The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


May 1998 Worldscan

  • With affirmative votes from 88 presbyteries, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has ratified the agreement for full communion between the ELCA and three Reformed churches. A majority of 173 presbyteries was needed to make official the agreement accepted last August by the ELCA.

  • Action by Churches Together provided 1,100 tons of barley seed to North Korea, which, given favorable weather, could yield more than 11,000 tons of barley. Another shipment of 693 tons of barley-sent by Lutheran World Relief-was given by Merlyn Peterman, a member of Hawley [Minn.] Lutheran Church, who operates Peterman Seeds of Hawley.

  • An ecumenical proposal to establish a common date for Easter for all Christians received strong support. Most Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrate Easter at a different time than Orthodox Christians, stemming from a disagreement on the re-formation of the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII 400 years ago. If the World Council of Churches' proposal to have Easter on the Sunday following the first vernal moon is accepted, the common Easter celebration would begin April 15, 2001.

  • Russia's largest Protestant denomination, the Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, urged its members to insist that Russian authorities give it the same respect as the Russian Orthodox Church. The denomination also called for peace among the two churches. The church emphasized its Russian history, rejecting the charge that it belongs to a "foreign" religion according to Russia's new law regarding status of the country's religions.

     The Roman Catholic Church expressed "deep sorrow" for the Holocaust but denied that Catholic teaching fostered the anti-Semitism which fueled Nazi hatred against the Jews. In a 12-page document promised by Pope John Paul II a decade ago, the church exonerated Pope Pius XII, whom Jewish groups have said made the plight of Jews worse by not speaking out forcefully against the Nazis. Jewish leaders had mixed reactions, some praising the document's denouncement of anti-Semitism and its commitment to counter the denial of the Holocaust. Others said the document offered no real solidarity with the Jewish people or concrete steps to combat anti-Semitism. Many renewed calls for the Vatican to allow independent scholars access to the Catholic Church's archives on the Holocaust. Only by granting such access, Jewish critics said, will the full story of the actions of Pius and other church leaders during the Holocaust become clear.

  • The president, former president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches are among more than 300 religious leaders urging the Mexican and U.S. governments to end the escalating violence against indigenous communities in Chiapas. The leaders called on the governments to address the "pattern of tolerance" for paramilitary groups like the one responsible for the massacre of 45 Tzotzil people in Acteal last December. They are also asking the Clinton administration to re-examine its policy on military aid and training to Mexico and that the Mexican government take immediate action to disarm paramilitary groups active in Chiapas.

  • Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network reached a settlement with the Internal Revenue Service, ending a 12-year-old tax and politics case. The unspecified settlement, stemming from a charge that the network violated its tax-exempt status with political activities during 1986 and 1987, preserves the organization's tax-exempt status.

  • The Lutheran World Federation will continue its humanitarian aid in Rwanda despite the murders of three staff members and five residents of a resettlement community. "We are determined to stay with the communities and not leave them at this important crossroad," said Jaap Aantjes, LWF representative in Kigali, Rwanda.

     The Boy Scouts of America isn't a business and has the right to ban gays and those who refuse to declare a belief in God, the California Supreme Court ruled after almost 20 years of court battles over whether the state's civil rights law prevents the Scouts from barring certain groups. A New Jersey appeals court ruled that the Scouts could not exclude homosexuals under the state's public accommodations law. The Scouts are appealing that decision as well as other cases in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

  • Pope John Paul II, visiting Nigeria, urged Africa's most populous state to build "a new reality." He called on dictator Gen. Sani Abacha to loosen his grip and permit democratic reforms. "The dignity of every human being, his inalienable fundamental rights, the inviolability of life, freedom and justice, the sense of solidarity and the rejection of discrimination-these must be the building blocks of a new and better Nigeria," the pope said.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote let stand lower court rulings that invalidated an Ohio law banning some forms of late-term abortions. The justices refused to consider an appeal of the state law. Congress has twice passed a restriction on late-term abortions, which President Clinton has twice vetoed. The Supreme Court also refused an appeal by a professor challenging Tennessee State University's use of prayers at graduation ceremonies. In 1992 the court banned clergy-led prayers at elementary and secondary school graduations as a violation of the First Amendment but said university students are less susceptible to religious indoctrination than elementary and secondary school youth.

  • Leaders of historic African American denominations in March toured predominantly African American communities in Louisiana suffering from toxic chemicals buried beneath their homes. About 1,000 residents weren't told that their 30-year-old development in New Orleans was built over a landfill full of 150 toxic chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to clean up the site while residents, who want to be relocated, remain. The tour was co-sponsored by the Black Church Liaison Committee, a joint initiative of the National Council of Churches and the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches. Leaders also visited sites in "cancer alley," a term used by environmentalists for an 85-mile area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River.

  • The Middle East Council of Churches, a partner of Lutheran World Relief, issued a $2 million appeal for 128,000 of Iraq's neediest people for food, clothes and medicine. The United Nations estimates that 25 percent of the children younger than 5 in Iraq are malnourished. LWR also is mobilizing up to $600,000 for El Nino relief in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

  • Action by Churches Together issued an appeal for emergency relief for Tanzania, which suffered a severe drought followed by flooding. Nearly 4 million people face acute food shortage and nearly 700,000 of those people can't buy food from commercial sources. To help, send funds designated "Tanzania Drought/Flood Appeal" to: ELCA International Disaster Response, PO Box 71764, Chicago IL 60694-1764.

  •  A bipartisan group in Congress urged fellow lawmakers to "adopt" foreigners imprisoned for religious beliefs and help them gain freedom. The group, many of whom are conservative Christians, say Christians are the most persecuted religious minority abroad, but Tibetan Buddhists, Iranian Baha'is and others are subject to government-sanctioned persecution.

  • Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist pastor in Omaha, Neb., was acquitted of violating a denominational directive by presiding over a same-sex union ceremony for two women. Creech had been charged with violating the church's Social Principals that say pastors shall not conduct homosexual union ceremonies. Creech maintained the principals aren't binding and denied officiating at a homosexual union because the two women's sexual orientation was confidential.

  • Marriage Savers, an interdenominational Christian program where long-married couples advise engaged couples, is expanding nationwide. Churches in 80 cities have instituted a Marriage Savers program. Couples who wish to become mentors receive 26 hours of training. Engaged couples are tested to determine their compatibility. They then meet at least six times with their mentors to work through the test results.

  • Judy Reimer, former moderator of the Church of Brethren, was named the church's executive director. She was chosen as moderator — the denomination's top elected official — in 1993. She was ordained in 1994.

  • Evangelical ministry Campus Crusade for Christ joined more than 1,000 churches nationwide in pledging support for Promise Keepers, which is facing financial difficulties and has laid off its entire paid staff. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, sent a letter to 350,000 people on his mailing list and to about 50,000 pastors. Two radio ministries, Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo., and FamilyLife, Little Rock, Ark., have highlighted the Promise Keepers situation.

  • The Vatican reaffirmed its position that only men may serve as deacons. "Christ was a man," said Cardinal Pio Laghi, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education. "It seems to me that this is the fundamental and theological reason" for this decision. Women did serve as deacons from the fifth century until the 11th century, performing liturgical services and baptisms.

  • The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification will bring ecumenism a step forward, said Jean-Claude Perisset, the Swiss bishop of the Roman Curia. Despite protests from some German Protestant theologians, Perisset is optimistic that the Lutheran Word Federation will accept the declaration.

  • The House Judiciary Committee approved a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to protect "the people's rights to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property." The amendment would also put the word God in the Constitution. The vote went along party lines, with 16 Republicans outvoting 11 Democrats.

  • The Board of Supervisors of Loudon County, Va., near Washington, D.C., approved plans to build a $50 million private Islamic school for 3,500 students that will be financed by the Saudi Arabian government. Board members based their decision on the fact that the plan met land-use rules, though many residents objected, citing concerns with the Saudi government's human rights record.

  • The school board in Lee County, Fla., reached a settlement with residents and will continue to offer elective Bible courses using a secular book about the Bible. The new courses will be audiotaped so plaintiffs can monitor instruction. A New Testament class previously scheduled will be replaced with "An Introduction to the Bible Part II."

  • John Allin, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1973-1985, died March 6 in Jackson, Miss., after suffering a stroke. He was bishop during the year (1976) when the Book of Common Prayer was revised and women were admitted for ordination.

  • The World Council of Churches must take a positive stance on homosexuality at its assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, if it wants to remain credible, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The WCC must take a stand since it didn't boycott Harare following "reprehensible" anti-gay statements by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugab, Tutu said.

  • Ernst Kaesemann, professor emeritus of Tubingen University, Germany, and celebrated biblical interpreter, died Feb. 17. As pastor of a Lutheran parish, he was imprisoned for his anti-Nazi stance.

  • The United Lutheran Churches in India adopted a constitutional amendment to form the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India. The 11 Lutheran member churches with more than 1 million members will retain their autonomy while the new body will serve as a "church" to undertake proclamation and development, ordination of its personnel and the signing of unity agreements with ecumenical churches.

  • Norway's prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, a Lutheran pastor, created a Values Commission to find out what the nation thinks about its own values. Headed by a judge and composed of social workers, religious leaders and academics, the commission will interview citizens asking them what they believe in. Family families are a concern: Divorce is four times more common than it was 30 years ago, 17 percent of children younger than 18 live with one parent and 48 percent of the births in 1996 were out of wedlock.

  • Representatives of some 50 churches and organizations, from Lutheran to Baptist, signed a statement in April saying they would refrain from conducting aggressive missionary campaigns in Israel aimed at Jews. The document is intended to avert the threat of binding legislation that would seek to outlaw certain forms of missionizing.

  • Leaders from 11 religious denominations and faith groups expressed disappointment at the failure of campaign reform in Congress. In an open letter, the Religious Leaders for Campaign Finance Reform said, " Campaign finance reform is not simply a political or public relations dilemma but a moral matter."

  • Last year more than 21 million Americans — one in 10 — routinely received aid from food assistance programs, including food stamps, food banks and soup kitchens. A study commissioned by Second Harvest, a Chicago-based hunger-relief group, says 62 percent of those receiving aid were female and 38 percent were children.

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