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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

A Lutheran agency gave $50,000 to the Anglican Church in Canada

to help promote “healing and reconciliation” between the church and former students of its defunct residential schools. More than 6,000 lawsuits had alleged abuse of American Indian children at the schools. Lutheran Life Insurance Society of Canada suggested its grant be used toward related healing and reconciliation work. Accordingly, the church will use some of the money to plan healing strategies and help reconnect native people with their culture and heritage.

Pat Robertson resigned as president of the Christian Coalition Dec. 5, with plans to become more active in “Christian ministry” and his role as chair and CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network. During his tenure, the coalition won legal battles to distribute voter guides, which critics said were designed to help Republican candidates. Robertson expressed confidence in the coalition’s future, adding, “Without us, I do not believe that George Bush would be sitting in the White House or that Republicans would be in control of the U.S. House of Representatives.” Executive Vice President Roberta Coombs, elected to succeed Robertson, said his role would be missed, but that the “successful nonpartisan” voter guide distribution would continue.

African American clergy questioned flag-waving faith as they gathered Dec. 4 for the Congress of National Black Churches in Washington D.C. “This shotgun wedding between patriotism and Christianity is very disturbing to me,” said John Hurst Adams, founder and chairman emeritus of the congress, He challenged leaders to “protect the integrity” of Christian faith by not using it to justify racism in the name of patriotism.

Israel should obey international law banning indiscriminate force against civilians, torture and property destruction, said the World Council of Churches. The WCC’s Dec. 4 statement was issued as Israel and the United States boycotted a conference for the 189 signers of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. Throughout Israel’s 34-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem, the nation has refused to recognize the application of the convention in occupied Palestinian territories.

An Orange County, Fla., property appraiser says a biblically themed amusement park in Orlando, Fla., should be taxed like any other local entertainment venue. The $16 million, 15-acre Holy Land Experience theme park receives 1,000 visitors daily, charging them $17 per adult and $12 per child. The county has sent the park a $28,000 property tax bill for this year. But the group that runs the park is a tax-exempt nonprofit religious enterprise, and claims the park should also be exempt, since it’s a “Bible-believing Christian ministry.”

A federal judge ruled Dec. 19 that police must stop removing several dozen homeless people who sleep overnight on the steps of a New York City Presbyterian church. The judge said removing the homeless violates the church’s right to free expression. Margaret Shafer, outreach coordinator of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, said the congregation would stand their ground. “The problem is that rich people don’t like to look at poor people,” Shafer said. “One role that churches serve in a community is as a conscience.” So far, parishioners have helped 14 homeless visitors find permanent housing, reunited three with their families, and helped six others receive medical care.

Amity News Service says Inner Mongolia lacks well-trained pastoral workers for the growing number of Protestant Christians on China’s northern border. An estimated 172,000 of the region’s 24 milion people are Christians and worship at more than 1,000 sites. The Inner Mongolia Christian Council is working to strengthen lay training so scriptural misinterpretations and superstitions aren’t conveyed by charismatic but poorly educated church workers. One church in Hohhot resolved to hold Wednesday theological study groups for all its pastoral workers. But congregations in more remote and impoverished areas can’t organize such groups as easily.

Last December, Lutheran World Relief’s efforts reached 8,600 families of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, with aid including high energy biscuits to 600 malnourished children in Kabul. In January, Afghan refugees were to receive 18,000 quilts and $250,000 in layettes. Affiliated local groups now plan to distribute monthly supplies of beans, rice, sugar and ghee, to 21,400 more families. Winter cold is making the malnourished more vulnerable to disease. With about 2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, LWR aid totaled $519,000 in December.

A Dec. 12 report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors says hunger has increased sharply in America. Twenty-five of 27 major cities surveyed showed an average 23 percent increase in requests for emergency food aid, while resources to fill such requests increased only 12 percent. Hardest hit were Santa Monica, Calif. (50 percent), and Phoenix (44 percent). In 85 percent of the cities, facilities had to decrease the amount of food aid given or the number of times a family could receive food.

Use of the death penalty decreased to 214 death sentences in 2000, down 29 percent from 1998, according to the U.S. Justice Department. USA Today reports that the number of executions in 2001 will be 32 percent lower than in 1999. More than half of the executions in 2001 took place in five states: Texas, California, North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Muslim scholars in the United States say Osama bin Laden misquoted the Quran and Islamic teachings in the homemade videotape released Dec. 13 by the U.S. government. Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Plainfield, Ind., rejected the notion that passages in the Quran that mention violence could justify mass violence. “Radical extremists want to legitimize their beliefs and their actions,” said Osman Bakar at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Washington, D.C. “This kind of approach is not adopted by Muslim scholars. Everything said by the Prophet is always contextual. It must not be taken out of context.”

Federal agents raided the Bridgeview, Ill., offices and froze the assets of the Global Relief Foundation, the nation’s second largest Muslim charity, Dec. 14. The foundation protested federal actions, saying it put people in parts of the Muslim world at risk of “slow starvation and gruesome death.” In a statement the group asked: “Why must religiously obligated charity destined to help the freezing, starving children of Afghanistan, languish in a U.S. bank …?” Global Relief is one of eight Muslim charities under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for alleged ties to terrorists. The group denies that it is under investigation or has any such ties, but donations have fallen 90 percent. It filed lawsuits against six major news organizations, including ABC News, claiming that their “false and outrageous accounts” damaged the group’s fund-raising ability. Several of the defendants, including ABCNews, have since retracted statements.

A union of more than 1,500 Anglican clergy is offering martial arts classes to vicars after a survey showed that one in eight of the priests are assaulted. “It is a sad fact of modern life that members of the clergy will come into contact with individuals who are likely to resort to violence,” said Bill Ward, head of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union’s clergy section.

South China Church underground leader Gong Shengliang, 46, and his niece, Li Ying, were sentenced to death Dec. 30 by a court in Jingmen, China. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong says Shengliang was charged with rape and “hooliganism” and found guilty of injuries to four people during an exorcism. China’s anti-cult law holds religious leaders responsible for injuries to church members, even if leaders are not directly involved.

Lutherans in Romania are condemning government plans for a Dracula theme park outside Sighisoara in the North. Park supporters hope a theme park based on the fictional Transylvanian vampire will encourage tourism. “We urge you to find other uses for the region’s natural, historical and rural resources,” the Lutheran church’s superior consistory said in a statement. “Universally known and recognized Christian and humane values are being imperiled by this attempt to promote entertainment and games based on cruelty, horror, occultism and vaumpirism.” Officials of the Romanian Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches also criticized the project.

Lutherans in the Evangelical Church of the River Plate say Argentina’s $132 billion foreign debt is at the heart of country’s current economic crisis. Lutherans are working with Roman Catholics to determine the legality of some of the debts, said church President Juan Pedro Schaad Nov. 15. Scaad called the debt incurred during the country’s 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship illegal, and said the 14 percent interest rate was ethically questionable and “criminal.” But Schaad said even a reduction of the debt wouldn’t solve the structural problems of the world economy. “In globalization there are winners and losers,” he warned.

The ELCA affirmed a new relationship Nov. 30 to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development to withstand HIV/AIDS. Lutheran World Relief will receive resources and technical assistance from USAID groups that respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. “We face a formidable task,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who spoke at a D.C. press conference with the Anglican archbishop of South Africa and a Muslim leader from Uganda. “Yet I am absolutely convinced that AIDS is preventable and that the religious community is I a strategic position to help communities meet the challenges posed by AIDS.”

 


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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