In an off-the-record Feb. 11 meeting, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (and Palestine) Bishop Munib Younan asked U.S. congressional members to visit the Middle East with their religious leaders, as did U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif, in January (March, page 51). Hanson said he hoped Congress and the Bush administration would tell Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the new Israeli security wall is unacceptable. Younan warned against allowing "extremists to kidnap the Middle East for political or religious scenarios and agendas." Visitors to the Middle East "should not be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli," Younan said. "We want [Lutherans], congressional members and the American people to be pro-justice, pro-humanity, pro-reconciliation and pro-peace. If they are honest brokers of these, that will help us."
The United Evangelical Mission in Wueppertal, Germany, called on the German government to admit responsibility for the killing of tens of thousands of people a century ago in its former colony, now called Namibia. Germany expressed regret for the events and pledged to step up aid to Nambia but has stopped short of making a formal apology. An international missionary organization, the UEM has member churches in Germany, Africa and Asia, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia.
Religious worship in North Korea has been virtually destroyed by decades of brutal dictatorships that routinely starve people into submission, said speakers at a Jan. 27 hearing in Los Angeles of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The government reduced organized religious membership to only about 10,000 Protestants, 4,000 Buddhists and 10,000 Roman Catholics among the countryï¿½s 22.2 million people, speakers said, adding that religion has effectively been replaced by government-enforced cult worship of dictator Kim Jong II.
Mitri Raheb, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, Bethlehem, West Bank, says the churchï¿½s sanctuary could be a potentially lethal zone following a Feb. 11 earthquake. The church has the highest elevation in Bethlehem, and half its cornerstone tumbled into the streets. "It's over 80 pounds," Raheb said. "The other half is still up there and we are worried that if a snowstorm comes, the other half might collapse." The quake produced cracks in some of Bethlehem's most famous shrines.
In two separate statements, the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation and World Council of Churchesï¿½ Executive Committee said the Israeli security barrier holds no hope for bringing peace to the violence-plagued Holy Land. Both groups affirmed Israel's right to protect its citizens but condemned the wall as a gross violation of human rights. The wall cuts off Palestinians from their jobs, farmlands, schools, health care and housing, the WCC said. Pope John Paul II also renewed his criticism of the barrier, saying the Middle East needs "forgiveness, not revenge; bridges, not walls."
After a record number of Spanish women were killed by male partners, Spain's Roman Catholic bishops said in a 250-page pastoral letter on the family that domestic violence is "the bitter fruit of the sexual revolution." The bishops' comments touched off furious reactions in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. "It is in the family model that the bishops advocatein which women are relegated to silence,where you find the most violence," Angeles Alvares of the Women's Network Against Violence told El Mundo newspaper. The leader of the main opposition Socialist party, Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, told the clerics the deaths weren't the result of sexual permissiveness but of 'criminal machismo' in Spanish society.
The criticism unleashed over V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, from overseas members of the Anglican Communion hasn't led any of them to refuse millions of dollars in aid, U.S. church officials said. Anglican leaders in Third World countries have urged their churches to become less financially dependent on the U.S. church. "The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money," said Stanley Ntagali of the Church of Uganda in December. So far, "no missionary has been asked to leave" and "no requests for missionaries have been withdrawn," said Patrick Mauney, the Episcopal Church's director of Anglican and global relations.
Norwegian Church Aid warned church organizations in Malawi that they risk having support frozen if they fail to incorporate gender and human rights issues in their programs. Malawi can't achieve its development goals if women are sidelined and discriminated against, the agency said. Harlex Kanthiti who directs one of the agency-funded ministries, said, "We promise to exercise transparency and accountability in the use of the funds so that it improves the status of women who are the mostly targeted rightful beneficiaries."
Tens of thousands of refugees fled to Chad from western Sudan in February, escaping attacks by militia and bombardments by government planes. Fighting has escalated between government forces and rebels in the west the past year, in contrast to the peace process in southern Sudan that seems set to end a two decade-long civil war. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees asked Norwegian Church Aid to set up water and sanitary installations and help with camp construction for refugees in Chad.
The Episcopal Church has seen a 7 percent drop in contributions from local dioceses since it voted for an openly gay bishop last year, but officials say it may be premature to link the two developments directly. The denomination's treasurer, Kurt Barnes, ordered a 5 percent spending cut at its New York City headquarters. Barnes said the lagging economy had as much impact on the budget as any protest to withhold funds, especially since 2004 pledges are based on income in 2002, when the economy was at its most sluggish. Pittsburgh and Dallas, along with 10 other dioceses, joined a fledgling conservative network that encourages parishioners and churches to ï¿½redirectï¿½ their funding away from the national church.
Former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu angered his government by backing apartheid victims seeking massive reparations from foreign companies that did business with the former regime in South Africa. The South African Council of Churches supported Tutu, who submitted an eight-page affidavit to the New York court that is considering whether the applications for reparations should be allowed to proceed. The South African government says reparations could discourage much-needed foreign investment. But Tutu said, "Placing corporations on notice that they will in future be held responsible for the effects of their investments in repressive regimes may well create an incentive for them to channel such investments into countries with a better human rights record."
In a decision that could have implications for President Bushï¿½s "faith-based initiative" and voucher programs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that states aren't required to offer college scholarships for study of religion. "Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Joshua Davey, a theology student at Northwest College, Kirkland, Wash., had his state academic scholarship revoked after he declared a major in pastoral studies. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the decision "a huge defeat for those who want to force taxpayers to pay for religious schooling and other ministries."
While less than 1 in 10 Americans say Jews are responsible for Jesusï¿½ death, 6 in 10 believe in a literal interpretation of biblical stories such as Noah's Ark, Moses parting the Red Sea and a six-day creation of the world. The ABC News PrimeTime poll of 1,011 Americans also found that 80 percent identified themselves as Christian. Evangelicals were more likely than other Christians to blame Jews for Jesus' crucifixion, and Roman Catholics were the least likely to blame Jews.
Christian Churches Together in the USA, an alliance of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, evangelical, Orthodx and predominantly African American denominations will be launched by May 2005. Currently, the Catholic Church and many evangelical and Protestant groups don't belong to the National Council of Churches, a 36-member alliance. CCTUSA organizers say the new group will allow members to share a common witness, nurture evangelism, speak together on shared concerns and work toward "reconciliation by affirming our commonalities and understanding our differences."
Massachusetts religious leaders, led by the Roman Catholic Church and including mainline and evangelical Protestants as well as Jews and Muslims, released a joint statement Feb. 7 pressing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. In November the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled gay marriage constitutional, reiterating its position Feb. 4 and calling civil unions insufficient and discriminatory as an alternative to marriage.
After nine contentious hours, the Western North Carolina Presbytery on Jan. 31 approved a compromise measure invalidating the ministry of Parker Williamson, CEO of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and executive editor of its publication, The Presbyterian Layman. The presbytery, rather than placing Williamson on "inactive status," designated him a "member at-large," thus preserving his voice and vote. The Lay Committee last year had urged congregations to "prayerfully consider" denying money to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of its policies on homosexuality and theological divisions. J. Thomas Phillips, pastor of Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, said Williamson's office "may be destroying the very fabric of our life together."
On Jan. 29 Indonesia's Mount Egon volcano began ejecting lava and belching large black clouds of sulfurous ash into the atmosphere, threatening eruption. Thousands of people are evacuating the area after breathing the sulfurous gases, and they're now facing food shortages. Action by Churches Together staff conducted a needs assessment for possible rapid response funding.
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