The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• In a Nov. 26 statement, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said the ELCA would “continue to urge the U.S. government to work with the international community to find peaceful means to disarm Iraq, to pursue regional arms control agreements, and to work to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.” Hanson said he had received many messages from churches worldwide that have “deep concerns about the possibility of war as a pre-emptive measure either to control the weapons of mass destruction or for the overthrow of threatening regimes.”

The “Win Without War Coalition,” a partnership of religious, civil rights and environmental groups opposed to war with Iraq, vows to mobilize a pro-peace movement among Americans. “Politicians always have their finger up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing,” said Jim Wallis, executive director of the Sojourners movement. “This coalition hopes to change the wind.” The group says it represents a cross-section of middle America which, despite polls, is uneasy about invading Iraq to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Organizers said they would pressure Congress and the media to raise questions in President Bush’s “rush to war.”

• Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, former President Jimmy Carter said, “In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary first to dehumanize our opponents, which is in itself a violation of the beliefs of all religions. Once we characterize our adversaries as beyond the scope of God’s mercy and grace, their lives lose all value.”

Ambrose Moyo, executive director of the Lutheran Communion in South Africa,asked the region’s churches to “unleash the power of the church” by engaging citizens and government leaders in a debate about public policy development. Moyo and other leaders agreed to support the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development, a plan to integrate Africa into the global economy through a partnership between African states, donor governments and the private sector. But church leaders voiced concern about the plan’s failure to include the public at all levels and its emphasis on accelerated private sector growth. Church leaders said privatization of water and electricity already has led to high prices and increased marginalization of poor people in South Africa. Moyo asked clergy to disengage from “dangerous alliances” with ruling parties they supported during the liberation struggle and to use their positions to hold public officials accountable.

Giving was down at the end of 2002, say officials at major charities, including the Salvation Army. Paul Light, director of the Washington-based Brookings Center for Public Service, said public trust in charities was “dangerously low,” although a November survey indicated a slight rise in confidence. The soft economy, stock market woes, and scandals in the American Red Cross and the Roman Catholic Church were cited for the loss of trust.

A Gallup poll of 1,017 U.S. adults found that the opinion of clergy is at an all-time low. When asked to rate the honesty and ethics of 21 professions, 52 percent of people gave high marks to clergy, with the lowest ratings coming from Roman Catholics. Clergy ranked fourth overall, behind nurses (79 percent), military officers (65 percent) and high school teachers (64 percent).

High-school seniors who are religious have higher self-esteem and are more positive about life, says the National Study of Youth and Religion from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study of 2,423 high school seniors found that 31 percent attend weekly worship services and 30 percent believe religion is important. But 13 percent to 18 percent of highly religious 12th-graders have negative life attitudes and self-images, noted researcher Christian Smith, saying, “Religion is no cure-all.”

Comcast Corp. and General Motors are two of the biggest distributors of pornography in the United States, says the Religious Alliance Against Pornography. By carrying pay-per-view adult programming on their cable networks, the companies “legitimize pornography in the minds of many people” by channeling it directly into people’s living rooms, said Jerry Kirk, co-chairman of the alliance, which brought its concerns in December to Attorney General John Ashcroft. After unsuccessful attempts to talk to the companies’ corporate executives, the alliance began a public awareness campaign and national petition drive, hoping to pressure Comcast and General Motors to get out of the porn business.

• Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper, published excerpts of a 15-page internal document it says is from the Russian Ministry of Nationalities and Migrations. The document ranks the Roman Catholic Church as the most dangerous “religious extremist” group in Russia. Protestants are ranked second, with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists third. Excerpts of the report, which the government isn’t acknowledging, were published in Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper. Russian church historian Yakov Krotov said he believed the report is true. The report advises the government migration department to expel foreign clergy. In 2002, Russia expelled one Catholic bishop, four Catholic priests and at least six Protestant missionaries. Those not listed as a security threat were the 80-million member Russian Orthodox Church, Buddhists and Jews.

Hate crimes against Muslims and people who look Middle Eastern rose from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001, the FBI reports. FBI officials say the increase may be attributed to Sept 11. Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper said many American Muslims are concerned about the demonization of Islam and feel their patriotism is always suspect.

• Zogby International’s November poll found that85 percent of Jewish Americans support creation of an independent Palestinian state, and 95 percent of Arab Americans said Israelis have the right to live in a secure, independent state. Of the 500 Muslims, Christians and Jews surveyed, 58 percent of Arab Americans and 74 percent of Jewish Americans said they were pessimistic about peace prospects in the Middle East. And 49 percent of Arabs and 42 percent of Jews blame Israelis and Palestinians equally for the breakdown of the peace process. Both groups gave President Bush low ratings for his handling of the conflict, with 66 percent of Arabs and 45 percent of Jews saying Bush should “steer a middle course” rather than give more support to one side.

A new law in Belarus bans group prayer in private homes and requires religious groups to have been registered with the government since 1982. Meant to protect Belarussians from cults, the law also requires foreign workers to get government permission to serve their communities yearly. Protestant pastor Dmitry Podblobko told Religion News Service that anti-church propaganda, ignorance and Soviet suspicion of churches other than Russian Orthodox contribute to a growing hostility toward religious minorities. Baptist pastor Dmitry Lazuta said, “A lot of people think we drink blood, that we sacrifice children. …The term ‘Baptist’ is a scary word here.”

Jubilee Campaign USA, an international human rights group, says the U.N. High Commission for Refugees abandoned its mandate by not using funds to protect North Korean refugees in China from abuse, death or prison sentences. China’s policy is to forcibly repatriate the refugees to North Korea, which places Christian converts in a vulnerable position. In November, four refugees sent back to North Korea were publicly executed after Bibles were found in their possession. Within China, the refugees are often exploited or blackmailed but don’t report the abuse for fear of being returned to North Korea. Jean-Marie Fakhouri, UNHCR staff, said the commission can’t help the refugees because China had denied access. But Jubilee director Ann Buwalda says a bilateral treaty gives the commission access to any refugees in China.

At an August meeting in Nanjing, China, 40 representatives from Chinese seminaries and Bible schools discussed strengthening theological reflection and research in China. A report from Li Renyou in the Anhui Province emphasized theological education for laity. Renyou gave examples of evangelists who, because of little Christian education, may: clean a new believer’s house of the “idols” of traditional images instead of teaching the Christian faith, tell sick people if they only had faith they would be cured, and advise poor people in remote areas not to buy at the local market in a non-Christian temple. “If we want to guide believers with correct theological thinking and forearm them against dangers and deceit, theological reconstruction is not an option, but a must for the church in China,” he said.


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February issue


Embracing diversity