The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• The World Methodist Council, representing 70 million Methodists, voted in July to endorse the 1999 Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The agreement between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church states that salvation is achieved through God’s grace, which encourages Christians to do good works. In a statement, the council said it was its “deep hope ... to enter into closer relationships with Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church.” LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko said the Methodist endorsement shows that the doctrine of justification represents the shared biblical faith of the universal church.

• The Lutheran World Federation and 17 other nongovernmental organizations issued a July 7 statement calling for “the urgent protection of civilians in Gaza, as well as immediate and unobstructed access for the delivery of critical humanitarian aid and supplies.” Signatories said Israel’s military offensive resulted in complete destruction of Gaza’s only electrical power plant, as well as damage to water and sewage systems. The statement said civilians, particularly children, have special protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention. “It is not acceptable to target the vital civilian infrastructure that supports them,” the statement read. LWF regional representative Mark Brown, an ELCA pastor, said patients and staff from Gaza can’t get to the LWF’s Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem due to severe travel restrictions and damaged infrastructure.

• Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and 12 other area Christian leaders urged the U.S. Congress to abandon a resolution that accuses the Palestinian Authority of persecuting Christians. In a July letter, the leaders said: “We would urge you and all others who care about Palestine Christians to talk directly to us and our community in order to better understand our situation and the source of our suffering.” They said Christian migration from the Holy Land was spurred by the West Bank barrier and Israeli military incursions. While Christians and Muslims did sometimes have problems, they dealt with them through dialogue, the leaders wrote. A month earlier, Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., put efforts to raise support for the resolution on hold.

• The Lutheran World Federation’s Department for World Service program in India will become an autonomous, faith-based, local nongovernmental organization by 2008. A July LWF news release said stakeholders at a June meeting in Kolkata, India, said the program will retain its Lutheran name. Stakeholders include the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India, Church of North India, National Council of Churches in India, and the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action. They said localizing the program would strengthen their ability to address systemic poverty and vulnerability to disasters. It could become an LWF associate program, similar to seven former LWF country programs now managed by local partners.

• Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service asked Congress to help refugees tangled in regulations meant to keep terrorists from entering the U.S. The faith-based Refugee Council USA said up to 20,000 refugees are denied asylum under the Patriot Act’s and the Real ID Act’s broad definitions of helping terrorist groups, which affect people from war-torn countries who, under threat of injury or death, supplied trivial support to militias or terrorists. In May, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a first-of-its-kind waiver to allow 9,300 Myanmar refugees from a camp in Thailand to enter a screening process that could result in U.S. asylum. A State Department spokesperson said the agency won’t decide whether to grant waivers for other refugees until they evaluate the process for those 9,300 people.

• Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod officials reported that a task force will address a drop in unrestricted revenue and income from districts. The LCMS Board of Directors increased the denomination’s national annual operating budget to $88 million, an increase of 7.6 percent over the previous year. The budget includes nine new missionaries, 21 additional national staff, and a $2.5 million subsidy for the denomination’s 10 colleges and universities and two seminaries.

• The World Council of Churches asked President George W. Bush not to allow a tightening of U.S. sanctions on Cuba that would isolate the Cuban Council of Churches. In a July 10 letter, the WCC called it “a gross violation of religious freedom” for the U.S. “to determine who is and who is not a legitimate national council of churches, and to restrict or deny Christian fellowship and humanitarian assistance to [such a] council.” The letter responded to a report from the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a U.S. policy advisory body chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The report advised restricting humanitarian exports that aren’t agricultural or medical “to ensure that exports are consigned to entities that support independent civil society and are not regime-administered or controlled organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches.”

• Two German Lutheran churches—the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg and the Evangelical Church of Pomerania—plan to merge, possibly by 2010. Although Mecklenburg, with 212,000 members, is roughly twice the size of the Pomerianian church, both are too small to continue separately. The churches serve a region where agriculture and tourism haven’t stemmed the nearly 19 percent unemployment (the country’s highest rate) and a high emigration rate. About 20 percent of the population belong to either church. The denominations already share a newspaper, a women’s organization, an academy, church conventions and pastoral training programs.

• After a yearlong review of the White House’s faith-based initiative, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in July that some groups “that offered voluntary religious activities—such as prayer and worship—didn’t appear to understand the requirement to separate these activities in time or location from their program services funded with federal funds.” Ira Lupu, a professor at George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C., said: “People somehow think in those groups so long as it’s voluntary, it’s OK. ... That’s not the constitutional law.”

• Archbishop Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Communion, proposed a two-track church structure that excludes some from decision-making roles. The proposal would divide the communion’s 38 members into “constituent churches” with decision-making power and “churches in association” with observer status and no vote. The proposal was welcomed by some leaders who oppose the Episcopal Church’s consecration of V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire. To become a constituent under that proposal, the Episcopal Church would have to renounce both consecrating bishops in same-sex relationships and approving same-sex blessings. Frank Griswold, outgoing presiding bishop of the U.S. church, said the proposal raised “serious questions about how we understand ourselves as being the church.”

• The Church of England’s General Synod ruled July 8 that women can be bishops, a move it said is theologically justified. The ruling had strong support from clergy of both genders, despite a Vatican warning that women bishops would render unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics “unreachable.” If the laity approve the ruling, the church would join three others (Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.) among the Anglican Communion’s 38 church bodies that allow female bishops.

• In Sudan, gunmen shot and killed Abdul Bagi Ahmed, a driver hired by Action by Churches Together. ACT, an ELCA partner, provides humanitarian aid in war-torn Darfur, Sudan. A public health officer traveling in the car was robbed but escaped unharmed. The killing was reported to the U.N., the African Union and government authorities, who promised an investigation.

• The World Council of Churches urged Israel’s government and Hezbollah militants in northern Lebanon to immediately stop all violence and end war rhetoric. “The use of force and the harsh rhetoric of war are driving the new government of Israel and its neighboring states deeper into a chasm of killings and destruction, and farther away from the prospect of peace,” said WCC head Samuel Kobia.

• T.D. Jakes, pastor of a Dallas megachurch, and William H. Gray III, former president of the United Negro College Fund, resigned as co-chairs of the religious advisory committee to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Jakes and Gray said they weren’t comfortable as leaders of the $20-million effort to help Gulf Coast churches because checks were distributed without their knowledge. In a July 13 interview with Religion News Service, Jakes said: “I just couldn’t lend my support to a system that bypassed the very board that was appointed to assure that it was effective.” Mary Ann Wyrsch, the fund’s executive director, resigned July 14. Fund co-chairs Alexis Herman, former Labor secretary, and Don Evans, former Commerce secretary, refused to comment on the charges made by Jakes and Gray, but said Wyrsch resigned “in the best interests of the mission of the fund.”

• The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas asked Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Communion and archbishop of Canterbury, for a “direct pastoral relationship” from overseas. The diocese objects to being led by Katharine Jefferts Schori, who begins her term Nov. 1 as Episcopal Church presiding bishop, because she supports same-sex relationships. Dioceses in Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina and California have taken similar actions.

• The National Council of Churches of Christ, an ecumenical alliance that includes the ELCA and other mainline denominations, said it was “very pleased” to hear that detainees, including those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will receive protection under the Geneva Conventions. The Bush administration communicated the policy change in a Pentagon memo after the Supreme Court stated that all detainees are entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions. In June, the NCC had called for closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center after three prisoners committed suicide.
• Leaders of the (Presbyterian) Church of Central Africa said they may cut ties with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of the perception that the latter will allow some ordinations of noncelibate homosexuals. Maurice Munthali, moderator of the Malawi church’s Northern Livingstonia Synod, said in July: “We feel it may not only divide the church but it will disorganize our administration and doctrine.” Munthali said his church is praying they won’t be affected by the U.S. church’s June vote to allow local decisions related to whether gays and lesbians can be ordained, provided they are faithful to the church’s core values.


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February issue


Embracing diversity