The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



A report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse saysboth medicine and spirituality may play a role in combating substance abuse. The center linked church attendance with a lower frequency of drug and alcohol use and cited the higher success rate of treatment programs that contain elements of spirituality. The report notes that most clergy lack expertise to tackle the problem of abuse. It also encouraged training for clergy and medical professionals in using both communities' resources in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops elected its first African American president Nov. 13. Wilton Gregory, the former bishop of a Southern Illinois diocese, identified dialogue between Muslims and Christians as a main priority for the U.S. Roman Catholic Church. He also called for outreach to younger generations and inactive Catholics. Wilton is one of 13 African American bishops.

Roman Catholic bishops in England and Wales called for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. "The illegal occupation [by Israel] needs to be brought speedily to an end, otherwise the appropriation of territory by force will have been successfully consolidated," said the bishops' conference. "The invasion and blockade of Palestinian cities likewise cannot be condoned. This practice destroys the fabric of their social and economic life."

A study of U.S. congregations by Faith Communities Today shows that72 percent of megachurches-those with an average worship attendance of 2,000-are in the West and South. . Scott Thumma, a researcher at Hartford [Conn.] Seminary, said almost all of the 600 churches surveyed had small fellowship groups and about half described themselves as a "close-knit family." Forty-eight percent characterized themselves as "evangelical," and nearly one-third were not affiliated with a denomination. The churches had an average of 13 ministerial staff, 25 program staff, 297 weekly volunteers. Nearly 60 percent had sports and physical fitness teams.

Suhail Khan isthe first White House staff member assigned specifically to reach out to American Muslims, reported Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, a PBS TV program. Muslim leaders approved the development, but said there were still no Muslims in decision-making positions in the U.S. government.

In a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the Bush administration to lay the groundwork for religious freedom in Afghanistan. "Without strong U.S. leadership to ensure the protection of religious freedom and tolerance, we fear that egregious persecution will soon again be the norm," they wrote.

The Presbyterian Church of Sudan filed a $1 billion class-action lawsuit in U.S. courts against a Canadian oil company, accusing it of helping the Sudanese government commit human rights abuses in southern Sudan. The lawsuit accuses Talisman Energy Inc. of "willfully and knowingly" giving the government access to company roads and airfields to carry out bombing runs and ground attacks on civilians in violation of international law. In related news, the Bush administration extended its sanctions against Sudan for another year, citing the country's involvement with terrorism and human rights violations.

To stave off a $2.1 million budget deficit,the National Council of Churches cut more than a quarter of its workforce. The 52-year-old ecumenical group, which represents 36 churches including the ELCA, has had financial problems for the last two years. The NCC now has 39 employees; two years ago it had 102.

Israel refused to acknowledge the new Greek Orthodox patriarch of the Holy Land, invoking a sixth century law giving the government the right to approve candidates for church offices. Israel accused Patriarch Irineos of business dealings with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. While such business dealings aren't illegal, it's an area of sensitivity for the Israeli government. The government is also refusing to grant visas to guests of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch.

The American Jewish Committee gave $10,000 to help rebuild a small Greek Orthodox church destroyed by rubble from the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks. St. Nicholas, an 85-year-old church, has received pledges of more than $1.1 million for rebuilding. "This gesture is a treasure, a movement of the heart," said Archbishop Demetrios, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

Keynote speaker John Nunes, pastor of St. Paul, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Dallas, told 350 U.S. and Canadian Lutherans at the 2001 annual Lutherans for Life convention that life was not "merely biological or social or political" but "a God issue." Nunes called abortion "biomedical genocide" for African Americans, saying without it there would be 50 million, not 33 million U.S. African Americans.

A computer virus shut down computers at the United Church of Christ's national offices in Cleveland for three days in November. At least one employee bypassed a warning not to open the attachment to a message with a subject line of "I need your advice." The virus not only debilitated that computer, but was also sent to everyone in that recipient's e-mail address book.

An Israeli government tax office sent a bill for $4 million in back taxes to Augusta Victoria, a Lutheran World Federation hospital in Jerusalem. Craig Kippels, the LWF's Jerusalem representative, said a 1967 written agreement with the government, reaffirmed in 1978, prohibits such taxation. At a Nov. 25 hearing, the government argued that Israel's ministry of foreign affairs wasn't authorized to make the 1967 agreement, and the 1978 reaffirmation wasn't official because only the Israeli parliament can grant exemptions. Kippels said the judge gave the parties a March 5 deadline to work out a solution. If the hospital loses the case, it must also pay $350,000 yearly, Kippels said. Local church leaders and Robert Waller of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem confirmed that several church and relief agencies serving Palestinians were sent similar unprecedented tax bills.

Forward in Faith/North America, , an Episcopal Church faction that is opposed to women's ordination, said it intends to elect its own U.S. bishop, nominating a priest "under the auspices of a province of the Anglican communion that does not ordain women."

A new commentary on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, replaces a more conservative version in use since the 1930s among conservative Jews. The commentary includes traditional and contemporary explanations of Scripture, articles on the role of women, and references to a modern English translation of the Torah.

Pope John Paul II invited leaders from all world religions to gather in January at the Assisi, Italy, home of St. Francis to pray for peace at a time of international crisis over terrorism. The pope said he hoped that bringing together Christians and Muslims would "proclaim before the world that religion must never become a motive for conflict, hate and violence."

North American ecumenists are planning a conference in 2004 or 2005. The 10-day event would include about 1,000 participants from across North America, said the Foundation for a Conference on Faith and Order in North America.

Soon after announcing a plan to extend health-care and other benefits to employees' same-sex and other domestic partners, the Salvation Army's Western Territory rescinded the statement and issued another policy limiting employee benefits to spouses and dependent children. The Salvation Army cited the influence of constituent concerns-especially from evangelical Christians-in its decision to deny an extended health benefit program.

Walter Kasper, a Roman Catholic cardinal in Germany,distanced himself from statements in the Vatican's Dominus Iesus that said churches of the Reformation are just ecclesial communities, not churches in the true sense of the word. Kasper said Protestant churches are also churches, though of another type. Speaking to a two-day conference of Swiss Protestant and Catholic churches, Kasper said he considered the Oct. 31, 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed by Lutheran World Federation and Vatican officials, an important step toward unity. In related news, the Vatican and the LWF started talks with Reformed and Methodist churches about the doctrine of justification.

Church Women United, an ecumenical organization that a year ago cut seven workers, bringing its staff to eight, issued a public statement acknowledging the hard work and dedication of the former employees. The statement said mediation with former staff members had begun and included discussion of severance issues.

The Episcopal and Moravian Church in America are drafting a proposal for full communion by 2006, after a dialogue between the two churches was established in 1997. Similar to Anglican churches, Moravians have a threefold order of ministry: deacons, presbyters (priests) and bishops.


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February issue


Embracing diversity