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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

• Churches and peace groups providing relief in Sudan feel abandoned due to sluggish responses from those who pledged to aid the war-torn country. “There are huge needs, but the world isn’t sending support. We don’t understand why,” said Anthony Bangoye, general secretary of the Nairobi-based Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Regional Conference. U.N. aid chief Jan Ege-land said in March the United Nations received $24 million of the $500 million it needs to provide relief in Sudan. “We have three, four months of cementing [peace in southern Sudan]. The world has to respond,” Egeland told the BBC. Sudanese church leaders said food, shelter, water, medical care, security and schools are desperately needed for refugees and internally displaced people who are returning to their homes in southern Sudan. They warned that continuing conflict to the west, in Darfur, could destabilize the peace agreement in the south.

• Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, blamed the devil for disagreements among the world’s Anglicans over homosexuality. Griswold told Religion News Service that “the endless fixation on sexuality is the devil’s work. So much psychic energy goes into this one area that issues of hunger and disease, poverty and civil war get overlooked.” Anglican Archbishop of Capetown (South Africa) Njongonkulu Ndungane agreed, saying: “It’s of the devil, actually, that we are sort of detracted from what is essential in terms of our mission.” In other news, the Scottish Episcopal Church criticized world Anglican leaders for trying to isolate the U.S. church for consecrating an openly gay bishop and the Canadian church for introducing a same-sex blessing ritual.

• The National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declared victory after Taco Bell agreed to pay increases for migrant tomato pickers in Florida. The churches participated in a boycott with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Workers, who had to each pick 2 tons of tomatoes to earn $50, received a one cent per pound wage increase.

• After he officiated at his daughter’s same-sex wedding last June, Norman Kansfield, president of the New Brunswick [N.J.] Seminary, was reprimanded by trustees of the Reformed Church in America school. Kansfield learned he was to be replaced March 28 before his contract expires June 30. Seminary trustee Larry Williams said Kansfield’s role in the same-sex wedding and the board’s desire for a younger president were among several reasons the contract wasn’t renewed, despite their earlier talk of an extension. The Reformed Church in America is an ELCA full communion partner.

• “As a rabbi, when I see the Torah trampled on, there comes a time when one has no choice but to stand in front of the bulldozers,” said Arik Ascherman, an American-born Israeli who heads Rabbis for Human Rights. A Jerusalem court convicted Ascherman and two other rabbis for blocking Israeli bulldozers in 2003 from destroying illegally built Palestinian homes. The rabbis often intervene on behalf of Palestinians, standing at Israeli checkpoints, planting olive trees in Palestinian villages, and providing aid for Israeli victims of terror and other needy Israelis. The rabbis “are not criminals,” the prosecutor said, asking for community service rather than a criminal record. “In fact they are upstanding citizens.” The prosecutor said the conviction was important because the Israeli military would be forcing Israelis to leave settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

• In 2004, 37 people died by doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon—a much lower number than proponents and opponents expected in 1997 when the state legalized assisted suicide. Under the state’s Death With Dignity Act, lethal medication can be given to a terminally ill patient of sound mind, who makes both an oral and written request witnessed by two people. The patient must swallow the drug without help from a doctor. So far, 208 assisted-suicide deaths have occurred under the act. In 2004, 40 doctors wrote 60 prescriptions for lethal doses of barbiturates; 35 Oregonians died from taking the drugs. Of the 25 who chose not to ingest the medicine, 13 died from their illness; two others died from medicine prescribed the previous year. The Bush administration argues that doctors who assist suicides under the Oregon law violate federal anti-drug laws. At presstime, the U.S. Supreme Court was to consider the legality of the Oregon law.

• In a March 16 pastoral letter, the U.S. Episcopal Church’s bishops said the denomination won’t elect any new bishops, gay or straight, or bless same-sex unions—at least until its June 2006 General Convention. They expressed “deep regret for the pain that others have experienced” after the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is in a committed same-sex relationship. “We pray that this covenant statement will be seen by brother and sister Anglicans as responding to some of their concerns,” the letter says.

• One in seven rural Americans is poor, and almost one-third of those will become food insecure this year, says Bread for the World. Globalization and farm subsidies drove many family farms out of business, its report says. “America’s rural communities and rural people around the world have one thing in common: they are more likely to be hungry and poor than other people in their country,” said David Beckmann, the ELCA pastor who heads the anti-hunger organization. “Our report shows that people in rural areas are cut off from opportunity. Governments regard them as a low priority.” The report says farm subsidies put money “in the pockets of large landholders and agribusinesses, doing little to help struggling rural families.”

• A new British anti-terrorism law takes away people’s civil liberties and doesn’t “allow accused people due process,” said Peter Selby, Anglican bishop of Worcester, England, and a member of the British Parliament. Selby told Ecumenical News International he was deeply concerned about “the climate of fear” leading to the law. The measure allows United Kingdom officials to hold suspects indefinitely, without any charge or trial, under house arrest, electronic tagging or other controls. Ten people were immediately placed under the law’s controls, including Abu Qatada, described by a judge as truly dangerous and associated with al Qaida. After lengthy debate, the Parliament agreed to re-examine the law.

• In a pamphlet issued before Zim-babwe’s March 31 parliamentary elections, President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party declared Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube part of “the new breed of traitors.” Ncube repudiated the charges, saying he is a religious leader who cares about the country’s people. He has called for a peaceful revolution to topple Mugabe’s regime. In recent years, Mugabe has come under fire for human rights violations, political violence and persecution of activists. His government instituted controls to intimidate any opposition and prevent effective reporting by the media. Ncube told The Southern Cross, a South African Catholic newspaper, that a fair election couldn’t be held under existing laws. “There are almost 2 million ghost voters [out of 5.6 million voters],” he said. “Of those, 800,000 are dead, 300,000 don’t exist ... and 600,000 are duplicate voters.”

• In March, a Dell plant in Nashville, Tenn., reinstated 31 assembly line workers who left in February because their manager said they couldn’t keep their jobs if they prayed during work. Islam requires prayer five times a day. The computer systems company agreed to provide back pay and paid time away from their work areas to pray if “ requests are reasonable,” said a Dell statement.

• “We have to ensure that while [Scripture] is fully grasped in one hand our other hand equally grasps the newspapers, the television, the radio,” Setri Nyomi told students at Princeton [N.J.] Seminary March 10. Nyomi, a pastor from Ghana, heads the 75-million member World Alliance of Reformed Churches. During the slave trade, he said, Reformed believers worshiped just 7 feet above the dungeons in the Elmina slave castle in Ghana, Africa, while enslaved women in the dungeons were being abused and raped by their captors. “People of faith may be in the same danger today of missing God’s calling if we are not ready to read the Bible together mindful of the contexts of injustice and suffering around us.” He said Christians must “read Scripture in the light of our times—not as providing simple answers but as illuminating the questions we raise along the way.”

• A senior Greek Orthodox official, Arab parishioners, clerics and the Palestinian Authority called for Irineos I, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to resign after his close aide allegedly sold church property in Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish foreign investors. Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported that the aide secretly sold land at the Jaffa Gate entrance. Although Irineos said he knew nothing about a sale, many still called for his “expulsion” or resignation. A Greek Orthodox spokesperson said a warrant was issued for the former aide’s arrest and a felony lawsuit was filed in Greece, where officials are investigating the case. Tensions are long-running between the church’s Greek leadership and mostly Palestinian parishioners, who have complained about church sales of land to Jewish buyers. Most other denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, are led by Palestinian pastors.

• Christian children in Maghar, Israel, returned to school a month after Christian Arab residents were attacked by Druze Arabs who believed rumors that Christian schoolboys had posted photos of naked Druze girls on the Internet. Before the rumor was debunked, it touched off fighting in which eight people were wounded, several homes were burned and shops were looted. Fearful parents kept all of the 1,000 Christian children out of the mixed Druze-Christian schools until assurances came from Rabbi Michael Melchior, deputy Israeli eduation minister. Teachers and a special education unit of the Israeli police force now are holding classes on tolerance, coexistence and nonviolence. A community council also is repairing ties and working to compensate those who lost property in the violence. Of Maghar’s residents, 15 percent are Christian and 85 percent are Druze—a group that broke away from Islam 1,000 years ago.

• Lech Walesa, Poland’s former president, says Radio Maryja, the country’s largest Roman Catholic radio station, spreads hate through its broadcasts. Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, asked authorities to take away the station’s license “rather than just monitoring it, which despite claims to the contrary has had no effect whatever on the radio’s programs,” he wrote in a Feb. 23 open letter to Catholics. “[The station] contradicts the Christian system of values through its anti-Semitic and xenophobic program contents.” Founded in 1991, the station describes itself as “the Catholic voice in our homes” but has come under frequent controversy for its nationalistic broadcasts. It accused Walesa of “collaborating” with the communist regime he battled in the 1980s, and criticized the alleged influence of Jews on Polish politics.

• Women, legislators and Roman Catholic bishops battled in the Philippines over a proposed law requiring couples to space children two or three years apart. Proponents hope to curb the country’s 2.3 percent population growth. Catholic Bishop Fernando Capalla of Davao accused foreign manufacturers of being behind the legislation, which would allow women access to the companies’ contraceptives. Legislator Nerus Acosta said he hopes to “ensure our population is healthy.” Women called on lawmakers to ignore the bishops’ opposition, saying poor women whose lives are at risk due to complications with pregnancy and delivery will most benefit from the bill’s passage.

• The National Cancer Institute’s Body and Soul program encourages African American churchgoers to participate in wellness programs and healthy eating. So far, the institute has distributed 35,000 copies of its Body and Soul guides to Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Roman Catholic congregations. “It is crucial that we talk about health whenever and wherever we gather, especially in the house of the Lord,” said Progressive National Baptist Convention President Major L. Jemison.


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Reinventing Sunday school

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