The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



The Bush administration said May 15 that it would partner with Latino clergy to help prevent HIV/AIDS infections among U.S. Latinos. “We’re challenging … all Latino clergy in America to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS,” said Luis Cortes Jr., president of Esperanza USA, a national faith-based organization that is helping lead the partnership. At a National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson cited a National Institutes of Health survey that found 28 percent of Latinos believe a secret HIV vaccine exists. In 2001, Latinos made up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but 18 percent of AIDS cases.

President Bush’s “road map” for Middle East peace is the best chance to end the violence, Churches for Middle East Peace told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in a May 14 letter. Churches for Middle East Peace is a partnership of the National Council of Churches, the ELCA and other mainline denominations, and male Roman Catholic religious orders. The group also encouraged Bush and Congress not to be “dissuaded” by critics who’ve called the plan unworkable. Bush’s plan would lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005, in a process overseen by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia. Palestinians would agree to cease the violence against Israel and to democratic reforms; Israel would agree to dismantle new settlements and stop invading Palestinian territories.

• At an April meeting with World Council of Churches leaders in Switzerland, Chen Meilin, executive associate general secretary of the China Christian Council, said growing numbers of women are in leadership roles among China’s 14 million Protestants, 75 percent of whom are women. “There are over 400 ordained women pastors in China and 98 percent were ordained after the Cultural Revolution. … The fact that half of the seminary students are women is another feature of our church,” she said. More than one-third of Chinese Protestant seminary and Bible school teachers are women, she added.

The number of American households that give a tithe (a tenth of income) to their congregations dropped from 8 percent in 2001 to 3 percent in 2002, according to Barna Research Group. Households most likely to tithe were headed by people 55 or older, college graduates, those with middle-income s, evangelicals, Southerners and those who attend mainline Protestant churches. Those less likely to tithe included Latinos, Roman Catholics, parents who home-school their children, Midwesterners, those not registered to vote or registered as independents, and households earning less than $20,000 headed by someone who didn’t graduate from college. Researchers said the decrease could be attributed to many reasons, including increased fears over economic and physical security, as well as declining confidence in church leaders after the U.S. Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandals.

Cuban Protestant leaders sent an open letter to churches worldwide, criticizing the Cuban government for the imprisonment of 75 dissidents and independent journalists. Cuban authorities claim the imprisoned collaborated with the United States to overthrow their government. The leaders said they would provide spiritual counsel to the imprisoned. They also expressed concern that the United States might be trying to find “pretexts to launch another war of aggression,” this time with Cuba. They condemned any “U.S. government financing, support and protection” for opposition groups inside Cuba, an activity they claim has increased under the direction of U.S. diplomat James Cason. In the letter, the leaders also expressed opposition to the death penalty, quickly enacted by Castro’s government when three hijackers of a commuter ferry were recently executed.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether theology students can use state scholarships for their studies. The court will review a federal appeals court decision to strike down a Washington law that denied Northwest College (Kirkland, Wash.) student Joshua Davey such aid. That court ruled it was a violation of constitutional religious freedom for the state to rescind Davey’s scholarship in 1999 after he declared majors in both business administration and theology. Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin also ban state aid for religious instruction, reports the Associated Press.

Barna Research Group found that 85 percent of parents believe they should teach their children about faith, but most don’t spend time during the week talking about such topics with them. Two-thirds of respondents said they took their children to worship services when they went. Less than 20 percent said a church leader had contacted them to discuss how parents can nurture a child’s spiritual development.

Although 1 percent say they are agnostic or atheist, 10 percent of American adults claim no religion. They tend to be young and living in the West, found a Gallup poll of 15,000 people. Regionally these “secularists” make up 10 percent of Easterners, 9 percent of Midwesterners, 8 percent of Southerners and 15 percent of Westerners. Pollsters found that secularists are “more likely to be detached from other American institutions such as marriage and the political process.” Twelve percent of secularists, twice as many as Americans who claim a religious preference, said they were unmarried and living with a partner. While 83 percent of nonsecularist Americans were registered to vote, the figure was 69 percent for secularists. While 60 percent of secularists said they approved of President Bush, they were less likely to report a conservative political stance (20 percent compared to 41 percent for nonsecular Americans).

ELCA and Reform Judaism leaders met May 12 in Chicago for an informal dialogue, one of several they hope will take place in the next two years (see www.elca.org/ea/interfaith/ for discussion topics). The dialogue came out of an August 2002 meeting between ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and several Jewish leaders from New York after Hanson released statements on Israeli-Palestinian violence. The May meeting included presentations on both faith bodies and studies of religious texts. Jewish representatives also asked to be “consulted” before the ELCA issued public statements related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Participants suggested that congregations and seminarians from Lutheran and Jewish traditions could engage in dialogues. “Things can be learned in an interfaith setting that cannot be learned within your own walls,” said Rabbi David Sandmel, K.A.M. Isaiah Israel, Chicago.

A May 12 report from a Church of Scotland committee said it hoped a stable democracy would emerge in Iraq, but a “violent and unstable” nation may be more likely. The committee said the U.S.-led war set a dangerous precedent by “attacking a sovereign state [without] a U.N. mandate” and by failing to meet “certain key [moral] principles” in going to war. It noted that reasons for attacking Iraq had changed from removal of weapons of mass destruction to “regime change” to “liberating” Iraqi people. “On this basis,” the committee said, “the United States and the United Kingdom should now engage in military conflict with many other regimes which lack democracy and do not respect human rights. These could include Saudi Arabia, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea and even China. … A world in which powerful nations can invade other states without international backing, without that state having poses a direct threat, and without any planning in regard to reconstruction and building up the peace is a very dangerous world.”


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February issue


Embracing diversity