The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• In April the Lutheran World Federation began an Internet-based discussion forum for its “Theology in the Life of the Church” global initiative. Lutheran theologians, clergy and laity are invited to sign up, at no cost, for the discussion. LWF leaders began the forum to bring together theologians from different parts of the world to share from their diverse backgrounds, contexts and approaches. The Web site allows participants to read initial papers, see what has been discussed so far and post comments or questions. Topics currently under discussion include: death, injustice, multifaith challenges, charismatic and Pentecostal challenges, and moral differences that threaten church unity.

• United Church of Christ pastor, civil rights leader and anti-war activist William Sloane Coffin Jr., 81, died April 12. Coffin worked as Gen. George Patton’s Russian interpreter in World War II and for the CIA in Eastern Europe. Coffin went to seminary after hearing theologian Reinhold Niebuhr speak about the intersection of religious faith and contemporary social concerns. In the 1960s he served as chaplain of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., and became one of the “Freedom Riders” who demonstrated against segregation. Coffin was indicted in 1968 on charges of conspiring to counsel draft resistance during the Vietnam War. He was one of four clergymen allowed to visit the U.S. hostages in Tehran, Iran, in 1979. He began arguing against nuclear proliferation in the 1980s and, more recently, spoke against the war in Iraq.

• More than 250,000 Bolivians still struggled this spring to recover from hail and unusually heavy rain that led to severe flooding in January and February. Jean Waago, Lutheran World Relief staff, said recovery would take months. “Many families lost everything—their crops, their livestock, even their homes were destroyed. Some communities were partially buried in mud 8 feet deep. ... This is one of the situations we call a forgotten emergency. It didn’t get a lot of media coverage, so few people were even aware that it was happening. But our continued support of people affected by this disaster is absolutely necessary.”

• Hoping to reverse membership declines (see related story, "LWF membership rose to 66.2 million in 2005"), two German denominations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia, announced they will merge their nearly 1 million members in 2009. Bishop Christoph Kaehler, vice chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, a federation of Lutheran churches, said the denominations must “face up” to a low birthrate, geographic shifts and reduced income from church taxes “if we want to continue to be able to act, rather than being overtaken by events.”

• U.N. humanitarian officials said more than 200,000 people in Sudan’s Darfur region aren’t getting enough food to survive and about 650,000 others are beyond the reach of aid workers. The two-decade conflict, mostly between the Sudanese government and black African tribes, has killed 2 million people and displaced 4 million. Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine who was in the region from September 2004 to February 2005, travels to U.S. congregations and colleges and speaks about the genocide he witnessed. He told the United Methodist News Service: “Whole tribes have been wiped out ... this is a large-scale military operation for the purpose of wiping out all black Africans in Darfur.”

• Two separate Christian councils in Norway—one that includes major denominations such as the (Lutheran) Church of Norway and one that includes free churches not associated with the state church—will merge Sept. 1. The Christian Council of Norway and the Council of Free Churches will become the Christian Council of Norway. Leaders said a key to the merger was a willingness of Pentecostal and Roman Catholic churches to work together. Torsten Mentzoni, a Pentecostal pastor in Bergen, told the Vart Land newspaper that Pentecostals had feared “negative experiences” their counterparts had seen in Latin America. “Although we are skeptical about the Roman Catholic Church as such, we’ve come to see Catholics in Norway as fellow Christians,” Mentzoni said.

• Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu said April 16 that South African churches had less difficulty speaking out against apartheid than commenting today about poverty, unemployment and a lack of housing in their country. Churches fear being accused of not helping the government with its nation-building, Tutu said, adding: “It’s not easy when you want to speak out against people who are really on your side.” Unemployment is currently at 27.8 percent. Central Diocese Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa said voices like Tutu’s “should not be muffled because their God-inspired prophecy is essentially part of nation-building.”

• Asking for international help, the Solidarity Peace Trust, which is headed by southern African church leaders, said in April that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe used his army to confiscate grain from poor farmers in Matabeleland, a province that tends to support opposition to his political party. Trust leaders said Mugabe was trying to force votes for his ruling Zanu-PF political party. South African Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip said the seizures left small farmers with no income or food. He said soldiers threatened to take unharvested crops and wouldn’t allow farmers to plant anything but maize. The timing “means that army units are now embedded deep in rural areas ... effectively closing democratic space” before elections in September, he said. Dismissing these allegations as “lies,” the government called it a food self-sufficiency program where the army would sell the maize and give a portion of the proceeds back to farmers.

• British church leaders criticized a move by the British National Party to declare April 23 as St. George’s Day, a public holiday celebrating English heritage. Church leaders said the move wasn’t innocuous but came from a group intent on winning votes from white, working-class voters by stirring up ethnic hatred. The BNP’s Web site says it’s “the only hope for the survival of the British people.” Recent polls found that 7 percent of British people support the BNP. In 2004, Nigel McCulloch, Anglican Bishop of Manchester, called support of the BNP “incompatible” with Christian discipleship.

• At presstime, India’s Christian organizations asked the governor of Rajasthan in Jaipur not to approve anti-conversion legislation passed by Rajasthan’s state assembly April 7. The bill would establish two- to five-year prison sentences and a maximum fine of $1,107 for the converter and converted if the action is deemed “unlawful.” The bill defines conversion as renouncing “the religion of one’s forefathers” and adopting another. It also gives extra discretionary powers to state administrators, which extremists could use as a way to harass Christians. Opponents of the bill say it violates the part of India’s constitution that promises legal equality to all. Similar anti-conversion measures are already in force in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu Gujarat and Chattisgarh.

• The broadest-ever Christian group in U.S. history, Christian Churches Together in the USA, was formally launched March 31. It unites the ELCA and other mainline Protestant denominations, Roman Catholics and evangelical, Pentecostal, historically black and Orthodox churches in an effort to strengthen mission efforts. Organizers say combating poverty is the group’s first concern.

• In March, Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a chaplain, criticized the Navy’s Feb. 21 “instruction” for clergy to practice “nonsectarian” religion outside of chapel services or “extraordinary circumstances.” At a “War on Christians” conference in Washington D.C., Klingenschmitt said he’d continue praying in Jesus’ name. Navy spokesperson Lt. William Marks said “nothing in that new instruction ... forbids anyone from praying to Jesus or praying in Jesus’ name.” If chaplains give an invocation at a public ceremony, Marks said, “we ask that they be inclusive.” Herman Keizer Jr., chair of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, said a Department of Defense directive calls for chaplains to agree to serve a religiously pluralistic armed forces. The Air Force released revised religious freedom guidelines in February.


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