• Prayer is one of the top ways U.S. military personnel deal with stress, reports the 2002 Department of Defense Survey of Health-Related Behaviors Among Military Personnel. When faced with a problem, 83 percent of the military said they try to think of ways to solve it, 75 percent discuss it with a friend or family member, and 60 percent engage in a sport or a hobby. Of the 12,500 service members, half of males and 70 percent of females turn to prayer. Those with high levels of spiritual interests were less likely to feel "a lot" of family stress or to have considered suicide.
• With 5.03 million members, the ELCA remains the nation's sixth largest church body, according to the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Assemblies of God all grew. The other churches in the top 10 either remained stable or dwindled slightly. In order, the 10 largest churches were: Roman Catholic Church (66.4 million), Southern Baptist Convention (16.24 million), United Methodist Church (8.25 million), Church of God in Christ (5.49 million), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (5.41 million), ELCA, National Baptist Convention U.S.A. (5 million), National Baptist Convention of America (3.5 million), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (3.4 million), and Assemblies of God (2.68 million).
• Ninety percent of Indonesians and Nigerians were willing to die for their God, compared with 71 percent in the United States and Lebanon, 37 percent in Israel and 19 percent in Britain, says a British Broadcasting Corp. poll. One hundred percent of Nigerians, 91 percent of Americans and 67 percent of Brits claimed belief in a higher power. More than 90 percent of people in Nigeria, Indonesia and Lebanon, and 70 percent of Israelis said their God was the only true God. The survey polled 10,000 people in the United States, Britain, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and South Korea.
• This fall, Lutheran Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C., will partner with state Baptist leaders to offer training to Baptist seminarians, church staff and lay leaders. "Lutherans and Baptists can remain Lutherans and Baptists, even while challenging each other and cooperating in the mission for the good of the whole church," said Michael Root, dean and vice president for academic affairs at Southern. The partnership allows members of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina, a moderate group, to attend seminary in their state.
• Religious leaders in Germany criticized Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ for its "inexorable spiral of cruelty." Protestant Bishop Wolfgang Huber, Roman Catholic Cardinal Karl Lehmann and Jewish leader Paul Spiegel warned that the film could be used as propaganda for anti-Semitism in Europe. Christof Vetter, spokesperson for the Evangelical Church in Germany, said it was "not the right film for youngsters." But German Lutheran Bishop Christoph Kaehler said the film "shows the suffering of Jesus in a very direct way. I did not see a single violent scene in which violence was glorified ... [and] no group is made solely responsible for the death of Jesus."
• Church World Service, the humanitarian arm of the National Council of Churches of Christ, an organization to which the ELCA belongs, sent more than $150,000 in food and medicine to Haiti. John McCullough, the group's executive director, said it would try to create "programs that will best help the people of this neglected country to build a nation that is theirs and that gives Haitians at every level of society the skills and resources to grow and sustain themselves." Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service also asked the United States to give protected status to Haitian asylum-seekers.
• The Church of Sweden has lost about 255,000 members since 2000 when Swedes separated their church from its state. Church finance controller Gunnar Nygren said the decline was about 1 percent per year and "not alarming." Until 2000, church revenues were tied to national taxes. Now the more than
7 million-member church finances 80 percent of congregational activities with parishioners' fees that amount to $1.33 billion total, or about 1 percent of members' annual income.
• Muslim and Christian leaders from 10 African countries in the Great Lakes region, East Africa and the Horn of Africa met in Nairobi, Kenya, in March. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, asked them to condemn the "misuse of religion for political or other purposes" in northern Uganda. An 18-year conflict between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army has killed thousands, displaced 900,000 and caused 30,000 children to be abducted. Recently 200 civilians were massacred. Although the resistance army uses the name "Lord" in committing atrocities, Noko said "this is clearly not the God that any of us in this room believe in. Our faiths are centered on the God of peace, harmony, love and compassion."
• Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the church's one-strike policy for removing sexually abusive priests should remain in place. Gregory spoke in response to reports of an upcoming Vatican study that, according to Catholic News Service and the Associated Press, suggests abusive priests should remain in the church but away from children.
• The World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches urged the United Nations to take Kosovo's religious groups seriously after riots broke out in March. After three Albanian boys drowned in a river, allegedly chased by Serbs, tension was high between mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians and mostly Christian Serbs. At least 28 people were killed, several hundred injured, 4,000 displaced, and both Orthodox churches and mosques destroyed. Church leaders said religion is often seen in the Balkans "as a factor making for antagonism," but it should be "viewed for the potential it can offer for reconciliation."
• A 13-member jury of United Methodist clergy voted March 20 to acquit Karen T. Dammann, a pastor in Washington who is in a committed same-sex relationship, of "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings." The Council of Bishops said the acquittal didn't change church law. "This one case does not alter the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality or the qualifications for ministry," the council said. But it added, "Our unity in Christ does not depend on unanimity of opinion."
• The Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have resumed talks after two years of icy relations. Vatican representative Cardinal Walter Kasper said an Orthodox-Catholic commission based in Moscow would try to solve future conflicts. Two years ago, the Vatican angered Orthodox officials by creating four new Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia. In the aftermath, the Russian government expelled at least six foreign Catholic priests and Russian Orthodox leaders suspended nearly all dialogue with the Vatican.
• Lutheran World Relief asked supporters to request that President Bush sign the international treaty to ban land mines. More than 150 nations have signed the treaty. The United States had promised to sign the treaty by 2006, but a recent administration decision rejects the treaty and sets a policy of using mines designed to deactivate. LWR did note appreciatively that the United States has increased much-needed funding for demining and survivor assistance programs. Each year mines kill or maim as many as 20,000 people worldwide.
• Anti-Semitism and opposition to Zionism aren't the same, said the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. It asked that the definition of anti-Semitism be corrected in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, published in 2002. Senior editor Stephen J. Perrault said the matter would be resolved in the next edition, which should be published within the next 10 years.
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