The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• Giving in to pressure by human rights groups, an Islamic court Sept. 25 overturned the death sentence of Amina Lawal, a Nigerian woman charged with adultery. Lawal, 32, was convicted in March 2002 for having a baby outside of wedlock. She was one of five people sentenced to death by stoning under Sharia, a strict Islamic legal code. Since Sharia was adopted in 1999 by 12 northern states, the code has sparked Christian-Muslim violence.

The Southern Baptist Convention is facing serious financial challenges. A committee report says church agencies “are experiencing trends in their fiscal health that could generate into a crisis in very few years.” The foreign mission agency already has deferred missionary appointments and “has not met income projections four of the last five years.” Southern Baptists give 2.03 percent of their earnings to their churches, the report says, and giving from local churches to the denomination dropped from 10.5 percent in the 1980s to 7.39 percent in 2002. The committee cited factors such as rising health insurance costs, local church building expansion and political infighting for the decrease.

• Citing a U.S. Census Bureau report that incomes declined in 2002 for the third consecutive year, sending 1.7 million more people into poverty, the National Council of Churches called on the government to dedicate as much funding toward eliminating U.S. poverty as it is to rebuild Iraq. “If we have billions to spend in Iraq, we clearly have the ability to provide those living in poverty in America with the opportunity to improve their living conditions and become self-sufficient,” said Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary. Edgar also asked Congress to strengthen Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, increase access to health care and fund Head Start preschool programs. The census report estimated that 34.6 million Americans live in poverty, 12.1 million of them children. Poverty rose in the suburbs, in the Midwest and among African Americans.

Americans spend 50 times as much on fast food than on helping poor children, the Barna Research Group reports. Those surveyed spent an average of $240 a year on fast food and $5 a year to help poor children. But during the last year, half of those surveyed didn’t donate anything. Six in 10 said it’s the responsibility of poor children’s parents and governments to end poverty.

Three Episcopal Church dioceses distanced themselves from the General Assembly’s vote to confirm V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire. The Diocese of Pittsburgh adopted six resolutions to give its members greater autonomy from the national church. The resolutions declared Robinson’s election “null and void,” gave complete ownership and control of parish property to the diocese, and resolved to withhold its annual financial support to the national church. Previously the diocese had fallen short of paying about half of its commitment, or $150,000. The Diocese of Central Florida voted to redirect funds from the national church to other agencies, but will make exceptions for congregations that make specific requests. The Diocese of Albany (N.Y.) affirmed that “marriage is intended by God to be the faithful lifelong union of one man and one woman.” Its bishop, Dan Herzog, said there was no proposal for the diocese to leave the church.

Six in 10 Americans oppose the Episcopal Church’s decision to allow bishops to authorize blessings of same-sex unions, according to a Washington Post poll. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said they’d stay with their congregation if their minister decided to bless such couples; 47 percent would look for a new church. When asked about providing gay couples the civil benefits given to married heterosexuals, 58 percent were opposed, 37 percent supported the idea and 5 percent had no opinion. The 37 percent represented a 12-point drop from a Gallup poll taken in May before the Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws. That Gallup poll found a gap between young people aged 18 to 24, 69 percent of whom found homosexuality acceptable, compared to 28 percent of Americans over 65 who do so. The same survey found agreement on extramarital affairs as unacceptable, with only 6 percent to 7 percent of both groups saying it was acceptable.

The Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod reports baptized membership declined by 27,331 to 2,512,714 in 2002. Giving to LCMS congregations was down $13.8 million to $1.2 billion. From 2000 to 2001, member giving dropped by $12.1 million. The statistics are based on reports from 84 percent of LCMS congregations. The LCMS Board of Directors said the denomination is facing “financial challenges that have been caused at least in part by a downturn in the economy and by past [synod] funding policies and practices,” but it has the resources to overcome those challenges.

• After negotiating with groups that include Lutheran World Relief’s Interfaith Fair Trade Initiative and the ELCA office of corporate social responsibility, Proctor and Gamble will begin selling fair trade coffee within an estimated 5 percent of its Millstone brand. “We’re glad that Proctor and Gamble is making this first-step commitment to fair trade, and look forward to the day when it commits to paying farmers a decent price for all its coffee,” said Sarah Ford of the LWR initiative. Starbucks, Sara Lee and Seattle’s Best also sell free-trade coffee as a portion of their products.

• At an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, religious leaders admitted they’ve responded too slowly to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. Jape Heath of the South African Anglican Church recommended that religious leaders develop a policy saying “no person will be discriminated [against] for living with AIDS.” Heath said the church hierarchy condemned him when he revealed that he was HIV-positive. Sheikh al Haji Yusuf Murigu, vice chair of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, said when African religions tied AIDS to sin, infected people went underground, leading to more infections. Yale University (New Haven, Conn.) researcher Nalimi Treakeshawar estimates that 40 percent of Africa’s health-care system is controlled by faith-based organizations, and says “religion also has an indirect affect on the delivery of health services.”

• In September, Zimbabwean church leaders from 59 denominations condemned President Robert Mugabe’s “draconian” laws stifling free expression. The group’s letter compared Mugabe’s government to the beast in Revelation 13, which usurps power and terrorizes God’s defenseless people. The letter was to be published in Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, but police shut down The Daily News for refusing to register with the government. Mugabe’s government has cracked down on independent media, which must register business and cash flow plans for the next five years, as well as details about political affiliations of news directors and senior staff. At least 16 independent journalists have been arrested and charged with violating the media laws since they were passed last year. Four journalists have been deported in the past two years, including The Lutheran magazine’s Kathy Kastilahn. At presstime, police were still seeking 45 of the paper’s 60 journalists for questioning.


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February issue


Embracing diversity