* The National Council of Churches welcomed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reaffirms its earlier decision against officially sponsored prayer in public schools. "We support the right of students to pray individually or in groups, but in this instance the court wisely recognized that participation in these prayers might not be voluntary for all students," the NCC statement said.
* The Lutheran Church in Great Britain installed Walter Jagucki, pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Leeds, as its first bishop. The Church was established in 1962 to serve English-speaking Lutherans in Great Britain.
* After conducting a five-year study on Christian-Jewish relations, the Lutheran Church of Sweden is removing words in its official prayers or hymnbooks that may be considered anti-Semitic. The study says: "Anti-Semitism has occurred both in words and in deeds on several occasions in the history of the church. This contradicts the teaching of the Holy Scriptures that all humankind is equal in the face of God."
* Although women in the United Methodist Church have had full clergy rights for 40 years, feelings of exclusion remain, according to church-sponsored studies. Only 13 percent of all ordained elders are female. Clergywomen with the same number of years of experience and type of appointment make 9 percent less than their male counterparts, which also reduces their pension. The studies conclude that Methodist clergywomen leave calls 10 percent faster than men because of a lack of support from congregations and conflicts between family and pastoral responsibilities.
* The Lutheran World Federation wants to help other Protestant groups settle schisms with the Roman Catholic Church, just as Lutherans did with the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, said the federation wants to bridge the gap between Protestants and Catholics over the celebration of communion and the use of indulgences. Currently, the Catholic Church prohibits non-Catholics from participating in communion and offers indulgences (granting a reprieve from purgatory as a reward for fulfilling certain obligations).
* Women who read the Torah or wear Jewish ritual garments at Jerusalem's Western Wall could face a seven-year jail term if proposed legislation is adopted by Israel's Knesset. Recently, the state's Supreme Court ruled that women could conduct public prayer services at the wall, which Orthodox custom says is typically permissible for men only. Orthodox politicians vowed to take legislative action against the court decision.
* Ambrose Moyo, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, is living in exile. Death squads have killed and threatened the lives of several church leaders, including Moyo, in retaliation for the church's pro-peace position regarding what was believed to be government-sponsored occupation of white-owned farms.
* In its annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention elected James Merritt as president of the 15.9 million-member denomination. He was chairman of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee. Delegates also passed a statement opposing women pastors and homosexuality, while supporting capital punishment. "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture," the new statement says. More than 24 were arrested outside the Orange County Center, the site of the Baptists' meeting.
* The United Church of Christ endowed $500,000 for a scholarship fund specifically for gays and lesbians who want to enter the ministry, the first time a Christian denomination has actively promoted and financially supported the ordination of homosexuals. "The vitality of the United Church of Christ depends on equipping our best and brightest for ministry in the 21st century," said John H. Thomas, the UCC president.
* Jehovah's Witness officials said the church has altered its stance on members who accept a blood transfusion. Instead of being excommunicated, members will be judged to have voluntarily "disassociated" themselves from the denomination. Heather Botting, a former Witness and a Canadian anthropologist who wrote a book about Jehovah's Witnesses, said the change was made to legally fend off people who have been shunned by the religion. "Since the Jehovah's Witnesses have been in so much trouble with lawsuits over the past 25 years from people who have been excommunicated, they're trying to make it now seem that it's your own fault if you leave the religion," she said. "It would make it more difficult for an individual to argue the case against the Witnesses in court."
* The Anglican Church of Canada may be bankrupt within a year as it deals with a growing number of lawsuits for its role in sexual abuse cases in Native residential schools. About 1,600 plaintiffs claim children were abused in the schools, which were government-owned but church-run. A court decision said the church's liability is 40 percent, but "if the churches were to go bankrupt, the government would end up paying anyway," said Shawn Tupper, director of residential schools at the Department of Indian Affairs.
* Church World Service and Witness, the humanitarian arm of the National Council of Churches, will now balance its own books as the financially troubled NCC reassess its mission. Under the new plan, CWS will have its own board of directors and executive director. Bob Edgar, the NCC general secretary, will oversee both bodies, but each will be largely independent from the other.
* A week after 34 Christians died in a Muslim attack on Halmahera island in the eastern Indonesian province of North Maluku, 44 Christians were killed during a raid of a village on the same island. It is believed the Lasker Jihad, Muslim troops who are waging a holy war, initiated the attacks.
* Two-thirds of the people in Great Britain think the Church of England should break its link with the state, according to a poll by the BBC-TV series Soul of Britain. The survey says that in Britain, belief in God has slipped from 76 percent in 1980 to 62 percent today.
* An Associated Press polls found that 53 percent of Americans said gay couples should have health insurance benefits. Half of those questioned think gay couples should have Social Security benefits and 56 percent said they should have inheritance rights. But when asked whether gay couples should have the right to marry, 51 percent said no and 34 percent said yes. When asked if gay couples should have all the rights and benefits of a domestic partnership, 41 percent said yes.
* Some 35 million people were forced to leave their homes in 1999 because of violence and persecution, an increase of 6.5 million from 1990, according to a report by the U.S. Committee for Refugees. The number of refugees worldwide climbed by 600,000 last year to 14 million, with Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq accounting for at least 50 percent of all refugees.
* The Senate voted 57-42 to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes based on sexual orientation, which prompted praise from several Jewish groups and criticism from conservative Christians. "So-called hate crimes laws are by nature unfair because they accord some victims with more government protection under law than others," said Janet Parshall, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council.
* A healing ministry should be a "gospel imperative" for the Church of England, states a denominational report. The report says a healing ministry covers everything from ordinary worship and the work of hospital chaplains, to services of healing, to exorcism, which it terms as deliverance. But the report warns against the danger of exorcism becoming a form of Christian magic. "More than before in the last hundred years, many in our society realize there is a spiritual as well as a physical and a mental dimension to healthy living," the report says.
* A bill requiring health maintenance organizations to allow older Americans to stay in religious care facilities is unlikely to pass Congress this year. The bill, which has been introduced yearly since 1988, has strong support from religious groups including the ELCA.
* A month after the United Methodist Church upheld its ban on same-sex union ceremonies, Mark Roland Kemling, a Methodist minister, plans a ceremony for two men in Omaha. Two other Methodist ministers have said they will stand in support of the ceremony. "I was greatly disappointed that the United Methodist Church would decide to continue its discriminatory policies," Kemling said. "It is my belief that we should be extending the full ministry of the church to all people, no matter who they love." In similar news, an Ohio pastor who was on track to become an ordained elder in the Methodist church was dismissed because he was gay.
* Representatives from 180 nations attending the U.N. Women's Rights Conference in New York approved a document that reaffirms the equal rights platform passed at the 1995 Beijing conference on women. The document called on governments to eliminate the selling of women for sexual abuse, as well as an end to economic exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of women. Some issues such as reproductive health rights and abortion access remain unresolved, as the Vatican and some Islamic and predominantly Roman Catholic countries objected to language advocating sexual and reproductive rights for women and sex education for adolescents.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers