The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and the church’s 65 synod bishops wrote to Congress, saying it should cancel $70 billion in tax breaks that favor high-income Americans if the government needs to cut domestic spending. President George W. Bush’s $2.6 trillion budget for 2006 must find $35 billion in cuts. Bread for the World, an ecumenical anti-hunger group led by ELCA pastor David Beckmann, cheered when the Senate Agricultural Committee rejected a proposed cut of $574 million that would have removed 300,000 people from the food stamps program. At presstime, the House of Representatives was considering $10 billion in cuts to Medicaid and hundreds of millions in cuts to food stamps and student loans. The bishops said programs on the budget cutting floor are ones that would most help Hurricane Katrina survivors.

• Nearly all of the 400,000 Roman Catholic parishioners in western Oregon were named as defendants in a class-action lawsuit after the Archdiocese of Portland said it didn’t own parish properties—members and their congregations do. Only 280 parishioners opted out of the lawsuit. If the courts decide that parishioners and their congregations own the property—worth $500 million to $600 million—they will be off-limits to sexual abuse claimants who are suing the bankrupt archdiocese for hundreds of millions. Either way, individual parishioners won’t be liable for paying the archdiocese’s debts.

Religious freedom is the most important constitutional freedom, next to speech, according to a survey of 1,000 Americans. Yet half of those surveyed by the Council for America’s First Freedom, Richmond, Va., said separation of church and state had gone too far. Two-thirds supported some type of school pray­er. Eighty-one percent approved of public school teachers reading from the Bible in the classroom, but only 68 percent thought that it would be OK to read from the Quran.

A proposed Nov. 8 amendment to the Texas constitution could give “some Texans fewer civil rights than others,” wrote Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod Bishop Kevin Kanouse; Fritz Ritsch, a Presbyterian pastor; and Ralph Mecklenburger, a Jewish rabbi. Their Oct. 23 editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said the proposition would deny gays and lesbians, as well as longtime heterosexual couples, the right to “visit [their partner] in the hospital, decide how funeral arrangements are made or have the same inheritance rights as others.” Calling civil unions “a worthy solution,” they wrote that despite President George W. Bush’s opposition to gay marriage, he also says state legislatures should be “free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.”

Lutheran World Relief shipped 22,400 quilts, 4,510 school kits and 6,600 health kits to Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The items were distributed in Houston; Biloxi, Miss.; and Gulfport, Miss.; by International Orthodox Christian Charities, a Baltimore-based partner of Lutheran Disaster Response. With winter’s onset “there are people in shelters sleeping on newspapers and concrete floors,” said Frank Carlin of the IOCC. “These beautiful, brand-new quilts ... [are] an answer to prayer.”

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops asked priests to reach out to potential new clergy under a “Fishers of Men” program. With $200,000 in funding, the program will interview priests about their jobs and share their stories with men outside the priesthood. The ranks of Catholic priests have dwindled from nearly 59,000 in 1965 to 42,000 today.

New research techniques might enable embyronic stem-cell research without destroying any embryos. Research teams at Advanced Cell Technology, Worcester, Mass., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, took stem cells from mice embryos. The MIT researchers kept the embryo intact, but made it unable to grow in a uterus. The Advanced Cell team removed one cell, allowing the rest to grow to term inside a female mouse.

Mass starvation is likely to occur in Zimbabwe if emergency measures aren’t taken, warned Pius Ncube, Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo. In October, Ncube said the forced removal of about 700,000 people from their homes, economic hyperinflation and the Zimbabwean government’s refusal of food aid could cause the deaths of up to 200,000 people. But Michael Huggins, the U.N. World Food Programme spokesperson, cautioned against such early predictions.

The Episcopal Church rejected a move to pull its investments from Israel, choosing to participate in “positive investment” among Palestinians and “corporate engagement” with Israel. Church leaders said the denomination will file shareholder resolutions with companies who “contribute to violence against either side” or whose products contribute to the “infrastructure which supports and sustains” the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The church’s executive council approved the plan Oct. 8. “If the church simply divests, nothing positive has happened,” said the council’s report. David Elcott, director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, called the Episcopalian decision “further evidence that there is a growing consensus on how people of faith must work together.”

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod reported that its baptized membership decreased by more than 25,000 people to 2,463,747 from 2003 to 2004. During that period, giving rose by $51 million to a record $1.3 billion. LCMS research analyst John O’Hara said he hoped the decline would encourage more congregations to take part in denominational efforts aimed at sharing the gospel. Religion News Service reported that in 2004 the denomination had 6,151 congregations, served by 5,323 pastors.

The Christian Coalition, a political lobbying group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, named as its director Jason Christy, 34, a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod member. Christy, publisher of the Church Report magazine (circulation 40,000), said his priorities include building an advisory board of “Christians from different walks of life,” including younger people; promoting “a culture of life”; and opposing stem-cell research and same-sex marriage.

• Saying they deplored “the ongoing violence and killing,” more than 30 church groups including the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief asked Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to investigate the 2005 murders of more than 30 human rights activists, including Raul Domingo, a United Church of Christ pastor shot on the island of Palawan.


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