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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, Eritrea, Iran and Vietnam were designated as “countries of concern” in the U.S. State Department’s annual report of international religious freedom, released Nov. 8. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that during the past year some governments “have modified laws and policies, improved enforcement or taken other concrete steps to increase and demonstrate respect for religious freedom.” The report said China’s respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience “remained poor,” noting policies that restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship. Even worse, the report said, was North Korea, where repression continues and “religious freedom does not exist.”

During its Church Assembly Oct. 27, the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden approved blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples who have signed a civil partnership agreement. Although Sweden doesn’t permit same-sex marriage, it recognizes civil partnerships where couples enjoy many rights of a civil marriage. Until now same-sex couples needed to celebrate the blessing ceremony outside a church building. The ceremony will now become a formal part of church regulations, which will be rewritten to replace the word “marriage” with “marriage and actions of blessing.”

• At presstime a Republican-backed provision to deny affordable housing funds to churches and nonprofits that have engaged in voter registration efforts came under fire from Democrats in Congress and a coalition of 60 religious groups and homeless and housing advocates. Calling the provision “blatantly undemocratic,” the coalition said it singles out primarily African American and urban churches, which would be most involved in both low-income housing and voter registration programs. There is “no other purpose than to reduce access to voting by low-income people,” the coalition wrote to House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “People of color are overrepresented in the low-income population, making this a civil rights issue.”

Lauma Zusevica, 51, is the new president of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Elected Oct. 15 at the churchwide synod assembly in Milwaukee, she will serve a three-year term. Zusevica received her master of arts degree and master of philosophy degree in religious sciences from Yale University, New Haven, Conn. She is a pastor of Trinity Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Milwaukee.

• Addressing a key aspect of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, a federal judge ruled the Salvation Army has the right to hire employees according to its faith principles, even if it receives government funding. “Nothing in the Constitution precludes Congress from accommodating the Salvation Army’s residual free exercise interest in selecting and managing its employees with reference to religion,” said U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein. The opinion dismisses parts of a case filed against the Salvation Army and its New York officials in 2004 by current and former employees who allege they were victims of religious discrimination.

Infectious diseases including tetanus and measles are spreading fast among homeless Pakistani earthquake survivors camped in tent villages and could trigger a new wave of deaths, relief workers caution. An ELCA partner, Action by Churches Together, launched preventive measures, including setting up water purification structures and toilets to improve hygiene in the crowded temporary camps. By November the death toll from October’s quake had reached more than 86,000 and more than 100,000 were injured.

• George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and the Vatican’s chief astronomer, said Nov. 18 that “intelligent design” isn’t science. Proponents of intelligent design want U.S. public schools to teach it in science courses. But Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside evolutionary theory is “wrong.” He said “intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.” Last June, Coyne told The Tablet, a British Roman Catholic magazine, that “believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God ... who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.” God is more of an encouraging parent, who “in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process,” he said. In November, Pope Benedict XVI suggested that the universe was made by an “intelligent project,” not without direction or order.

Jews are the most targeted for religious hate crimes in the U.S., according to the FBI. In 2004, the bureau recorded 1,374 religion-oriented hate crimes—954 directed at Jewish people. The report compiles data from 12,711 local law enforcement agencies. Reports of crimes against Muslims have leveled off since a high point of 481 in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In 2004 law enforcement officials recorded 156 attacks against Muslims, 57 against Roman Catholics, 38 against Protestants and six against atheists or agnostics. Another 163 attacks were committed against other religions or religious groups.

Giving to the 400 largest U.S. charities increased by 11.6 percent in 2004, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Lutheran Services in America, the eighth leading charity, received $723 million. The United Way of America, the top fundraiser, received $3.9 billion. Preliminary 2005 reports from 80 charities show that donations rose 7.3 percent over the previous year as Americans dug deep to help with tsunami and hurricane relief.

Lutheran World Relief was again awarded the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations’ Seal of Excellence for successfully completing the recertification program. It’s one of the first organizations to be recertified under the rigorous ethics and accountability program, which began in 1998. To earn the seal, nonprofit organizations voluntarily submit to scrutiny by a peer review team that examines compliance with the Maryland Nonprofits Standards for Excellence­—based on such values as honesty, integrity, fairness, respect, responsibility and accountability.

• After Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urged Anglicans on both sides of the homosexuality debate to seek reconciliation through prayer, 17 of 38 bishops of the Anglican Communion demanded he take action against “unrepented sexual immorality” in the church. In a letter, the Anglican leaders—the “Global South”—said they were troubled by Williams’ reluctance to challenge the ordination of homosexuals in the U.S. and Canada. They also were unhappy about a Church of England ruling giving acceptance to clergy who enter into legal same-sex partnerships. But one of the 17, Clive Handford, president (bishop) of Jerusalem and the Middle East, asked for his name to be removed from the letter, which he’d not seen in its final version. “Several other primates shared my unease,” he said. “In no way did I give my permission for my name to be associated with the letter.” A spokesperson for the Anglican Communion said no one has a mandate to change the church’s teachings.

• At a Nov. 10-12 meeting of 2,400 traditionalist leaders in Pittsburgh, an Anglican bishop from Bolivia ordained three deacons and a priest to serve former Episcopalians in Baltimore; Washington D.C.; Greenwich, Conn.; and Raleigh, N.C.

“Lack of water is as destructive as poverty, and indeed it is true that poverty cannot be rolled back if the scarcity of water is not resolved,” said Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, during a meeting of the Ecumenical Water Network in Machakos, Kenya. Dandala urges churches to make the right of access to water a core part of their work. Christian groups formed the network to promote preservation, responsible management and equitable distribution of water for all. Members say they’re concerned about issues that limit the access to usable water for many of the world’s poorest people, including consumer lifestyles that waste water directly or indirectly, the commercialization of water resources, and its management as a commodity.

Governments from developed and developing nations increasingly use arbitrary detention to punish and deter refugees and asylum-seekers, a World Council of Churches group told the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Detention of asylum-seekers and other migrants has increased significantly in northern countries since Sept. 11. But the problem also involves countries such as Botswana, Zim-babwe and South Africa, which automatically detain people who haven’t passed through formal border controls, said the WCC Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted Peoples. The group said “the widespread use of discourses or national security and ‘the war on terror’ to justify detention practices has created an adverse climate for churches to persuade national governments to heed their concerns.”

Church leaders in Pakistan denounced an arson attack on Christian churches and settlements in Sangla Hill in the Punjab province. A Muslim mob set on fire three Christian schools, a convent and orphanage, as well as Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Salvation Army places of worship, after desecrating Bibles and holy materials inside the buildings. “What provoked such heinous sacrileges?” church leaders wrote to President Pervez Musharraf on Nov. 14. “ It was a baseless rumor that a local Christian had set the holy Koran on fire.” Church leaders called for a judicial inquiry and punishment for the attack.

In November, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops approved national standards for recruiting and supervising lay members who fill gaps left by a clergy shortage. Today there are 18,000 laity in ministry training programs—more than six times the number of men studying to be priests. The bishops also denounced the death penalty, saying a “cycle of violence diminishes all of us.” But they allowed that in rare cases, capital punishment may be “the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.”

About 150 Israeli settlers evacuated from their homes in August received a standing ovation in October from 5,000 evangelical Christians at the Feast of the Tabernacles Conference, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. The ICEJ has raised $40,000 for more than 8,000 settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank. The money will go toward psychological counseling and toward building playgrounds in evacuees’ new communities, said David Parsons, ICEJ spokesperson. Many settlers still live in hotel rooms, funded by the Israeli government, while they wait to receive state compensation for the homes and property they lost. The ICEJ says it opened in 1980 as “an act of solidarity with the Jewish people’s 3,000-year-old connection to their holy city.”

Sexual harassment—including unsolicited physical touching, sexual assault and rape—is a problem in the United Methodist Church, according to a survey of 1,300 pastors, bishops and laity. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they’d experienced or observed harassment. Sixty percent of alleged harassment incidents were committed by lay people and 35 percent by clergy, mostly on church properties, respondents said. Although the denomination has policies on sexual harassment, some respondents said victims weren’t taken seriously when they reported the abuses.

• A new survey by the Qunoot Foundation found that American Shiite Muslims were unlikely to report anti-Muslim hate crimes to legal authorities. However, nearly 1,700 mostly Sunni Muslims reported incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination or hate crimes to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


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Reinventing Sunday school

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