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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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June 2000 Worldscan

* The Chinese spiritual group Zhong Gong — similar to the Falun Gong — urged the U.N. Human Rights Commission to condemn China's crackdown on religious groups. Zhong Gong officials said Chinese authorities took $95 million from businesses belonging to the group. And Amnesty International reported that the government arrested several of the movement's leaders and hundreds of followers who protested efforts to shut down the group. Chinese officials said they would renew human rights talks if the United States adhered to previous agreements regarding Taiwan. Meanwhile, 15 Falun Gong followers have died in police custody since the group was banned last summer, states the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

* Children are more likely to adopt their parents' religious beliefs if they have a clear understanding of those beliefs, says a study by Lynn Okagaki, a Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) professor. Okagaki asked 58 female and 36 male college students about their relationships with their parents. "It's not enough for parents to just model beliefs for their kids if they want them to adopt their religious beliefs," she said. The study also showed that a child is less likely to adopt particular religious view when both parents hold different beliefs.

* The ELCA approved four international projects to assist people living in poverty: $10,000 to the Washington Office on Africa to raise awareness in the United States on issues faced by Africans; $75,000 for an AIDS prevention and control program in Ethiopia; $100,000 to help care for and teach trades to amputee victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone (it also will help provide spiritual healing and counseling); and $60,000 to the Contact and Resource Center in Lebanon, dedicated to enhancing the future for physically disabled people in the country.

* The Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs called on Congress to pass the Hunger Relief Act and the Food Stamps Outreach and Research for Kids Act this year, and to raise the minimum wage $1 over the next two years. Earning minimum wage means workers make too much to receive assistance and too little to survive, said Kay Bengston, the office's assistant director for public policy advocacy. Citing several related stories, she said, "One mother confided that she is concerned about her child's lead level. The mother has found her child licking ash trays because she is so hungry. Others tell us that families coming to their soup kitchens are often paying 85 to 90 percent of their income for housing and have little money left to buy food ... It's the responsibility of the whole community to address this problem, not just those who choose to give to churches and charities for this purpose."

* Lutheran World Relief provided a $300,000 grant to help the Lutheran World Federation rebuild some of the 3,450 damaged homes in Kosovo. A second $300,000 grant will assist an interchurch social rehabilitation effort that offers small loans and provides vocational training.

* Colorado Lutherans and Episcopalians are building two Habitat for Humanity houses in Denver to celebrate the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The first house is now being built; the second will begin July 5, the convention's first day. The project is also seen as a celebration of Called to Common Mission.

* International Disaster Response is supporting a $12 million appeal by the Lutheran World Federation and Action by Churches Together for famine relief in Ethiopia. The disaster may be more severe than the 1984-85 famine. To help, contact ELCA International Disaster Response, Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764.

* Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod President A.L. Barry harshly criticized This Far by Faith, an African American hymnal (Augsburg Fortress, $12.50). The ELCA and the LCMS collaborated on the hymnal, although the latter chose not to approve it. In a report, Barry criticized a baptismal rite that suggests African kente cloth as an option to baptismal white garments. He also criticized the inclusion of hymns such as Blessed Assurance in the communion section, saying they did not focus on Jesus' real presence in the sacraments. Barry did say that "portions" of the hymnal "could be used as viable resources." At the 1999 LCMS African American ministry convocation, several delegates said the LCMS doctrinal review process wasn't culturally sensitive. "We will use the hymnal," said Ulmer Marshall, a pastor from Mobile, Ala., and a member of the LCMS board of directors. Earlier, the delegates, without dissent, commended the hymnal as a worship resource. With sales of more than 24,000 copies, it has exceeded the publisher's expectations.

* Witness Our Welcome 2000, a conference of pro-gay movements within mainline Protestant churches, will meet for the first time in August. The group — including ELCA representatives — plans to meet near Chicago to celebrate the progress made by Protestant gays and lesbians and map future strategies.

* Reports of anti-Semitic violence in the United States decreased by 4 percent from the previous year but rose by 23 percent in California and by 9 percent in New York, according to the Anti-Defamation League. There were 1,547 reports of anti-Semitic harassment, hatred and violence in 1999, compared to 1,611 similar acts in 1998, the league says.

* The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee harshly criticized the Paramount Pictures' film Rules of Engagement, which shows Arab children pointing weapons at U.S. soldiers. "The basic plot is not problematic," said Hussein Ibish, the committee's spokesman. "What's problematic is the treatment of and depiction of an Arab society. There aren't any positive images." A Paramount representative said the film isn't anti-Arab but anti-extremist.

* Ishamel Noko, general secretary of Lutheran World Federation, who is Zimbabwean, warned President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, that the sometimes violent occupation of white-owned farms undermines the law and could threaten the country's future. The farm occupations began after the defeat of a referendum that would have allowed Zimbabwe's government to seize white-owned farmland without paying compensation.

* The number of Roman Catholics is growing with the world's population, but the number of priests continues to drop, according to Vatican statistics. Catholics worldwide number about 1 billion, increasing at a rate of 1.29 percent in 1999. The number of priests worldwide is 404,626, down from 420,971 a decade earlier.

* Thousands of religious organizations may become illegal unless they re-register with Russia's Justice Ministry before the end of the year-a 12-month deadline extension. Under Russian law, registration is necessary for religious groups to function as legal entities with the right to enter into contracts, open bank accounts and hire employees. Some 7,000 groups made the original deadline, which is 60 percent of those that are required to re-register or face court liquidation. Although local courts can use their discretion about how to deal with religious groups that miss the new deadline, critics say local officials are often under pressure to abide by the wishes of the Russian Orthodox Church.

* John Cummins, a Roman Catholic bishop in California, apologized to victims of sexual abuse by priests. "The failure of many leaders of the Catholic Church to confront this abuse head-on, to ... remove priest abusers and other employees from active ministry, or to take the side of the victims, has been one of the more distressing aspects of the church's recent history," he said.

* Religious attire or appearance is the main motivating factor in anti-Arab discrimination cases, according to a the Council on American Islamic Relations. In the month following the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing, Arab Americas were the target of "hysteria," involving threats, harassments and assaults, states the report, which also says discrimination cases rose 25 percent in 1999.

* Church groups in the Indian state of Orissa demanded the end of a regulation requiring people to seek official permission to change their religion. Conversion to Christianity is controversial in Orissa, where last year an Australian Baptist missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons, were burned alive. Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister, said he would uphold the constitution, which grants religious freedom. But critics say the administration appears to want to follow the regulation. Christians account for 2.3 percent of India's 1 billion citizens while Hindus make up 80 percent of the population.

* Ann Buwala, director of Jubilee Campaign, U.S.A., declared that government-sponsored persecution of Christians in Laos is rising dramatically. Buwala called for an inquiry into the fact that Christian prisoners suffer far more appalling prison conditions than non-Christian detainees.

* More than 100 Episcopalians and Lutherans met at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church for a conference on the future of shared ministry in an urban setting. The "Common Mission in the City" event was cosponsored by The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

* Three Christians were killed and a church was set on fire after riots broke out in Sokoto, Nigeria, during continued violence between Christians and supporters of Islamic Sharia law. Muslim students in Sokoto rioted after Nigeria's national council of state ruled that Islamic law should be suspended by state governments, including Sokoto, which had approved introduction of Sharia law by its Muslim-dominated house of assembly.

* The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria is split among the church's 720,000 members. Two major factions have appeared in courts, prompting a judge last year to void the church's constitutions. Archbishop David Windibiziri says the crisis began in 1995 when the Lutheran church general council decided to set up additional dioceses and elect new bishops. A group in the church, he says, opposed the changes when they realized they were losing power.

* Jan Szarek, a Lutheran bishop who was awarded Poland's Commander's Cross for ecumenism and European unity by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said life remains difficult for minority religious groups in the 95 percent Roman Catholic country. Szarek mentioned some improved church relationships but said conflict still exists among church leaders.

* Prasanna Kumari, executive secretary of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India, urged churches there to help those who are marginalized, particularly women. Kumari told the assembly of the National Council of Churches in India that every day in India 18 women die because of "dowry harassment."

* The Russian Orthodox Church synod called on the government to reconsider its decision to give every citizen a tax identification number card with a bar code. To many Orthodox Christians the three sets of parallel lines on the cards represent 666, the "number of the beast." Some priests have refused communion to parishioners who filled out the form. A church statement told members to remember that "no external sign will violate the spiritual health of a person." It also criticized priests who refused communion to those who filled out the forms.


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