The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• Growing sectarian violence in Iraq may force that country’s more than 1 million Assyrian Christians to flee, some observers said. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Assyrian Christians are “upward of 40 percent of [Iraqi] refugees,” most of whom flee to Jordan or Syria. Pascale Warda, former Iraqi minister of displacement and migration, said Oct. 18 that hard-line Sunni and Shiite Muslims are targeting Assyrian Christians. Additionally, Kurds seized the land of some Christians, preventing them from accessing water. Some advocates have pushed for self-governance for Iraqi Christians, similar to that of Kurds in northern Iraq. Michael Youash, director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, said the hope is for self-government in the Nineveh Plains and western Dohuk—the Assyrians’ ancestral homeland. Youash said other threatened Iraqi minorities, including Shabaks, Yezidis and Turkmen, would be welcome.

• Robert Edgar, 63, will step down as general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA at the end of 2007. The NCC is made up of the ELCA and 34 other mainline and Orthodox churches. Edgar, a United Methodist minister, is credited with stabilizing the organization’s financial situation, taking it from a $6 million deficit to a reported reserve of $8 million.

• The U.S. Senate passed legislation sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that would allow the bankrupt to again tithe. At presstime, the House of Representatives had yet to consider the bill. Obama said the bill, if passed, will clarify that the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act didn’t “prioritize creditors over religious institutions and charities.” In September, a federal judge in New York said the 2005 act meant individuals couldn’t make charitable contributions if they also sought bankruptcy protection. But the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998 allowed individuals in bankruptcy to exempt up to 15 percent of their annual income from creditors for tithing.

• The United Church Council of Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches will now represent three Lutheran World Federation-member churches in Namibia, reported the Sept. 28 New Era (Windhoek) newspaper. The churches had been divided for decades throughout a history of colonialism and apartheid. The council will represent the 652,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, the 300,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia and the 5,200-member German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia. The council also coordinates international relations for the church bodies, which will remain independent.

• When researchers from Barna Group asked more than 1,000 Americans to rank how much they looked forward to 17 activities—from sleeping to attending church—respondents were more likely to appreciate a good night’s sleep. Seven out of 10 ranked sleeping highest, compared to 40 percent who looked forward “a lot” to attending worship. Spending time with friends and listening to music received marks of 55 percent and 54 percent, respectively. Only 11 percent of respondents found filling out tax forms appealing.

• Gunnar Staalsett, Lutheran World Federation general secretary from 1985 to 1994, said he was “highly surprised” by reports that former LWF President Zoltan Kaldy was an agent of the communist-era Hungarian secret police. That claim was made in early October by Tormod Engelsviken, a Norwegian theology professor with access to Kaldy’s secret police files. Engelsviken said Kaldy was a secret agent in 1958 when he became bishop of Hungary’s southern Lutheran diocese—after the Communist regime forced his predecessor to resign. Kaldy was elected LWF president in 1984 and died in office in 1987. Staalsett said Kaldy wouldn’t have been elected president if evidence about secret police activities was known. Yet Staalsett pointed out that no Eastern European bishops at that time were elected or able to function independently of communist regimes. Current LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko said in a statement: “We should remember that the Cold War generated a political environment where many leading personalities were rumored to be linked to the communist or oppressive state apparatus.”

• The Mobile [Ala.] Baptist Association voted to remove Hillcrest Church from its membership over the hiring of Ellen Sims as associate pastor of the congregation. Sims was ordained through the American Baptist Churches, USA, but the Southern Baptist statement of faith says “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu says in Rabble-Rouser For Peace by John Allen that his church’s rejection of gay priests in 1998 made him “ashamed to be an Anglican.” Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, talks about his gradual acknowledgement that “sexual orientation, like race or gender, was a given.”Allen, Tutu’s former press secretary, said the archbishop found it “a little short of outrageous that [Anglican Communion] leaders should be obsessed with issues of sexuality in the face of the challenges of AIDS and global poverty.”

• Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, asked Palestinians, Israelis and the international community to help get more than 700,000 Palestinian students back in school. Younan said he was shocked to see schoolchildren begging by the roadside while schools are closed due to an international aid boycott that began when the Hamas-led government won power in January. Younan wrote in an Oct. 19 pastoral letter: “A child came up to the car with a towel to try to clean my windshield. I said, ‘What is this?’ He said, ‘Please, for God’s sake, one shekel. I want to eat!’ ... It’s time that we all—Palestinians, Israelis and the international community—stopped making the children the victims of this political stalemate.” Lutheran and other private schools are still open but serve only a quarter of Palestinian children.

• Researchers in the (Lutheran) Church of Finland found that of all people elected to leadership positions in Finnish Lutheran parishes this spring, 6 percent were under age 30. The Church Research Institute’s survey found that most young people saw their most important characteristic as a desire to serve the parish and good social skills, even more than faith in God or exemplary personal morals. Most felt they had good opportunities to influence events and an appropriate amount of power, but one in 10 felt completely frustrated.

• Peter Gancs, 55, bishop of the southern district of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, called for the anniversary of the Oct. 23, 1956, uprising against Soviets to be used to overcome current political divisions. “We’ve misused this gift from God and our freedom is again endangered,” he said. “When our political leaders are egotistic and we lack mutual tolerance, the churches have a prophetic role in helping society rebuild its bridges.” Fifty years ago, thousands of Hungarians died in street battles with Soviet tanks and subsequent executions. At presstime, Hungary was embroiled in a political crisis stemming from Socialist Party Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany’s admission that he lied to maintain power.


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February issue


Embracing diversity