The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• Stanford [Calif.] University biology professor William Hurlbut and two Columbia University (New York) physicians told a U.S. presidential advisory council that stem cell research might be able to take place without creating or destroying human embryos — resolving ethical problems. Hurlbut suggests developing an entity to produce cells that act like embryonic stem cells but don't become human embryos. Scientists would alter a human egg's genetic structure (genome) so it couldn't form a placenta and wouldn't become a fully developed embryo. William Leveda, Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco who opposes research that sacrifices human embryos, said the proposals "offer hope." But Ted Peters, an ELCA member who works for the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley, Calif., says the proposals won't end the "moral warfare" around this research and may open the door to other ethical problems. Experts are weighing in with arguments ranging from pro-research views that human embryos are "organismically dead" within a few days of fertilization and should be viewed in the same way as people considered "brain-dead," to opponents who say you're still experimenting on something that could be a human being.

• After Congress proposed more than $131 million for abstinence-only education and President Bush nominated its supporter Margaret Spelings for secretary of education, a religion professor at Adrian [Mich.] College said such sex education in schools isn't “being driven by research [but] by ideology.” Fritz Detwiler said "abstinence-based" sex education, which includes safe-sex education, is more effective. "There is going to be a push to get [abstinence-only education] integrated in the educational system and tie it to as many foreign aid bills as possible," he said. "The danger is that the program has not been effective in showing a reduction in sexual activity. If kids are left without any instruction about safe sex, there is an increased change of both pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases."

• A 13-member United Methodist clergy jury voted 12-1 to find Irene Elizabeth Stroud guilty of violating a church ban on active gay clergy, then defrocked her by a 7-6 vote. Stroud's Philadelphia-area congregation said the 34-year-old associate pastor can remain on staff as a lay employee who won't be able to perform baptisms or give communion. Stroud, who is in a committed relationship, said she hopes that "in time and through God's spirit, the United Methodist Church will change its (Book of) Discipline."

• The Supreme Court of Canada allowed the government to introduce legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. The court's nonbinding opinion is that the federal government has exclusive authority to define marriage and a law to allow same-sex unions is constitutional. The United Church of Canada praised the move, but Canada's Catholic Civil Rights League and Focus on the Family called for a national referendum.

• Bridges TV launched the first Muslim network in the United States at the end of 2004. "Every day on television we are barraged by stories of a 'Muslim extremist, terrorist, militant or insurgent,' " said Bridges CEO Muzzammil Hassan. "Missing are the countless stories of Muslim tolerance, progress, diversity, service and excellence that Bridges TV hopes to tell." Featured shows include a Muslim newspaper reporter who solves mysteries, a soap opera about a Muslim father whose daughter wishes to marry a non-Muslim, animated children's shows and the comedy Allah Made Me Funny. About 8 million Muslims live in North America.

• A group of Presbyterians asked the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to not remove church funds from any Israeli or Palestinian companies that profit from violation of human rights and international law. Last June the denomination came under fire from Jewish groups after it voted to consider divesting from such companies as a way to influence Middle East negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations seeks to postpone divestment so the issue can be brought back to the 2006 General Assembly. "We are confident the vast majority of Presbyterians do not look favorably on this," said PCJCR convenor William Harter.

• The Southern Baptist Convention won't join Christian Churches Together in the USA. "For the most part, we don't do ecumenism because you usually have to give up some doctrinal beliefs or ignore or emphasize others to work with folks that really aren't on the same path," said denominational spokesperson Martin King. "We just don't see that it would help us in our efforts to help our Southern Baptist churches share our understanding of how to be saved, so we have no plans to participate." Earlier, the denomination pulled out of the Baptist World Alliance, accusing it of having a "leftward drift." The CCT is a way for Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Pentecostals, traditionally African American churches and evangelicals to come together. Members include the ELCA, the Salvation Army, World Vision and the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

• Naim Musa Nassar, 72, former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan, died Oct. 26. Nassar, the church's second indigenous Arab bishop, served from 1986 to 1998. In a letter, Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Ishmael Noko expressed gratitude for Nassar's life of witness and ministry.

• After a national commission reported on tortures during Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship and Chile's army acknowledged its wrongdoing, President Gloria Rojas of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chile, criticized the tendency of Chile's institutions to generalize responsibility for torture crimes during Pinochet's rule. When institutions ask victims for forgiveness, "this covers up for the individuals who are responsible for the barbaric actions," she said. "Asking forgiveness is not done by decree. It is not organized. It is not declared. [It] emerges when one reflects on the acts that have been carried out."

• Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Pope John Paul II's secretary for relations with states, said Dec. 3 that the U.S.-led war against terrorism has spread "Christianophobia" in parts of the world where Christianity is "wrongly" thought to determine Western policy. Lajolo said Christianophobia "manifests itself ... as an attitude toward Christians whose presence or actions are interpreted as proselytism or interference in the local cultures." The Vatican asked the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to condemn Christianophobia, along with Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

• The 1,614-member Lutheran Church of Taiwan, Republic of China, ordained its first female pastors last October: Semla Chen, Lyu Yi-In and Lin Pei-Yu. "We now have a start," Chen said.

• Lutherans and other church leaders in Ukraine condemned the results of that country’s November presidential election and declared Nov. 26 as a day of fasting and prayer. Lutheran Bishop Viacheslav Horpynchuk and religious leaders from Orthodox Kiev, Greek Catholic, Latin Catholic, Pentecostal and Christian Evangelical churches, expressed concern about “the unjust conduct of [the presidential] election and especially the mass falsification of its results.”

• France legalized passive euthanasia (withholding life-sustaining medicines from terminally ill patients under narrowly defined circumstances). In France, the Roman Catholic Church opposes euthanasia as part of a “culture of death.” But right-to-die groups hope the law will be the first step toward legalizing such active euthanasia as lethal injections.

• In response to a U.N. warning, interfaith leaders met in Taipei, Taiwan, at the Museum of World Religions to discuss water scarcity. The United Nations warned that 75 percent of Earth’s landmass and 2.7 billion people will face severe water shortages by 2025 if the world continues to consume water at the same rate. The two areas most at risk are semiarid regions in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Experts say the crisis is caused by everything from mismanagement of water resources to population growth and weather patterns.

• The 1.7 million-member United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India launched a “dalit liberation movement” that commits the group’s 11 church bodies to freeing people in India’s lowest caste from oppressive structures and forces. Chandran Paul Martin said Lutheran Indians are to be commended for their work on dalit theology. Church president Lawrence Rao urged congregations to participate in advocacy, education, economic development, political action and networking.

• A survey by Denmark’s Inter-Cultural Christian Center found that Denmark has more than 150 ethnic Christian congregations. Researchers say the parishioners make up one-third of Denmark’s 440,000 refugees and immigrants and have an easier time than Muslims integrating into society. While some immigrants and refugees prefer the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, most attend free churches or the Roman Catholic Church. Center coordinator Birthe Munck-Fairwood says native Danish congregations often connect with ethnic churches, an advantage since to the Danish government “immigrants almost by definition are conceived of as Muslims.”

• Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, an international group of religious leaders from Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Baha’i faiths called for a ban on anti-personal landmines, which kill and maim 22,000 people every year. Of the United Nation’s 191-member countries, China, Pakistan, India, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States have not yet ratified the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning their use and are believed to keep stockpiles of up to 180 million mines.

• Gerhard Preibisch, a Lutheran bishop from British Columbia, Canada, criticized President Bush’s call for Canada to join a U.S.-led “Star Wars” missile defense system. Bush said he hoped to set up the ballistic missile defense system in Alaska “to protect the next generation of Canadians and Americans.” In a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Preibisch said Canada is known “as a peacekeeping nation,” and “a move to join the missile defense program will jeopardize this.” Preibisch said 20 Canadian church leaders have said nuclear disarmament is one of “the most effective and practical means of working for the safety and protection of Canadians.”


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February issue


Embracing diversity