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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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• Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and Lutheran World Federation president, said he was “deeply troubled” by the murders of Francisco Carrillo and his wife, Jesus Calzada de Carrillo, Lutheran pastors in El Salvador. They were shot Nov. 4 by three young males as they left a congregation in El Salvador’s Jayaque municipality. “I can tell you that this is a painful blow to an already discouraged [Salvadoran Lutheran Synod] Bishop Medardo Gomez, who bears the weight on his shoulder of being a prophet in that society,” Hanson said. “In many respects Medardo is a voice that the people still look to to call them to the pursuit of justice. We need to remember the Salvadoran Lutherans in a very difficult time.” Calling for a swift and thorough investigation, LWF General Secretary Ishmael Noko said: “This tragic news serves to impress upon us again the serious and increasing violence afflicting society in El Salvador, and the important work being undertaken by the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod in an often difficult and dangerous context.”

• The (Lutheran) Church of Norway and the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway negotiated an agreement of full recognition and cooperation, which will come into force once approved by the denominations’ synods. The agreement, called “One faith—together as Lutheran churches in Norway,” states that the two denominations fully recognize each other and will have a common doctrinal basis but will remain separate. The two churches have cooperated for many years in the Norwegian national committee of the Lutheran World Federation.

Ted Haggard, former president of the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals who often preached against homosexuality and resigned after allegations he paid for sex with a male escort, told his congregation he was a “deceiver and liar.” Haggard, who admitted to “sexual immorality,” said: “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.” Haggard, who is married and has five children, denied being homosexual or having a homosexual affair. He had supported a successful amendment to the Colorado constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

• On Nov. 4, Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, was installed as the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop—the first woman in the Anglican Communion’s nearly 520-year history to lead a national church. Her election sparked controversy among the world’s 77 million Anglicans because of her gender and because she supports gay rights within the Episcopal Church. Jefferts Schori said she appreciated the “frank conversation about challenges in the Communion” and “the opportunity to meet together face to face and begin a relationship that we hope will be fruitful and collegial.”

• Roland Weisselberg, 73, a retired German pastor, killed himself to protest what he saw as the increasing influence of Islam in his country. He entered the grounds of the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt while services were under way and doused himself in flammable liquid, which he then ignited. Witnesses said he exclaimed “Jesus and Oskar” before igniting himself, a reference to Oskar Bruesewitz, a pastor who set himself on fire in 1976 in Zeitz to protest the policies of the East German government.

• The 14 Latin American member churches of the Lutheran World Federation welcomed Norway’s decision to cancel $81 million of foreign debt of Egypt, Ecuador, Jamaica, Peru and Sierra Leone, which originated from the failed Norwegian Ship Export Campaign. To lead the Norwegian shipyard industry out of a severe crisis, the Norwegian government provided 21 countries with credit to purchase ships and shipping equipment between 1976 and 1980. But the government didn’t consider whether the ships delivered made developmental and economic sense for the countries. “Norway takes up its responsibility in allowing these countries not to service the remainder of this debt,” a Norwegian statement said.

• Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, lambasted Israeli military officials for the killing of 18 Palestinian civilians, 10 of whom were children, in Gaza in November, describing it as “indiscriminate regard for human life.” The Israeli government said the shelling was due to a technical failure in the artillery’s radar system, causing seven shells to stray from their intended trajectories. As a result, the military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, ordered a halt to all artillery fire until further inquiries have been completed.

• During the 14th general assembly of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, members asked the government to ease the entry of immigrants and respect the right of asylum, according to the Italian constitution and international law. The Protestant group also reiterated a commitment to dialogue with followers of Islam, now numbering about 1 million in Italy, and ranking as the second largest group of believers after Roman Catholics. The federation celebrated 39 years since its founding by Italian Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists and Waldensians. Today the federation also includes the Salvation Army, the Italian Apostolic Church and the Pentecostal Church in Naples.

• Uzbekistan was added to a U.S. State Department list of countries of “particular concern” for severely violating religious freedom, noting that Muslims, especially, suffer “harsh repression.” In its annual report on the status of religious persecution internationally, the State Department added Uzbekistan to a list that includes Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In contrast, Vietnam, which had previously been designated a country of “concern” was dropped from the list because its government was working “to improve conditions for religious believers.”

• ELCA International Disaster Response provided $250,000 in response to an emergency appeal for funds issued by its partner, Action by Churches Together. Disaster Response gave $75,000 to the Middle East Council of Churches Inter-Church Network for Development and Relief to support rebuilding homes and businesses following fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah in Lebanon; $75,000 to MECC’s Department of Service to Palestine Refugees for food, medical and other humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank; $50,000 to the Lutheran World Federation in India to assist families affected by recent floods; and $50,000 to LWF for relief and rehabilitation work related to drought in Eritrea.

• Russia’s Jewish community called on authorities to tighten security around synagogues to stave off a growing tide of attacks across the country. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia issued its appeal after assailants threw two Molotov cocktails into the office of the local Jewish community center in Surgut and left threatening flyers. A federation spokesman said general fear of foreigners, rather than a specific rise in anti-Semitism seems to be the main motive for the attacks.

• The Malawi Council of Churches and a multifaith group called the Public Affairs Committee urged its government to introduce a law barring prostitution, which they say is fueling the spread of HIV and AIDS in the country. Two years ago, the government arrested all prostitutes roaming the streets and staying at inns, angering rights activists who said the arrests were often made for no apparent reason and that laws barring prostitution did not exist. The country’s National AIDS Commission reports that 14.1 percent of Malawians, ages 15 to 49, live with HIV/AIDS, with 10 dying of AIDS-related illnesses every hour. M

• Hundreds of Christians and seven churches in Japan opposed Franklin Graham’s evangelical festival because of his alleged anti-Islamic statements and support for the Iraq war. Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, preached on one of the islands of Japan’s southwestern Okinawa Prefecture, near a concentration of U.S. military bases. “We think that joining the festival and saying, ‘Amen’ to his message as ‘the word of God’ would constitute an act that supports the American war on Iraq,” opponents said.

• A 60-year-old Roman Catholic Pakistani, Ranjha Masih, was acquitted after being held for more than eight years in isolation at a prison while awaiting trial on fabricated blasphemy charges. Many of those accused under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been Christians, but Masih has been in prison longer than any others. “We are really happy. This is a victory for Christians and those who believe in human rights,” said Joseph Francis, director of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, a Christian action group that pleaded Masih’s appeal.

• A united Christian platform of Caritas International and the All Africa Conference of Churches urged industrialized nations to compensate poor countries for damage caused by high carbon emissions, which causes global warming. They issued their call as the 189 Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and 166 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol Conference got under way in Nairobi, Kenya. Churches in Africa are warning adverse climatic changes could threaten the livelihoods of at least 600 million people who depend on agriculture in Africa. “Faith communities are addressing climate change because it is a spiritual and ethical issue ...,” said Jesse Mugambi, a member of the World Council of Church’s working group on climate change. “The situation is critical. We must act now.”

• The Lutheran University of PNG will open in Lae, Papua New Guinea, in 2008. It will combine the resources of the Balob Teachers College and Martin Luther Seminary. The planning committee of the new institution had come to an arrangement with Murdoch University of Western Australia to enter into a partnership. “This arrangement will not only mean that any degree conferred by PNG Lutheran University will be internationally recognized, but also that the academic and administrative standard of the new university will be at the standard best practiced internationally,” said Michael Mas Kai, who presented the university bill in Parliament.

• Adam Pilch, pastor of Lord’s Ascension Lutheran, Warsaw, Poland, rejected claims that a planned five-floor extension to the church could be used for spying against the nearby headquarters of the interior ministry. Government officials wanted to block the construction for fear it would endanger the security of the ministry’s building, which includes police, customs and public safety departments. But Pilch said that talk of a security risk doesn’t reflect the reality of the site. “By this logic, any surrounding building poses a danger,” he said. 

Quebec’s education ministry warned that private, unlicensed evangelical schools in the province must teach Darwin’s theory of evolution and sex education or face closure. The directive came following a complaint that 20 students at a small evangelical school near Saint-Andre-Avellin weren’t being taught the full provincial curriculum. Supporters of the school counter that it provides a “worldview” by teaching evolution and intelligent design, the idea that the natural world is too complex to be explained by natural selection. While the school doesn’t teach sex education, it does teach biology and abstinence. 

• The main governing body of the U.S. National Council of Churches called for “an immediate phased-withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Iraq.” A majority of the NCC General Assembly approved the resolution, noting that the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq “has not provided meaningful security for Iraqi citizens and only exacerbates escalating violence.” The NCC also noted that the justifications for the war have since “been revealed as false or ill-considered.” 

• A new translation of the Bible in inclusive language, intended to do justice to women, Jews and marginalized groups, was launched in Germany, with 20,000 copies of the first edition already sold out. A publishing team of 42 women and 10 men toned down violent language, while taking into account the perspectives of feminist and liberation theology. The five-year project sparked debate with some critics who said the translation distorts the message of the Bible. But Bishop Baerbel Wartenberg-Potter of the North Elbian Evangelical [Lutheran] Church said the debate has stimulated an interest in the scriptures.

• A USA Today/Gallup Poll shows an increasing percentage of Americans believe that neither Democrats nor Republicans share their attitudes on religion and values. About 41 percent of Americans believe the Republican Party shares their views on religion in politics “moderately well” or “very well”—an overall drop of 12 percentage points from one year ago. For Democrats, the figure is 48 percent, an overall drop of 5 percentage points from October 2005.

• Massachusetts Episcopalians voted to seek authorization from the national Episcopal Church to use the denomination’s official marriage rites in same-sex ceremonies. The 324-43 vote came as more than 500 delegates considered a series of proposals related to same-sex marriage at their annual convention. Delegates also called for a task force to study “the nature of Christian marriage and civil marriage” in light of a tabled proposal for clergy to stop officiating at civil marriage ceremonies. The request for a new policy from the national church aims to bring local practice into alignment with diocesan statements on the issue.

• Fifty percent of evangelicals and 65 percent of the total population think federal funding of religious organizations is inappropriate, a Baylor Religion Survey found. Byron Johnson, a sociology professor at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, said rumors about the work of faith-based initiatives likely contributed to the findings. “For example, a lot of groups will not even entertain the idea of applying for public funds because they feel like if they do, the cross or the menorah or the Star of David has to come down,” he said. “Others fear recipients of faith-based services might have to pray or be proselytized.”

• A federal judge in New Mexico dismissed a lawsuit by a veteran who charged that the Air Force unconstitutionally permitted evangelism at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. In his court filing, plaintiff Mikey Weinstein pointed to a statement by Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, deputy chief of chaplains, in The New York Times: “We will not proselytize but we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.” Senior U.S. District Judge James A. Parker of Albuquerque ruled that Weinstein and other plaintiffs did not adequately explain how the statement “personally affected” them.

• The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, which calls itself the “world’s largest gay-friendly congregation,” was accepted as a member of the United Church of Christ. Officials at the UCC North Texas Association granted 4,300-member Hope congregational standing, making it the fourth largest congregation in the 1.2 million-member UCC. Until 2002, Hope was affiliated with the predominantly gay Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. “We will be enriched by the vitality of Cathedral of Hope’s ministry,” said John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, “even as we hope that incorporation into our 50-year history will be a gift to them.”

• Pope Benedict XVI said the Roman Catholic Church must “take whatever steps are necessary” to address the clergy sex-abuse scandal. But victims’ groups accused the pope of not going far enough. The pope acknowledged the “heartrending” sex abuse cases that have occurred in Ireland, which many have likened to the scandal that erupted in the U.S. church in 2002. The Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a statement urging “actions not words,” saying “the pope is merely acknowledging what millions of Catholics have known for years.”


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