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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

Samuel Kobia, a Methodist pastor from Kenya, was elected general secretary of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 342 churches from 100 countries. He will succeed Konrad Raiser, who retires at the end of 2003. Kobia said the WCC’s strength lies in its unity, adding, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to go far, walk together with others. My prayer is that we shall go very far, walking together, strengthening each other to fulfill that prayer of ours—that all may be one.” Kobia, a former head of the National Council of Churches in Kenya, chaired the 1991 peace talks in Sudan.

Each year, Colombia has 30,000 violent deaths and 3 million internally displaced refugees, says Ricardo Esquivia, director of Justapaz, a Mennonite peace and justice center. Protestant churches aren’t exempt, his report said, citing the assassinations of 38 pastors, church leaders and parishioners by left- or right-wing groups in the first six months of 2003. Protestants assassinated include Orgando Ropero, 9, who was killed when a leftist guerrilla tricked him into riding a bike with a bomb toward a police station.

Ecumenical relief agencies mourned the loss of life and limb after the Aug. 19 bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, but noted they’d reached the halfway point in the “All Our Children” $1 million campaign for Iraqi children’s health care. “We won’t let the humanitarian principles we represent be one of the casualties of this senseless act,” said Lutheran World Relief President Kathyrn Wolford. Atle Sommerfelt, general secretary of Norwegian Church Aid, also stressed the need for humanitarian work, saying, “We cannot let terrorists tell us where humanitarian organizations can and cannot work. … Due to the vulnerable state of the country, there is a greater need for neutral actors than ever.”

• At the end of August, Lutheran World Relief began distributing 132 tons of material aid to Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Lutheran World Federation-World Service, the Lutheran Church in Liberia and other ecumenical partners also distributed relief items and assessed emergency needs. An LWF-WS team traveled to Tubmanburg, which has about 25,000 displaced people and is a stronghold for Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy rebels. While assessing water and sanitation needs, the team began peace and trauma healing work.

The World Council of Churches called Sept. 1 for coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq and transfer power to the United Nations. The WCC called the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “immoral, ill-advised and in breach of the principles of the [U.N.] Charter.” Its statement also expressed concern about long-term consequences such as “the negative impact on Christian Muslim relations.” U.S. occupation of Iraq exacerbates the “intense hatred toward the Western world, strengthening extremist ideologies and breeding further global insecurity and increased emigration of Christians from the Middle East,” the WCC said.

Some church leaders in India are worried that a government-led study of Christians might ignore difficulties and attacks that group faces as 2.3 percent of India’s 9 billion people. Some also expressed concern that the study might support positions of the Bharatiya Janata Party, responsible for the Anti-Conversion Law, legislation intended to prevent Christian evangelism. But V.V. Augustine, the commission’s Christian representative, said he hoped the study would help remove “prejudices and misunderstandings” about Christians and lift up their contributions to India.

More than 160 Roman Catholic priests in the Milwaukee area signed a letter asking the church to allow married men to enter the priesthood. Out of the 442 active and retired priests, 29 percent signed the request, organizers said. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, will ask a subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to discuss the letter. “Given the present context of the scandals of the last several years, many see optional celibacy as something that needs to be discussed,” he said. “It opens up the pool of candidates for the priesthood.”

• An Aug. 27 statement from the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, which serves more than 5 million Orthodox Christians, says they “cannot and will not bless same-sex unions” and “marriage is necessarily monogamous and heterosexual.” The Orthodox bishops compared homosexual acts to adultery and fornication, but called for gays and lesbians to “be cared for with the same mercy and love” as all people. Nick Zymaris, president of Axois, an independent group of gay Orthodox Christians, said: “When gays do not get married, they complain that we’re being promiscuous, and when we do get married, they complain we’re taking down the institution of marriage. … It just doesn’t make sense.”

Clerics at al-Azhar in Cairo, the foremost intellectual center for Sunni Muslims, issued a religious edict, or fatwa, calling Iraq’s U.S.-appointed government a servant of “the enemies of God.” The fatwa said Muslim and Arab states shouldn’t have diplomatic relations with Iraq’s government, calling it “devoid of religious and secular legitimacy.” But Mohammed Say Tantwani, al-Azhar’s state-appointed grand sheikh, said the committee wasn’t authorized to make the edict and a fatwa committee would bring the clerics to account. Sunni Muslims can opt not to follow such edicts, but many view them as moral guidelines.

The 403,000-member Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod asked its 1,250 churches to help make up an $8 million budget shortfall. The church cut 11 missionaries, six home mission pastors, 18 professors, eight administrative staff and several part-time positions in the last year. Church spokesman Gary Baumler said the shortfall was due to a poor economy, congregational offerings not keeping up with inflation and decreased support from foundations and personal bequests. A new two-year $128 million budget will allow them to start only one new church through 2005.

The Episcopal Church’s approval of an openly gay bishop has “serious implications” for its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, said Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairs of the ecumenical and interreligious affairs committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “These decisions reflect a departure from the common understanding of the meaning and purpose of human sexuality, and the morality of homosexual activity as found in sacred Scrtipure and the Christian tradition,” Blaire said in an Aug. 11 statement. Despite the action, Blair remained committed to “prayerful and honest dialogue” between the churches, “however difficult.”

Ethiopia continues to struggle with a devastating food shortage, and donor countries should address root causes of hunger instead of simply providing emergency responses, said Christian relief groups, including Lutheran World Relief. The United States provided about $500 million in food aid but invested only $6 million in agricultural aid, too little to help farmers devastated by drought, said Peter Bell, president of CARE USA, an international humanitarian organization. “Treating the symptoms of poverty is simply not sufficient,” Bell said. Malaria season and long droughts have made the severe food crisis worse, and relief workers fear the crisis will be as deadly as the 1984 famine that took the lives of 1 million people and left 7 million others suffering from disease and chronic malnutrition. LWR President Kathyrn Wolford said desperate Ethiopians are selling their remaining crops and animals. The average Ethiopian makes $99 annually and most can’t afford to invest in seeds, tools, livestock and other necessities.

• Of 1,005 surveyed for a May Gallup poll,54 percent said embryonic stem cell research was morally acceptable while 38 percent said it was wrong. Seventy-one percent of those who support abortion rights said stem-cell research was morally acceptable, and 38 percent of those with anti-abortion views said it was morally acceptable.


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