The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Police can't evict homeless people sleeping on a Manhattan church's front steps, ruled the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in June. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian sued police on the basis of freedom of religious belief, asserting its constitutional right to minister to the homeless by offering church grounds as shelter. Police argued that the practice violates city ordinances.

The Lutheran Church ­Missouri Synod's national office offered early retirement packages to 90 employees aged 55 and older. Since vacant positions aren't being filled, only 12 staff need to retire for the LCMS to help offset $9.1 million in budget cuts. The LCMS is also budgeting less for its universities and seminaries, church plants, conferences, ministry to the blind, missionary training, and its monthly newspaper, The Reporter, which will move from up to 16 pages to eight pages.

Civil rights groups protested after Peter Kirsanow, a Bush-appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, suggested at a Detroit hearing that Americans might call for Arab American internment camps in the event of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Religion News Service says Kirsanow also proposed that after another attack "not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling." Despite Kirsanow's claim to oppose internment camps, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee demanded his removal from the commission.

• A 19,000-member Roman Catholic lay reform group started a fund that would allow contributions to be designated for specific programs in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston — rather than applied by the diocese to administrative or other costs. The group, Voice of the Faithful, was founded in February in the wake of the U.S. clergy sexual abuse scandal. It has collected more than $10,000, but the archdiocese — which has seen a drop from $7.5 million in pledges by July 2001 to $4.8 million a year later — refused the donation. An archdiocesan spokeswoman said the group's approach "does not recognize the role of the archbishop" in providing for church programs. Voice of the Faithful intends to send the offering to Catholic groups not funded by the archdiocese.

• AJuly report from the International Anglican Conversations on Human Sexuality doesn't offer definitive conclusions regarding the church's position on homosexuality. The 12 bishops and primates who participated in the conversations over the course of three years "agreed to disagree" while emphasizing areas of mutual assent. The group encouraged face-to-face conversation among Anglicans, affirmed the Bible's "foundational" role, rejected all promiscuous and abusive sexual behavior, and cautioned members not to allow the focus on sexuality to distract the church from other crucial issues.

Lutheran pastors — along with Benedictine monks, Roman Catholic nuns and other Protestant clergy — may live longer than the general population, says a report published by the Journal of Religion and Health after three decades of research. The study of American and European "religious professionals" concluded that 10 percent fewer
clergy died than nonclergy of the same age, sex, and race. The "contemplative lifestyle" shared by religious professionals provides lower occupational stress, lower blood pressure and "high levels of personal resources."

Lutheran World Relief sent aid to Peru and Bolivia after July snowstorms dampened firewood, the only source of heat, and more than 60 people died from below-zero temperatures. Snow and cold also killed crops and livestock, including more than 50,000 llamas and alpacas in Bolivia. More than 20,000 houses in Peru were destroyed by snow. The LWF offered temporary food rations and helped more than half of affected families in Peru and Bolivia to redevelop agricultural capabilities.

American Jews seeking resettlement in Israel receive millions of dollars in aid from evangelical Christians through "Christian Zionist" groups or Christian/Jewish organizations. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has raised more than $60 million for Jewish immigration and aid in eight years. Many of these Christian groups believe Israel's founding in 1948 set into motion biblically predicted events that will lead to the second coming of Christ, and they intend their support of Israel to assist the process. Dozens of other evangelical Christian leaders who don't support this biblical interpretation — or uncritical support for U.S. aid to Israel — wrote to President Bush asking for a more "even-handed U.S. policy" toward Israel and Palestine.

A poll by the National Post newspaper in Canada found that the majority of Canadian Roman Catholics disagree with church teachings about sexuality and marriage. Among Canadian Catholics, 82 percent believe priests should be allowed to marry, 80 percent support the ordination of women and 70 percent say divorced people should be allowed to remarry in the church. Seventy percent also support removing the church's ban on birth control. Reginald Bibby, a Canadian religion expert, said the majority of Canadian Catholics — almost half of the population — showed a "pick-and-choose style" when subscribing to church teachings.

In July, South Asian church leaders warned that India and Pakistan's concentration of resources on military buildup — related to conflict over Kashmir — endangers the health and economic welfare of the region's people. One economist estimated that a 2 percent cut in India's defense spending would provide safe drinking water for 226 million or free medicines for 135 million. Growing poverty and malnutrition were cited as effects of increased military spending.

Drought and food shortages in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia threaten almost 11 million people. Most families in Zimbabwe are limited to one meal daily. In Zimbabwe, Lutheran World Relief and partner organizations provided food for 50,000 children, rations for 11,000 families in a food-for-work program, and seeds for drought-resistant crops. In Ethiopia, LWR and partners distributed food to 135,000, seeds and tools to 16,000 farmers, goats and sheep to 1,000 women, and medicines to 20,000 people.

The Associated Press and Townnews.com say Chinese authorities blocked a British Broadcasting Corp. broadcast in China that focused on Falun Gong. A state official said the program included "some content that is not allowed." The Chinese government now requires foreign broadcasting companies to use a state-owned satellite and can turn off programs it believes inappropriate.

Catholicism "no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity," announced the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues in August. Their joint statement declared targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity no longer theologically acceptable. The statement — authored by Jews and Catholics — is the first to officially state the belief that both religious traditions are "beloved of God and assured of his grace." Both Jews and Catholics, the statement says, claim a common expectation of the Messiah's coming — the return of Christ, in the case of Christians, and the Jewish belief in the Messiah who has not yet come.

The Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council held their first face-to-face meeting since 1988 in Geneva, Switzerland, July 30 to Aug. 1. The ILC, which includes the Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod and 28 other member bodies, has often been at odds with the LWF, of which the ELCA is a member. Discussions between the two, said a joint news release, took place in a "very cordial and constructive atmosphere," emphasized confessional similarities and pinpointed areas of disagreement for further discussion.

• An elementary education professor at United Methodist-affiliated DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., is suing the school for unfair treatment. Janis Price’s suit says she was reprimanded and her salary and job responsibilities reduced after a student read a classroom copy of Teachers in Focus, produced by Focus on the Family. The magazine included advice for teachers hoping to battle “the onslaught of gay activists in your school.” Price’s lawyer argues that the magazine isn’t required reading or part of the curriculum, and says the university’s disciplinary actions were unwarranted.

The effects of economic globalization and its incompatibility with Christian principles were the focus of a July conference in the Netherlands that included the Lutheran World Federation and World Council of Churches. Urging churches in Western Europe to “choose between God and mammon,” the ecumenical conference cited the increased gap between poor and rich, the privatization of social services, and damage to the environment as examples of a system that “does not center on human social needs but on the unlimited, uncontrolled accumulation of capital.” The LWF asked all member churches to examine the subject and develop a response. The LWF 10th Assembly in Canada in 2003 will also examine globalization.

• In July, church and social workers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile considered ways to improve the denomination’s widespread social programs. Participants affirmed the church’s call to work with social issues and discussed strengthening the programs’ Lutheran identity and the relationships between congregational projects. Each of the 10 congregations of the 3,000-member IELCH offers nursery, primary, and continuing education, small grants to independent businesses, or counseling for female victims of domestic violence.

Christian leaders in Europe and the Middle East criticized U.S. plans for military incursions into Iraq. In an August statement, the Middle East Council of Churches detailed the destructive effects military action would have on the Iraqi people, already suffering from the repercussions of economic sanctions. More than 3,000 Christian leaders sent a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, objecting on legal and moral grounds to U.S. proposals for war.

North Carolina’s House Appropriations Committee refused public funding for a voluntary freshman orientation program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, that asks students to read and discuss an academic book on the Quran. The Family Policy Network, a Virginia-based Christian organization, filed a lawsuit against the university alleging that the choice of texts was tantamount to indoctrination. UNC maintained that its curriculum wasn’t designed to promote Islam but to provide fodder for conversation and develop understanding of Islamic beliefs in the wake of Sept. 11. In August, a U.S. District Court judge declined to grant a restraining order against the program.

• To prevent sexual abuse between clergy and parishioners, Roman Catholic churches in England and Wales installed “see-through” confessionals. The booths, enclosed by glass doors that are soundproofed for privacy, cost about $1,500 each. The move received mixed reviews from parishioners. A Catholic bishop in San Jose, Calif., implemented a similar program, requiring windows to be installed in modern confessionals in 52 parishes.


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