* The United Nations suspended aid flights after more than 30 relief agencies were bombed in raids by Sudan's government. Kathryn Wolford, president of Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, urged the United States to publicly condemn the attacks. In a letter, 22 humanitarian agency leaders asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to "make clear to the authorities in Khartoum that the ongoing pattern of attacks against humanitarian agency personnel and the Sudanese civilians whom they are assisting is a violation of internationally recognized accords."
* The International Commission on Religious Freedom recommended the list of countries suspected of religious freedom violations be expanded to include Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan. Under the International Religious Freedom law, the federal government can limit diplomatic relations with these countries or impose sanctions that restrict financial aid. India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam were also signaled out for "grave violations of religious freedom," although the commission noted these "may not meet the statutory threshold necessary for designation as [countries of particular concern]."
* Three theologians from Munich sued the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches there for defamation of Jesus' character under a German law that allows relatives of a deceased person to sue on their behalf. Calling themselves Christ's "brothers in spirit," the three said the churches should be prevented from calling themselves Christian because of their record of bloodshed and warfare. The judge threw the case out, saying Jesus was supposed to be alive — not deceased.
* The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's Office of Governmental Information in Washington, D.C., was closed because of budget cuts. The closing will help the denomination begin to pay off a $47.4 million capital debt accumulated by its university system.
* Ambrose Moyo, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, was elected president of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the nation's leading ecumenical organization. During the election Moyo was forced to leave Zimbabwe. "I was on the hit list of the [state security agency] and was advised to leave," he said. "My only crime was that I publicly condemed the [political] violence [in the months before the parliamentary elections.] I could not have watched that happening and not question it." The bishop said he still feels unsafe, but that it won't deter him from seeking justice.
* Norway's minister of churches upheld the appointment of Jene Torstein Olsen, the first openly gay clergy hired to preach in the Church of Norway. In 1997 the church ruled that clergy who entered homosexual partnerships could not hold consecrated jobs, but its members have remained divided over the issue. Gay marriages are legal in Norway, with all the rights of heterosexual marriages except church weddings and the right to adopt.
* The Lutheran Church of Australia, in a Rite of Reconciliation, asked its indigenous members for forgiveness for the suffering that resulted from Australia's European settlement. "When European people came, much misunderstanding took place, which causes great suffering to your people," said Lance Steicke, church president, to almost 1,000 participants. "Many of your people were killed, many died from new diseases, and many others were driven off their land. This has caused a grave breakdown in the culture and lifestyle of your people, which continues today."
* Baffour Amoa of Ghana, the secretary-general of the Fellowship of Christian Councils of Churches of West Africa, warned that African churches are at risk of being displaced by new religious groups offering a "false gospel of prosperity" unless they provide "more credible forms of support" to local communities. "Violence, corruption and moral degradation are on the rise, and this is a serious challenge to anyone brought up believing in good behavior, love of neighbor and respect for the Ten Commandments," Amoa said. "The young are no longer being nurtured on these values, and people no longer have time to teach them."
* More than 1,000 gay Christians gathered in Dekalb, Ill., for Witness Our Welcome, the first-ever convention where gay-lesbian factions within nearly a dozen Protestant churches joined for worship and strategic planning. "This is the first time gay and lesbian people and their supporters have stood up and acted and said, 'We're not going to be studied anymore, we're not going to be talked about anymore. We're here to claim what is rightfully ours as children of God,'" said Greg Egertson, a member of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries. Event leaders said they have waited long enough to assume roles as pastors, deacons and Sunday school teachers.
* A Barna Research Group study showed that no one could be reached at 40 percent of Protestant churches pollsters called, even with multiple callbacks. And 44 percent of the churches where there was no human contact, there also was no answering machine. Barna also found it took an average of 2.1 telephone calls to reach a person at a Protestant church during the regular weekday business hours.
* Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place, and C.S.Lewis' Surprised by Joy, tied for first place on the list of top Christian biographies/autobiographies of the past century, according to Christian Reader magazine. The list also includes "Here I Stand," a biography of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton.
* The Lutheran Church of Australia asked its 100,000 members to reflect on women's ordination following a narrow defeat of a resolution on the issue at the church's national convention. A two-thirds majority of the 416 formal votes was required to pass the resolution, but only 220 voted for the change. "The church has dealt with this issue so far in the spirit of unity," said Lance Steicke, church president. "We are a church that takes its subscription to Scripture very seriously and the debate was based on that rather than sociological issues."
* More children live in poverty today than 20 years ago, according to a study by Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty. Nearly 19 percent (13 million) of the 71 million children in America live in poverty, compared to 16 percent (63 million) living in poverty in 1979. But the numbers show a decrease from 1993, when the percentage of children living in poverty reached a high of 22.5 percent.
* Germany's Protestant and Catholic churches oppose a plan by their government to legalize homosexual partnerships. "Marriage and the family are the standard of living together and are the will of God," according to a statement by the Evangelical Church of Germany.
* Episcopal bishops of Eastern Carolina and Southwestern Virginia are at odds with two dissident Anglican bishops, Charles Murphy III and John Rogers, who were ordained by Anglican archbishops from outside the United States. Murphy and Rogers are to serve as bishops for churches who feel they can't remain in the Episcopal Church. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said he was "appalled" that foreign archbishops would ordain bishops to serve in the United States. Bishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and Bishop Moses Tay of South East Asia said the two bishops would be part of the "Anglican Mission in America," and that the plan for the organization is to grow not negotiate.
* Teen births have dropped to the lowest rate since the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported the statistic 60 years ago. The teen birth rate dropped 20 percent in the last decade, and in 1999, for every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19, there were 49.6 births. Analysts said ad campaigns, community awareness efforts and seeing friends have children inspired teens to be more careful or practice abstinence.
* Despite a sharp division among its 200 member churches, The World Alliance of Reformed Churches called for gays and lesbians to receive "the full and just protection under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations." Some African delegates said embracing gays and lesbians would hurt their ministry in areas where strong cultural roots don't embrace homosexuality.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers