals and megachurches hired security staff and installed surveillance equipment. Some have received specific threats; others are merely taking precaution against those who see the current U.S.-Afghanistan conflict as a religious one. St. Peter Lutheran Church in Manhattan, N.Y., had to hire security because its building is physically connected to the Citicorp Tower, now the tallest building in New York. "If someone put a bomb in this building, they'd also bring down the tower," said St. Peter's pastor, Amandus Derr. "It's a huge additional expense for us, but the congregation is very supportive."

•  In August, H. George Anderson, then the ELCA presiding bishop, wrote President Bush a five-page letter calling for restrained military action in Afghanistan. He also sought a commitment to "longer-term measures which promote social and economic justice," with the hope that improved global conditions would combat the root of terrorism. Anderson also encouraged Bush to work toward ending "the cycle of violence" between Israelis and Palestinians, sending the president his and the church's prayers for peace.

•  U.S. military airdrops of food to the people of Afghanistan are "ineffective" and at best "symbolic," says an Oct. 17 statement from Action by Churches Together, an international coalition of church aid agencies. "These airdrops are not meeting the most basic principles of humanitarian aid-that aid should be given to those who need it most," said Thor-Arne Prois, direction of the ACT coordinating office. Prios said such drops risk that the food will aid only the strongest, armed groups; provoke fights and riots; be resold in markets; or land in minefields, exposing people to injury or death. The coalition says it's also concerned that "simultaneous air strikes and airdrops constitute a total confusion of humanitarian and military actions," jeopardizing the credibility of relief efforts in the area.

•  In a 65-page statement submitted in August to an international conference on racism, the Vatican supported acts of compensation for slavery and other forms of racist oppression. Defining forgiveness as necessarily inclusive of the acknowledgment and correction of evil done, the Vatican's statement stipulated that reparations should be made to those "personally and directly" affected by racism.

While Catholicism traditionally requires burials to include human remains, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., gave official permission for families of World Trade Center victims to hold funerals and burials for those whose bodies may never be recovered. A dispensation allows photographs and mementos to be buried, providing closure for many families.


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