* Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders asked the U.S. government to ban the use of torture “without exceptions” and in all cases. “Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear,” stated an ad (New York Times, June 13) that is part of The National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The religious coalition formed in response to allegations of human-rights abuses at U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and in part because the Pentagon hasn’t included a tenet of the Geneva Convention in proposed policies for dealing with prisoners. Signers include Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; and Nobel laureates Elie Weisel and former President Jimmy Carter.
* The United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico voted at its June assembly to disaffiliate with the United Church of Christ. The 75 percent of churches that voted to disaffiliate cited the UCC’s stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, called the action “deeply painful and profoundly disappointing” but said the denomination honors the assembly’s decision. The UCC is considering ways to retain or restore relationships with those Puerto Rican congregations that want to remain in communion.
* The Vatican and World Council of Churches affirmed religious freedom as a “non-negotiable” human right, emphasizing that the “obsession of converting others” needs to be cured. Its report emerged from a conference held May 12-16 in Lariano/Velletri, Italy. The “Conversion: Assessing the Reality” conference was attended by 27 participants of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Yoruba backgrounds. Among the participants’ recommendations were continuing dialogue on conversion and developing a “code of conduct” for faiths to follow.
* Church health activists in India rebuked their government for downplaying the extent of HIV infection after a 2006 U.N. report said 5.7 million Indians live with the virus—the highest number of any country. India’s Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramadoss denied the report. But K.M. Shymaprasad, the executive director of the medical and health board of the Lutheran churches in India, said: “That is the truth and there is no question of denying it. I would say it could be as high as 10 million.” Shymaprasad ran an HIV surveillance center on behalf of the Lutheran church until the government took it over. The statistical discrepancy could be due to the age categories used. India restricted its findings to people between ages 15 and 49 while the UNAIDS figures include all ages.
* Voting 173-29 on June 16, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops approved word changes to the mass, the first time the English-translation liturgy has been reworked since it was introduced more than 35 years ago. The bishops are fulfilling the Vatican’s desire to bring translations closer to the 16th century Latin text. While the bishops believe the new translation is more accurate, some are concerned the laity won’t understand the new words or the meanings behind them. Changes include beginning the Nicene Creed with “I believe” rather than “We believe,” and changing the prayer before communion from “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” The new translation is at least a year from reaching parishes, as formal Vatican approval is needed.
* Prison Fellowship officials plan to appeal a June 2 ruling that declared its faith-based program in an Iowa prison unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt ruled that the group’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative has the effect of “impermissibly endorsing religion” and is “pervasively sectarian.” The program requires participants to attend worship services, weekly revivals and religious community meetings, as well as engage in daily devotions. Pratt’s decision called for the program to end within 60 days and for InnerChange and Prison Fellowship to repay the corrections department more than $1.5 million.
* Pope Benedict XVI said “restoration of full unity among Christians” is a priority of his pontificate. Speaking May 25 during an interdenominational prayer meeting at Warsaw’s Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, he called on churches of various denominations to build closer ties through joint charitable initiatives and fostering interdenominational marriages and families. “In today’s world, in which international and intercultural relations are multiplying, it happens increasingly often that young people from different traditions, religions or Christian denominations decide to start a family,” he said. He welcomed the drafting of an ecumenical document on marriage and family life, which would establish “principles acceptable to all for contracting interdenominational marriages.” The head of Poland’s Lutheran church, Bishop Janusz Jagucki, who hosted the meeting, said he hoped Polish denominations would achieve a mutual recognition of the eucharist.
* Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is backing a plan to allow liberals and conservatives in the Anglican Communion to retain separate stances on contentious issues such as gay clergy, according to the London Daily Telegraph. The newspaper said it had obtained a copy of proposals that could permit North American liberals to move on with divisive reforms, while the majority of conservatives in the 77-million Anglican Communion maintain traditional practices. The plan is seen as the basis for a new “covenant” aimed at averting future crises and preventing church schism. All 38 Anglican Church provinces would be asked to sign the covenant to prevent any group from acting unilaterally over contentious issues. The archbishop reportedly will appoint a 10-member panel to further develop the proposal before the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops.
* The ELCA provided $200,000 May 31 to support the humanitarian response in Darfur, Sudan. Between 200,000 and 400,000 people reportedly have died during the three-year conflict in Darfur, and more than 2.5 million people were displaced from their homes. There also have been many reports of rape, looting, arson and other atrocities committed primarily against black Africans. “Similar to the genocide in Rwanda, the world has waited too long to respond in outrage and has allowed a poorly funded humanitarian response to take the place of political will and action,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. In 2004 and 2005, ELCA International Disaster Response sent a total of $600,000 to Action by Churches Together, its partner in relief work.
* Christian, Jewish and Islamic representatives, as well as the Dalai Lama, met with senior European Union officials May 30 in Brussels to discuss the need for mutual respect and tolerance in Europe. The meeting was convened by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuesel, whose country currently holds the presidency of the 25-nation EU. Controversy over religious sensitivity and freedom of expression sparked in the EU earlier this year after the publication of offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. “As tensions can arise between the exercise of fundamental human rights and awareness of the feelings of others, it is worth reflecting on the role played by the concept of mutual respect,” Barroso said. The meeting was the second of its kind in a process of “open, transparent and regular dialogue” between the EC and religious leaders.
* Churches and relief agencies in East Africa are concerned about renewed fighting in Somalia and are urging an increased international presence there. Recent battles in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, left hundreds of people dead, many of whom were civilians. Somalia has had no effective government since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. A peace agreement was signed in 2004, but the transitional government that was formed is still struggling to assert control. “It is about time the international community said: ‘Let us not leave the Somalis to help themselves,’ ” Karimini Kinoti, the regional representative of the British Agency Christian Aid, told Ecumenical News International, “We need to say enough is enough.”
• On May 15, the ELCA e-advocacy Network issued an action alert from Churches for Middle East Peace regarding a resolution circulating in the House of Representatives that charges the Palestinian Authority with persecution of Christians. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said the persecution described in the “Help Save the Oldest Christian Community in the World” resolution is false. “If there was persecution, I would be the first to speak about it,” Younan said during a recent visit to Chicago. “My duty is to speak the truth, for the sake of the truth and the sake of justice and peace and reconciliation in Palestine.” The resolution has not yet been introduced in the House, but at least 11 representatives have already signed on in support.
• The World Council of Churches Executive Committee asked Iran’s government for a moratorium on its uranium enrichment program, to recognize the state of Israel and to support international efforts to end terrorism—all “commitments” that are needed to address broader security concerns. The WCC committee also called on the U.S. to honor the “negative security assurance” given in the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Five countries—U.S., United Kingdom, France, Russia and China—pledged “never to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state signatory to the NPT.” The WCC called on the countries to “accelerate their efforts toward verifiable and irreversible reductions and ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” India, Israel and Pakistan, which have remained outside the treaty, and North Korea, which has withdrawn, were asked to join or rejoin the treaty.
• A Gallup Poll found that 28 percent of Americans believe the Bible is the literal word of God. Of the 1,002 adults surveyed, 49 percent said the Bible was the “inspired word of God,” 19 percent called it an “ancient book of fables” and 3 percent had no opinion. The percentage who believe the Bible should be taken literally, as the actual word of God, was down by nearly 10 percentage points from 1976, when the same poll showed between 37 percent and 40 percent of Americans chose this option. Literal belief was highest among older Americans (36 percent), those with lowest levels of education (38 percent), Southerners (39 percent), Republicans (33 percent), and Protestants and other non-Roman Catholic Christians (37 percent).
• Muslim women told Gallup pollsters that lack of unity, extremism and political corruption were the main problems with their societies, but did not identify gender inequality as a major issue. The 2005 poll, released June 6, questioned 8,000 women in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey about their perceptions of life in Muslim and Western countries. A majority said women should be allowed to vote, drive and work, but no more than 2 percent of women in Egypt and Morocco revealed concern for the equality of men and women. In more westernized Middle Eastern countries of Lebanon and Turkey, 11 percent said gender equality was a problem. Most Muslim women said they admire their society’s adherence to Islamic values, while they disapprove of the “promiscuity, pornography and public indecency” and the way women are treated in Western countries
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers