The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• Wallace Schulz, LCMS second vice president,suspended Atlantic District President David Benke for his participation in "A Prayer for America," a post-Sept. 11 event at Yankee Stadium that included non-Christians. LCMS bylaws say Benke may not accept another call or carry out LCMS and district duties during the appeal process. Benke can continue serving as pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, but the district's first vicce president will take over his duties as president. David Maahsman, LCMS director for news and information, says LCMSbylaws provide for "one of two results: the person can either be removed from the roster of the Synod or fully restored to whatever office he holds."

• After a five-year dialogue, theMoravian Church in America and the Episcopal Church approved an interim agreement for eucharistic sharing. Future talks will deal with areas of common mission, said Thomas Ferguson, associate deputy for ecumenical relations for the Episcopal Church, "with the hope of further theological dialogue to allow for a possible full communion proposal in 2006 or 2009." Both church bodies are in full communion with the ELCA.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and six synod bishops were among more than 200 religious and faith-based leaders who wrote a June 1 letter to President Bush, asking him to provide adequate housing for more than 200,000 working families. The “National Call for Action on Housing” letter urged Bush to sign the 2001 National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act, which has bipartisan support. More than 5.4 million families live in unsafe or unhealthy conditions, the letter says. It also points to the nation’s shortage of more than 4.4 million low-income housing units. Religious leaders say the act would focus more than 93 percent of housing funds on extremely low-income families, create 1.5 million new units of low-income housing by 2010 and generate 180,000 living wage jobs.

• During a four-day trip to Israel and Palestine in June, a Lutheran World Federation delegation visited Lutheran institutions in the West Bank, praising the work of the church in the Holy Land while assessing damages caused by Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities. The delegation met with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. They told Peres that $1 million damage had been caused to church property during the conflict, including Bethlehem’s Dar al-Kalima Lutheran School, Abraham’s Herberge and Lutheran Home for Boys in Beit Jala, and the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah.

• In the fiscal year that began July 1, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s budget was reduced by $10 million. The cut was in response to decreased percentages of congregational offerings donated to the churchwide level. Brad Hewitt, chief administrative officer, said there may be some job losses at the national office and fewer national-level programs. Noting that financial support of local and regional LCMS programs is increasing as churchwide support decreases, Hewitt conjectures that the cuts reflect a shift in focus from national to regional rather than an outright loss of funding.

The percentage of American adults with “unquestionably anti-Semitic” views rose from 12 percent to 17 percent since 1998, according to an Anti-Defamation League study. The survey gauged “hard-core” or “most anti-Semitic” attitudes by six or more affirmative responses to 11 anti-Jewish statements. The ADL cited the Sept. 11 attacks and the Mideast conflict as influences but emphasized pre-existing anti-Jewish sentiment in U.S. culture.

• Through a $1 million partnership,ELCA partner Habitat for Humanity and media conglomerate AOL Time Warner will offer low-income homeowners Internet access. The partnership, launched June 12, begins in Forsyth County, N.C., with 200 computers. Kay Lord, the county’s Habitat director, predicts that beginning in 2005, every home built by Habitat may include a computer and Internet access.

• In a hotly contested decision, Greater Vancouver became the first Anglican diocese in Canada to formally approve same-sex union ceremonies. The decision was made by 63 percent of voters at a diocese meeting. Following the announcement by diocese Bishop Michael Ingham, 60 dissenting priests and attendees walked out in protest. Those remaining responded to Ingham’s call for “mutual understanding and reconciliation” with a standing ovation.

For the first time, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands elected a woman president at its May 31-June 1 synod meeting. Referring to a bogged-down merger process between the Dutch Lutheran Church, the Netherlands Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, newly elected president Illona Fritz reminded synod members that their signing of the 1973 Leuenberg Agreement meant “that there are no longer any issues … that divide us as churches.” Synod members expressed concern about the efforts within the Netherlands Reformed Church to remove blessings of life partnerships other than traditional marriages from a draft constitution for the new, merged church.

While religious involvement in the United Nations is increasing as a whole, the role of liberal mainline Protestant denominations is decreasing, according to a study by the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics and released by Religion Counts. The study, “Religion and Public Policy at the United Nations,” listed conservative Christians and Buddhists as groups with increased roles, although faith-based groups still make up fewer than 10 percent of nongovernmental organizations represented at the United Nations. One exception to the study’s observation of declining mainline Protestant participation was the Lutheran World Federation, described by Religion News Service as “known for a ‘nose to the grindstone’ approach toward working at the United Nations.”

A new anti-terrorism strategy announced by the U.S. Justice Department in June drew accusations of discrimination from American Islamic groups and civil organizations. Attorney General John Ashcroft says the plan requires some 100,000 holders of U.S. visas who “may pose a national security concern” to undergo photographing, fingerprinting and registration. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union feel the strategy will single out Muslims and other Arabs.

Although accounting firm Arthur Andersen has not verbally acknowledged culpability in the 1999 bankruptcy of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, the firm paid a $217 million settlement. Andersen accepted the settlement one week into the trial of the civil suit brought against Andersen by the foundation, after rejecting a prior settlement for the same amount. The settlement falls short of the $570 million lost in the bankruptcy but will restore approximately half of the investments of more than 10,000 of the foundation’s investors.

• During a May 23 episode of ABC’s “The View,” viewers in New York heard Joy Behar say “Yes, and thank you, thank you, Jesus, is all I have to say” when a co-host mentioned that Behar’s regime of daily weigh-ins had ended.The word “Jesus” was bleeped from the West Coast version because ABC felt the exclamation was not made in a “respectful and reverent manner” and so violated network policy. Show co-hosts and conservative Christian groups criticized the decision.

• On June 13, the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops apologized to victims of clergy sexual abuse, admitting responsibility for not doing more to stop the problem. Lay representatives at the bishops’ meeting in Dallas, castigated the bishops for being “aloof” to the pain their inaction caused. On June 14, the bishops instituted sweeping reforms. An investigative panel will report yearly on how the 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses implement these reforms. Panel members include Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, former Clinton attorney Robert Bennett, Illinois appellate judge Anne Burke and abuse survivor Michael Bland.

• At a May meeting in Washington, D.C., the ELCA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continued their 10th round of dialogue, which began in 1998. Talks focused on the structure and outline of a document meant to bring the two churches into closer relationship. The meeting included attendance at a Catholic mass and a Lutheran service. The group plans to highlight common beliefs and different emphases in understandings of the nature and role of the church and ministry.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the First Amendment protects the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other solicitors to conduct door-to-door canvassing without a permit. The suit was brought against Stratton, Ohio, by Jehovah’s Witnesses, supported by the ACLU as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Independent Baptist Churches of America.

• A physician from the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Saudi Arabia reported at a Canadian biotechnology conference that Saudi scientists and religious leaders developed a set of Muslim fatwas, or religious rules, to allow stem cell research at the facility. Islam doesn’t recognize the beginning of human life in an embryo until 120 days after conception, making possible t
he extraction of stem cells from human fetuses that are miscarried or aborted for medical reasons.

• British Roman Catholics Patrick O’Donoghue, bishop of Lancaster, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, denounced a British Parliament proposal to exclude refugee children from mainstream education. They also criticized lengthy procedures for immigration and general European prejudice and hostility. O’Connor’s statement recognized the often-tumultuous conditions from which refugees have fled and said that unwelcoming European policies are “burdens added to the pain of exile.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom held a hearing to examine Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat, India, since February. The hearing came in response to allegations that leading officials in the Gujarat state government were complicit in violence against Muslims. In one incident, Ahsan Jafri, a Muslim advocate for communal harmony, and a former Parliamentarian, called for police assistance Feb. 28 after a mob threatened his apartment complex. Despite hours of pleas, the police never came and Jafri was hacked to death. Some sources place the death toll at 2,500.


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February issue


Embracing diversity