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Worldscan

• The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said Moderator Fahed Abu-Akel “acted improperly” when he tried to convince 57 delegates from the 2002 General Assembly not to press for a special meeting to discipline churches that ordained or called noncelibate gay pastors. Akel’s move “had the appearance of seeking to undermine the [delegates’] rights,” the court said. But it dismissed a complaint against the moderator, saying he was right to demand verification of the delegates’ standing and signatures. The court said Akel “was not required to call a special meeting” because under the constitution, he hadn’t received “sufficient requests.”

• The Zimbabwean newspaper Financial Gazette saysPius Ncube, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo, is living in hiding after state security agents threatened him with arrest. Intelligence operatives questioned him about his role in a demonstration during a World Cup cricket match, where protesters wore black armbands and carried banners to draw attention to political oppression and economic impoverishment in Zimbabwe. Intelligence officers also told Ncube to stop “politicizing” his sermons and questioned him about a Feb. 27 prayer service. At the service, victims of torture shared their stories—from a parliament member who said he was accused of plotting to overthrow the government and subjected to electric shocks to a 21-year-old woman who said she became pregnant and HIV-positive when she was raped during a national youth training service camp.

Natan Setiabudi, general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said a U.S. invasion of Iraq will cause suffering in his country, which is struggling with religious conflict. “It will become impossible, as it will give radical groups a pretext to assert themselves,” he said. Before the war, Setiabudi traveled with a delegation of Indonesian Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists to visit Pope John Paul II in Rome, thanking him for his “firm and consistent stance against the imminent war in Iraq,” and for making it clear that the conflict “has nothing to do with religions.”

Christians for Truth, an activist group in the Netherlands, is boycotting Unilever, asking the company to not sell Magnum ice-cream bars packaged around the seven deadly sins. Each bar has a “flavor”: vanity, jealousy, gluttony, lust, revenge, greed and sloth. Group member Jan de Bruin says the promotion is painful and trivializes sin, adding that the problem isn’t with the product, which he described as “first-rate.” A Unilever marketing manager, Robert-Hein Schermers, said international research found “that the use of the seven sins is not seen as offensive.”

A San Francisco-based federal appeals court rescinded its ruling invalidating the 1954 law that inserted the words “under God” into the pledge but upheld its ruling that reciting the pledge in public schools is a violation of religious freedom. Michael Newdow, an atheist, sued the Elk Grove, Calif., school district, claiming his daughter’s religious freedom was violated by having to recite or listen to the pledge. Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft said he would appeal the court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Laila Riksaasen Dahl, a trained scientist, was ordained in February as Norway’s second female Lutheran bishop. She serves the diocese of Tunsberg, in the southeast. King Harald V, the church of Norway’s constitutional head, attended the ceremony in a show of support. Dahl previously served calls as a parish pastor and a teacher at the Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology. While 15 percent of the church’s pastors are women, more than half of current seminarians are women.

• In February, Finland’s Parliament replaced an 80-year-old religious freedom act with one that no longer forbids individuals from joining more than one denomination. It also replaces “confessional religious instruction” in Finnish schools with “religious instruction in one’s own faith.” Former age requirements are maintained that allow people 18 and over to make their own decision about membership within a religious body, and youth 15 to 17 do so only with the consent of their parent or guardian. But the new act adds a stipulation that children 12 or older must consent to the change in their religious status. The act no longer requires students who aren’t Lutheran to attend religious instruction, but allows them to take a course in “moral education.” The act is intended to allow for the growth of religious diversity in Finland, a country of 5.1 million that is 85 percent Lutheran.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 241-155 to ban human cloning for reproductive purposes or “therapeutic” research that proponents say could cure various human ailments. The bill also bans the import of medical treatments gleaned from cloning research performed overseas. Any violation would be punishable by a $1 million fine and up to 10 years in prison. While the bill’s future in the Senate is unclear, the White House said it would not support a bill that allows cloning for any purpose.

A two-year Rural Pastors Institute will begin in July through the Center for New Community, an independent, faith-based organization, and the Lilly Endowment’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program. Ben Helmer, chair of center’s board, said the institute will “help create a corps or rural pastors whose ministries will strengthen the church for the coming century.” Institute director Christine Conrath said it also will provide learning opportunities and skills, and help to prevent burnout, isolation, and “the exodus of pastors from rural service.” For more information, contact the center at (708) 848-0319 or cmconrath@newcomm.org.

• In March, just before the war in Iraq began, a Zogby International poll of people in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia andEgypt found significant drops in favorable attitudes toward the United States. Morocco fell from 33 percent in 2002 to 8 percent in 2003. In Saudi Arabia, only 3 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States. Of all those surveyed, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt showed the highest opinion, with 11 percent each. Nine out of 10 respondents in all the countries were opposed to current U.S. policy. More than half of those surveyed in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates said the Iraqi government should comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.

President Bush issued a March 13 statement commending the Senate for passing legislation to ban partial-birth abortion, calling it “an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity.” He added, “I look forward to the House passing legislation and working with the Senate to resolve any differences so I can sign legislation banning partial-birth abortion into law.”

Lutheran World Relief President Kathyrn Wolford was elected moderator of Action by Churches Together, an international network of churches and church agencies that coordinates emergency humanitarian aid worldwide. ACT members are drawn from the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. Elected to a two-year term, Wolford will chair ACT’s governing bodies and lead the network. At its annual meeting, ACT declared that humanitarian aid in Iraq would “not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint,” but be given “regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients,” based “on need alone.”

A coalition of Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Protestant groups declared that coverage for 41 million uninsured Americans must be a priority in the 2004 elections. The group, which includes leaders from the National Council of Churches to the Southern Baptist Convention, is asking churches, mosques and synagogues to force candidates to address the issue. “In America, the wealthiest, most bountiful country in the history of the world, with the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best health care available, it’s a moral shame that we have 41 million people uninsured,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

In March, three Adventist relief workers were killed during fighting between rebels and troops of Liberian President Charles Taylor’s government. Emmanuel Sharpulo, Kaare Lund and Musa Kita had been en route to a Norwegian-funded Adventist refugee shelter in Toe Town, in eastern Liberia. Charles Pitchford, the Lutheran World Federation/World Service representative in Liberia, said the situation is becoming worse, as hundreds of thousands of people are becoming displaced from their homes. Local media says the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy rebels have been joined by militia loyal to the government in the Ivory Coast, adding complexity to the conflict. (See page 48.)

An independent federal agency criticized the State Department for not listing India, Laos, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam—where “egregious abuses persist or have increased”—on its list of the worst violators of religious freedom. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the State Department to continue to assess the situation and add to the list during the year. Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected calls to list Arabia, a major Gulf ally, but U.S. officials said that decision wasn’t related to preparations for war with Iraq.

The Committee on Lutheran Cooperation, made up of ELCA and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod leaders, agreed April 3 to regular theological conversations. In November, the LCMS will present a theological rationale for a 2001 LCMS convention resolution stating that the ELCA, because of its full communion agreements, is not “an orthodox Lutheran church body.” They also will discuss the resolution’s standing as LCMS policy and what that means for LCMS-ELCA relationships. ELCA leaders will present the theological rationale for the full communion agreements, their standing as ELCA policy, and their implications for ELCA-LCMS relationships. In April 2004, the committee will offer proposals for “nurturing relationships” between the churches, and make a joint proposal for “examining relationships between our two church bodies based on a mutual understanding of our respective doctrinal positions.”


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