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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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July 2000 Worldscan

* Nearly half (42 percent) of all African Americans polled by the National Conference for Community and Justice experienced at least one episode of discrimination in the month before the survey, and 12 percent said they had two or more similar experiences. For Asians surveyed, 31 percent said they were discriminated against, while 16 percent of Latinos and 13 percent of Caucasians reported at least one incident during the previous month. Gays and lesbians were considered the top target for discrimination.

* Allan Boesak, a South African anti-apartheid activist and former cleric, is serving three years in prison for fraud and theft. "I go to prison knowing that I'm innocent," Boesak said before entering Pollsmoor Prison, the facility where Nelson Mandela spent part of his 27 years of incarceration. Boesak was convicted of fraud and theft of nearly $200,000 earmarked for victims of apartheid. He said the Scandinavian donors were always aware his Foundation for Peace and Justice was not a charity but a front for the African National Congress, which had been outlawed at the time.

* Another violent eruption between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia left at least 17 people dead in Ambon, the capital of the Moluccas province. The violence occurred after 600 Muslim paramilitaries from Java arrived in the province, joining 1,000 fighters already there with 3,000 more expected, all to wage a holy war. At least 1,000 people have been killed in battles between the two groups since January 1999.

* Chinese officials, in a continued move against religious freedom in the country, shut down independent churches and arrested at least 10 leaders of underground Christian groups in southern China. "These arrests are part of downward turn in China's record on religious freedom," said Mervyn Thomas, executive director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which reported the arrests. Religious freedom is guaranteed in China's constitution but prohibited in places other than state-sanctioned organizations.

* Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans said they have experienced a miracle, and 84 percent believe God performs miracles, states a poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates. Of the 752 adults surveyed, 67 percent have prayed for a miracle, 79 percent believe the miracles in the Bible occurred and 77 percent said they believe God or the saints can heal or cure sick people. Of those polled, 90 percent of Christians said they believe in miracles, while 46 percent of non-Christians believe.

* A poll of 1,000 women on religious and reproductive health showed that 85 percent reject the idea that Roman Catholic hospitals receiving government funding should be allowed to prohibit certain procedures based on religious belief. The survey, conducted by Belden Russonello & Stewart, found that 78 percent believe hospitals in their communities should provide emergency contraceptives for rape victims, and 74 percent said they would oppose a merger between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals if it would result in women being denied reproductive health services such as abortion or birth control.

* The New Commandment Task Force, created by lay Episcopalians, held regional meetings this year to encourage discussion between liberal and conservative church members in hopes of bridging the gaps within the denomination over the issue of homosexuality. Issues of gay clergy ordination and same-sex union ceremonies are expected to be a major issue in this month's General Convention in Denver.

* The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, two historically African American churches, will discuss a 2004 merger into a single denomination with 2 million members. Both churches split from what eventually became the United Methodist Church, which this year formally apologized for the institutional racism that drove African Americans from the denomination. If the merger is approved this month by the AMEZ convention, it will be presented to the CME convention in 2002.

* Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) membership in 1999 dropped by 27,473, a faster rate of decline than the previous two years, in which it dropped about 20,000. The current membership is 2,560,201.

* The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at protecting some 50,000 people a year — mostly women and children — who are brought to America illegally and forced into sexual or sweatshop slavery. The bill states that those who hold women or children captive in the United States could face as much as 20 years in prison and could receive a life sentence if involved in kidnapping, sexual abuse or a victim's death.

* The National Council of Churches' Eco-Justice Working Group, consisting of Protestants and Orthodox communions, Catholics and Jews, expanded its interfaith global-warming awareness campaign to 16 states. "People are realizing that this is not a dry or irrelevant issue," said Richard Killmer, NCC environmental justice director. "It's about what we will give to our children and grandchildren. It's also about protecting life and about justice for the most vulnerable all over the world." The 16-state initiative involves educating congregations in how to use less energy.

* The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its first report, urged the U.S. government to denounce religious oppression abroad by tightening sanctions against Sudan and to block firms that conduct business with Sudan and China from offering stock in U.S. markets. The report focused on religious rights abuses by Sudan, Russia and China, and appealed to the U.S. government to help end the 17-year civil war in Sudan.

* Religious groups are more interested in progressive causes than conservative issues favored by the religious right, according to a Princeton [N.J.] University study of 5,603 adults. "The perception that religious groups are really only interested in conservative issues isn't true," said sociologist Robert Wuthnow, who led the study. Only 40 percent of the respondents said clergy should advocate political issues from the pulpit, and there was little support for organized political lobbying, such as through the Christian Coalition, or for religious leaders seeking elected office.

* Jennifer Coffman, a U.S. District judge in Kentucky, ruled that a display of the Ten Commandments should be removed from a county courthouse. Agreeing with the American Civil Liberties Union's contention that the display constitutes a government endorsement of religion, Coffman ordered that it be removed until a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality is resolved.

* "We wish to register our strongest and unreserved condemnation of the violent and lawless state of affairs," said the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe's Church Council, after more than 20 people were killed and hundreds more were beaten and evicted from their homes in what was believed to be government-sponsored occupation of white-owned farms. The council said Bishop Ambrose Moyo and staff at one of the church's schools "have been threatened with death" because of its call for peace.

* David Vikner, an ELCA pastor, resigned in May as president of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, an organization to which the ELCA and eight other denominations relate. The board supports 80 Christian colleges and universities in Asia with grants, scholarly exchanges, staff training programs and collaborative links between schools.


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Reinventing Sunday school

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