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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Jan Kok, 59, World Council of Churches publisher, died Feb. 7. Kok devoted nearly half of his professional life to the WCC and the ecumenical movement. Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary, said, “For more than a quarter century, [Kok] has decisively influenced the public image and perception of the council.”

Desmond Tutu, retired Anglican archbishop of South Africa, criticized attitudes that dismiss others as hopeless or evil. Preaching to 700 worshipers at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Boston in February, Tutu said: “We are giving up on a fellow human being when we demonize a fellow human being.” Asking if listeners regarded Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida as human beings, he said, “The Christian God we worship gives up on no one.” Tutu ended his sermon by saying that Jesus promised “not to lift up some but to lift up all,” and listed citizens of two nations President Bush called part of an “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address.

Religious freedom isn’t something to fear, President Bush told Chinese university students in Beijing on Feb. 22. Believers of all faiths are “no threat to public order,” Bush said, saying his “prayer is that persecution will end, so that all in China are free to gather and worship as they wish.” Since enacting a 1999 anti-cult law, the Chinese government has labeled unauthorized religious groups as “evil cults.” Groups that register with the government and agree to certain restrictions are allowed to operate.

The May election for archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada, part of the Anglican Church of Canada, will take place by e-mail and fax. As an alternative to holding a meeting of the provincial council, the church planned an electronic election to save travel costs and bypass scheduling difficulties. Non-province members will field the ballots to protect voter anonymity.

The moderate Mainstream Baptist Network asked Southern Baptist Convention leaders to rescind their decision to no longer endorse women chaplains and to require that global mission workers sign the denomination’s latest faith statement. In a Feb. 15 statement, the network said requiring workers to sign the statement “violates their conscience and conviction that there is no creed but the Bible.” Meanwhile, the Mississippi Baptist Convention hasn’t issued any complaints about the installation of Carla Streets as senior pastor of the Jackson, Miss., congregation she had co-served for nine years.

The U.S. Supreme Court began deliberating Feb. 20 on whether a voucher program violates constitutional requirements for separation of church and state. Focusing on a pilot program in Cleveland, the justices looked at the high number (99 percent) of students enrolled in the voucher program who have chosen religious schools and whether the program truly offers parents an array of educational options. Outside court proceedings, Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee, said she hoped the court would rule the program an “unrestricted subsidy of religious education.” But Gregory Baylor, director of the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, said “parents are exercising their choices” since most kept their children in public schools.

A majority of presbyteries (regional bodies similar to ELCA synods) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted Feb. 19 to uphold a ban on noncelibate gay clergy. The vote wasn’t overwhelming, since 42 percent of delegates asked for the ban to be removed. The denomination also faces a projected $2.5 million budget shortfall for 2002, and a $5.5 million deficit for 2003. Church officials are proposing internal cuts, a change from annual to biannual national meetings, and a 2.8 percent increase in per-member donations Presbyterian churches give to local presbyteries.

For the first time, the 5.2 million members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints are among the five largest churches in the United States, moving the 5.1 million-member ELCA to sixth place. The top three churches listed in the 2002 Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches, compiled by the National Council of Churches, are: Roman Catholic: 63.6 million, Southern Baptist Convention: 15.9 million, United Methodist: 8.3 million, Church of God in Christ: 5.4 million.

Pope John Paul II told the Vatican to allow historians access to its archives on the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with Germany before World War II and the Holocaust. Archives officials said the move was an attempt to “put an end to unjust and ungrateful speculation” that Pope Pius XII didn’t try to protect Jews from the Nazis. The files will be available in 2003.

The 80,000-member Lutheran Church of Nigeria established a mission in the Gambia, a mostly Muslim country of 1.4 million on Africa’s western coast. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gambia has five congregations and preaching stations so far. Gambia is about 9 percent Christian.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked Jewish Americans for funds to help bring Argentinean Jews to Israel. Argentina’s political and economic crises make it harder for Jews to immigrate, he told the United Jewish Communities Feb. 8. Sharon hopes to bring 1 million Jewish people to Israel within the next 10 to 12 years to bolster the country’s security and economy.

Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights, a peace group that replants Palestinian olive trees that have been uprooted by Israeli military or Jewish settler vigilantes, is having a harder time reaching out to Palestinians and Israelis. Many Israeli Jews regard the group as “pro-Palestinian,” and recent attacks against Jews in the West Bank have made it difficult for the rabbis to visit the Palestinian area. Israeli Brigadier Gen. Dov Tzedaka, admitted in the Israeli army magazine, Bemahane, that uprooting trees has become a problem: “You give permission to uproot 30 trees, and the next day you come and see that they’ve uprooted 60 trees. The soldier or company commander gets carried away.”

The U.S. Department of Defense changed its policy requiring U.S. female military in Saudi Arabia to wear a head-to-toe Muslim covering when they go off base. The instructions now “strongly encourage” but don’t require such clothing. The action came after Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the grounds of religious freedom. She continues to sue the department over other complaints, such as requiring servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to ride in the back of military vehicles.

Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (and Palestine), told Minneapolis church leaders that President Bush should meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Noting that Bush has met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four times, Younan said, “To be an honest peace broker, you must meet with both sides and not isolate one leader. No leader is perfect, but if we want peace we must listen to both sides and build on the pain and frustration of both sides.”

The Associated Baptist Press says accounting firm Arthur Andersen is quietly trying to settle a lawsuit involving the bankrupt Baptist Foundation of Arizona. Foundation investors claim Andersen ignored red flags and issued clean audits, aiding and abetting foundation officers who defrauded 13,000 investors out of $590 million—leading to what is thought to be the largest bankruptcy of a church organization in U.S. history. USA Today reports that Anderson denied any wrongdoing but offered the foundation’s bankruptcy trust $150 million to settle. The suit asks for $300 million in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages.

After complaints were received from Muslim and Arab American organizations, the U.S. Justice Department denied a report that Attorney General John Ashcroft offensively described mainline Islam in a Nov. 9 interview. Columnist Cal Thomas said Ashcroft told him: “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.” Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden said the remarks “do not accurately reflect the attorney general’s views” and refer only to “extremist suicide terrorists.” But the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said Feb. 11 that they won’t accept “such a blatantly inflammatory and bigoted statement” and asked supporters to seek Ashcroft’s resignation.

The Global Relief Foundation, a Chicago-based Muslim charity, filed a suit protesting the constitutionality of the U.S. Treasury Department’s freezing of its $900,000 assets in December 2001. Although, as the suit claims, “no indictment or other formal allegation” has been made against the company, informal allegations of terrorist links have meant the U.S. government continues to hold GRF’s assets. Denying any terrorist ties, the GRF claims it can’t pay its operating expenses and has been forced to cut off contributions to international humanitarian relief efforts.

A 200-page study issued by the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Committee affirms the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The study emphasizes the importance of the Old Testament, rejects interpretations of the New Testament as “anti-Judaism,” and draws parallels between Christians’ eschatological hopes and Jewish expectations of the coming Messiah, claiming “the Jewish messianic wait is not in vain” because Christians also believe in “he who will come.”

The 2.6 million-member Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is starting a 15-year, $100 million outreach project to bring the gospel to 100 million unchurched people. The plan calls for a five-year fund-raising effort, building “strategic mission alliances” at home and abroad, planting 5,000 Lutheran congregations and mission stations worldwide, and doubling the number of missionaries in the LCMS and its partner churches. “Because the LCMS has been gifted by God with a clear confessional doctrine and a complete understanding of God’s Great Commission, I not only believe we can reach the goal, I believe that, by God’s power, we can exceed it,” said Robert Roegner, executive director of the LCMS mission board.

• Roberto Stein, executive secretary of Argentina’s United Evangelical Lutheran Church, asked the ELCA to accompany the church through a national recession and the threat of civil war. In a Jan. 30 response, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson wrote that, as North Americans who live “on the benefit side of economic globalization, we know we must not only share generously from our abundance, but we must also ask deep questions about the causes of disasters, such as the recent one in Argentina.” The ELCA International Disaster Response sent $20,000 in January to support the Argentinean church’s food program for children, and $15,000 in February to support its soup kitchen and women’s clothing pantry.

A Sudanese military plane bombed a humanitarian aid center in northern Bahr El Ghazal Feb. 9, killing a 9-year-old and wounding a toddler and five women, said civil commissioner Victor Akok. The plane dropped seven bombs as U.N. food aid was being distributed to civilians gathered at the aid center airstrip. Calling the bombing a “deliberate and barbaric terrorist attack,” Akok urged the United States and the international community to stop the Muslim fundamentalist government in Khartoum from “waging jihad — terrorism against our innocent civilians.”

The initial findings of a four-year United Methodist study on communion practices recommend that its churches observe the eucharist weekly, moving the church toward a “richer sacramental life.” A final report will be issued at the church’s general conference in 2004.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said he would not resign after a poll showed half of local Roman Catholics wanted him to do so for his handling of clergy sex abuse cases. Law assigned John Geoghan to a parish knowing he had been treated for pedophilia. Geoghan, who is no longer a priest, has been convicted of child molestation. Calling his earlier decision “tragically incorrect,” Law pledged the archdiocese to a “policy of zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children” and gave more than 80 names of current and former priests accused of child abuse to police.

Judges who follow Roman Catholic teaching against the death penalty should resign, said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a devout Catholic, to a Georgetown University audience Feb. 4. Scalia’s comments followed Pope John Paul’s Jan. 28 statement that Catholic judges and lawyers shouldn’t participate in divorce proceedings because it is a “plague” that has “devastating consequences” on society.

• At a Washington, D.C., conference in January to support peace and reconciliation efforts by the New Sudan Council of Churches in southern Sudan, representatives from Dinka and Nuer Sudanese communities in the United States pledged support for cooperative work between the two Sudanese peoples. A decade-old conflict between the Dinka and Nuer in Sudan had carried over into relations between Sudanese living in U.S. communities. Conference participants called for reconciliation and solidarity to support all Sudanese living in the United States.


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November issue

NOVEMBER issue:

The ELCA's aging clergy wave

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