The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• At a January consultation in Denver, North American delegates to the 2003 Lutheran World Federation Assembly selected ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson as their nominee for LWF president—a volunteer position. Hanson told the ELCA News Service that a U.S. LWF president can offer a “counterpoint voice” to messages from the United States that portray great political and economic power. He was selected on the second ballot, 15-3, over Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Vice President Susan Johnson. Delegates also selected nominees for LWF Council: Hanson; Emmanuel Grantson, pastor of St. Michael’s Truth Lutheran Church, Mitchellville, Md.; Barbara Rossing, associate professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; Abigail Zang, candidate for ordained ministry in the Upstate New York Synod; and Raymond Schultz, ELCIC national bishop.

North Korea’s decision to reactivate its nuclear program and expel U.N. inspectors “poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the region,” a World Council of Churches committee wrote in a Jan. 15 letter to a North Korean embassy. In the letter, the Commission of Churches on International Affairs also asked Russia, China, Japan and South Korea to urge North Korea to reverse its decision, saying “nuclear weapons, regardless of where they are and who controls them, represent an unacceptable threat to all of humanity.” The council said all nuclear weapons “must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.”

Christian leaders in Gaza condemned the Jan. 24 Israeli bombing of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, inside the Ahli Arab Hospital compound. A doctor said the missile hit the church at 2:15 a.m., damaging much of the hospital’s infrastructure and causing an elderly woman with high blood pressure to die “of fear.” The church, renovated in 1996, was left with holes in the roof and floor, shattered 100-year-old stained-glass windows and deep cracks in walls. “We collected money from so many individuals who supported the renovation of the church, and in a minute it is gone,” said Suhaila Tarazi, Ahli’s director. “Despite this, we will continue our mission of love and peace to all people.” Hospital staff said it was a targeted attack, despite their location away from apartment buildings and government or military facilities.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will convene a special assembly to decide how to handle congregations and pastors who ordain and install noncelibate gay clergy against church rules. Delegates from the 2002 General Assembly will be recalled, at a cost of $500,000, to meet for three or four days, possibly in Louisville, Ky. Alex Metherell, a church elder from California and 2002 delegate, collected signatures of 57 other delegates on a petition to force the meeting. Religion New Service reported Jan. 16 that Metherell wants the church to “respond to the growing defiance of, delinquency, and enforcement of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” Church officials tried to discourage the special meeting since the next assembly is May 24 and the church needs to cut $5 million from its budget.

Charged with heresy and abandoning the Christian faith, the United Methodist bishop of Chicago, Joseph Sprague, is being asked to renounce his views or resign. During a speech last year at Iliff School of Theology, Denver, and in the book Affirmations of a Dissenter, Sprague expressed disbelief in the virgin birth of Jesus, his bodily resurrection and his role in salvation. Bruce Ough, the bishops’ regional president, is launching an investigation that could lead to a church trial.

The new president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil called upon Lutheran Christians to realize their social responsibility. Walter Altmann asked that a commission for public affairs be appointed to address such national issues as foreign debt, globalization, decreased social spending, high crime and the drug trade. He supports the Argentinean churches’ call for the International Court of Justice in the Hague to examine the legitimacy of Brazil’s foreign debt, much of which originated in military dictatorships supported by industrialized nations. Altmann said he expected the Lutheran World Federation 10th Assembly, July 21-31 in Winnipeg Canada, to provide impetus for Lutheran churches to be seen as committed to serving people in need.

• In a Jan. 10 interview with Religion News Service, Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, criticized the Bush administration for its religious wartime rhetoric and its blind eye toward poverty and suffering. Griswold said the AIDS pandemic poses a much greater threat to U.S. security since it creates a generation of orphans living in abject poverty in fragile African democracies. Not spending more on preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa is “a manifestation of evil” and “a form of sin from which we as a nation are called to repent,” he said. “We are loathed, and I think the world has every right to loathe us, because they see us as greedy, self-interested and almost totally unconcerned about poverty, disease and suffering.” Griswold said he did not want to demonize the president but simply point out that “we have been so abundantly blessed as a nation that it’s all the more incumbent upon us that we share those blessings with others. God’s concern is for the world and not simply for a nation. … Too often we narrow down faith to serve our own immediate concerns and national interests.”

The leader of the 650,000 Christians in Iraq expressed concern about a possible Iraqi-U.S. war. “As Christians, we do not separate ourselves from the Iraqi people,” Haitham Al Jazrawi, a pastor at Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Kirkuk told Ecumenical News International. “The West is going to destroy everything here.” Up to 500,000 civilians could be injured or killed if U.S.-led forces invade Iraq, says a leaked U.N. report described in a U.N. Foundation news release (Jan. 8). The report, “Likely Humanitarian Scenarios,” says Iraq would face a worse humanitarian crisis than the one following the 1991 Gulf War since economic sanctions weakened and left citizens more dependent on the government for basic necessities.

• After a four-day visit to Iraq, a 13-member National Council of Churches delegation said a war would make the United States less secure against terrorism and cause great suffering and loss of life for civilians. “War is not inevitable and can be averted, even at this moment,” the delegation said. “We visited schools and hospitals and saw for ourselves the devastating impact of 12 years of sanctions on the people of Iraq. We touched babies suffering illnesses that can be prevented by proper medication currently unavailable to the people of Iraq.” The delegation questioned the “cruelty” of the U.N. “oil for food” program and the authoritarian government and human rights situation in Iraq.

Participants in a Christian-Jewish student dialogue said they often saw subtle anti-Semitism in Argentina and Uruguay. Jeronimo Granados, a pastor of the Lutheran World Federation-member Evangelical Church of the River Plate and a professor at the Buenos Aires Protestant college, said people who become wealthy quickly are sometimes called “Jews.” Shlomo Sudicovish, a rabbinical student, said some of the issues were “due to the behavior of both sides. We, the Jews, always tend to stay among ourselves.” And Juan Armin Ihle, a Lutheran pastor in Montevideo, Uruguay, said he noticed that many pastors “do not distinguish between Jews and the politics of the State of Israel.” Last August, Argentina’s United Evangelical Lutheran Church expressed deep sadness for anti-Jewish trends in its church history. It said anti-Semitism “is an insult to the gospel and a downright violation of our hope and calling.”

• As 30 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi face starvation, Lutheran World Relief and Action by Churches Together supply drought-stricken Africans with food and other aid. In Ethiopia, a Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman Catholic partnership provides food, livestock, medicines, seeds and tools for 140,000 people. In Kenya, a 2-year-old LWR project helps livestock owners get veterinary services, storage tanks and an early warning system. And in Zimbabwe, the church helps 11,000 families with food aid, as well as seeds for drought-tolerant crops. About 5.7 million is needed for the work, and agencies are warning that help must be sent soon to save the most vulnerable. To contribute, send checks to: ELCA World Hunger Appeal, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764; www.elca.org/giving.

Governments worldwide are using the U.S.-led war on terror as a pretext for repression against religious and other groups, reported the Human Rights Watch. The New York-based watchdog agency said that while the United States was “far from the worst human rights abuser,” the Bush administration set a tone that made it possible for governments to disregard human rights standards. “An anti-terrorism policy that ignores human rights is a gift to the terrorists,” the Jan. 14 report states. “It reaffirms the violent instrumentalism that breeds terrorism as it undermines the public support needed to defeat terrorism.” The report also said the United States failed to pressure friendly countries and allies such as China and Pakistan about their human rights abuses. Nations listed as the most highly repressive included China, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Liberia and Vietnam.


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February issue


Embracing diversity