The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) membership was 2.4 million at the end of 2003, down nearly 50,000 from the previous year, the denomination announced. This is the largest membership drop in nearly a quarter century. However, nearly one-third of congregations have growing memberships, and total contributions and income increased 2.5 percent.

More than 40 U.S. religious leaders signed a "Unity Statement on Overcoming Poverty," agreeing that in this presidential election year they will pray and work together for social policies that help with jobs, health-care access and housing. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson was among those who signed the statement.

• A year after a dispute resolution panel of the Lutheran Church-­Missouri Synod lifted the suspension of Atlantic District President David Benke for taking part in an interfaith prayer service at Yankee Stadium after Sept. 11, the denomination issued guidelines for participation of its pastors in civic events. The 23-page document says LCMS pastors may take part in certain public events involving leaders of other Christian and non-Christian faiths. But they should be sure that their prayers reflect the belief in the Trinity and "the exclusivity of access to God through faith in Christ alone."

• In June the National Anti-Hunger Organizations, a coalition of 13 faith-based and other hunger activist groups, proposed a "Blueprint to End Hunger in America." The group called on the federal government to cut hunger in half by 2010 and eliminate it by 2015, the goals the United States set for itself at the World Food Summit in 1996. "This blueprint is not just about more federal money," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and an ELCA pastor. "It is about making federal programs more effective."

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and more than 30 other religious leaders met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell June 1, urging immediate U.S. government action to jump start the "Road Map" for Middle East peace. The leaders represented about 100 million members. They expressed grave concern about recent violence in Gaza and the dangers for both Israelis and Palestinians if the cycle of violence continues, Hanson said.

Hundreds of religious leaders from places as far away as India and Peru sent a letter to officials of the Group of Eight nations that met in the United States in June, asking them to forgive the debts owed by the world's most impoverished countries. The faith leaders, including Christian and Jewish clergy and an Indian swami, described the debt payment as "a new form of slavery" that "literally takes food, shelter, health care, education and social services directly from the people that need them most." William E. Lesher, an ELCA pastor, chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions and former president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson were among the signatories.

U.S. Roman Catholic lawmakers, resentful of being targeted by bishops for their support of abortion rights, fired back by suggesting that prelates who wade too deeply into politics may risk their tax-exempt status. Some Catholic bishops want to bar from communion politicians who support abortion rights. In a May 10 letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, 48 Democratic House members who are Catholic said such efforts are "deeply hurtful" and "counterproductive." The letter asked if the bishops would levy equal sanctions against politicians who voted for war in Iraq or the death penalty--both were condemned by Pope John Paul II. A Time poll shows that 75 percent of U.S. Catholics disapprove of the bishops' threats and 70 percent don't want them to try to influence their votes. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a special June meeting said the politicians are "cooperators in evil" but could still receive communion.

A three-year drought has severely affected some parts of India. Food, livelihood, security and access to potable water are major concerns. Many poor people have resorted to selling land and livestock and borrowing at exorbitant interest rates. Local members of Action by Churches Together appealed for funding to assist the most vulnerable.

Under a tidal wave of pressure from disparate religious groups, a House committee in June voted unanimously to strike a provision that would have allowed religious leaders to endorse political candidates as long as they did so as "private citizens" and not as the head of their organizations. The "Safe Harbors for Churches" provision was tucked into a tax bill at the request of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. The provision also would have allowed clergy three "unintentional" violations of the IRS rules governing political activity within a calendar year.

A liaison is needed between the official Protestant church in mainland China--the "Three-Self Movement"--and the country's independent churches, Malaysian Bishop Gideon Chang told Asian Lutheran church leaders in Kuala Lumpur. The Asian Church Leadership Conference, held June 4-7 in the Malaysian capital, drew more than 70 participants from the 46 Lutheran World Federation member churches in Asia and the Pacific. Chang lamented that the two groupings of Chinese churches criticized rather than respected each other. "Who is the person to call: Please, come together; we can talk at the table?" he asked.

Humanitarian aid organizations working in Zimbabwe expect this year's food supplies to be lower than normal again as a result of unreliable rains. The World Food Program estimates that 5.5 million of the country's 11.6 million population are at risk of food shortages. Local members of Action by Churches Together continue to fulfill food and other needs under increasingly difficult circumstances that include economic, political and social crises.

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops voted 207-14 in June to proceed with a second round of audits to measure their compliance with sexual-abuse reforms. The bishops had been under heavy fire from lay reform groups earlier after more than 30 bishops urged that the audits be delayed or canceled altogether.

The National Association of Evangelicals drafted a proposed statement on civic engagement that urges the nation's evangelicals to be more involved in public policy. "Never before has God given American evangelicals such an awesome opportunity to shape public policy in ways that could improve the well-being of the entire world," read a draft released June 21. "Disengagement is not an option."

• The new law of religion and the law on religious freedom both contributed to decreased membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, according to Archbishop Jukka Paarma. The law of religion eliminates the monthlong notice period for individuals wishing to discontinue membership in a religious denomination, and the resignation letter no longer needs to be delivered personally. The religious freedom law continues religious education in public schools but allows all pupils to have access in their respective faith tradition. The ELCF has more than 4.6 million members representing about 84 percent of the population.

• Local members of the global alliance Action by Churches Together responded to the needs of evacuees from Mount Awu on Sangihe Island, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, when the volcano erupted June 10. About 20,000 people were displaced since explosions began, and their needs were food, medicine, mattresses and blankets.

• The Roman Catholic archdiocesan chancellor, Peter Smith, called for Protestant Orange marches to be banned in Glasgow. Smith is parish priest of a church in the city�s east end that�s been on the route of seven Orange marches since the end of April, one which included three marchers trying to kick in the building�s front door. The Orange marches celebrate historic Protestant military victories, often feuling anti-Catholicism and violence. They have been especially controversial in Northern Ireland. Glasgow�s political leaders said the issue needed careful handling. •


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