* An Episcopal Church commission declined to change its current position regarding same-sex unions, which states that an individual diocese may decide whether or not to bless gay or lesbian marriages. The commission did not back a liberal or conservative position on gay marriage. Officially, the church upholds the Christian tradition limiting intimacy to heterosexual marriage.
* The Chinese government banned Zhong Gong, a spiritual sect in China similar to the outlawed Falun Gong, according to Hong Kong's Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. At least 100 Zhong Gong offices were closed. Police seized the main office of the sect, which claims 10 million members, and confiscated assets of more than $6 million.
* Anglican bishops consecrated two American priests as bishops at a Singapore ceremony in an effort by traditionalists to "lead the Episcopal Church back to its biblical foundations." Frank Griswold, bishop of the Episcopal Church, said he was appalled by this irregular action. Since bishops performed the ordinations, they are valid. But because the ordinations took place outside of the United States, the church is unlikely to recognize them.
* Several Protestant leaders, including representatives of the ELCA, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ, called for the defeat of California's Proposition 22, which adds the words, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," to the state's family code. In a statement, the religious leaders said: "From a more positive perspective, one may find reasons to be supportive of the positive aspects of marriage or the equivalent of marriage between couples of the same gender, if and when this becomes a possibility."
* Lutheran World Relief's aid activity nearly doubled to $39 million in 1999 from $22 million in 1998. The crisis in Kosovo and Hurricane Mitch recovery efforts added to the financial increase this year, but the largest amount of aid went to a food program in southern Sudan. LWR receipts for the year also set a record of $42 million, including $13.3 million in material aid from parishes. Support from the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod World Relief was $9 million.
* The Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches are calling on their related agencies to support their joint initiative for an international ecumenical observer mission to Haiti this spring. In a letter, the LWF and WCC say the purpose of the mission is "to contribute through a physical presence during the next election to the consolidation of the democratic process in Haiti" and to demonstrate the churches' commitment toward the Haitian population.
* A majority of Americans favor legislation opposing discrimination against gays, but most people remain opposed to same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples, according to a Harris poll of 1,010 adults. Of those questioned, 56 percent favored expanding current laws banning discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion and gender to include gay men and lesbians. But 57 percent of those surveyed rejected the idea of same-sex marriages for men and 55 percent rejected it for women, with similar numbers disapproving of same-sex couples adopting children.
* The Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention and United Methodist Church remain the nation's largest church bodies, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. For the first time the Baptists reported a membership loss instead of a gain. "The percentage of membership loss for the Convention is virtually identical to that of the Presbyterian Church, raising increasing doubts about he adequacy of a conservative church growth as opposed to a progressive church decline scenario" said Eileen Lindner, yearbook editor. "On the other hand, a solid consistent growth pattern continues to be reported by the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination often identified as a growing conservative communion." The ELCA is listed as the sixth largest church body in the United States.
* ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, with ELCA Domestic Hunger, since last August has participated in an ecumenical hay drive to aid hundreds of family farms suffering from drought in southeast Ohio, West Virginia and parts of northeast Pennsylvania. To date, 4,000 tons of hay has been shipped from the Midwest. To help designate checks for "drought response/hay life" and send to: ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, PO Box 71764, Chicago IL 60694-1764.
* ELCA members sent $275,000 to the church's International Disaster Response to support recovery efforts following disasters in China, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Earthquakes left thousands homeless in China, while Nicaragua is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. In Venezuela, heavy rains caused the worst natural disaster in that country's modern history. Mudslides killed more than 50,000 Venezuelans and a debate has begun on whether the government should relocate more than 100,00 people left homeless and living in 200 official shelters to the country's interior. "We're helping people rebuild where they are and encouraging them not to accept any government relocation program," said Bernard Hinz, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Venezuela. "Relocation programs are just ways to make poor people even more maginalized."
* The federal government, as part of recent decisions that allow religious groups to receive federal funding, approved changes to the $500 million Even Start family literacy program, enabling church groups to help provide tutoring to preschoolers and literacy and job training to their parents. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he thought the legislation jeopardized government safeguards for the separation of church and state.
* A resolution that will be proposed at the Presbyterian Church General Assembly June 24 suggests that congregations which support ordaining gays and lesbians be allowed to leave the denomination with their church property. Currently, most congregations that leave the denomination must return its property. A second resolution regarding the issue of gay and lesbian ordination states that the issue has reached an irreconcilable impasse. "We're not trying to create division," said Jeff Arnold, who drafted the two resolutions. "The division already exists, and nobody has found a way to reconcile the differences."
* U.S. Roman Catholic priests are dying of AIDS-related illnesses at a rate four times higher than the general population, according to the Kansas City Star, which based its report on a confidential questionnaire mailed to 3,000 of the nation's 46,000 priests. Of the 801 priests who responded, 60 percent knew at least one priest whose death was AIDS-related and one out of three said they knew a priest who is living with AIDS. The survey reported that 15 percent of those who answered the questionnaire said they are gay. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, criticized the Star's report and wondered whether the paper would run similar stories about members of other faiths. "They may want to explore why a reported 37 percent of Protestant pastors have confessed to having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church," he said.
* The six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada wrote Jean Chretien, the country's prime minister, asking him to clarify his government's vision for the future of rural communities. "Many rural communities are devastated economically, socially and emotionally by a combination of poor crops and the dramatic drop in support for grain farming, the bishops wrote. "We believe farmers are not solely responsible to blame for the crises they face. We cannot abandon them in this moment."
* Macram Max Gassis, head of the Roman Catholic Nuba diocese in Sudan — where the nation's military bombed a Catholic primary school killing 14 students and one teacher — told an audience at the U.S. Capitol the incident was an intentional slaughter of innocents. "This terrible, heartbreaking incident is yet another piece of evidence, if more were still needed, that the war in Sudan is a religious and ethnic war launched by Khartoum and aimed at the destruction of my people. We call upon the international community to refuse to stand idly by as the Christian population of Africa and Sudan is exterminated," he said.
* Following heavy floods, Cyclone Eline struck Mozambique and South Africa in February, stranding hundreds of thousands of people and destroying homes, crops and livestock. To help resettle families and provide emergency assistance, the ELCA sent $100,000 to Mozambique and $50,000 to South Africa through Action by Churches together, a relief agency to which the ELCA belongs.
* Church arsons have decreased for the third straight year, reports the National Church Arson Task Force. After a jump in 1996 to 300, the number of churches burned in 1999 was around 100. The surge of attacks in 1996 was the catalyst for the formation of a the task force, which includes federal and state law enforcement agencies.
* A third of TV viewers who consider themselves evangelical Christians don't like religious television, according to a study commissioned by Total Living Network. About 60 percent of Christians who do not consider themselves evangelical do not enjoy religious programming. Among the additional findings, 73 percent of adults believe that much TV is often violent, sexually explicit and shocking, while 54 percent said they find current TV programming has little redeeming value.
* According to human rights group Amnesty International, China led the world in the number of executions in 1998 with 1,769 — more than the combined total for the rest of the world. "These figures are believed to be far below the actual number of death sentences and executions in China during the year," the report read… only a fraction of death sentences and executions carried out in China are publicly reported."
* Church Women United, an ecumenical organization of women in the United States and Puerto Rico, has called on the Navy to withdraw immediately from Vieques, a tiny island in Puerto Rico where the United States Navy carries out military training.
* The far-right Freedom Party in the Austrian government should be a "severe warning" to Europe's churches, said Keith Clements, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches. Joerg Haider, the party's controversial leader has made opposition to immigrants his central platform and has spoken kindly of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi-era Waffen SS. He has since apologized for some of his remarks.
* According to a new book, National Protestantism and the Ecumenical Movement, Metropolitan Nikodim, a prominent figure in the Russian Orthodox Church who was elected World Council of Churches president in 1975, worked for the KGB. Mikhail Gundyaev, who represents the Russian church at the WCC's Geneva headquarters, rejected the charge, although he said it was possible that some of the people in the church cooperated with the intelligence agency of the former Soviet Union. "Metropolitan Nikodim undertook great work to preserve the church from the influence of the atheist regime," Gundyaev said.
* House Democratic Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., asked President Clinton to alleviate suffering in Iraq resulting from U.S. sanctions against the country. "This policy is a weapon that leaves the other side's weapons completely untouched," said Bonior at a news conference. "It is a weapon that has killed more than one million civilians, mostly children. It's high time we recognize that this embargo hasn't hurt Saddam [Hussein] or the pampered elite who support him. Bonior joined 11 other members of Congress and several American Muslim and Arab American organizations in urging the end to the sanctions. "The time has come to turn a new page in our dealings with Iraq," said Rep. Tim Campbell, R-Calif.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers