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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Worldscan

• Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. was inaugurated Feb. 7 at Pasadena [Calif.] Presbyterian Church. The ELCA and 35 other churches and national Christian groups founded the organization. Another 18 churches and national Christian organizations are involved or are present as observers in the CCT decision-making process. The ELCA 2003 Churchwide Assembly voted 918-48 to join CCT. “The creation of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. is an exciting development in the ecumenical world. It is an opportunity to broaden the ecumenical table or perhaps more directly to invite more people into ecumenical conversation,” said Randall R. Lee, executive for ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.

• “Despite being a secular democratic republic, India is still not a very safe place for its tiny Christian minority,” says a report released by a top official in the All India Christian Council. The Christian community faced at least one crime against it every three days during 2006, with a total of 128 cases recorded in the media, according to the report compiled by John Dayal, the council’s general secretary. “The figure may actually be much higher,” Dayal said in the introduction to his unofficial “White Paper on Violence Against Christians in India—2006.” The report noted that Christians account for only 2.3 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people.

• Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, said if the international community wants the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for southern Sudan to hold, it must meet financial pledges agreed to when the pact was signed. “Lots of money was promised and not much has been done,” Noko said. Signed Jan. 9, 2005, between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, the agreement halted one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest conflicts, which pitted the mainly Christian and animist south against the Muslim north. “A lot of blood was spilled which was unnecessary, and I think we will stand judged for allowing the situation to deteriorate,” Noko said.

• The U.N. led strong protests about the bombing of a Roman Catholic ethnic Tamil refugee settlement in northwest Sri Lanka that left 15 people dead and 35 injured on Jan. 2. “Sri Lankans continue to suffer deeply due to this conflict, and the loss of life is a source of deepest concern,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, U.N. assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. Her statement followed the pounding by Sri Lankan Air Force jets of Padahu Thurai near Illippaikadaval in what the government deems is one of the “uncleared areas” under the control of Tamil rebels. The Sri Lankan government asserted that the bombing had hit a rebel base and killed dozens of its cadres.

• Raymond L. Schultz, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, announced that he will retire Sept. 1 following the election of a successor at the 2007 National Convention. His decision was based primarily on personal health and family reasons. Schultz was elected to his first term as bishop at the 2001 National Convention, with reelection in 2005.

• Action by Churches Together International responded to an appeal by Augusta Victoria Hospital, Jerusalem, for funding after nations cut aid to the Palestinian Authority following the election of the Hamas government. Authority-funded schools, hospitals and other governmental and nongovernmental institutions felt the brunt of the aid freezes. When the authority couldn’t fulfill its contractual obligations, Augusta Victoria had to scramble to find alternative sources. “Even though the hospital is still facing continued financial challenges ... ACT helped stabilize our operations and was the first to respond to the needs of patients requiring specialized treatments,” said Tawfiq Nasser, hospital CEO.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Wash., will pay at least $48 million to victims of clergy abuse as part of a deal to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a federal mediator announced. The plan must be approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams and the victims of the sexual abuse. The Spokane diocese is among four nationwide to file for bankruptcy protection because of abuse claims.

• Congregations interested in growing weekly attendance would do well to make a plan for recruiting members, should become multiracial and make sure serious conflict doesn’t take root. That’s the message of an analysis by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford [Conn.] Seminary. The “FACTs on Growth” report, based on data collected in a 2005 survey of nearly 900 congregations, found that churches reporting growth in worship attendance between 2000 and 2005 tended to exhibit those attributes. The study also revealed that growing congregations had a clear mission and purpose, conducted “joyful” worship services and had changed their worship format at one or more services in the past five years.

• Former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are backing a new grouping of Baptists in a centrist organization that will tackle broader social issues and counter a perceived image of the Southern Baptist Convention as an exclusionary church. The organization, which includes about 40 Baptist groups, plans to hold its first convocation in Atlanta in January 2008. “This is a historic event for the Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity,” Carter said. He left the SBC in 2000 after the denomination came under the control of leaders considered politically conservative. “Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to personifying and to accomplish the goals that Jesus Christ expressed,” Carter said.

• Worldwide membership of the Church of the Nazarene increased by one-third during the past decade. The church has 1.6 million members and has gained nearly 700,000 members since 1999. The church’s biggest increases have been outside the U.S. Last year the church grew by 5.7 percent overseas while domestic growth was less than 1 percent (700 new churches). The 19,000-congregation church body has experienced a slight decline in worship attendance in the U.S. and Canada, although Sunday school participation has gone up 1 percent.

Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which holds itself to its denomination’s standards for leadership and public service, has become embroiled in a controversy over linking itself permanently to President George W. Bush. Representatives of Bush selected SMU to be the location of his presidential library, and many members of the university faculty are protesting that the Bush library would harm the university’s mission.

Archbishop of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus resigned recently due to accusations that he acted as an informer for 22 years for Poland’s former communist secret police. “The church in Poland needs to look humbly and in truth at its past, present and future,” said Archbishop Jozef Michalik, chair of the Polish Bishop’s Conference. “We urge all the faithful to try to accept this difficult experience in a spirit of faith.” The Vatican’s spokesperson, Federico Lombardi, said Wielgus’ resignation was “appropriate” because his authority as bishop had been “seriously compromised.” He noted that the episode marked a “moment of great suffering” for the Roman Catholic Church in Poland.

To protesters’ jeers, a Muslim congregation broke ground for the first mosque in the former East Germany. Located in the Pankow district of what was East Berlin, the mosque is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Citizens’ groups tried to block approval for the construction, including two attempts at referendums and a vigil. Nonetheless, the Pankow council approved the start of construction. Supporters of the mosque argued that many of the protesters don’t even live nearby and won’t be affected by it but are against further integration of Muslim groups into German culture.

The U.S. Episcopal Church’s diocese of Virginia is preparing for a legal battle over the ownership of property in 11 parishes that broke away from the denomination because of its tolerance of homosexual clergy. The case involves two of the oldest, largest and most prominent parishes in Virginia and pits church members against the diocese in a struggle over property valued at about $25 million. In December, members of the 11 parishes, including the historic Truro Church, Fairfax, and The Falls Church, Falls Church, where U.S. President George Washington once worshiped, voted to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the (Anglican) Church of Nigeria.

British Airways check-in counter clerk, Nadia Eweida, who has been on unpaid leave since being told in September she could not wear a cross on a chain around her neck outside her uniform, is to return to work wearing the symbol. The airline backed down on its policy of not allowing workers to wear visible symbols of Christianity, while permitting Muslim hijabs and Sikh turbans, after protests from religious leaders and politicians as well as investors and customers threatening boycotts.

At the Seventh World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai challenged church leaders to rally their members and moral authority to urge the world’s developed countries to cancel the foreign debts owed by poor countries. “The [churches] can. They are the spiritual leaders of the people. They have the moral authority to challenge injustices, and churches throughout history have stood up for the poor, the marginalized and [the] humiliated,” Maathai said. Argentine Lutheran pastor Ángel F. Furlan, one of the panelists at the seminar, said churches in Latin America were working toward a common understanding of a purported illegitimacy of foreign debt, and had reached consensus that it was a burden that violates human rights. “There is also a consensus in terms of its analysis in relation to dictatorial regimes and corruption,” he said.

As torture, forced disappearances and assassinations continue across Asia, Christians and members of other religions must help safeguard human rights, said the head of a regional interreligious human rights watchdog. “Human rights in the world can be better implemented when Christians and members of all religions regard it as part of their vocation to speak up when they see human rights violations,” said John Clancey, chair of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.


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