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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

Mark Chavez, an ELCA pastor and director of the WordAlone Network, met with President George W. Bush May 3, along with the leaders of several other groups critical of their mainline denominations. Five bishops from the United Methodist Church; four from the Episcopal Church; and Gerald Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, participated. In a statement, Chavez said Bush emphasized the importance of knowing and acting on one’s beliefs. The president also expressed “earnest beliefs in the importance of freedom” worldwide and said the U.S. can help other nations achieve their freedom.

The Lutheran World Federation joined others in asking the U.N. to call for an end to all kinds of religious discrimination, not just bias against the three major religions. Lutheran, Quaker, Franciscan and other leaders advised a return to speaking about religious discrimination in general, instead of simply using the terms “Christianophobia,” “Islamophobia” and “anti-Semitism.” The leaders asked the U.N. to acknowledge that intolerance occurs within religions as well as between them. “The implication that religious discrimination and intolerance are only practiced by ‘outsiders’ is not only wrong but misleading, and dangerously so,” their statement said.

• Jesuit officials in Rome said Tom Reese, editor of the magazine America, resigned due to pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Roman Catholic commentators fear the move is a signal from the Vatican that debating church teachings is unacceptable. During his seven years as editor, the Jesuit magazine ran articles that debated church teaching on condom use, homosexual priests and whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be given communion. It also published articles written by Pope Benedict XVI before his election. In 2002, the Vatican reportedly considered creating a commission of censors for the magazine.

San Francisco Archbishop William Levada was named to replace Pope Benedict XVI as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Levada is said to be doctrinally conservative, with a pragmatic approach to 21st century social issues, which church observers deem as a sign that the pope will have a traditional path but engage the larger world. After the pope, Levada is second only to the Secretary of State in the church’s hierarchy.

There may be 1,200 Protestant megachurches in the U.S., said researchers at the Hartford [Conn.] Institute for Religion Research and the Dallas-based Leadership Network. The researchers corrected their previous report of only 850 congregations with more than 2,000 people attending worship. While once thought to be a baby boomer phenomena, they’ve shown staying power, said researcher Scott Thumma. “In fact, they’re increasing exponentially over the last 20 years. ... We’ve found megachurches now in just about every state.” Texas has the most with 174, followed by California (169), Florida (83) and Georgia (64).

• Although she won an appeal against a Dec. 2004 church ruling stripping her of clergy status, a United Methodist minister who is a lesbian in a committed relationship said she won’t serve as an ordained minister until this issue is fully settled. “Ordination is a sacred trust,” Irene Elizabeth Stroud said. “You can’t just take it off or put it on like a suit of clothes. To do so would be to trivialize it.” Stroud is currently serving as lay staff at her Philadelphia congregation.

ABC has a double standard for advertisers, the United Church of Christ said in May. The network accepted an ad from Focus on the Family, a conservative evangelical group based in Colorado Springs, Colo., but rejected one from the UCC. Church communication director Robert Chase said ABC bowed to the “narrow agenda of the religious right” by accepting a Focus on the Family ad. Chase said “another religious viewpoint cannot even purchase time on the people’s airwaves to proclaim an all-inclusive message.” In past months, ABC, NBC and CBS refused to air UCC ads. ABC said it has a policy against religious advertising, and NBC and CBS said the ads were “too controversial” because they feature a gay couple.

• A survey commissioned by the American Jewish Committee found that Americans support remembering and teaching about the Holocaust but are hard-pressed to come up with facts about the event. Paris-based TNS Sofres found that only 44 percent of Americans could correctly identify Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka as concentration camps. In comparison, 91 percent of Swedes, 79 percent of Poles, 78 percent of French, 77 percent of Germans and 53 percent of British could do so.

• The Free University of Amsterdam, formerly a training ground for Protestant clergy, is the first institute of higher education in the Netherlands to receive government funding to train imams. The university will receive nearly $2 million to help fund a master’s degree course for teachers of Islam. About 4.4 percent of the country’s 16.3 million people are Muslim. Roman Catholics and Protestants make up 31 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The move is seen as a government attempt to integrate Muslims into Dutch society, with coursework including basic instruction on Christianity and church-state relationships in the Netherlands.

Five Muslim Americans are suing the Department for Homeland Security after border agents held them for more than six hours on their return from a “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” conference in Toronto. They say the department violated their constitutional right to practice religion and subjected them to unlawful searches. Plaintiff Karema Atassi, 22, of Williamsville, N.Y., said her husband was asked if he had reason to harm America and “other offensive questions.” She and other plaintiffs say they had to surrender their credit cards, cell phones, and other belongings, and without explanation were questioned, photographed and fingerprinted. No one was charged.

• The director of the All Africa Conference of Churches communication training center told delegates of the May 21-24 International Press Institute World Congress that international media tend to “exaggerate and overemphasize the negative [in Africa] at the total exclusion of the good and positive stories.” Polycarp Ochilo said that while turmoil spots do exist on the continent, “we also find very positive developments.” Institute President Wilfred Kiboro said conflicts in Africa have fallen by almost 50 percent in the last four years, and many long-running wars are being mediated. Rwandan President Paul Kagame cited unfair media interpretation in 1994. “Subsequent reference by the media to tribal killings, civil war, anarchy and chaos obscured and minimized the genocide that was taking place and the complicity of some powers in the West,” he said, adding that the media portrayal was skewed for the sake of Western customers.


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