The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• When Salvadoran Lutheran University guard Manuel de Jesus, 46, was murdered and his killers stole school equipment, documents and cash, it was an attempt to silence Lutherans, said Medardo Gomez, bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod in El Salvador. Hector Fernandez, university president, also said the motive wasn’t robbery, but the silencing of a church and school known for "promoting a critical conscience in society, accompanying the people in their struggles for justice and in giving opportunities of education for the poor in El Salvador." The guard was tied, blindfolded, gagged and hanged from a tree on campus Jan. 29. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and Lutheran World Federation president, wrote a Feb. 7 letter to Salvadoran President Elias Antonio Saca, calling for a full investigation of the murder and increased security on the campus.

• The National Council of Churches is considering "high profile" discussions with evangelical groups to warn them against "aggressive and inappropriate evangelism" in South Asia after the tsunami. Groups "who don’t know the difference between aid and evangelism" cause "serious problems" for local churches, said Shanta Premawardhana, NCC director for interfaith relations. In guidelines for churches, Premawardhana, a Baptist, says: "While evangelism is important and necessary, it is best left to local Christians."

• Mozambican authorities arrested a Lutheran pastor for the murder of missionary Doraci J. Edinger. A 53-year-old deaconess from the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, Edinger was murdered February 2004 in Nampula, Mozambique (see www.lutheranworld.org/news/lwi/en/1409.en.html). Edinger worked for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mozambique within an LWF-supported partnership program. LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko told authorities he hoped for "all proper legal protections for the accused .... The fact that the person arrested is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mozambique is itself the cause of further grief and distress. The question of guilt or innocence is now a matter for determination by the courts in Mozambique, and we all must await the outcome.... We pray for the families both of Sister Doraci and of the pastor arrested in Mozambique."

• When world Anglican bishops temporarily suspended the Episcopal Church USA and Canadian Anglicans from the Anglican Consultative Council, the move was praised both by traditionalists and advocates for change. Anglicans worldwide have been divided over homosexuality since the U.S. church consecrated V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire, and the Canadian church authorized a blessing rite for same-sex couples. Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan welcomed the move as a rebuke. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in Britain said the action acknowledges that the North American churches acted within their rules and discourages those who would intervene by sending traditionalist priests to oversee U.S. and Canadian parishes.

• U.S. Catholic bishops, Reformed Jewish leaders and United Church of Christ officials welcomed a U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban juvenile executions. The March 1 decision in Roper vs. Simmons removes 70 people from death row who were convicted of murders before they turned 18. "This ruling affirms the position held by a broad cross-section of religious denominations," said Nicholas DiMarzio, domestic policy committee chair for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

• In 2004, U.S. United Methodist membership declined slightly by 69,141 to 8.2 million. But giving rose to $116.8 million, up 4 percent. The church’s membership in Africa, Asia and Europe rose to 1.9 million.

• Increased giving across the American Baptist Churches USA shored up a $1.5 million budget shortfall, enabling the denomination to avoid a recall of missionaries. Charles Jones, acting executive director of American Baptist International Ministries, said the recall was prevented by "a dramatic increase in giving combined with extraordinary cost reductions due to the actions of missionaries and staff."

• Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service opposed the REAL ID Act, a bill to regulate state security standards for driver’s licenses, prevent terrorists from abusing asylum laws and to ensure a security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. LIRS President Ralston Deffenbaugh said the bill "will do nothing to secure America against terrorism.... Current law already bars terrorists and others who present a security risk from getting asylum. Instead H.R. 418 would have direct life-and-death consequences for genuine refugees ... at risk of being returned to their torturers or to death." At presstime, the House of Representatives had approved the REAL ID Act and it was being considered by the Senate.

• President Bush said federal grants to faith-based organizations increased between 2003 and 2004, from 8.1 percent to 10.3 percent. "Ten percent is progress," Bush told some 300 religious and political leaders. "That means about $2 billion in grants were awarded last year to religious charities." He said he will push for legislation that lets faith-based groups compete equally for federal money, while protecting their right to hire employees of a certain faith. Bush signed an executive order but said it "ought to be codified into federal law, and Congress needs to act this year to do so." According to a Jan. 3 Associated Press story by Laura Meckler, some groups "were surprised to find their names" on the White House list of faith-based groups. Stacey Denaux, head of a Charleston, S.C., homeless shelter, said: "Someone has obviously designated us as a faith-based organization, but we don’t recognize ourselves as that."

• The World Council of Churches asked its 347 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox member church bodies to consider pulling investments out of Israel to protest mistreatment of Palestinians. In a Feb. 21 statement, the WCC said it supported the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s decision to seek "phased selective divestment" from Israel, focusing on companies that help Israel construct settlements, demolish Palestinian homes and build the separation wall in the Palestinian territories. Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of the Anti-Defamation League, said the WCC call was "holding Israel to a double standard and using religious language to justify political ends." David Elcott of the American Jewish Committee said it was an "ill-conceived and destructive" appeal at a time when Israel is dismantling settlements and working with new Palestinian leaders.

• U.S. Catholic bishops reported that in 2004, more than 1,000 people alleged they were abused by 756 Roman Catholic clergy in 2004. Most of the reported cases occurred between 1965 and 1974, overwhelmingly to boys aged 10 to 14. Half of the clergy named had been previously accused of abuse. Almost 75 percent of priests accused were already dead, defrocked or pulled from active ministry. Also in 2004, Catholic dioceses paid $157.8 million in abuse settlements, therapy and legal fees. Three dioceses declared bankruptcy. Overall, from 1950 to 2004, 11,750 victims made credible allegations against 5,148 priests. Ninety-six percent of the dioceses added reforms in 2002, educating children to avoid or report abuse, and mandating criminal background checks for staff and volunteers.

• On Feb. 16 a federal grand jury indicted two directors of the U.S. branch of Al Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc., Ashland, Ore., for conspiring to defraud the government by filing a false tax return to conceal sending $150,000 to Muslims in Chechnya. The two, Pirouz Sedaghaty, also known as Pete Seda, and Soliman Al-Buthe are thought to be overseas. They also are alleged to have reported on tax forms that the money was used to buy a building in Missouri. Seda’s lawyer, Larry Matasar, called him "a man of peace" who "actively opposed terrorism." Matasar couldn’t say when Seda would return to the United States to respond to the charges. The U.S. Treasury Department shut the charity down last fall, calling it a terrorist organization with direct links to al-Queda leader Osama bin Ladin. The group denied the claims.

• While more than 2.4 million U.S. youth signed the "True Love Waits" abstinence-only campaign, some say it’s dangerous for churches to not provide safe-sex education. Fewer youth are having sexual intercourse, report researchers at ChildTrends, who found that 54 percent of teens were sexually active in 1991 compared to 46 percent in 2001. But researchers at Yale (New Haven, Conn.) and Columbia (New York) universities also found that while teens who make a one-time pledge for abstinence are more likely to wait, those that do have sex are less likely to use contraception.


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February issue


Embracing diversity