The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



* Christian and Muslim leaders in Britain joined in condemning the terrorist bombs that killed at least 50 people and injured about 700 in London in July. In its statement, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the Muslim Council of Britain called the explosions a “criminal” attack. “The Scriptures and traditions of both the Muslim and Christian communities repudiate the use of such violence,” the statement declares. “We continue to resist all attempts to associate our communities with the hateful acts of any minority who claim falsely to represent us.”

* The biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod met July 25-29 in New Ulm, Minn., to consider a “flat-line, balanced budget” in light of “serious revenue constraints,” states a July 19 WELS press release. The church is recalling 11 global missionaries after three years of similar recalls. Despite an end to a 13-year membership decline, the denomination’s two prep schools, a college and seminary are “threatened by high costs and limited funding,” synod infrastructure “needs upgrading” and “traditional mission starts are at a standstill.” WELS President Karl Gurgel said the church “can take credit for none of the blessings but must accept responsibility for our own failures and shortcomings. His grace sustained us in the past and will preserve us into the future.”

* At its July 11 meeting in York, the Church of England’s General Synod voted 367-127 to start aprocess for removing legal obstacles to female bishops and to re-examine the issue at next year’s meeting. Opponents, who disagreed on biblical grounds, threatened to leave the church, saying a separate diocese would be needed for those who don’t accept the change. Anglican counterparts in New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. have already appointed female bishops.

* Voices of the Faithful, a Roman Catholic lay reform group, called for a greater role for lay people in the church, including a voice in financial affairs, governance and women’s roles. At the 30,000-member group’s national convention July 8-10, Paul Lakeland, a professor at Fairfield [Conn.] University, suggested financial boycotts as a way to influence church leaders. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest and retired Air Force chaplain, said legislative action may be necessary. Delegates passed resolutions calling for independent lay councils at all levels of the church, a process that allows parishioners and priests to have a say in the appointment of bishops, and a yearly “independent … audit report for all church-related entities” that would report both profits and losses.

* The U.N. must provide emergency food aid in Niger for almost three times as many people as initially estimated, partly because of donor countries’ slow response to the crisis. Drought has left some 3.6 million people—roughly a quarter of Niger’s population—hungry. Neighboring Mali also suffers food shortages in parts of the arid north, although the situation isn’t as severe. While Sudan’s Darfur region and other massive crises attract media such as the Live 8 campaign, aid workers say people suffering in areas such as Niger and Mali go unnoticed. Lutheran World Relief is addressing the crisis through long-term solutions such as irrigation practices but may soon include immediate aid.

* Sunday school classes have decreased in recent years, found a December 2004 Barna survey of Protestant pastors. Compared to 1997 data, programs for children aged 2 to 5 declined from 94 percent to 88 percent, while classes for high school students dropped from 86 percent to 80 percent. Vacation Bible school classes declined 15 percent, with 69 percent of pastors saying their churches offer the program. Others said they lacked teachers.

* The Anglican Consultative Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on its 38 international and regional churches to not invest in companies that support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The council approved initiatives to “encourage investment strategies that support the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state.” It also called on member churches to examine investments in companies that might support Palestinian violence against innocent Israelis.

* Billy Graham, 86, preached what may be his last revival sermon June 24 at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York. He spoke for 23 minutes to 90,000 people before inviting listeners forward to publicly demonstrate their commitments to Jesus. Graham has no other crusades planned due to health concerns. He suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease; his wife, Ruth, 85, has a degenerative back condition. Graham plans to continue his ministry through book-writing and other projects begun in recent years.

* As their country faces threats of anarchy and civil war, Bolivia’s Protestant leaders issued a pastoral letter supporting the democratic process as the best way to resolve the political crisis. Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Pentecosal churches issued the letter June 9, two days after the resignation of President Carlos Mesa. Church leaders voiced support for naming a new constituent assembly while rejecting any radical changes that could prompt a civil war. Eduardo Rodriguez, head of Bolivia’s Supreme Court, was named the new president of Bolivia and has promised to call for early elections and work toward reforms.

* A Dove Foundation study found that the average G-rated movie was 11 times more profitable than its R-rated counterpart, but the film industry made more than 12 times as many R-rated as G-rated movies from 1989 to 2003. The study examined the costs and revenues of the 200 most widely distributed major Hollywood films each year of the 15-year period. While the average G-rated movie earned a $79 million profit, the average R-rated film earned $6.9 million. Films rated PG were, on average, more profitable than those rated PG-13.

* The National Council of Churches expressed support for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, backing a campaign led by Baptist preacher Jesse Jackson. Three portions of the act expire in 2007: requiring states to get federal approval before making major changes to voting systems, requiring bilingual assistance to minority voters, and authorizing federal elections in states where minority voters have been disenfranchised. Republican leaders in Congress have promised to make the renewal a priority. “Voting rights is not a liberal issue or a conservative issue,” said Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary.

* Sudanese churches welcomed new power-sharing arrangements in the national administration, with the July 10 swearing in of John Garang, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army leader, as vice president. But some are unsure how the transition could benefit Christians. During the civil war between Sudan’s mainly Islamic north and Christian south, an estimated 2 million people died and more than 4 million were displaced before a peace deal was made in Nairobi in January. Christians expect more freedom to worship in the north, but Peter Tibi, the New Sudan Council of Churches’ deputy executive secretary, said churches are wary, having been left out of peace agreement events. (Note: Garang was killed in a helicopter crash on July 30.)

* Conflicts between Christians and Muslims in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna have claimed thousands of lives. Hoping to prevent future religious conflicts, Christian leaders submitted a memorandum to the country’s National Political Reform Conference, addressing cases of persecution and discrimination against Christians. Abubakar Umar, a Muslim and former military governor of Kaduna, said 10,000 people have died due to the persecution of Christians under Sharia, a strict Islamic legal system. Twelve northern Nigerian states presently implement the Sharia, despite Nigeria’s professed secular status.

* Namibia faces a serious crisis in dealing with rapidly increasing number of orphaned and vulnerable children, says UNICEF’s latest advocacy paper. The number of orphaned children is expected to reach 200,000 in the next five years, beyond the nation’s capabilities of providing education, health services and food. HIV/AIDS “is thus widening poverty ad creating a need for more resources to support [orphaned and vulnerable children] and their caregivers,” UNICEF says.

* French Roman Catholic bishops condemned the ordination of Genevieve Beney as a priest. Beney, 56, faces excommunication. Her July 2 ordination, conducted by three women “bishops” already excommunicated by the Vatican, took place on a boat on the Saone River in Lyon, France. Similarly, in eastern Ontario, Canada, eight Americans and a Canadian were ordained July 25 aboard a rented tour boat on the St. Lawrence River. The women, who also face excommunication, claimed they were in international waters and out of any diocese’s jurisdiction. Archbishop Anthony Meagher of Kingston, Ontario, said the jurisdiction issue is “irrelevant because there is no ordination” and they’ve stepped outside the church.

* The board of the Unitarian Universalist Association apologized for “apparently disrespectful and racist treatment” of youth delegates during its annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas. Board secretary Paul Rickter received letters describing instances in which white youth assumed delegates of color were hotel service people and where an adult questioned the young people’s right to be there. Member Esther Ford of Cedar Park, Texas, said the board was overreacting in its apology. Ford wrote to Rickter, saying the youth were responsible for the confrontation, adding: “Believe me, having grown up as a person of color in Texas, I would be the last one to be an apologist for racist behavior. But this was not the case in this particular incident.” Representatives at the denomination’s Boston headquarters said the board is still investigating the incidents.

* The Roman Catholic Church will refuse to baptize children of same-sex couples if both parents insist on signing the birth certificate, says Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada. If only one parent’s signature is issued, the child will be baptized. Ouellet expressed concern for the legalization of same-sex marriages, saying, “Once the state imposes a new standard affirming that homosexual behavior is a social good, those who oppose it for religious motives or motives of conscience will be considered as bigots, anti-gay and homophobes, and then risk prosecution.”


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February issue


Embracing diversity