The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


April 1999 Worldscan

  • Henry J. Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention, was found guilty of swindling more than $4 million from corporations that wanted access to the names of the denomination's members to sell them products and for trying to steal more than $200,000 from the Anti-Defamation League, which he promised to donate to burned churches in Alabama. Lyons hasn't resigned as president. W. Franklyn Richardson, one of the candidates running against Lyons in an election last September, called for the president's resignation. "I do it for a concern for him as a person and for the potential that he has to be rehabilitated and for the pain that his family is going through," Richardson said. Lyons still faces a federal trial on a 54-count indictment charging him with extortion, tax evasion and money laundering.

  • The number of Roman Catholics has passed 1 billion. According to the Vatican, Catholics account for 17.3 percent of the world's population. Catholics are the majority only in the Americas, where they represent 63 percent of the population, compared with 41 percent in Europe and 3 percent in Asia.

  • More than 70 percent of Americans said they are religious and consider spirituality to be an important part of their lives, according to a MacArthur Foundation poll for USA Today. But half of those polled attend religious services less than once a month or never. "Spirituality in the U.S. is a mile wide and an inch deep," said David Kinnaman of the Barna Research Group, which specializes in research about American faith and culture. "People are beginning to develop a hybrid personal faith that integrates different perspectives from different religions that may even be contradictory. ... That doesn't bother them."

  • In 1998, 15 terminally ill people died in Oregon, the nation's only state with an assisted-suicide law. State health officials said most patients who used the law had a strong desire to control how they died. Of the 15 who died, 13 of them had cancer and two suffered from heart or lung disease, and their average age was 69. The average time of death after taking the lethal prescription was 26 minutes. "It was a very positive thing to have people around and say their final goodbyes and to reminisce about their family stories," said Peter Rasmussen, a cancer specialist from Salem, Ore., who assisted in two suicides.

  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy won't participate in the festivities organized by the Roman Catholic Church for the year 2000 Jubilee to be held in Rome. The appropriate place to remember Christ's birth is the Holy Land, according to a statement from the Lutheran denomination. But the Italian Lutherans do support the Jubilee cancellation of debts of the world's poorest countries and would take part in the ecumenical celebrations in the Holy Land.

  • Frederick H. Borsch, an Episcopal bishop in Los Angeles, expressed concern about the treatment of Ronald Culmer, an Episcopal priest who — in full vestments — was handcuffed and detained by police in pursuit of three suspects. Culmer was standing outside church after worship with several parishioners, including children, when the men appeared, followed by four officers. The police confronted the suspects and Culmer with their weapons drawn. "It's stunning to me that the police were evidently not able to recognize the full priestly vestments in which this priest was dressed," said Borsch, who thought it was unlikely a white priest would have received the same treatment. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the officers met with Culmer and the church board and apologized. An internal investigation is under way.

  • Promise Keepers, which had planned to gather men and their families at state capitols nationwide on Jan. 1, 2000, instead will provide materials for in-home gatherings on that day. It also will work with church groups on other events to mark the turn of the century. The plans were changed, in part, because of a fear about the Y2K bug and its effect, said Steve Ruppe, director of public affairs for Promise Keepers. But Brenda Brasher, author of a book on Promise Keepers, said the new plan may reflect a realization that a larger event isn't what the average men involved with the ministry want. "I really am finding, at least on the regional level, that there is a diminished participation on the part of men in this organization and, on the other hand, I'm still finding the accountability groups, the very small groups, going strong," Brasher said. Promise Keepers has had a decline in attendance in its stadium rallies from 638,000 at 19 events in 1997 to about 450,000 at the same number of events in 1998.

  • The World Council of Churches urged the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity to help end civil war in Congo-Brazzaville. Violence erupted earlier this year when militias supporting the former president and prime minister began fighting troops loyal Sassouo Nguesso, the current president. Thousands have been killed. "Remarkably, most church leaders have chosen to remain in the country, as close as possible to their communities, in the hope that circumstances will soon allow them to retake their ministry of peace, tolerance and national reconciliation," said Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary.

  • A year after two Episcopal dioceses in New Jersey filed suit against William Wantland, a bishop in Eau Claire, Wis., for forming a corporation called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. Inc., the defendants have agreed to cease using the name in any form. John Spong and Joe Doss of New Jersey claimed Wantland and the corporation he formed in several states was engaged in activities designed to trade upon the goodwill associated with the Episcopal Church. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA was founded in 1789 but never incorporated.

  • John M. Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, was named editor/publisher of Christian Century, an interdenominational magazine. "He brings to the magazine a deep knowledge of local and national church life," said James McClure, board chair of the Christian Century Foundation, which publishes the magazine. Buchanan will continue to serve as pastor of Fourth Presbyterian.

  • Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, wrote to the LWF's 124 member churches asking them to study proposals drawn up two years ago to resolve differences over the date of Easter by the new century. Stemming from disagreement over reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory XII in the 16th century, Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrate Easter on one date and most Orthodox churches celebrate on another. At a meeting organized by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, participants suggested that 2001 would be a good time to begin an agreed set of dates because all churches have set April 15, 2001, as their Easter date.

  • Churches worldwide rang their bells March 1 to signal the signing of the international land mine ban treaty. The agreement has been signed by 133 countries, but not the United States, China or Russia. Pope John Paul II hailed the treaty and called for continued efforts to liberate the world from land mines. The treaty "represents a goal that marks a victory of the culture of life over the culture of death," the pope said.

  • Pope John Paul II waived the five-year waiting period normally required between death and opening the process toward sainthood for Mother Teresa, who died less than two years ago at the age of 87. Mother Teresa founded the Sisters of Charity missionary order and won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the poor and destitute in Calcutta.

  • After years of discussion, India's Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church on Feb. 20 ordained 17 women — the first time women have been ordained in the church. The ceremony, which included 32 male ordinands, was held at St. Matthew Church West Parish in Guntur, where more than 3,000 attended. Prior to the service the church's 350 clergy members gathered and unanimously accepted women's ordination in principle. This is the fourth of nine Lutheran World Federation member churches to ordain women, and with its 400,000 members it is also the largest Lutheran church in India.

  • Almost one-third of America's adult population is "unchurched," according to a study by the Barna Research Group. "Unchurched" is classified as a person who has not attended a Christian church service in the last six months, other than a special event such as a wedding, funeral or holiday service. The total is an increase from 27 percent 18 month earlier, with the majority of the increase coming from men, non-white adults and "baby busters."

  • Fighting continues in Sudan. The Lutheran World Federation — through Action by Churches Together — provided sorghum, beans, oil, salt and seeds to families affected by the war and famine.

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