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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

• Relief agencies in Sudan expressed concern in May that the humanitarian situation worsens even as peace talks progress between the government in Khartoum and the largest rebel group in Darfur. Action By Churches Together, an alliance in which the ELCA partners, said immediate concerns include ongoing insecurity and food and firewood shortages among displaced people in camps. Lutheran World Relief reported May 3 that the World Food Program halved its humanitarian rations in Darfur due to a lack of funds. Meanwhile, the All Africa Conference of Churches called for the U.N. to quickly deploy peacekeeping troops into the region. The government in Khartoum has allowed about 7,000 African Union peacekeepers into Darfur.

• U.S. Protestant ministers and congregants have different spending priorities, according to an Ellison Research survey of 504 pastors and 1,184 parishioners. When asked what they’d do with an unexpected surge in church income, 31 percent of pastors said they’d spend the money on buildings or facilities, compared with 17 percent of lay people. Spending the funds on evangelism was the top choice for 26 percent of clergy and 25 percent of laity. Only 1 percent of clergy said they’d raise staff pay or benefits. Other choices were paying off debt, adding staff and increasing social programs, such as outreach to homeless people. Lay people were more likely to say they’d pay off church debt and help the needy. Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, said the differences reflect “the typical layperson [having] very little idea of what it takes to run a ministry, and ministers sometimes [losing] sight of what’s important to [parishioners].”

• Much popular support for Sharia, a strict Islamic legal code, may be based on aid to the poor, said two Indiana professors who analyzed data from surveys in predominantly Islamic countries. Nancy J. Davis of DePauw University,Greencastle, and Robert V. Robinson, Indiana University, Bloomington, found that people in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia often linked Sharia law with economic reforms that increased government responsibility for the poor and reduced the gap between the poor and wealthy. Orthodox believers “tend to feel everyone in the community should be subject to what they see as eternal divine laws on the position of women, sexuality and the family,” Davis said. “But they also tend to believe the community and society should look out for its members’ economic well-being.” Davis and Robinson said radical Islamic groups who favor Sharia law have gained political power in Egypt, Indonesia, the Palestinian Territories and other predominantly Muslim countries by offering alternatives to governments that failed to create successful social welfare networks.

• Religious freedom in Afghanistan has become “increasingly problematic,” said a May report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The group put the country on its “watch” list, saying flaws in the post-Taliban constitution have imposed a strict brand of Islamic law that is especially discriminatory toward women. The group said the Afghan constitution doesn’t protect religious freedom and therefore the country has “a growing number of criminal prosecutions and other official actions against individuals for exercising their rights.” Earlier in 2006, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man, faced a death sentence for his conversion to Christianity. The commission also listed Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern.”

• Fifty women received preaching certificates from Morroco in May. Called morchidat, the female religious guides don’t lead prayer in mosques but travel around the country teaching about Islam. They promised to help prevent “intrusion by foreign agents trying to violate our values and traditions.” King Mohammed VI, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, launched the effort to undergird state-controlled mosques and minimize the influence of radical clerics.

• Without approval from Pope Benedict XVI, China consecrated two bishops in its state-run Catholic Church. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called the action schismatic, setting Ma Yingling and Liu Xinhong up for excommunication, although they were consecrated “against their conscience”—a mitigating factor. Before the consecrations, relations between China’s communist government and the Vatican were strained, but the two made such decisions cooperatively, with the pope formally approving new bishops for China. Navarro-Valls said “bishops and priests have been put under strong pressure and threats to make them take part in the consecration.” Five million Chinese Catholics belong to the state-controlled church, and 8 million more are thought to be members of an underground church.

• About 30 Southern Baptist conservatives met and issued a May 3 declaration repenting of “triumphalism” within their ranks, according to Religion News Service. The document further declared that the denomination’s unity was threatened by a “narrowing of cooperation through exclusionary theological and political agendas that corrupt the healthy and mutual fellowship we enjoy as Kingdom servants.” The group committed itself to “institutional openness” and accountability within the largest U.S. denomination. “

• Thousands of Christians and other religious people are petitioning Japan’s legislature not to hold a national referendum on Article 9 of its constitution, which renounces war and the threat of force as a way to settle international disputes. The Interfaith Unity group said it “strongly opposes” moves by the ruling Liberal Democratic party to rename Japan’s Self-Defence Forces as a constitutionally declared military. Masataka Nagasawa of the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, said, “For people of faith, Article 9 of the constitution is indispensable.”

• The regional organization of Pacific Southwest congregations affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA voted 1,125 to 209 on May 11 to leave the denomination over a “deep difference of theological convictions and values.” The region includes 300 congregations, which must also vote on whether to leave. Executive minister Dale Salico, said the regional organization would continue to sendmission-related funding designated for American Baptist efforts by local churches but would discontinue about $150,000 for national administrative work. Members say the larger church hasn’t enforced teaching against homosexuality. Church spokesperson Robert Roberts said it was the first time a regional group had left the denomination. “We’re in a tug of war that’s caught all Christendom, which is the tug of war between right and center,” he said.

The DaVinci Code, a film based on Dan Brown’s novel, caused a flurry of reaction from some Christians in May. In the book and the movie, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as Jesus’ wife, with their descendants still alive in contemporary times. Calling it “offensive and contrary to established religious beliefs,” the Manila city council banned public showings of the movie, causing moviegoers to go to surrounding cities in the Philippines. And after Roman Catholics and other Christians protested in India, the federal Censor Board gave the movie an “adults only” rating and required theaters to project a disclaimer that it is “a work of fiction” at the film’s beginning and end.

• The [Lutheran] Church of the Augsburg Confession and the Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine celebrated their union at a May 7 service in Strausbourg. Under the new Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine, the two churches in eastern France will continue to exist but share a decision-making structure and a single body of pastors. “Without being a fusion nor a new church, this new organization will make it possible for the two churches to give a new impulse to their witness to the gospel in society,” said a statement from the denominations. Together the Lutheran and Reformed denominations have 240,000 members, about 8 percent of the region’s population.

• The Vatican approved revised policies, effective May 15, for handling Roman Catholic priests who are charged with sexual abuse in the U.S. Changes to policies adopted in 2002 by U.S. church officials include attention to concerns of some priests that abuse allegations can amount to a guilty verdict. The new wording states: “During the investigation the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence [with steps] taken to protect his reputation.” Other changes include a clarification that if a priest or deacon transfers into a new jurisdiction, the bishop will obtain “information regarding any past act of sexual abuse of a minor.” If a priest is assigned to a new diocese, the priest’s superior must confidentially inform the bishop of that diocese so “suitable safeguards are in place for the protection of children.”

• Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, urged Nepal’s leaders and parties involved in a conflict over democracy to respect the human rights of all people. Noko said the country must address “underlying grievances, which predispose Nepalese society to instability.” On April 28, after three weeks of national protests, Nepal’s King Gynanendra restored the country’s democratic legislature. Although Nepal’s Christian community celebrated the move, they continued to demand full religious freedom. Nepal’s constitution since 1990 contained language that is widely understood as banning religious conversions and preventing the building of churches. The LWF Department for World Service does development work with dalits (untouchables), freed Kamaiyas (former bonded laborers), women, Bhutanese refugees and others who have been subject to discrimination. On May 18, Nepal’s legislature voted to end the monarchy, make the king a taxpayer and strip him of all executive powers.

• At least 600 Christians marched in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in May, protesting a government crackdown a year ago that left 700,000 people homeless. Christian groups planned eight weeks of meetings, marches and prayer around the one-year anniversary. Zimbabwean police had banned the marches, but High Court Judge Nicholas Ndou ruled May 8 against police interference. Critics said the May 2005 “Operation Drive Out Filth” was aimed at punishing and placing in re-education camps people who voted against the government. Government officials said the operation was to rid cities of crime.

Just before a May 21 referendum in Montenegro in which voters opted to sever ties with Serbia, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle wrote to the president of Serbia-Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, saying such a breakup “cannot bring anything good.” The country is deeply divided between the pro-separation Montenegrin government and the pro-Serbian opposition. The Patriarch said dismantling the union would threaten a peaceful future for Kosovo and weaken Serbia’s hand in negotiations related to Kosovo and “efforts at reconciliation” throughout the Balkans. The Patriarch has also spoken against an autonomous Montenegrin church.


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