The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• In late February, 36,000 refugees fled their homes to escape fighting between rebel and government forces in Liberia or in the Ivory Coast. Most arrived at camps in Monrovia, Liberia, where about 190,000 internally displaced refugees are already in residence. "Thousands sleep in the open and compete for the community's very scarce resources," says Charles Pitchford of Lutheran World Federation/World Service in Liberia. Safe water is rare, and food rations were cut to make their supply from the World Food Program last. Pitchford is concerned about an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as measles and cholera.

McCormick Seminary faculty and staff processed to their new three-story building on the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago campus Feb. 27. Although they now share a campus, LSTC and McCormick, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminary, have partnered in providing theological education opportunities since 1975. The schools also share a technology team and are using a $505,000 grant from the New York-based Teagle Foundation to explore ways they and other Chicago seminaries can continue sharing resources.

Schools that prevent "constitutionally protected prayer in public schools" risk losing government funding, according to guidelines released Feb. 7 by the U.S. Department for Education. The seven-page guidelines for prayer in public schools allow teachers to meet with each other, before school or during lunch, for prayer or Bible study. Teachers or other public school officials aren't allowed to lead, encourage or discourage students "in prayer, devotional reading from the Bible or other religious activities." Students can form religious clubs or prayer groups; read their Bibles or other scriptures; pray silently during moments of quiet; and pray at meals, recess or another noninstructional time. The guidelines also state that a student assignment should be "neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content."

A United Methodist investigative committee cleared C. Joseph Sprague, United Methodist bishop of Chicago, of heresy charges filed after he published a book that questions the virgin birth, Jesus' physical resurrection and Jesus' role in salvation. Committee chair Bruce Ough, bishop of the West Ohio Episcopal Area, said it was clear that Sprague "knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, has faith in Christ's saving and transforming power and is obedient to Christ's teaching." In a statement, Sprague said he only wanted to "stimulate informed debate" on church teaching.

• Dean Hoge, a researcher at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., says half of men who leave the priesthood do so because they fall in love or can no longer live in celibacy. In The First Five Years of the Priesthood (Liturgical Press, 2002), Hoge says 20 percent to 30 percent leave because they fall in love with a woman, and another 20 percent to 30 percent leave because they feel "lonely and unappreciated" and can't abide by celibacy requirements. About 30 percent to 40 percent left the priesthood out of disillusionment with fellow priests or the church hierarchy.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposes that federal funds be used to construct buildings that include "inherently religious activities" as well as eligible social service programs. The proposal would allow a church to construct a building that would have a homeless shelter and a chapel. HUD funds would apply to no more than the cost of the portions of the building that relate to eligible social service activities. Critics are concerned about monitoring compliance since facilities paid for with public money could be used for worship, while supporters believe it will allow more federal aid to reach communities in need.

• Of 1,012 adults polled by the Gallup Organization,68 percent believe the devil is real, while 20 percent do not. Another 12 percent said they were unsure. A 1999 poll found that 85.5 percent of Americans believe in God. Seventy percent of Roman Catholics and 79 percent of Protestants believe the devil is real. Republicans (79 percent) are more likely than Democrats (67 percent) or independents (59 percent) to believe in the devil. Such beliefs are also stronger among Southerners than Easterners, and among rural Americans than suburban and urban dwellers. And 70 percent of high school graduates said the devil is real, compared to 68 percent of college graduates and 55 percent of those with graduate degrees.

• After an earthquake killed 262 people, injured more than 2,000, and destroyed water, power and communication lines in China's Xinjiang region, the Amity Foundation, an ELCA partner, delivered 4,000 cotton quilts. It is continuing to help with other needs.

As U.S. troops assist the Philippine government in a military offensive against Islamic terrorist groups, Action by Churches Together is offering temporary shelter, food, medicine and other aid to 8,000 families affected by the fighting. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines is helping 400 families who fled their homes in North Catabato and Maguinado, seeking refuge in churches. But Philippine welfare agencies estimate that 40,000 families have been affected by the violence in Mindanao alone and predict those numbers will rise as the fighting worsens.

Richard Hamm, head of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), announced his resignation in October, saying the church will need a leader who can take a "fundamentally new look" at the next steps for the denomination. In a Feb. 26 letter to the church, Hamm said he is in fine health and not being forced out, but he is "tired" and doesn't have the time or energy to continue. His 12-year term would have ended in two years. Many in the church credit Hamm for healing divisions, combating institutional racism and increasing church starts from five or six a year to more than 100 in the past two years.

The ELCA and Lutheran World Relief joined the "All Our Children" campaign to help Iraqi children survive infectious disease and deprivation. About 16 million of Iraq's 25 million people depend on the government for basic food rations, which may collapse in a war. In addition, waterborne disease is widespread, with two-thirds of Iraqi homes receiving untreated, unsafe water. The $1 million campaign, sponsored by Church World Service, seeks to supply such health-care needs as antibiotics, anesthesia, IV solution kits, nutritional supplements for infants and nursing mothers, and methods for making drinking water safe. Send donations to: ELCA International Disaster Response, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764.

Within two years, Christian Churches Together in the USA may come into existence, uniting Roman Catholic, evangelical and Pentecostal, Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches. The National Council of Churches of Christ, the largest U.S. pan-church group, doesn't include evangelicals or Catholics. In hopes of achieving the alliance, conservatives dropped demands for ideological uniformity, while liberals agreed to scale back advocacy demands. Officials hope to raise $20,000 to get the group off the ground. "We don't have one agreed-upon definition," said Ron Sider, director of Evangelicals for Social Action. "But everyone agrees that the reality of Jesus Christ coming among us and living a model life and dying for the sins of the world and rising on the third day is central."


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February issue


Embracing diversity