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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Ngoy Mwanana Lusanga, 68, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo, was released from prison June 29 after being held for nine days. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, said there was “a strong implication that he had been arbitrarily detained.” Honorious Kisimba Ngoy, the Congolese justice minister, said Lusanga was jailed because the denomination had tarnished the minister’s public reputation. Lusanga had signed letters from the church protesting the way the government handled its disapproval of the denomination’s appointment of one of its bishops. Noko thanked the government for hearing his plea for Lusanga’s release but said the LWF will send a delegation to meet with government authorities.

Despite pressure from the Vatican, Roman Catholic bishops voted June 17 to keep the refrain “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” in the mass. Spoken after the consecration of the bread and wine, the words are “theologically insufficient,” according to a Catholic doctrine committee that compared them with the Vatican’s new translation of the mass. Donald Trautman, a bishop from Erie, Pa., suggested another phrase that would better show the importance of congregational participation: “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in glory.” He warned of a future standoff with the Vatican.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zambia ordained its first female pastors, Matilda Banda and Doreen Mwanza, March 20. The women had waited several years after completing their theological studies in Tanzania before they were ordained. “It was a joyful experience for both the men and the women who attended the service, and for the women it was a dream come true,” said Collins Chiunsembu, the church’s acting administrative secretary.

The Anglican Consultative Council, an international panel that sets policy for the Anglican Communion, voted 30-28 to ban the U.S. and Canadian churches from its meetings until 2008 (currently none are scheduled between now and 2008). The resolution came after the two churches presented their cases to the panel. Canadian church leaders defended their decision to bless same-sex unions. U.S. Episcopal Church leaders presented a report upholding their decision to ordain an openly gay bishop. Drafted by seven theologians and approved by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, the report claimed there is a “genuine holiness” among gays and lesbians and that committed gay relationships can be “open to God’s blessing and holy purposes.” Griswold said much of the church’s work happens in other relationships where Americans are welcome.

• The Giving USA Foundation’s annual report, released June 13, shows that donations to U.S. religious congregations rose nearly 2 percent last year, to an estimated $88 billion. Religious groups surpassed all other recipients among the10 categories for charitable contributions. Donations overall were at a record high of $248.5 billion, up by 5 percent from 2003.

• At a June meeting hosted by the Lutheran World Federation, 13 of the 25 Lutheran female bishops and presidents worldwide recognized the great progress women have made. After hearing that 41 of the LWF’s 138 member churches don’t ordain women, the leaders issued a statement: “The fullness of the gospel is most accurately represented where both women and men are given access to leadership roles.” Participants came from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa and the U.S.

Jesus most likely died on the cross from a blood clot, rather than blood loss or asphyxia, an Israeli doctor concluded. Benjamin Brenner believes a blood clot reached Jesus’ lungs from his legs due to immobilization, a condition called pulmonary embolism. The Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, a U.S. medical magazine, published Brenner’s study.

Ishmael Noko, Lutheran World Federation general secretary, asked President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to restrain the country’s police and security forces from evicting the poor in Harare and other cities. The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the country’s Catholic bishops and the World Council of Churches also condemned the evictions. Under Mugabe, an estimated 200,000 people have been left homeless, while another 30,000 are in custody, say U.N. officials. The destruction of one settlement east of Harare affected 180 orphaned infants and 375 children at the primary school. The WCC told the government to “urgently address the pressing needs” of evacuees, while affirming that “churches and relief organizations should also be given unrestricted access to the displaced persons.”

The National Council of Churches expressed support for a U.S. exit strategy in Iraq, following the introduction of bipartisan legislation calling for a withdrawal timetable. “It is time for the administration to inform the American people when we will leave this war-torn country,” said Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary. A June 21 poll by CNN/USA Today revealed that 59 percent of Americans oppose the war; 39 percent support it. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said a timetable resolution would signal Iraqi insurgents to hold out until U.S. troops leave.

Christian Churches Together—formed to unite U.S. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians—postponed its formal launch scheduled for September. After struggling to recruit historically African American churches, the CCT resolved to pursue more “productive and positive conversation” with churches that haven’t joined.

The Anglican Church in Malawi refused financial support from U.S. and Canadian Anglicans because of those churches’ stances on homosexuality. The dispute centers on the U.S. Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay priest and Canada’s decision to bless same-sex unions. Archbishop Bernard Malango said the Anglican Church in Malawi wasn’t willing to accept financial assistance from any church whose leadership promotes homosexuality. Meanwhile, Uganda rejected North American funds to support HIV/AIDS projects. Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana says his country lacks money for its needs after the 1994 genocide. “But if money is being used to disgrace the gospel, then we don’t need it,” he says.

The Reformed Church of America defrocked Norman Kansfield for presiding over the wedding of his lesbian daughter a year ago. In March, Kansfield was ousted as the president of New Brunswick [N.J.] Theological Seminary. Church convention delegates decided June 17 to suspend Kansfield’s position as a minister. RCA general secretary, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, urged the denomination not to lose sight of more important issues, such as the goal of starting 400 churches.

After seven people arrested for practicing Christianity in Saudi Arabia were released, an unnamed Saudi official denied allegations that they’d been tortured. He said the charges “don’t go with the principles and values of the kingdom and above all our tolerant Islamic belief .…” The arrests were made through a raid by the Muttawa, police who enforce laws prohibiting any religion but Islam to be practiced in the kingdom. The release of all seven was contingent on their signing a renunciation of non-Muslim religious practice. While Saudi Arabia’s law prohibits public expression of any faith other than Wahabbist Islam, private religious practice is theoretically permitted in the home. John Dayal, spokesperson for the All India Christian Council, told Ecumenical News International the arrests indicated Asian Christians were “being singled out” by authorities.

People living in Al Jazeera, Iraq, now have clean drinking water, thanks to Norwegian Church Aid and the Danish Refugee Council’s installation of a water purification plant. Both groups partner with the ELCA through Action by Churches Together. NCA is working to link other Iraqi villages to the water network. M

A council of Greek Orthodox bishops demoted Irineos I, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, to the rank of monk. Irineos was accused of partaking in a controversial land deal in which church property was leased to Jewish investors. The patriarch denied involvement and refused to step down, but Orthodox Church leaders have taken steps to strip him of his position. Israel, Jordan and Palestinian authorities must all cease recognition before the removal becomes legal.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) task force on “Peace, Unity and Purity” is still finishing its report on overcoming disagreements over same-sex relationships, but conservative congregations have already formed a group to uphold “ethical imperatives,” including the rejection of gay sex and abortion. Called the New Wineskins Initiative, the group also proposed a reorganization of the denomination to halt declining church memberships.

• In the wake of the retracted Newsweek report that a Quran was defiled by U.S. prison interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it has received 5,000 requests for a free Quran from the council’s “Explore the Quran” campaign (www.explorethequaran.org). Spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper called giving away copies of the Muslim holy book “the best way to educate people about what Islam really stands for.”


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