The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


December 2000 Worldscan

• The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod's membership was 2,582,440 in 1999, a decrease of nearly 12,000 from 1998. But financial giving by congregations increased from $1.05 billion to $1.1 billion. The average combined amount of giving per confirmed member in 1999 was $570.41, an increase of $8.61. "If you have an aging membership ... and a smaller membership total, what you have remaining is people who are relatively more committed to the church and are giving more," said John O'Hara, analyst for the LCMS planning and research department.

• Two members of the Falun Gong who filed suit against the Chinese government have disappeared, other group followers say. Beijing police took Chu O-ming and Wang Jie into custody. Chu's relatives say he was released from prison to retrieve personal belongings and hasn't been seen since. Wang disappeared under similar circumstances. China banned the Falun Gong, a combination of Chinese exercise and meditation, last year. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy says 57 Falun Gong followers have died while in custody.

• Former President Jimmy Carter distanced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention for its "increasingly rigid" doctrinal positions. Carter's opinions came a few months after the church announced its opposition to women clergy and advocated a literal interpretation of the Bible. He remains a member of the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., because it doesn't endorse those doctrines.

• Representatives of five hospitals — including the Lutheran World Federation-administered Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem — resolved to write a letter to Israeli authorities discussing the humanitarian issues affecting patients and staff following the tightening of the West Bank-Jerusalem border. They are planning a march between Augusta Victoria and Makassad Hospital, the main Islamic hospital in East Jerusalem. Participants will include Muslim and Christian religious leaders. In other news, Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, welcomed the U.N. Security Council's call for an end to the violence and resumption of negotiations. (See also page 42.)

• People may have more to fear from dipping bread in communion wine than from the common cup. Cardiologist David Gould, revising his 1987 study that was issued after worshipers expressed fears of contracting AIDS by using the common cup, said churchgoers are more likely to get sick from air-borne infections. Dipping bread into the wine may cause more problems because hands have more germs than mouths, he added.

• North Raleigh United Church, a new congregation that followed the United Church of Christ recommendation of being welcoming to gays and lesbians, was rejected for membership by the UCC association in Eastern North Carolina, which disapproves of the denomination's national leadership. The rejection created a racial divide because many of the mostly African American UCC congregations disagree with the church's stand on homosexuality, and nearly half of those congregations are located in the Eastern North Carolina association. The congregation, which must be accepted by the association to remain in the denomination, still receives funding designated for new churches from the national headquarters. It will reapply for membership next year.

• "Stand up and Walk," the first European Lutheran Youth Pilgrimage, brought 500 participants from 17 countries to Vadstena, Sweden. The three-day celebration marked the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth and sought peace, unity and reconciliation through prayer, worship and dialogue. The participants walked for five hours each day, carrying pebbles from their respective homes as symbols of the burdens and joys shared along the way.

• Congress agreed to fund all of President Clinton's $435 million request for debt relief for poor nations, an act strongly supported by religious leaders nationwide. "The debt relief issue is now a speeding train," said Rep. Sony Callahan, R-Ala., chair of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee. "We've got the pope and every missionary in the world involved in this thing, and they persuaded just about everyone that this is the noble thing to do."

• Amnesty International is launching a global anti-torture campaign and will be lobbying government officials to declare Torture Free Zones. In more than 70 countries, torture or ill-treatment by state officials is widespread, the group said.

• During a Roman Catholic families' jubilee at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II denounced modern trends that trample the rights of unborn children. The pope reiterated the church's ban on birth control, abortion, divorce and remarriage. He also urged couples to adopt orphaned children rather than go to "morally unacceptable" extremes to generate their own.

• Of 518 active Protestant pastors surveyed, Ellison Research found that 49 percent strongly support "giving parents school vouchers to help pay for their children to attend private schools (religious or nonreligious) if they choose." Twenty-four percent say they somewhat support school vouchers, while 14 percent strongly oppose them and 13 percent somewhat oppose them. The survey also found that more than 90 percent of the pastors support "laws allowing student-led prayers at public events in public schools, such as graduation, while 7 percent expressed opposition.

• Participants of a conference on domestic violence and sexual abuse, which was hosted by the ELCA Commission for Women in Chicago, prepared a message to churches of the Lutheran World Federation. "Violence against women and children is of pandemic proportions equivalent to any national and international disaster," the statement said, adding that LWF member churches should examine their history and biblical interpretations to "confess ways that the church has promoted, condoned or perpetuated violence."

• Roman Catholic leaders in Poland expressed support for the Vatican document Dominus Iesus, which restates the belief that Protestant denominations are not churches but "ecclesial communities." Poland's Protestant church leaders predicted the document could endanger improving ecumenical relations in the predominantly Catholic community.

• Discrimination and violence against women and girls "remains firmly rooted in cultures around the world," according to the U.N. Population Fund. "Today about one-third of all pregnancies ... are believed to be unwanted or mistimed," the report said. "If women could have the number of children they wanted, the average family size would fall by nearly one child." The report also said that at least one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some way, and as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered each year in so-called "honor" killings by family members.

• The Salt Lake Tribune, a non-Mormon owned newspaper, reported that its management would resist being sold to the Mormon-owned Desert News. In Utah, where 70 percent of the population is Mormon and the church is heavily linked to government and media, the Tribune is widely respected as an independent voice, and losing that voice would be bad for the state, Tribune employees said.

• The ELCA Division for Global Mission modified its display of mission service opportunities on the Web. You can now search by region of service, particular work and among other parameters. For more information, visit www.elca.org/dgm/mispos.html.

• The U.S.-based Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, which ministers to gay people, is helping homosexual Christians in Latin America who are excluded from traditional churches form congregations. "Gay and lesbian people throughout Latin America are buried, they're frightened, they're ashamed," said Judy Dahl, a pastor and director of global outreach for UFMCC. "Our churches in Latin America are like catacombs of the early Christians, they're new millennium catacomb congregations where people can hide and yet still believe."

• David Perry, chief ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church, will retire Jan. 31 after a ceremony celebrating the Called to Common Mission agreement with the ELCA. Perry was a leading negotiator for the agreement.

• The Christian Clergy in India Volume 1 — Social Structures and Social Roles, a book on the social background of India's non-Catholic clergy, shows that the church is comprised of primarily oppressed people. The authors, sociologists T.K. Oommen and Hunter P. Mabry, say 40 percent of Protestant and Orthodox parishioners are Dalits (low-caste people), 30 percent live in underdeveloped communities and 20 percent are tribal people. Ten percent are from upper castes, but they hold most positions of power in the churches. wrote India's Christians represent 2.3 percent of Indian's 1 billion citizens.

• Nearly 60 lawyers met in Scottsdale, Ariz., to form the ELCA Attorneys Association. The group will wok in cooperation with the ELCA General Counsel to provide leadership and service to congregations, synods and affiliated ministries.

• Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter, 56, was elected bishop of the Holstein-Lübeck district of the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church, becoming the third woman Lutheran bishop in Germany. Wartenberg-Potter, ordained by the Evangelical Church in Württemberg in 1980, will installed April 1, 2001.

• More than 20 Spanish-speaking staff and leaders of the ELCA met to discuss how the church can continue its efforts to end U.S. military training on Vieques, an island eight miles east of Puerto Rico. "The church's Latino community stands together in its struggle for promoting peace for the people of Vieques," said Gregory Villalon, director for ethnic leadership development of the ELCA Division for Ministry.


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February issue


Embracing diversity