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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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December 1998 Worldscan

  • Responding to the postponement of Swedish Archbishop K.G. Hammar's visit with the pope, Ishmael Noko, Lutheran World Federation general secretary, said he believes "firmly that the ecumenical commitment of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Sweden will overcome present difficulties." The Vatican attributed the postponement to Hammar's recent remarks in favor of blessing homosexual unions. Noko added that the issue is a matter to be settled between the two churches.

  • Thomas Basich, the former ELCA pastor who founded the Augustana Orthodox Synod to gain control of his pension accumulation, now is asking that the ELCA pay the new church's legal fees. Basich and four other pastors were represented by lawyers, including Basich's daughter, for eight years during the battle over the ELCA pension plan. The ELCA has no plans to pay any plaintiff legal fees. "If we set a new precedent, by which the losers recover legal fees, a lot of lawyers who have lost cases would be eager to get on board," said Robert Ryland, ELCA Board of Pensions general counsel.

  • Congress passed a compromise International Religious Freedom Act, supported by several religious groups including the ELCA, that the president has indicated he will sign into law. The goal of the future law will be to make treatment of religious believers overseas a priority of U.S. foreign policy, but the compromise version allows the president to not impose sanctions if it is deemed to be in the national interest. The act applies to members of all faith groups subjected to religious persecution.

  • Two committees of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops released separate statements promoting the increased role of women in the church, while retaining the Vatican's solid stance against ordaining women. "This committee sees the work of the many women who serve in church ministry positions as a movement inspired and sustained in the Holy Spirit," said the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Women in Society and the Church. The conference's Committee on Doctrine, reiterated the Vatican's position saying, "No one has a right by baptism to ordination, for this sacrament is not essential for any person in his response to the call to holiness. Ordination to the ministerial priesthood ... is a distinct gift. It is not essential for salvation, and is given not for one's own salvation but for the service of God and of the church."

  • Religious elderly tend to have shorter stays in the hospital than those who are less religious, according to a study conducted at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. The study showed that patients who are 60 or older with no religious affiliation stayed an average of 25 days in the hospital compared to 11 days for patients with some religious affiliation. Researchers also learned that religious affiliation was linked to a lower probability of being hospitalized.

  • Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church is challenging churches to eliminate outmoded attitudes to promote church unity between Roman Catholics, Episcopals and the ELCA. "Do we indeed have the right to travel our separate paths giving lip service to one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, when the life we live gives witness to division and contradiction? The answer clearly is no," he said.

  • Patriarch Alexii II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, warned that the church's continued participation in the World Council of Churches depends on the agency's "total reconstruction." The patriarch's criticism follows those of other Orthodox leaders who have described the council as too Western and too Protestant. A showdown between the Orthodox and other WCC members may take place this month when the WCC holds its eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

  • The Dalai Lama's Tibetan exile organization admitted receiving $1.7 million annually from the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1960s. Details of the CIA-funded Tibetan exile guerrilla operations against the Chinese were reported in the Los Angeles Times, which cited previously classified documents. The Times reported the Dalai Lama received an annual subsidy of $180,000, but the Tibetan government in exile said the Dalai Lama did not benefit from the funds personally.

  • A battle between environmentalists and real estate developers, road-builders and the government is playing out in Jerusalem, where construction is planned for a $3-billion superhighway that will cover many of Israel's historic sites with pavement and new businesses adjacent to the road. Environmental groups are urging American and Canadian Jews and Christians to help save the ancient landscape by boycotting one of the project's key financiers, Israel's Bank Hapoalim.

  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, located in Jerusalem near the Church of the Tomb and Resurrection in the middle of the Palestinian part of the city, celebrated its 100 anniversary. The church is the home of the German-speaking congregation in Jerusalem and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan.

  • A group set up by the Lutheran World Federation ranked Uganda's AIDs programs as one of the most successful projects to combat the spread of the disease. The projects include sexual education and counseling on medical and social issues.

  • Congress passed the Africa: Seeds for Hope Act, legislation designed to refocus the country's aid to Africa more effectively to fight poverty and hunger. The bill directs the U.S. government to reprioritize its aid to focus on small-scale African farmers and rural entrepreneurs who represent a majority of African people.

  • Pope John Paul II issued a 150-page encyclical, "Faith and Reason," on philosophy and modern life. "A cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I? Where I have come from and where am I going? Why is here evil? What is there after life?" the pope wrote. He also called on Christians, atheists and followers of other religions to engage in a dialogue on the most pressing issues facing humanity, such as the environment, peace and the coexistence of different races and cultures.

  • For the third year in a row, agencies, including the Lutheran World Relief, are sending North Korean farmers seed grain for spring harvest. The $115,000 project should produce enough food for 12,000 people for one year at emergency rationing levels.

  • With an agreement in place between Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and the U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, Action by Churches Together resumed relief work in Kosovo and Montenegro. ACT offices remained open throughout the crisis, but relief operations were suspended as all foreign staff were advised to leave the area.

  • The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which once preached that apartheid was biblically ordained, now says the country's former system of racial separation was a sin. But the church is still undecided whether it is ready to merge with separate branches of black and mixed-race Christians it established during the apartheid era that have joined as the United Reformed Church. Uniting Church leaders said they will only accept the merger if their white counterparts approve a statement on racial equality and social justice known as the Confession of Belhar, which some Dutch Reformed delegates feel is an unacceptable document.

  • Bread for the World members joined people nationwide on Oct. 16, World Food Day, for fasting and prayer on behalf of the hungry people in Sudan. "There are 2.6 million people in southern Sudan on the verge of starvation," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and an ELCA pastor. "Unfortunately, the only time Sudan has made it into the nightly news in recent months is to report on U.S. military action."

  • Ann Nugent, a leading member of an Australian movement promoting the ordination of women to the Roman Catholic priesthood was told by her parish priest, Bishop Geoffrey Mayne, that she can't receive communion, read the lessons at mass or serve on her parish council. "I, as a bishop or priest, cannot in conscience give communion to someone who is working against the teachings of the church," Mayne told the Sydney Morning Herald. "To be a Catholic we have to accept the totality of the church's teachings."

  • In an open letter to their bishops, 363 clergy and laity of the United Methodist Church urged that the denomination overturn its ban on same-sex unions. The letter was made in response to the Judicial Council's 1996 church statement prohibiting ministers from officiating at same-sex unions. The letter was released by Jimmy Creech, a minister who was narrowly acquitted for performing a union service of two women while he was pastor of First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb. The writers urged bishops to continue discussions where there is "honest disagreement" rather than being stifled by legal action.

  • Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, predicts the global ecumenical movement will become less institutionalized in the next century, fostering forums with Pentecostals and Roman Catholics who haven't been comfortable joining agencies such as his group. "I wouldn't go so far as to say that institutionalizing ecumenism has had its day, but I think we have to go through a process of deinstitutionalizing ecumenism," Raiser said.

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    December issue

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