The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Sweden’s indigenous Sami people asked for a congregational structure within the Church of Sweden that wouldn’t be linked to geographical borders. The church body, which comprises more than 80 percent of the population, currently has five nonterritorial congregations. The Church of Sweden's Sami Council is examining the request to see whether it's the best solution to provide pastoral care. Sweden has an estimated 17,000 members of the indigenous Sami people.

The 14-month-old conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan was described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with more than 1 million people forced from their homes, according to Action by Churches Together. Access to the region by humanitarian agencies is difficult, but ACT members issued an emergency appeal for assistance. Around 10,000 people are believed to have died in the latest conflict between the government and two rebel groups. Elsewhere in Sudan, 56 boy slaves were liberated in April from the cattle camps of Arab nomads in the borderlands between northern and southern Sudan. Interviews with the boys revealed physical, sexual and psychological abuse. The slavery issue isn't yet on the agenda of peace talks between Sudan's government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

Days after the Roman Catholic Church released a nationwide audit in January showing that 90 percent of dioceses had implemented clergy sexual abuse policies adopted in 2002, bishops in at least five states began a campaign to put the brakes on future audits. Justice Anne M. Burke, interim chair of the church's appointed National Review Board, warned that parishioners would find it "reprehensible" if the bishops stalled on a second round of national surveys to measure compliance with sex abuse reforms. Under pressure from that board, an ad hoc committee of bishops agreed not to delay, though all bishops meet in June and could accept or reject such an agreement.

The general synod of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) decided in favor of closer cooperation with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) April 3. The VELKD is an association of eight regional Lutheran churches in Bavaria, Brunswick, Hanover, Mecklenburg, North Elbia, Saxony, Schaumburg-Lippe and Thuringia. It represents about 10.4 million Lutherans. The EKD brings together 24 Lutheran, Reformed and United regional churches in Germany. A basic condition for reaching an agreement would be that the VELKD can continue to function as a church in both the theological and legal sense.

A petition drive that began last summer with 163 Roman Catholic priests in Milwaukee asking for a discussion on celibacy resulted in a new group of about 1,000 priests who want the church to consider married clergy. The New York Times says organizers of Priests' Forum for Eucharist met in the Bronx April 20-21. They claim to represent about 1,000 priests from at least nine dioceses--about 2 percent of the country's 45,000 Catholic priests.

Former combatants in Liberia's 14-year civil war are committed to the ongoing disarmament process, says the Lutheran World Federation representative in Liberia, Charles Pitchford. Disarmed ex-combatants remain in a demobilization camp for five days. They go through interviews; medical screening; a rehabilitation interview process that involves the trauma, healing and reconciliation team of the Lutheran Church in Liberia; and a personal development orientation that integrates classes in civic education, career counseling, human rights, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS awareness. Then the former fighters are given $150, food rations and transport to their home area or preferred region of resettlement. They are asked to wait for a radio announcement one to three months post-demobilization requesting them to report to local agencies where they get another $150 and further instructions on rehabilitation and placement.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) laid off 28 people and cut nine vacant positions May 7 to trim its two-year budget by $4.6 million. In the past two years, the denomination has eliminated at least 122 positions at its Louisville, Ky., headquarters. The revised budget stands at $114.4 million.

ELCA members contributed $60,000 for food aid in North Korea, which since 1995 has experienced natural disasters, crop failures and economic decline. The Korean government hasn't been able to provide assistance for people. "While tensions between North Korea and the United States remain, millions of people in North Korea rely on donated food to stay alive," said Y. Franklin Ishida of the ELCA Division for Global Mission.

The fifth International Conference of the Sabeel Ecumenical Palestinian Liberation Theology Center met in Jerusalem April 14-18 and registered strong opposition to the Israeli government's imposition of a unilateral strategy on the Palestinian Territories. About 600 participants from more than 30 countries participated as the conference assembled local and international theologians, bishops and clergy, political scientists and legal experts. A statement said, "Sabeel's vision embraces two sovereign states, Palestine and Israel, which will enter into confederation or even a federation, possibly with other neighboring countries, where Jerusalem becomes the federal capital."

The number of seminarians studying to be Roman Catholic priests dropped 4 percent from last year, for a total of 3,285 men enrolled at 47 graduate-level seminaries, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, affiliated with Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. CARA research also showed a drop in the class of 2004 from the 704 who enrolled in 1999 to the 509 men who remained at the end of the 2002-03 school year. In 1965, 8,325 men were enrolled as Catholic seminarians.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim advocacy group, called the beheading of U.S. businessman Nick Berg in May a sin against Islam. "Those who committed this gruesome murder do not represent Islam," said CAIR spokesman Ahmed Bedier. CAIR launched an online petition drive called "Not in the Name of Islam" to say: "No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam." The groups said complaints of harassment, violence and discrimination against Muslims in the United States rose 70 percent last year but reported instances of profiling in airports fell 10 percent.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, headed by three bishops who support gay marriage, barred its priests from officiating at same-sex weddings when they became legal in that state May 17. The bishops said clergy may bless the unions, but they may not solemnize them by signing marriage licenses. "There is a contradiction between what our civil laws will allow and what our Canons and Book of Common Prayer state, which is that marriage in the Episcopal Church is between a man and a woman," the bishops said in a statement. Only the denomination's General Convention could change marriage rules, and that body won't meet until 2006, the bishops added.

Action by Churches Together and its partners are responding to the needs of families affected by violent clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Indonesian city of Ambon in late April. More than 10,000 people were displaced, 40 were killed and more than 270 had been injured.

Church leaders in Zimbabwe are divided over whether to support President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform program. The government embarked on a fast-track land reform program four years ago ostensibly to correct land distribution imbalances created by a colonial government. Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo is quoted in Britain’s Daily Telegraph as saying, “We never had food shortages before, not in 120 years since the commercial farmers started to work the land. Mugabe has caused this famine because he raided the farms that were feeding the nation.” Support for Mugabe’s program has come from leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Evangelists and Pastors Association.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau is holding a historic summit of its staff, faith-based organizations and adoption/foster care agencies July 15-16 in Washington, D.C. The department’s secretary, Tommy Thompson, said the event “offers a unique opportunity for leaders of the faith community to come together on behalf of the 129,000 children in the foster-care system who are in need of loving, adoptive homes.”

• Acting General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Sven Oppegaard, said ecumenical dialogue must continue with the Roman Catholic Church on the celebration of the eucharist so the unifying power of communion can become a shared treasure within the one ecumenical movement. His statement came in response to the Vatican document on the sacrament of redemption made public April 23. Oppegaard said the Vatican document reaffirms implicitly some significant differences from other church traditions such as the Lutheran, which also sees itself as representing a valid expression of the faith of the universal church in the area of the eucharist.

Polls reveal differences across racial and religious lines concerning gay marriage. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported last July that while opposition to gay marriage dropped in the overall population from 65 percent in 1996 to 53 percent in 2003, African American opposition stayed virtually the same at 65 percent in the earlier year and 64 percent seven years later. More recently a Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly poll found that while 65 percent of African Americans opposed permitting gays and lesbians to legally marry, 77 percent of African American evangelicals voiced such opposition. “I think African American churches have been aware of the prevalence of members that may have different sexual orientations than those the church traditionally supports, but ... the general policy has been almost like the U.S. military, which is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said Drew Smith, director of the Public Influences of African-American Churches Project at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

The United Church of Christ’s executive council on April 26 called for defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment and of state proposals that would prohibit gay marriage. It asked for the repeal of a 1996 federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The board urged individual churches to discuss “diverse understandings of marriage” and “affirm equal rights for all couples who seek to have their relationships recognized by the state.”


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February issue


Embracing diversity