The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• U.S. Catholic bishops voted 151-73 to become partners in Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. The ecumenical movement is seen as a way Roman Catholics, evangelicals, mainline Protestant groups and Orthodox Christians can speak, pray and witness together. It's the first time the U.S. Catholic Church has become a partner in such a national body. While Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., called it a "forum for participation so we can pray together, grow in our understanding together and witness together," other bishops worried Catholics might be overruled by more liberal Protestant church bodies or find the CCT speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church. "Our voice will always be respected," Blaire said. "No one can ever speak for us." As the largest U.S. denomination, Catholics will have more CCT representatives than other church bodies.

• Lutheran World Relief in November sent $20,000 to Haiti, which suffered civil unrest following demands for the return of its exiled president in 2004. In May, floods and landslides killed more than 1,500 people. Then in September, hurricanes took the lives of 2,000 people and devastated Gonaives. LWR provides food, health care, legal assistance, cash-for-work projects, safe drinking water and school rehabilitation.

• A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) panel settled on six criteria for possible financial divestment in companies doing business in Israel. The criteria involve companies whose products, services or financial support are used to continue Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, target Israeli or Palestinian civilians, or help construct or maintain Israel's separation barrier. Divestment is a "last resort" that church delegates must approve in 2006, leaders said, adding they'll first pursue corporate negotiations, followed by shareholder resolutions.

The Times of London found that U.S. and British voters hold sharply different positions on religion and values. While 58 percent of President Bush and 41 percent of John Kerry voters surveyed said they attend weekly worship, only 10 percent of British voters do. Whereas 69 percent of Bush voters are against legal recognition for same-sex unions, 29 percent of British voters and 30 percent of Kerry voters share that position. When asked which community establishment most contributed to social interaction and development of interpersonal skills, 58 percent of British voters said the local pub, while 14 percent said the church.

• The Canadian Autoworkers Union launched a drive to unionize the United Church of Canada's 4,000 clergy. David Galston, the pastor who initiated the action, said when clergy defend themselves from accusations of clergy abuse, "rather than defend the rights of their employee, the church will engage in prosecution and leave the minister with high legal bills. ...We need [a union]." United Church of Canada representative Jim Sinclair said unions "work for good in society, but they aren't a good fit for United Church clergy." Unionizing, he added, would change the theological understanding of ministers' "covenant role" and their "presbytery responsibilities" within the church.

• Renewed fighting in the Ivory Coast threatens fragile peace in West Africa, said Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. On Nov. 6, the government broke an 18-month cease-fire, attacking northern rebels with air strikes. When nine French peacekeepers were killed, France retaliated by destroying Ivory Coast air force planes. So far 60 Ivorians have been killed, more than 1,200 injured and 5,000 fled to Liberia.

• Kenyan church leaders warned that the country's widening gap between rich and poor could lead to chaos. Fifty-six percent of Kenya's 32 million people live below the poverty line and 3 million control virtually all the wealth. "There are those who don't even have a meal for the day while others have too much," said Samuel Muriguh, secretary general of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. Muriguh said the problem dates to before independence when wealth held by white settlers benefited only a few citizens.

• Lutheran Church – ­Missouri Synod membership dropped by less than 1 percent to 2,488,936 while contributions rose by a record amount in 2003. Research analyst John O'Hara said the membership losses "continue a trend of the past 30 years." Contributions reached more than $1.2 billion, $53 million over 2002 receipts. In 2001 and 2002, contributions had declined.

• In Europe, “there exists a secular ideological aggressiveness that can be worrying,” said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after Rocco Buttiglione was withdrawn as a candidate for European Union justice commissioner. Buttliglione holds traditional views on homosexuality and the role of women. "Laicism is no longer an element of neutrality that opens spaces of freedom for all," the cardinal said. "It's beginning to transform itself into an ideology that is imposed through politics and does not concede public space to the Catholic and Christian vision. ... In political life it seems almost indecent to speak of God, almost as if it were an attack on the freedom of the nonbeliever."

• The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh amended its constitution Nov. 5 so it can ignore national church resolutions it sees as contrary to historic faith teachings. The amendment follows the Episcopal Church's consecration of V. Gene Robinson, who is in a committed same-sex relationship, as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Opponents called the amendment illegal and divisive. The diocese sent $120,000 to the national church in 2004, but this year voted against allocating any money in 2005.

• After similar decisions in Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario, the Yukon, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, a Saskatchewan court ruled Nov. 5 that gay couples could marry. The Supreme Court of Canada is considering a law to legalize gay marriage nationwide. In other news, after the Anglican Church in Canada chose not to outlaw gay marriage, conservatives formed three splinter groups: the Anglican Federation, the Anglican Network and the Anglican Communion in Canada.

• President Robert Mugabe gave Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches 90 days to vacate their farmland, saying Zimbabwe was reclaiming "underutilized" properties. One such farm property, the Roman Catholic Driefontein Mission Hospital, is the major referral center for tuberculosis patients in three provinces. Last October, Mugabe told Catholic leaders: "We acknowledge that early missionaries were given land .... We want the church to use it .... It's unfortunate the church is not utilizing the land to its maximum. If you don't use the land, Robert Mugabe and the government will claim it back." Meanwhile, the government proposed a law to ban foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations it says deal with governance issues. Christians Together for Justice and Peace said the law is an attempt "to disable all NGOS that the ruling party perceives as a threat."

• The International Lutheran Fellowship announced its transformation from an association of pastors and lay people to a North American Lutheran denomination. All 30 of its clergy are ordained within the historic apostolic tradition. "The new church is the first in Lutheranism where the Anglican, Old Catholic and Antiochene Orthodox traditions are joined," says Kim-Eric Williams, a pastor in West Chester, Pa.

• People worldwide watch the United States "with great interest in how churches shape a powerful nation's stance toward the world," wrote Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches in a Nov. 3 letter to the ELCA and other U.S. member churches. "The harsh claims that make most of the headlines, that invoke the judgment of a partisan god, have provoked deep concern around the world. How different it is when churches offer a moral and spiritual compass for their community, their nation and the world. They are a voice for the good of all and are seen as such. They love the whole world; they pray for God to bless the lands of others. People far and near — especially our cousins of other faiths — await such signs from all of us."


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February issue


Embracing diversity