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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

The National Council of Churches called the capture of deposed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein "a teachable moment." Its Dec. 15 statement said: "We remind the U.S. government that the world will be watching to see how we treat our adversaries after they are in our custody. ... We therefore urge the U.S. government not to give in to the temptation of vengeance or expediency, but to facilitate the prosecution of Hussein in a manner consistent with the highest accepted standards of justice." The prosecution, the council said, must "focus on the abundant evidence of heinous crimes he committed against his own people," rather than allegations that he possessed weapons of mass destruction or a link to Al Qaida.

• Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced plans Dec. 5 to build a faith-based prison for more than 790 inmates at Lawtey Correctional Institution, Raiford, Fla. Inmate participation would be voluntary and not dependent on faith preference. The program would offer faith-based activities and focus on family life, personal growth and life skills. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the plan unconstitutional, saying, "A state can no more create a faith-based prison than it could set up faith-based schools or faith-based police departments."

Worldwide, 842 million people are hungry and 40 million have HIV/AIDS, according to U.N. reports at the end of 2003. While hunger dropped in developing countries during the first half of the 1990s, it rose later in the decade. From 1999 to 2001, 798 million people in developing countries were undernourished, as were 34 million in transitioning countries and 10 million in developed countries. U.N. officials said global hunger was exacerbated by the rise in HIV/AIDS infections, as well as poor economic, social and agricultural growth; conflict; population growth; and frequent food emergencies.

A National Council of Churches delegation urged the Bush administration to re-engage North Korea in peace talks. "Diplomacy and negotiations remain the best approach for finding durable solutions," the delegation said. During its visit to North Korea, the group delivered 462 tons of flour for hungry people, and met with Christians on both sides of the demilitarized zone along the Korean border.

After the Church of Sweden made plans for liturgies to bless same-sex unions, leaders from Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal denominations protested, saying it would negatively affect ecumenical talks. At presstime, Sweden's parliament was considering "sex-neutral" marriage legislation that would also allow gay and lesbian couples to be legally married. Same-sex couples already can register their partnership under Swedish law. "We officially accept same-sex relations within the church," said Bo Larsson, who heads the office of Archbishop K.G. Hammar of the Church of Sweden.

Religious aid groups in Iraq have abandoned some projects because of guerrilla attacks on "soft target" humanitarian workers. Jonathan Frerichs of Lutheran World Relief says smaller religious groups have been hard-hit by the absence of larger nongovernmental organizations that were partners in relief work. When larger groups like the Red Cross pulled out of Baghdad and Basra because of suicide bombings, it thrust religious aid groups to the forefront of fighting malnutrition, health problems and contaminated drinking water. Peter Lems, Iraqi program associate for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, says the new policy of militarizing humanitarian relief in Iraq--which some say incites attacks on workers--dangerously blurs the line between military and relief workers.

• After the Vatican canceled a meeting on an Anglican-Catholic statement of faith, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold resigned as co-chair of the 33-year-old Anglican-Roman talks. Griswold said he stepped down because of "strain" caused by the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is in a committed gay relationship. "I do so not without regret, but in the interest of not jeopardizing the present and future life and work of the [Anglican-Roman Catholic International] Commission," he said.

Jacques Chirac, president of France, called Dec. 17 for a ban on "conspicuous" religious symbols in French public schools. That includes Muslim veils, Jewish yarmulkes, large crucifixes or other religious symbols. "Discreet" medallions or pendants that merely confirm a person's religious faith would be allowed. Chirac also promised to continue fighting discrimination against France's ethnic immigrants, which include about 6 million Muslims. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the Protestant Federation of France, approved of Chirac's statements against racism but criticized the ban on religious symbols as a hard-to-enforce measure that would help Islamic extremists gain ground.

• In an ABC Primetime interview Dec. 16, President Bush said he supports a constitutional amendment that would honor the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman but at a state level "whatever legal arrangements people want to make" should be permitted related to civil unions. Bush said it was important that "the country be tolerant of people and understand people, but tolerance and belief in marriage aren't mutually exclusive points of view."

Americans who claim no religion grew from 8 percent in 1990 to more than 14 percent of the population in 2001, reports an American Religious Identification Survey. One in three is under 30, 59 percent are male, 23 percent are college graduates and 29 percent are single. They range from atheists to people who just aren't comfortable with organized religion. Yet many consider themselves deeply spiritual. Nearly half "agreed strongly" that God exists. Patricia O'Connell Killen, professor of religious history at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., calls them "the fastest growing religious group in the United States, if you think about them as a religious group."

A Lutheran World Relief monitoring team says nearly one pastor or parish leader is killed per week in Colombia and nearly every day, one church closes. "Those most actively involved in breaking the cycle of violence in Colombia are people of faith," said LWR Vice President Cherri Waters, "and they are paying a high price." In 2003, 50 church leaders were killed and more than 300 congregations closed, stated Justapaz, a Colombian human rights group.


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Older adults: Assets to our church

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