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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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April 1998 Worldscan

• A cross commemorating a 1979 mass conducted by Pope John Paul II will be removed from a site near the former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland, following Jewish protests. The property where the cross stands is owned by Roman Catholic nuns, who had a controversial convent there until 1993. The land is in the process of being given to the Polish government. Jews objected to the cross and the convent, saying it's inappropriate for Christian symbols to be so close to a camp where more than 1 million Jews died during the Holocaust.

• Promise Keepers, the Christian men's ministry, laid off all of its 345 salaried employees because it doesn't have the money to pay them. News reports said attendance at regional events had dropped dramatically. The organization, which no longer charges fees for its conferences, will not fold but hopes to operate with volunteer staff. The organization tentatively plans 19 conferences this year.

• Officials of the Russian Orthodox Church, at odds with the Vatican over several issues, told Pope John Paul II that he isn't welcome in Moscow. The pope has said he would like to visit Russia before his pontificate ends. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who recently met with the pope, emphasized that the pontiff has a standing invitation to visit.

• To ensure better coordination of theological education in Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia, a conference of Lutheran seminaries in the Commonwealth of Independent States is planned for sometime in the next 12 months. The decision to hold a joint conference was made during conversations between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The Lutheran, the magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia, wrote a series of articles calling Australians to acknowledge past wrongs in dealings with Aboriginal people. "We now know that Aboriginal people were not only dispossessed of their land without benefit of treaty, agreement or compensation, but that this dispossession was carried out with often great brutality and ruthlessness," said John Pfitzner, a member of the church's task force on Aboriginal issues.

• The North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Swiss Protestant Church Federation adopted the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. The Ethiopian Evangelical [Lutheran] Church Mekane Yesus also adopted the declaration, becoming the first African member church of the Lutheran World Federation to do so. Member churches were asked to respond by May 1, and the LWF Council will make its final decision on approval of the declaration at its June 8-17 meeting in Geneva. The official reply from the Catholic Church is expected in early summer.

• A 14-minute film on the roots of anti-Semitism shown at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., was labeled anti-Christian by conservative Jews who work closely with conservative Christians on religious and political issues. The group, which includes film critic Michael Medved and Michael Horowitz, director of Washington's Hudson Institute, sent a letter urging the museum to re-evaluate the film.

• U.S. Roman Catholic bishops urged reciprocal action by the United States in response to Cuba's announcement that it has released 299 prisoners (Cuban dissidents confirmed the release of only 136 prisoners, 64 detained for political reasons). Pope John Paul II and the bishops oppose the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, saying it hurts the nation's most vulnerable people.

• The Church of Sweden joined the effort urging the international financial community to grant debt relief to poor nations as a way of marking the millennium. The effort, called Jubilee 2000, takes its cue from the biblical notion of jubilee in which debts were forgiven and slaves freed every 50 years.

• Children with mothers who are religiously committed are less likely to suffer from depression later in life, states a study conducted by Columbia University and the National Institute for Healthcare Research in Maryland. Results also showed that when mother and child belonged to the same religious denomination, daughters were 71 percent less likely to suffer from major depression while sons were 84 percent less likely.

• In a continuing controversy over legal ownership of the name Episcopal Church, the Dioceses of Newark and New Jersey filed lawsuits charging Bishop William Wantland of Eau Claire, Wis., with trademark infringement, unfair competition and false representation. The lawsuit claims that Wantland, who founded the corporation Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, engaged in activities designed to trade upon the reputation associated with the Episcopal Church. Wantland founded the organization in August 1996 and has registered to do business in at least 45 states, including New Jersey.

• Song Huh was installed as president of the Lutheran Church in Korea at Joongang Lutheran Church in Seoul. He is the third president of the church.

• Houston Baptist University launched the Bible in America Museum, which houses the most significant American Bible collection assembled in the last 50 years. The collection contains more than 500 items including the only known existing copy of the Francis Bailey New Testament, 1780, which was published during the Revolutionary War and is the earliest example of any printing of the Scriptures in English in the United States.

• Arthur Leichnitz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, was nominated to serve the North American desk of the Lutheran World Federation. He is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. His office will be at the ELCA churchwide office in Chicago.

• Xinjie church, the oldest Protestant church in China, is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Located in Xiamen in Fujian Province, the church was built in 1848 after the end of the first Opium War. Church activities were halted from 1966 to 1979 due to the Cultural Revolution, but the building reopened in August 1979. In 1982 the local government declared the church a protected historical location. Today the church's membership is more than 2,200.

• The first course on ecumenical studies ever taught in China will be held this fall at the Nanjing Theological Seminary. The course will be taught by Ying Gao, a pastor of the government-sanctioned Protestant church, the China Christian Council.

• The Russian government promised to return 536 objects, including 220 pounds of silver, confiscated from the Russian Orthodox Church. The church faced persecution during the communist era but now has official state protection. The object will be used in completion of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, which was destroyed by Josef Stalin in 1931.

• The Ethiopian Evangelical [Lutheran] Church Mekane Yesus last year increased membership by 182,358 to 2,274,20. The new total wasn't included in the Lutheran World Federation annual statistics because the information reached the agency after its annual report was completed.

• The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania, which lost 90 percent of its members in 10 years from the emigration of the Transylvanian Saxons (Germans), is now registering new members. The church membership had shrunk to 17,500.

• The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea elected theologian Wesley Kigasung as its bishop. Kigasung, 47, principal of the Martin Luther Seminary in Lae, succeeds Getake Gam on May 5. The new bishop obtained his doctoral degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

• In a conversation with LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi agreed to take steps to return property to the Ethiopian Evangelical [Lutheran] Church Mekane Yesus that was confiscated by the communist regime in the early 1970s.

• Three firsts: Inessa Thierbach from Orenburg, the first woman pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States, was chosen the denomination's first woman church superintendent. Ilunga Mukanya is the first woman to be ordained in the LWF-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo. John Tan was elected the first bishop of the Lutheran Church in Singapore. The church grew out of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore.

• Jimmy Creech, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb., is being tried in a church court on charges that he violated denominational rules by performing a same-sex union between two lesbians. "I feel quite prepared for a trial," he said. "It did not come as a surprise." Creech said there isn't enough power in the church's Social Principles-a guide to individual and church behavior and action-to find him culpable for what he did. A new report from the Methodist Church says the issue of homosexuality is so divisive it could "harbor the danger of explicit disunity or schism." Maxie Dunnam, president of Asbury Seminary, Wilmore, Ky., said, "We're all weary of being preoccupied with [it], but that is the issue the church is preoccupied with, and to ignore that is to ignore what is going on out there in the church."

• A Lutheran letter-writing campaign is under way in support of the 1995 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolution on violence against women. The campaign calls for the Senate this year to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women treaty.

• Non-Orthodox Jews took their cause for legal recognition in Israel back to court. The government official who headed a panel that sought to fashion a compromise in the dispute over who is a Jew urged formation of a joint Orthodox and non-Orthodox institute to teach potential converts to Judaism, even though Israel's Orthodox chief rabbis have vetoed the idea.

• Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said he hopes a WCC delegation's recent visit to Moscow will ease tensions between the council and the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox leaders have criticized the WCC and there has been pressure for the Russian church-the largest member church of the WCC-to withdraw from the agency. Some Orthodox have accused the WCC of being too tolerant of homosexuality and women priests although the council has no official policy on either issue.


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