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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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• Relief work in Darfur, Sudan, is at risk after eight aid workers were killed in July, warned four aid agencies including World Vision and Oxfam International. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote Aug. 8 that the crisis in Lebanon, which began in July, had received more minutes of media coverage each week than the Darfur situation had gotten in total since it began in 2003. Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said the situation in Darfur is “going from real bad to catastrophic,” adding that violence, sexual abuse and displacement had increased since a May peace agreement between Sudan’s government and one of the rebel factions.

Religious leaders in India asked the country’s president, Abdul Kalam, to help repeal so-called “Freedom of Religion” laws passed by six states that they say prevent citizens from converting to non-Hindu faiths. A pro-Hindu party brought forth the legislation restricting what it characterizes as forced conversions. Christian leaders deny forcing any conversions and say such laws violate religious freedom. More than 100 Roman Catholic, Protestant, evangelical, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist leaders signed a July 20 statement protesting the laws.

• Scotland’s top Roman Catholic urged ending a controversial law that prevents Catholics and those married to people of that faith from ascending to the British throne. Cardinal Keith O’Brien said Britain’s 300-year-old Act of Settlement promotes “state-supported sectarian discrimination.” Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected a call to repeal the law. Repealing the law would require amending at least eight separate acts going back to 1688. Also problematic is the British monarch’s role as head of the (Anglican) Church of England—not a possibility if the ruler was Roman Catholic.

• While the 1970s were a time of “widespread close ecumenical cooperation in the field of human rights,” today Latin America “is characterized by growing religious pluralism,” World Council of Churches moderator Walter Altmann said in an Aug. 22 WCC news release. Altmann, head of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, said growing numbers of churches are Pentecostals “who concentrate on the gifts of the Spirit” and neo-Pentecostals “who concentrate on concepts such as spiritual warfare against demons and promises of prosperity for believers.” In Latin America many such churches “reject ecumenism and campaign against it, particularly if the Roman Catholic Church is involved,” Altmann said. “The greatest challenge is to find ways to overcome these divisions and hostility.”

• Almost 40 percent of Americans admit to having some prejudice against Muslims, a USA Today/Gallup Poll shows. In a national sample of adults, 39 percent said they have “at least some feelings of prejudice against Muslims,” 44 percent said Muslims are too extreme in their religious beliefs and 39 percent favor stricter security measures for Muslims, such as a special ID. Respondents with Muslim acquaintances were less likely to show bias.

• On Aug. 27, members of traditionalist movements in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark established a network to protest what its spokesman, Henrik Hoejlunch, called “the increasing muddling of true Christianity by the Danish church.” Network members are unhappy that some bishops are open to the idea of same-sex rites and that the church still allows parish priest Thorkild Grosboell to preach after he admitted disbelief in a traditional image of God.

• Evangelicals within the Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism expressed concern that Christians United for Israel’s July 19-20 gathering of more than 3,000 evangelicals to lobby lawmakers in Washington, D.C., “included encouraging Israel to give serious consideration to a pre-emptive strike on Iran.” They also voiced concerns that the event called for full U.S. support of Israel’s campaigns in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. CUFI was founded in 2006 by Texas TV evangelist John Hagee. In an Aug. 15 statement, the institute said it grieved “over the damage which has been done to the life-giving message of Christ at the hands of Christians who condone and even celebrate the violence.”

• Meeting Aug. 8-10 in Moscow, 25 Lutheran theologians from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church-European Russia “attempted, far removed from foreign supervisors, to distil an authentic picture of what Russian Lutherans truly believe,” states a church press release. Both churches are ELCA companion synod partners. Several lectures were given by Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod seminary professor Robert Kolb. The ELCER’s Gottfried Spieth said the two churches agreed to “sturdy and genuine conservatism,” and that “liberalism and fundamentalism remained on the fringe.”

The Anglican Communion Network, a conservative movement of 10 Episcopal Church dioceses, said its approximately 900 parishes are required to give 5 percent of their operating budget to fund the network’s missions and headquarters. According to a May news release, the network has raised $4.5 million since 2004, when it was formed after the election of V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.

• Nearly 60 percent of Americans are concerned that religion’s influence is declining in the U.S., but they are also unhappy with calls to action by both the religious “right” and “left.” In a survey of attitudes on religion by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 11 percent labeled themselves as members of the “religious right,” and 7 percent said they were members of the “religious left.” But 32 percent called themselves “liberal or progressive Christians.” Researchers said conservatives were a more cohesive group, sharing more religious and social positions than those identified as more liberal. Among white evangelical Christians (24 percent of those surveyed), 69 percent believe God gave Israel to the Jews, 62 percent said the Bible is God’s literal word, and 59 percent believe Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

A federal judge in Connecticut dismissed a lawsuit six Episcopal pastors filed against their bishop, saying the dispute relates to church law, not federal. Unhappy with their bishop’s acceptance of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, the pastors sued Andrew Smith, the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, for infringing on their First Amendment and other constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Janet B. Arterton said a court decision “would not redress plaintiffs’ actual grievances: their theological disputes with Bishop Smith over ‘human sexuality.’ ”

The European Union agreed to continue funding embryonic stem-cell research after accepting a compromise by a coalition of mainly Roman Catholic countries to ban human cloning and projects that destroy human embryos. The measure was approved July 24 at an EU ministers’ meeting in Brussels, clearing the way for $65 billion in research and development programs from 2007 to 2013. The action allows the EU to fund research using embryos that would otherwise be discarded, such as those from fertilization clinics. The Vatican strongly opposes the decision, which is also at odds with U.S. legislation. On July 19, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have expanded federal funding for stem-cell research.

• Selected from nearly 1,200 entries worldwide, more than 200 Holocaust cartoons were displayed at a museum in Tehran, Iran. Organizers said they were testing the West’s commitment to freedom of speech after controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were published in February by European newspapers. One cartoon shows the Statue of Liberty holding a book on the Holocaust in one hand and giving a Nazi salute with the other. Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem, said the display “is a flashing red light signalling danger not only to Israel but to all enlightened nations.”

• While driving the shovel of his backhoe into a bog July 25, a construction worker in Ireland discovered an ancient book of psalms. The approximately 20-page book has been dated to the years 800-1000. Manuscripts expert Bernard Meehan of Trinity College, Dublin, said it was the first discovery of an Irish early medieval document in two centuries. The National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, has the book stored in refrigeration. It faces years of analysis before it will be put on public display.

• Twelve women were ordained as priests July 31 in Pittsburgh on a riverboat since the Roman Catholic cathedral wasn’t an option. It was the fourth such rite Catholic Womanpriests, a group trying to bring about the full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church, has held since 2002. The Diocese of Pittsburgh said none of the ordinations are legitimate and that those involved have excommunicated themselves.

• Meeting Aug. 26-29 in Kyoto, Japan, the World Assembly of Religions for Peace focused on how religion is exploited by extremists, politicians and the media, particularly with regards to recent violence in the Middle East. The global interfaith group called on the world’s religious leaders to speak up when religion is abused and cooperate to confront violence.


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November issue

NOVEMBER issue:

The ELCA's aging clergy wave

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