The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


February 2000 Worldscan

• National Council of Churches representatives visited the Cuban Council of Churches in January to help Elian Gonzalez return to his father. Joan Brown Campbell, former NCC general secretary, said, "We hold that except in cases of abuse, children are best served when they are with their parents, and all indications are that this is a good, loving father … those who say Elian should stay in the United States because `the way of life is better' ignore the meaning of family."

• After 500 years as the state church, the Church of Sweden cut ties with the Swedish government Jan. 1. Now children of members aren't automatically enrolled in the church. The state will no longer appoint bishops and tax money won't go to the church. "The church's identity as a people's church will become clearer when it's not part of the state apparatus," said Johan Dalman, a Church of Sweden pastor.

• Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, predicts that between 600 and 3,500 congregations will break away from the denomination's 40,000 churches. The possible result could be a new, moderate entity composed of "churches desiring greater allowance for diversity in doctrinal and ethical matters and reacting in part out of disenchantment with certain conservative leadership," Patterson said.

• Average attendance of Protestant churches continued to decline, according to the Barna Research Group. Of the 600 churches polled, the average 1999 worship attendance was 90, five less than in 1998 and 10 less than in 1997. Attendance was highest for 1999 among suburban churches with 120, and African American churches with 100. Rural churches reported the lowest average attendance, 70.

• Chinese officials detained at least 103 people belonging to "non-mainstream" Christian groups, states the Information Center of Human Rights, a Hong Kong-based human rights group. The groups include the Orient Light, Zhu Shen and the All Scope sect, which blend elements of Christianity with traditional Chinese beliefs. The crackdown follows Beijing's attempt to control the Falun Gong movement. China, an officially atheist state, allows limited religious expression. Chinese authorities passed laws labeling such groups as dangerous cults that threaten public order.

• Demand for emergency food assistance in the nation's cities increased an average of 18 percent in the last year, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 26 cities. The need for food had the largest increase since 1992. "Unfortunately our nation's unprecedented prosperity is not reaching a lot of our citizens," said Peter Clavelle, chair of the conference's task force on hunger and homelessness. The report also found that 21 percent of requests for food aren't met.

• Four out of 10 Americans don't contribute money or time to help the poor, although 70 percent of the country agreed that society has a moral obligation to aid those living in poverty, according to the Barna Research Group. Of the 1,000 adults surveyed, 42 percent said they donated money to nonprofit groups serving the poor and 33 percent gave time to help the poor.

• Americans' trust in people declined about 10 percent from 1976 to 1994, but trust in religious institutions over the same period stayed the same. Pamela Paxton, a sociology professor at Ohio State University, Columbus, who conducted the survey, found that scandals within organizations had a short-term effect on trust levels. In 1988, the year after the scandal involving TV evangelist Jim Bakker, trust in religious organizations dropped but eventually returned to the earlier average. As for trust in individuals, Paxton said the decline was troubling but not cause for alarm.

• U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. ruled against Cleveland's taxpayer-funded school voucher program, saying the plan violated constitutional safeguards mandating separation of church and state. The ruling signaled new uncertainty for thousands of Cleveland parents who send their children to voucher schools. Students can remain in their current schools during the appeal process. Oliver said no attempt has been made to guarantee that state aid supports only secular schools and that parents lack a true choice between a parochial or a secular school because most of the voucher schools are religious. "The program has the effect of advancing religion through government-supported religious indoctrination," he said.

• A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) tribunal ruled that New Jersey churches didn't violate church laws by accepting a gay man as a candidate for ordination. Church conservatives vow to appeal the ruling. "The debate has been relatively dormant, but it will burst back into flames," said Jerry Van Marter, editor of Presbyterian News Service. In a second matter, the denomination's Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Northeast ruled that churches can perform same-sex commitment ceremonies if they don't call them legal marriages, a decision that conservatives also plan to appeal.

• The Hawaii Supreme Court ended efforts to legalize gay marriages in the state, which once approved same-sex unions. The court ruled that the attempts by homosexual couples were rendered moot when voters approved a 1998 state constitutional amendment giving lawmakers authority to limit state-recognized marriages to opposite-sex couples.

• Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan says his "near-death experience," stemming from prostrate cancer, inspired him to preach a message of unity for all races and religions in the new millennium. He has been criticized in the past for making anti-white, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic remarks. Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman said, "We hope Minister Farrakhan has indeed had an epiphany. But only time will tell."

• The Christian Coalition, suffering financial difficulties, was sued by its direct-mail fund-raiser, Stephen Winchell & Associates, for nonpayment of bills and has lost its Washington lobbying chief, Randy Tate. Stephen Winchell & Associates charged the coalition owes about $400,000, even though it helped the group raise $7 million. Coalition founder Pat Robertson told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that his organization was "quite a mess."

• The United Methodist Church lifted its suspension of funding to the National Council of Churches. Joan Brown Campbell, former NCC general secretary, said council leaders have "identified historic problems in the financial infrastructure of the NCC and have recognized severe difficulties in making much needed changes." The NCC also recovered another $405,000 of $8 million it lost after being sold fake securities by Banka Bohemia, before the Prague-based bank's collapse in 1994. With 70 percent of the money recovered, the NCC will not take further legal action.

• More than a third of U.S. school districts teach abstinence alone, while a majority urge students to delay intercourse until marriage but to use birth control and practice safe sex if they don't, according to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Guttmacher Institute.

• Ishmael Noko, Lutheran World Federation general secretary, asked Kofi Annan, U.N. general secretary, to work more closely with religious communities worldwide to promote a culture of peace. Noko emphasized the necessity of joint leadership between the United Nations and faith communities on various issues. He outlined LWF efforts to promote peace and resolve conflicts in areas including Ethiopia, Eritrea and in the Botswana-Namibia border dispute.

• Following the first meeting of the coordination committee for the Evangelical Church in Croatia, there is a clear sign toward cooperation and reunification of the church that has had an internal split since 1996 as a result of disputes over leadership. The church's two sides-one based in Zagreb and the other in Legrad-emphasized the need to launch joint projects that promote unity.

• British Christian pop star Cliff Richard recorded a musical Millenium Prayer that put The Lord's Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne in a surprise hit that reached the top of the U.K. charts-despite being kept off playlists by mainstream radio stations who said the musical quality was too poor. It played on Premier Christian Radio, a station that can be heard at www.premier.org.uk.

• Christian Solidarity International, a controversial Swiss human rights group says it bought the freedom of 5,514 slaves in Sudan, bringing the number of people freed to 200,000. While the Sudanese government denies slavery exists, it says it's trying to halt abductions for forced labor. Carol Bellamy, UNICEF executive director, says buying of slaves simply encourages more slave trading.

• The Synod of the Church of Norway, became the 101st member of the Leuenberg Church Fellowship, an association of most of the Eruopean Reformation churches and some Latin American churches. Leuenberg churches commit to a common understanding of the gospel and the implementation of fellowship by overcoming doctrinal condemnations of the Reformation time through their doctrinal consensus.

• Gary Karr was indicted on charges that he plotted to kidnap atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son and adopted daughter, who all have been missing for four years. Prosecutors allege that Karr and others who have not been named stole more than $500,000 in money, gold coins and jewelry from the O'Hair family. Authorities believe O'Hair and her children were killed but have not located their bodies.

• Pope John Paul II defended the rights of refugees, migrants and street people, calling for "globalization without marginalization," in a message marking the 86th World Day of the Migrant and the Refugee. "[If the inequities are aggravated] poor populations will be forced into exile of desperation while rich countries find themselves prisoners of an insatiable mania for concentrating all available resources in their own hands ... to work for the unity of the human family means a commitment to reject all discrimination based on race, culture or religion as contrary to the design of God."


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February issue


Embracing diversity