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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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If a new Israeli tax policy isn’t revoked, Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital will have to reduce services or close. The Lutheran World Federation hospital is one of few modern medical centers serving West Bank Palestinians. It has been tax-exempt since it began operating under Jordanian rule in 1948, but under an “employers tax” might have to pay $350,00 annually and $700,000 in back taxes. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson contacted officials in Congress, the State Department and the White House on the hospital’s behalf. Mark Brown of the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Washington, D.C., said, “We as a church in the United States are planning to appeal to the U.S. government to intervene with the government of Israel so that the tax case basically is dropped.”

David Benke, 57, who was embroiled in controversy after participating in post-Sept. 11 interfaith events, was re-elected president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod. The election occurred during the district’s convention June 6-7 in Bronxville, N.Y., where delegates thanked Benke for “ministering to the citizens of Metro New York and the country.”

• After more than two years of discussion,the Reformed Church in America adopted a 10-year goal that focuses on starting congregations and revitalizing existing ones. Delegates embraced the mission goal at their General Synod meeting June 6-11, in Holland, Mich. They also approved guidelines for a new ministry designation of commissioned pastor, which requires such a person to be an ordained elder in a congregation. Commissioned pastors may preside at ordination and installation of elders and deacons and officiate at marriages.

Leaders of Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches asked President Bush to push for increased child tax credits for minimum wage families. Their June 19 letter asked Bush to urge the House of Representatives to accept a Senate bill that raises the credit for 6.5 million families who didn’t receive it in the president’s tax cut. “You have called faith-based groups ‘soldiers in the armies of compassion,’ ” the letter stated. “We implore you to lead us in the fight for the children of low-income families by interceding on their behalf. Without your personal intervention, this bill will surely die in Congress.” The administration previously asked the House to accept the Senate’s version, which would pay for the credit by raising customs fees and not impact the deficit. The House version would add $82 billion to the deficit in the next decade but provide a larger credit for middle- and upper-income families.

Lutheran Hour Ministries, a broadcast ministry of the International Lutheran Layman’s League, an auxiliary of Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod, is reducing its 296 staff. The cuts affect 25 employees at its St. Louis headquarters and 60 overseas staff. Earlier 16 staff took an early retirement option. The On Main Street TV show and Woman to Woman radio program were canceled. The Lutheran Hour and animated family programs will continue. The ministry will now operate in 39 countries, not 54.

Church of England Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries appointed Jeffrey John, a gay man, suffragan bishop of Reading, England. John said he will uphold the practice of not blessing such relationships and not ordaining clergy in sexually active gay relationships. John said his relationship “has not been sexually expressed for years.” One-quarter of the church’s diocesan bishops criticized the appointment, citing concerns over the history of the relationship and John’s criticism of “orthodox” teaching.

A June State Department report says 15 countries haven’t met minimum standards to end the annual trafficking of more than 800,000 vulnerable people for sex or forced labor: Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the report should have been harder on countries that did not improve much or that punish victims with deportation or incarceration.

A month before the July 21 start of the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Winnipeg, the Canadian government rejected visa applications for many participants. Those affected were from Bangladesh, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko said the assembly might have to be canceled if so many delegates from developing countries were missing. At presstime, Denis Coderre, Canada’s minister for citizenship and immigration, asked officials to give delegates a second chance to submit applications.

The Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board eliminated 61 staff positions in June to help its 2003 expenses match anticipated income. The denomination saw a $10 million shortfall in its $125 million annual offering goal for international missions and a drop in its investment income with the economic downturn. The board also discontinued print publication of The Commission, opting to publish the magazine on the Web only.

A June 17 BBC report says the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group in Uganda, is targeting Roman Catholic priests, nuns and missions after church leaders tried to mediate a cease-fire between the rebels and government. The rebels’ goal is to replace the government with a theocracy based on the Ten Commandments. “Catholic missions must be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed in cold blood and nuns beaten black and blue,” LRA leader Joseph Kony said on radio, according to the Vatican-based Missionary News Service. Churches provide most health-care and education services in the north, and shelter for thousands of displaced people during 17 years of civil war in Uganda.

The bodies of Buddhist monks and civilians executed during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s were found in a mass grave in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. An investigative team of Buddhist monks, forensic experts and intelligence experts said the grave might hold as many as 1,000 victims—most will never be identified. The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, which carried out the executions and still rules the country today, said it regretted the executions of 30,000 monks, dissidents, intellectuals and aristocrats but had been under pressure from the Soviet Union. Purevbat (no last name), a Buddhist monk, said, “No matter what the external pressures, this was carried out by the Mongolian people. We should never forget this, and we should make people to understand that this should never happen again.”

Experts from the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and Action by Churches Together, are examining the safety, justice and theological issues raised by using genetically modified food to feed the hungry. “Often the question is not what type of food we can offer to the hungry, but rather do we have anything at all to offer them,” says Enos Moyo, the LWF representative in Zambia. Last year Zambia and other south African countries rejected genetically modified U.S. grain, partly due to fears of health risks and the range of opinions on whether such food is safe. The LWF Department for World Service called for labeling guidelines for genetically modified food.

Mothers and children fare best in Sweden, where 99 percent of women are literate, and worst in Niger, where 8 percent are literate. The Save the Children’s “Mother’s Index” compared the health, education and political status of women and children in 19 developed and 98 developing countries. The index points to a mother’s education level and access to family planning as the most influential factors in infant health and survival. In the United Kingdom, where 82 percent of women use birth control, one in 5,100 mothers die in childbirth and six out of 1,000 babies don’t live to age 1. But in Guinea, where 4 percent of women use birth control, one in seven mothers die in childbirth and more than one in 10 children die before they are 1. In order, these were the best countries for mothers and children: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Austria, United Kingdom and the United States. The worst countries: Angola, Chad, Mali, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Niger.


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November issue

NOVEMBER issue:

The ELCA's aging clergy wave

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