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Claiming they received reports of explosives inside Augusta Victoria, Israeli soldiers and police subjected the Jerusalem hospital to a late-night search July 12. Staff agreed to escort unarmed soldiers through the Lutheran World Federation hospital. Fearing “this type of unacceptable behavior” might continue, the LWF asked members of its Executive Council to register protests with the Israeli government. The LWF continues to appeal an Israeli court decision that revoked the hospital’s tax-free status.

Rebel attacks on Bujumbura, Burundi, reportedly displaced more than 20,000 people. In July, fighting erupted in the east African nation after prolonged tension between the government and the Forces Nationales de Liberation-Rwasa. Of four rebel groups, the FNL is the only one to not sign a December 2002 cease-fire. Government estimates place the death toll at 200. The National Council of Churches of Burundi reports that at least 1,500 people took refuge in church buildings.

Jeffrey John, a gay priest, withdrew his nomination as the Church of England’s suffragan bishop of Reading, citing the damage his consecration might cause to the unity of the church and the Anglican Communion. After he was first approved, John said his relationship hadn’t been sexually expressed since 1991. He also agreed to abide by church policies of not ordaining gay clergy and not performing same-sex blessings. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, said parishioners “who could by no means be described as extremists …are convinced, however, that there is a basic issue at stake relating to the consistency of our policy and our doctrine in the Church of England.” Williams called some of the opposition “very unsavory,” saying letters displayed “a shocking level of ignorance and hatred toward homosexual people.”

• Giving USA, a report from the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, says Americans gave $240 billion to charities in 2002, 1 percent higher than in 2001. AAFRC Trust chair Leo Arnoult said that given the economic challenges, fears of terrorism and uncertainty about a brewing war in Iraq, 2002 charitable contributions “could have been much worse.”

In the last 10 years, the Navy has disciplined dozens of chaplains for misconduct from sexual abuse to fraud, say Associated Press reports. “Navy chaplains, in fact, create a disproportionate number of problem cases,” wrote Navy Chaplain Corps official Bradford Ableson in a previously undisclosed 1999 memo. Other Navy memos reveal that the discipline rate of 2 per 1,000 for regular officers jumped to 45 per 1,000 for chaplains. Since the Navy ordered a training and oversight program in 1999 for its 870 chaplains, the military branch has not tracked how many chaplains have been disciplined, said Navy spokesman Lt. Jon Spiers. Rear Adm. Barry Black, chief of chaplains, has placed priority on enforcing ethical standards, Spiers said.

The Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod cut its 2003-04 spending plan by 12.5 percent to $77.5 million. To offset declining income, the LCMS is considering such measures as reducing occupancy costs at its St. Louis headquarters and liquidating some assets to pay off long-term unsecured debt. It also cut unrestricted funding to: LCMS World Mission, which reduced its request from $6 million to $4.2 million; the Board for Higher Education, which saw a more than $2 million drop as the LCMS said it would no longer subsidize half the insurance costs for seminaries, universities and colleges; and the Board for Communication Services, whose budget dropped from $1 million to $850,000. Additional staff reductions are possible.

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 55 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage—down from 68 percent in 1996. Another Gallup poll found that 49 percent of Americans favor and another 49 percent oppose “civil union” laws that give gay couples some of the same legal rights as married heterosexuals. More than six in 10 Americans said consensual gay sex should be legal, but 37 percent said it should be criminalized. Fifty-four percent of Americans said “homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle,” while 43 percent disagreed. Americans were split on whether gay couples should have adoption rights, with 49 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.

Nearly 1,000 Jewish North Americans will immigrate to Israel in 2003, despite continuing violence in the Middle East. Immigration is at its highest rate in 30 years, states Nefesh b’Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews move to Israel. Begun in 2001, Nefesh b’Nefesh provides loans immigrants can use to resolve college debts or set up housing and employment in Israel. The loans don’t have to be repaid if immigrants remain in the country more than three years. “[Immigrants] are idealistically, consciously realizing their dream to make their lives in Israel and to contribute economically, socially and culturally to the country,” says the group’s executive director, Rabbi Joshua Fass

The Bush administration and clergy from a variety of faiths announced a partnership in July to encourage houses of worship and other faith-based organizations to be more involved in preventing substance abuse among youth. The Office of National Drug Control Policy produced several multifaith resources, including a prevention guide for youth leaders (see www.TheAntiDrug.com/Faith/Resources.html; call 800/788-2800). The guide includes tips for role-playing activities on dealing with peer pressure.

The Mennonite Church USA in July approved a policy statement on abortion, expressing opposition to the procedure but not calling for it to be illegal. Abortion “runs counter to biblical principles,” the statement says, and can be permissible in “the most exceptional of circumstances,” such as saving a mother’s life. The church cautioned that “what the law permits is not necessarily moral behavior for the Christian” and pledged to “act with compassion toward those who choose to have an abortion.”

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches apologized in July for not doing enough to stop political violence, hunger and the economic collapse of the nation, the Associate Press reported. The leaders planned to pressure the government to allow them to import food while lobbying for economic reforms and a resumption of talks between the ruling party and the opposition. In a separate statement, the council, Catholic Bishops Conference and the Evangelical Fellowship of other Christian groups said they were united in their resolve to pursue a peaceful, mediated settlement to their nation.

Canadian church leaders are divided on whether legalizing same-sex marriages will force unwilling clergy to perform these ceremonies. The Canadian Council of Churches, representing mainline Protestants and Catholics, said it will take Prime Minister Chretien’s word that clergy can opt out of performing such marriages. Bruce Clemenger of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which is “deeply disappointed” with the government’s action, said he’ll watch closely to make sure clergy won’t be pressed into sanctifying marriages they don’t condone. The federal Liberal government announced in June it wouldn’t appeal court rulings in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec that had declared banning same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Instead, the government promised to introduce legislation permitting such marriages, making Canada only the third country to do so, along with Belgium and the Netherlands. A June Ipsos-Reid poll shows 54 percent of Canadians support same-sex marriages, with that percentage rising to 64 percent in Quebec and British Columbia.

The Bush administration may throw away the possibility of creating a genuinely free Iraq because it’s ceding authority to fundamentalist Shiite clergy in its effort to restore order, said Nina Shea of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Militant Shiite clerics, many of them fundamentalists and some of them trained in Iran, have entered the power vacuum. Shea said there’s uncertainty about how to deal with religion among the U.S. occupiers and the Washington policy-makers, adding that the reconstruction effort needs good advisers on religious freedom. There should be “a raging debate” in the United States and the United Nations about “the great challenge to religious freedom and individual rights posed by Islamic extremism that’s rising and spreading throughout the world right now,” Shea said.

The National Council of Churches U.S.A., Church World Service and other partners—including Lutheran World Relief—founded All Our Children to assist Iraq with its humanitarian crisis. Prior to the war, the campaign sent $264,006 in cash and $183,414 in medicine, food and other supplies. In July the campaign sent an additional $115,000. U.N. sources say Iraq’s “extremely fragile” health system is operating at no more than half its capacity and is struggling to cope as pre-existing problems were exacerbated by the war.

Christian Solidarity International, a human rights group for religious liberty that’s been working to free enslaved Sudanese since 1995, is pressing for greater U.S. involvement on behalf of tens of thousands of women and children who remain in bondage. During Sudan’s 20-year civil war, government forces have used slave raids against non-Muslim, black African communities as “an inexpensive means to pursue a counterinsurgency policy against the Dinka population,” said John Eibner, CSI executive director. “If a peace agreement is signed and the U.S. disengages and the spotlight goes off slavery, there are people who will rot and die in bondage,” he said.


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October issue

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Older adults: Assets to our church

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