Officials of Valparaiso [Ind.] University "expressed sincere repentance" to the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod for allowing an interfaith Sept. 11 memorial service to occur on campus. Valparaiso has ties to the LCMS but isn't financially supported by the denomination. The Indiana District cleared Alan Harre, university president, and campus pastor Joseph Cunningham of wrongdoing after clergy from eight states filed a complaint. But the Praesidium (the LCMS president and five vice presidents) ordered further investigation. University spokesperson Reggie Syrcle said the dispute would probably influence future interfaith relations on campus.
The United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India demanded justice after men humiliated a woman from the Dalit caste. "The Lutheran Church in India is outraged at the incident in which a Dalit, or lower caste, woman was forced to drink water mixed with [excrement] by upper-caste men," church leaders said Oct. 1. The woman had threatened to complain to the Keela Urappanur village council when an upper-caste man sexually harassed her. The church's executive secretary, Chandran Paul Martin, said the woman is not Christian, but that will not prevent the church from seeking justice. Dalits, he said, "are still not safe in this free and independent India, especially in rural areas where the upper-caste rule still runs parallel to the government and judicial machinery."
Due to economic recession, the United Methodist Church has cut 259 jobs in the past two years, says The United Methodist Reporter, an independent paper. Since 2001, the church also lost 305 missionaries, about 14 percent of its mission force. Income to the church's World Service Fund, which assists most church operations, has consistently dropped to 10 percent below budget goals. The Board of Global Ministries had a $29 million deficit last year and a $9.2 million deficit in the first eight months of 2003. The board's treasurer is hopeful about improvements in the stock market--already its portfolio has grown $6.5 million, compared to $12.2 million in depreciation during the beginning of 2002.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service welcomed President Bush's announcement that the refugee admissions target for 2004 is 70,000. That includes 25,000 from Africa, 13,000 from Europe and Central Asia, 6,500 from East Asia, 3,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 2,000 from the Near East and South Asia. In 2003 the United States had a target of 70,000 refugees but admitted only 28,422. LIRS President Ralston Deffenbaugh says the 2004 figure shows that "low refugee arrival numbers in FY2003 did not change future U.S. commitment to the refugee resettlement program. We support the administration's efforts and pledge to do everything we can to get U.S. resettlement back on track so we as a nation can use the resources we have to bring new hope and new life to those overseas who have no other durable solution."
At an October gathering in Poland, representatives of Eastern European churches pledged joint evangelism efforts and condemned proselytism that entices Christians from one church to convert to another. "We should never try to encourage Christians who belong to a church to change their allegiance by ways and means that contradict the spirit of Christian love, violate the freedom of the human person and diminish trust in the Christian witness of the church," the group stated. The leaders urged unity as Eastern European churches recover from the atheism enforced by former communist rule. The 25 leaders included representatives of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical, Oriental Orthodox, Reformed and Roman Catholic churches.
Persecution of Lutherans in Guatemala continues, say Ron and Vonnie Rentner, ELCA mission personnel serving the Augustinian Lutheran Church in Guatemala. After heavy rains took out telephone lines, church President Horacio Castillo said the phone company told him it "had been instructed by a person connected with the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, the [political] party in power, not to restore service." The church also has had death threats, office break-ins and attempts on Castillo's life, many of them from the FRG. FRG presidential candidate Efrain Rios Montt, a dictator in the early 1980s, has been charged with genocide and responsibility for killing 132,000 people. "We've taken various security precautions, and at the moment there is nothing we need you to do, except keep all of us in your prayers," the Rentners wrote. For more information see www.GuatemalaLutherans.org.
Romania's Latin Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Greek Catholic, Unitarian and Orthodox churches continue to demand the return of church properties confiscated by Communists. Leaders remain skeptical about a government offer to return 2,800 of the properties by April 2004. Greek Catholic spokesman Radu Capan said the government "has also promised us money for building new churches, but nothing has happened. So I don't think this latest offer can be taken seriously." In 1948, Romania's communist government gave as many as 6,000 Greek Catholic churches, schools and houses to Orthodox dioceses. Many of those properties are being used as schools, hospitals or universities.
An October 2002 law in Belarus has forced some Protestant communities underground, said Viktor Krutko, general secretary of the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists. The law bans religious services in homes and restricts Christian education and charity to churches that for the past 20 years have had at least 10 registered communities. Eighty percent of Belarus' 10.5 million people are Orthodox Christians. Krutko told Ecumenical News International that the Orthodox Church has pushed authorities to restrict minority churches. But Orthodox leaders deny they've used the law for this purpose. The law acknowledges the "determining status" of the Orthodox Church, and the "spiritual, cultural and historic role" of Roman Catholic, Islamic, Jewish and Lutheran groups (the latter have been present in the area since the 16th century).
For the first time in 12 years, donations to the largest U.S. charities dropped in 2002, reports The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In the previous five years, donations to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Gifts in Kind International, the American Cancer Society, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund and Lutheran Services in America had increased about 12 percent a year. In 2002, donations decreased by 1.2 percent. The magazine attributed the decline to an uncertain economy and increased competition between charities.
The National Council of Churches has paid off its debts, doubled its net worth and tripled its reserve funds, said General Secretary Bob Edgar. "We're in the healthiest position we've been in 10 years," he said. At the end of June, the organization's reserve funds increased from $2.3 million in 2002 to $9 million. Expenses were down from $7.1 million to $5.6 million. The council also reduced its staff from 102 in 1999 to 40. When Edgar became general secretary in 2000, the NCC was deeply in debt and its endowment had gone from $24 million in 1994 to $3 million.
Catholic Relief Services, World Relief and Lutheran World Relief signed an Oct. 17 agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on a fair-trade coffee program to help farmers in Nicaragua. Demonstrating the Bush administration's efforts to provide more funding to U.S. faith-based organizations, USAID is expected to make a $1 million grant to underwrite the program, which will ensure that farmers receive a guaranteed minimum price for their coffee. Nicaraguan farmers are facing the worst crisis in 30 years due to record-low prices on the conventional coffee market. The three relief groups hope to increase fair-trade coffee sales among U.S. Lutherans, Catholics and Evangelicals.
Due to religious content, the Reuters news agency rejected a $30,000 deal to bring a United Methodist ad campaign to a billboard in New York Cityï¿½s Times Square. The ï¿½Igniting Ministryï¿½ campaign signed a deal to show a 30-second video on a billboard on the Reuters building. After signing the agreement, Reuters said its policies prevent ads that are ï¿½pornographic, political, religious, libelous, misleading or deceptive in nature.ï¿½ Church officials criticized the company for running beer ads but rejecting a message about how people ï¿½can bring order and peace to their lives.ï¿½ The head of the Toronto agency that acted as middleman in the deal apologized to the church and offered to help them find similar space in Times Square.
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